Stand & Deliver: A newbie's first stand-up paddleboard experience
Editor’s Note: Resie Waechter wrote this story about her first experience with SUP for our Spring 2020 “Great Outdoors” issue, which went to press before the COVID-19 shutdowns. While Urban Kai is not offering group paddles at the moment, you can still rent a board and take it out onto the river — a very pleasant form of social distancing.
A place where elite athletes travel from across the world to train, Tampa Bay is the perfect place to get fit while getting outdoors. Recently I got to experience an activity that combines a little bit of both: I tried stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) with Urban Kai.
With outposts in both St. Pete and Tampa, Urban Kai offers many varieties of paddleboard activities, and when I spot the upcoming Full Moon Paddle Social I know it’s the right one for me. I’m running a marathon the next day, so I’m excited to spend some time in the moonlight to calm my nerves. I reserve a spot and look forward to my first SUP adventure. When Saturday evening arrives, I am grateful to have allowed extra time in my drive to Tampa: it’s a busy night and Armature Works is the place to be.
I arrive just a couple of minutes before our scheduled 6:30 launch from the dock. There are several other people waiting to SUP – some of them are rookies like me; others brought their own boards and are clearly more comfortable on the water and just there for the social aspect. Our guide, Alex, is college-aged and friendly with a positive, easygoing attitude. When I voice my concerns about never having paddleboarded before, Alex reassures me with a relaxed smile and gives me some tips on standing up for the first time.
By the time we get out on the water, the full moon is in full force. I am still shaky on my board, even just down on my knees, but I am determined to at least attempt to stand up. Once we’ve cleared the first bridge, I decide to bite the bullet and try standing. Remembering Alex’s advice, I swipe my oar through the water for several strong strokes, speeding up to help with balance. It takes me a few minutes to straighten up and I’m certain the others behind me are laughing, but I am too excited to care: I am standing!
Standing on the SUP is challenging, and I feel like a baby deer first learning to walk – my legs shake so much I can barely keep my board from tipping. After a few minutes, though, I straighten my stance and am comfortable enough to lift my eyes from the water.
I take a look around at the jaw-dropping vistas around us — long-standing Tampa icons like the University of Tampa and the Sykes building along with newer additions like Curtis Hixon waterfront park. There is a wedding reception outside of the Straz Center and I have a unique view of the newlyweds posing for photographs and preparing to cut their cake. There is music and dancing and laughter, and it crosses my mind that perhaps I am as much a part of their evening’s backdrop as they are a part of mine.
We are not even at the halfway point when I see the moon peek between the buildings and skyscrapers: gigantic and luminous and full. This unique view of the moon while I’m standing up on the water is reason enough to have come tonight. My breathing eases up and I feel a sense of serenity wash over me as I continue paddling through the waters of the bay.
I follow the moon as long as I am able as we paddle beyond the noise of the city. I am far from comfortable standing on my board, but manage to complete the duration of the 90-minute paddle session without falling in. With the exception of a few splashes, my bathing suit remains dry. There are people who pass by occasionally on boats – some who are clearly enjoying their beverages and call out with harmless banter – but overall it is an incredibly peaceful ride and I have a great time. The Full Moon SUP is the perfect way to get in the zone before my race the next morning.
The moon greets me once more as I return my board to the dock and say goodnight to my fellow riders. I soak in the scenes of the city and saunter back to my car. The sense of calm lingers on my drive back over the Howard Frankland and I am grateful to have pushed outside of my comfort zone. Stand-up paddleboarding takes some practice and balance, but on a cool and calm night like tonight it is more of a meditation than a workout. I am grateful for a fun experience and a unique view of Tampa Bay.
Urban Kai Tampa, 1910 N. Ola Avenue #5404; Urban Kai St. Petersburg, 13090 Gandy Boulevard N. 813-598-1634, urbankai.com.