My own system has been in fluctuation and extreme disarray since I turned 40. What had once been somewhat of a fine-tuned machine, if I do say so myself, had begun to expand and droop in all the wrong places. Only within the last year have things begun to even out. As of late an arc, moving in a positive direction, has occurred when it comes to my own health and fitness. The reason for this more-than-welcomed and overdue movement in the right direction is 98% due to the sport of stand up paddling.
My cousin Neil first got me to try stand up paddling but I wasn't exactly thrilled with moving slowly up and down the creeks and rivers near my mother's house in Oxford, Maryland. I wasn't ready to give up more extreme sports like wakeboarding and skateboarding. Then after my fourth concussion wakeboarding followed by a nasty fall to the bottom of a bowl, all occurring within the years of being uninsured, I thought/discovered that falling off a paddleboard into the Tred Avon River didn't sound (or feel) too bad. It wasn't until August 2011 when Gracie and I went on vacation in Maryland that I really decided I would try to incorporate some time paddling into some sort of routine. She even tried it and liked it. Eli Mongrel and I tried it and liked it so my Mom said I should take the board back to Chicago with me. I did and I used it. Paddling on Lake Michigan without the threat of sea nettles made for some enjoyable time atop the water.
Throughout the mild winter of 2011/2012 I found myself out on Lake Michigan quite a bit. I even got a brand new board for Christmas because I thought I would lean toward the surfing aspect of the sport. During this time of dipping my toes in SUP I have to thank Neil, Steve Dejter, and Ben Butterwei from SUP Annapolis for dealing with my countless questions about gear, technique, and more gear. I asked a lot of questions and took up a lot of their time as I was truly falling in love with the lifestyle.
Neil suggested I think about entering a race on the Jimmy Lewis Albatross I was paddling at the time. I thought about it and started getting out on the water with hopes of having the 2012 Carolina Cup be my first race. I ended up getting some days working on a television show and therefore lost time on the water and therefore had to cancel plans to head to Wrightsville Beach in April. At this point I didn't lose any sleep about not making the trip because I was still trying to figure this whole paddling thing out. My favorite aspect about the sport was allowing myself a nip of Armagnac after any paddle in temperatures under 50 degrees.
After a few more phone calls from Neil throughout the spring I decided to enter my first race in Ocean City in June of 2012. When I arrived and stepped out of my car, nervous as hell, the first person I met was April Zilg who explained that she had just driven up from North Carolina after racing the previous day. She quickly explained how much fun the whole racing thing was and how much she loved the people involved in it before hoping off to go say hello to another racer. The next person I met was Dawn Ehman Marohl who was in charge of the race. She was equally as welcoming and charming and helped ease my nerves as she handed me a bag of really cool stuff! Note: if you want a bag of fun goodies, enter Dawn's races!!
Neil finally arrived and introduced me around to some folks after I had been pacing around in circles for what seemed like hours. Everyone was really good looking and in pretty good shape. I had slacked off quite a bit in my own workout regimen and decided I would NOT race without a shirt as people began to disrobe as the start neared.
Then came race time...I hadn't been that nervous since I had the lead in an Art House Live play. Seeing all these handsome fit paddlers was intimidating as hell. I jumped in the water to pee for the 75th time that morning before the start. When the horn for the start finally did sound I looked around to see what everyone else was doing and saw a lot of determined looks on a lot of peoples' faces as the water churned all around me. I paddled that Jimmy Lewis like I was trying to get off Hades and watched as Neil and many others just about disappeared from vision! When I did cross the finish line people were laying back on their board relaxing, some drinking beer, while I was looking for water and a medic. I think April had already loaded her board on her car.
Turns out I won the Surf category and got called up in front of the crowd, received 100 bucks cash and a few more cool bits of swag then had my picture taken holding a trophy for the first time ever in my life. I never knew how good it felt to get a trophy!
A day or so later I saw the pictures that were taken at the race. I didn't recognize myself. From the day I turned 40 I knew my body was changing, toward the negative end of the spectrum, but I didn't realize how much until I saw pictures from that race. Between 40 and 42 I had had a disc explode in my back while doing seated rows at the gym, a couple teeth fall out of my head, continued to smoke Camels, and found myself drinking before noon on some of those dreary winter days. Reality came at my conscience like an uppercut to the sternum as I saw that picture on Facebook and saw that all my friends saw that picture as well. Something had to be done. Racing rekindled a fire in my soul to and I needed to get it the F&%$ together.
A few days after the Ocean City race I went out and paddled with Boga team rider and Walk on Water co-owner Ron Gossard to try a couple 12-6 race boards. Feeling the difference between a race board and a surf-style SUP was amazing. We cut a deal and I traded in my surf style and used my remaining credit on an old Visa for a beautiful white 404 Monster. I bought that thing the day before the 2nd race I would ever do which was on Kent Island. I came in 3rd in that race and the hook was set. I became obsessed with the sport.
Between then and now not much time has passed but a world of beautiful changes have taken place in my life. I feel that I have found that physical regime that had been missing for far too long. My spiritual side and my belief in God, a caring (then) girlfriend (now) wife, and pizza delivery had been pushing me through some tough times. Stand up paddling provided me new challenges and a whole new realm of people to meet with more positive outlooks on life than my fellow day drinkers around Chicago. The world began to open up as I adapted my ways to a whole new lifestyle.
My own evolution is still underway and I am continuing to work hard so when the time comes I can help others make changes and take on a more positive way to live their lives. For many years I toyed with the idea of becoming a personal trainer then came the years when wearing size 36 pants made me laugh at the thought. Now, my ways are different. My outlooks are different. The knowledge I seek comes from new places that are further up the mountains along the correct paths I avoided for so long.
No longer is this blog going to be about me bitching about the state of things in this world; it is going to be about me passing on the knowledge I am discovering that can have positive impacts on peoples' lives. By the middle of May I want to be working with people teaching them Stand Up Paddle Fitness and offering up solutions to improving physical and mental health and taking clients to higher levels of health and fitness than they thought possible. I want to make a modest living out of impacting the lives of others. I know firsthand what taking on the paddling "lifestyle" can do and I have read testimonies and seen the results in the lives of others.
The Eccentric's Take will soon take on a new format and a new outlook. My goal is to have many people nodding their heads in agreement as they read over knowledge that I will pass along during my own journey and new bonds will begin to forge with strangers that one day I will meet atop the water...