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Standing Up & Falling Down

The email of confirmation emerged on my computer, sent by my work colleague, whose name and time on the water should have convinced the fish to reward him with gills by now.

From: Owen Waters Subject: Long Bay, Beef Island Red Stripe SUP Relay We are blinged up! Sup team: Colin, Stephen, myself and mighty rock stars Becky Rowlette and Liz Killeen. See you guys there!

My stomach commenced activity in championship gymnastics, and heat emitted from my face like a fried egg on a boiling car bonnet.

This wasn’t entirely a voluntary decision on my part. In fact, when the idea of forming a team for the February Red Stripe SUP Relay competition arose in an aLG meeting, my response was more of a decline, followed by an abrupt yes—my colleagues had promoted the sport’s simplicity, and I would pay for my casual acceptance of this assertion.

I had been given brief details about this alien sport; I knew the acronym SUP stood for Stand Up Paddle; I understood we would be standing on a surfboard-like object in the sea with a paddling instrument; I recognised we would be in a relay; but, most importantly, I knew we had to paddle as fast as possible. This was just the beginning.

As I began my internet research, I envisaged and expected that all five of us would be standing on the board, paddling together—something in the meeting about teamwork had inspired the thought.

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How wrong I was as I gazed at the photos on the HIHO website. I stared at the peculiar tight garments the participants wore, peered at the strange surfboard-type object they stood on, and smiled at the thought that they reminded me of gondolas. How fast could a gondola possibly go?

My amusement was short-lived as I noticed that in each photo, the boards had individuals, not teams on them. My work colleague, VIPY Editor Dan, approached with a grin.

“Doing a little research, huh?” he said, explaining his knowledge of the unusual sport. “You’re probably gonna fall, a lot, bump into someone, almost drown…”

I walked over to Owen’s desk for a little reassurance.

“With the SUP,” I said. “Are we on individual boards?”

“Yeah,” said Owen, infecting my face with a sagginess. “Don’t worry Stephen, you’ll be fine.”

I nodded and walked back to my desk.

The grand day arrived. The white sand glistened, the blue water sparkled, and the sun was ecstatic. Long Bay beach was buzzing with excitement and an undercurrent of fierce competitive spirit. My impending event would see five-person teams competing in a double elimination ladder format. It would seem this London city-guy was about to receive his first taste of competitive water-sports.

Directed to a conspicuously bright yellow board, pals Dustyn and Cass Molver began giving me the fast track course in SUP.

I could already hear voices in my head like a taunting requiem. You’re probably gonna fall, a lot. Don’t worry Stephen, you’ll be fine. You’re probably gonna fall, a lot. Don’t worry Stephen, you’ll be fine.

I was in the water immediately, eager to be an expert in minutes. I mounted the board, up on my knees as instructed. I began to wade through the water with the foreign paddle instrument, maintaining balance and control, but was distracted by shouting from the shore.

“You’re going the wrong way!” I heard Cass say. What could she mean?

Listening harder, I realised what both Cass and Dustyn were saying. “The board is the wrong way.”

I jumped off the board and turned it around quickly, hoping no one noticed the epic amateur mistake. I wanted to master SUP fast, so on re-boarding, I made my first attempt to stand.

I can do this. I’ve done P90X. I can do this, I said to myself.

It was as if the water had read my mind and retorted against my arrogance as I fell off, head first. I could almost hear the sea’s assessment; “You don’t belong here city boy.”

The second fall gave my nose a full service cleaning job.

As children SUPped past me, I beheld a dreadful revelation that only emerges with maturity—kids were now beating me at sporting activities. When did I get old? Probably around the time when I reminisced about the price of Skittles costing twenty-seven pence.

The falls kept happening. There was a third, a forth and then a twenty-forth, but my balance was improving.

Nonetheless, I had to accept the truth: I didn’t have time to reach competitive level.

The moment arrived. I had to make the confession. I approached the ever-enthusiastic aqua-man Owen.

“I can’t do this,” I said.

“No?” he said.

“No.”

“Alright chap, we’ll have to find someone else.”

The surrender hit as hard as that first fall in the water, but the day was still very enjoyable. If I wasn’t going to SUP, I was at least going to sip a Red Stripe or two.

As I watched the competition, I knew I’d made a good judgement. The epic speed at which the teams flew around the course was phenomenal. Who would have thought gondolas could go so fast?

Team NEWBIE, who I’d abandoned, did extremely well, but met defeat at the awesome speed of teams Latitude 18 and HIHO in the semi-finals. Eventually, L 18 emerged as the overall victors of the relay races, driving at speeds I did not know were possible in this sport.

If you ever get the opportunity to try this water activity, take it, because it’s great fun. Just make sure you have a couple of ice packs waiting for you at home.

Erin Paviour-Smith

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