You, too, can walk on water

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Perfect Wave Surf Shop instructor Blake Hanley demonstrates the hottest new watersport craze, stand-up paddleboarding, while out on Lake Sammamish. “It’s like walking on water,” he says. Photo by Deborah Stone
My goal was not to fall in. Although it was a pleasant late September day (one of the few we actually had), there was still a bit of a breeze and the water was cold, at least by my standards.

But, then again, anything below 80 degrees is chilly to me.

I was taking my first stand- up paddleboarding (SUP) lesson and all I wanted to do was to stay upright and avoid taking a plunge into Lake Sammamish.

I warned my instructor, Blake Hanley, from Perfect Wave Surf Shop in Kirkland, that I was a bit of a klutz, but he simply laughed and said, "I’ve taught all ages, all kinds of people, and there isn’t much I haven’t seen."

He added with a nod of encouragement, "And you’ll be surprised at how well you’re going to do."

Hanley has been at the sport for several years. After trying it once, he was hooked. He not only finds it fun, but he also enjoys the core workout he gets and uses the activity to cross train.

Stand-up paddleboarding is an emerging global sport with a Hawaiian heritage. In the 60s, Waikiki beach boys started standing on their long surfboards and paddling out with outrigger paddles to take pictures of tourists learning to surf.

A renaissance of SUP occurred in the early 2000s, when Hawaiian surfers started utilizing the sport as an alternative way to train when the surf was flat.

Famed surfer Laird Hamilton can be credited with popularizing the sport in recent years after he paddled across the English Channel, put his name on a signature line of stand up paddleboards and claimed that it renewed his excitement for surfing because, as he said, "It brought me back to a place where I can be happy again on a one-foot wave."

Today, there are professional paddleboarding races almost every month from Hawaii to Florida. Recently, some 200 people competed in the second annual Round the Rock race, a local SUP event with a course that circumnavigates Mercer Island.

Hanley, who participated in the race, says, "It was a tough one because the winds were really strong, which made it a real challenge to paddle up the east side of the island."

The major difference between traditional surfing and SUP is that for the latter, no waves are needed. This creates a world of possibilities, allowing people to practice the sport on lakes, rivers, open ocean or any large body of water.

"It’s really gotten popular because it can be done wherever there’s water around," says Hanley. "It’s hassle free. And it’s the kind the sport that’s adaptable to any skill level. It’s relatively easy to learn. And then the bonus is that it provides a terrific full-body workout."

He adds, "It can also be very calming. You’re out on the water, paddling at your own pace, just taking in the natural beauty. It can be a Zen-like experience."

I listen carefully as Hanley explains that the key to remaining upright on your board is to always have a slight bend in your knees, stay relaxed and keep your paddle in the water as much as possible because it acts as a brace.

Before any of this can happen, however, he emphasizes the need to have the right size board for your body.

SUP boards are longer and wider than surf boards, with features such as padded decks, concave hulls, and either one or three fins in the stern for tracking. They’re made of epoxy or polyester.

Paddles are either of aluminum or carbon graphite.

As Hanley demonstrates the movements involved in the sport, making the whole process appear smooth and easy, I marvel at his grace and rhythm, and the way he seems to just glide on the water.

I tell him so and he responds, "It feels like walking on water."

Then it’s my turn. He holds the board as I kneel on it. From this position, I rise up on one foot and then very slowly on the other, squatting in a very unladylike pose.

I’m shaking as I stand up, legs quivering like jelly. With my hands clenched in white-knuckle fashion around the paddle, I am a frozen statue.

"Please don’t let go, yet," I beseech of Hanley.

He promises me he won’t and encourages me to just try and relax and get used to the feeling of balancing on the bobbing board.

I gingerly begin to use the paddle strokes I learned earlier.

Before I know it, I’m heading away from the safe haven of the beach. I’m a bit panicky, as I realize I’m on my own, without Hanley’s firm grasp on my board. Thankfully, he quickly hops on his board and follows me, using a calm tone to guide me, as I practice turning, first right, then left.

My maneuvering attempts are initially lame until I realize that it helps to really dig the paddle in with intention.

A few motorboats go by in the distance, creating a series of what Hanley describes as "gentle waves."

To me, however, they look like white caps. My ever-patient instructor reminds me to paddle directly into the waves and take them head on.

This advice sounds a bit crazy to me, as my first impulse is to try and avoid this roller coaster at all costs, but I do as I’m told and lo and behold, it works!

Eventually, I am able to paddle around with more confidence and even chat and smile at the same time. There are a few close calls with a dock and some geese, but otherwise, I feel pretty darn proud of myself. Next time, I’ll strive to have one of those Zen moments Hanley spoke about, but for now, I’ll settle for staying dry.

For more information about SUP lessons, board rentals and sales, contact

Perfect Wave Surf Shop

8209 124th Ave. NE, Kirkland

(425) 827-5323

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