Biscayne Bay churned and the wind and waves swept across me.
I could see some of my competitors falling head first into the water as we approached the Miami River. Trying hard to stay afloat, I dropped to my knees and dug the blade of my paddle in deep and hard.
I was doing Stand Up Paddleboarding, or SUP, in the Orange Bowl Paddle Championship, held recently at Bayside Marketplace. SUP is quickly becoming the next new thing. There is SUP yoga, SUP racing, SUP fishing.
I have been canoeing, kayaking, rowing and tubing, but have never been on a stand-up paddle board. Kids, adults and people nearly triple my age (I am 33) were participating in the race, which benefitted Big Brother Big Sisters of Greater Miami.
I clumsily got the board in the water in the lagoon behind Bayside. There were more than 1,000 people looking on through the open-air mall. Someone in the crowd must have seen the expression on my face as an older fellow yelled out, “Make sure you stand over the grip.”
Looking down I saw what he meant: The board has a grip built into it for balance.
I had finally mounted the orange-and-white, 12-foot Jimmy Lewis board, which I got on loan. I was standing tall, but feeling shaky.
Dashama Gordon, a SUP yoga pioneer, led the group in a round of SUP yoga. He said SUP yoga not only builds the core, but has some spiritual healing properties. I followed along and maneuvered myself into a Downward Dog pose. I did several other poses, and somehow managed not to dunk myself into the lagoon behind the Hard Rock Cafe.
It was time for the three-mile recreational race. (There also was a seven-mile elite race.)
Along the way I ran into Cat Uden, 37, of Hollywood.
“Balance with your hips, not your feet,” she advised.
She said that getting involved with SUP boosted her health, as well as her husband’s.
“It seemed like a good activity to do here in Florida. I got addicted to it. It was good exercise. So I got the family into it. I went down two pant sizes and my husband lost 15 pounds,” she said.
With the sound of a horn, the race began. Paddlers were jostling all around, heading out into a windy and rough Biscayne Bay. People were dropping into the water as we passed the cruise ships in Government Cut, battling wave after wave. Taking Cat’s advice, I stayed low and stayed on the board.
There came a point where I had to drop to my knees. The wind was pushing me in the opposite direction and my body acted like a sail. Paddling fast and hard, I pushed forward and started passing several people.
As I made the turn around Brickell Key, I got back on my feet and let the wind catch my back. I caught the current and downwind breeze, finally getting a chance to pull ahead.
On my tail was Ron Sampson, 72, of Coral Gables.
Ron, who nearly beat me, told me after the race, “I would have beat you on your knees. The trick is to choke up on the paddle when you are on your knees. It sticks out too far otherwise.”
I managed to lead the pack of slower people and placed 12th with a time of 1 hour, 2 minutes and 27 seconds. It was exciting to cross the finish line in those conditions — and not fall in.
Bailey Rosen, 16, of St. Petersburg, won first place in the under-18 division of the seven-mile elite race.
“I competed against girls a lot older than me, ” she said. “The sport is exploding right now. If you want to jump in, now is the time.”
It didn’t matter where you finished. It was about getting fit, being on the water and seeing the world from a different angle.
Said Thais Reiss, 29, of Hollywood: “Greatest perk for coming in last was getting to see dolphins and a huge manatee swim by.”