Paddleboarding in a lagoon near the Atlantic Ocean
“Don’t look at your feet. Look forward.” That was the main advice for our first foray at stand-up paddle boarding or “SUP.”
A few of us newbies gathered on a sandy patch near Aquadilla in northwestern Puerto Rico for a lesson from Aquatica Dive & Surf which also offers surfing, diving, and snorkeling. Arcing in front of us lay a beautiful natural classroom and playground: to the left, the Atlantic Ocean, straight ahead, a placid lagoon; and to our right, an inviting, meandering, calm river, flanked by lush jungle growth.
All the waters were warm compared to many other places in the continental US where paddleboarding is taught, and the conditions were gentle for optimal beginner’s luck.
First attempts in the warm lagoon.
“It’s all about balance” was the other advice given as we pushed our long boards out into the lagoon. Guides were nearby to help steady us if we needed it. I got into a kneeling position in the middle of my board, placed the single paddle perpendicularly in front of me, and then used it to push myself first to squatting, then to standing position.
Wow! I was up on a paddle board! Things felt tippy at first, until I found my own sweet-spot on the board. From then on, it was relatively stable. For me, paddling was easier than just standing still.
The long pole with a curved paddle at one end had been adjusted to my height, so that one hand could push down on the handle, while the other hand mid-pole pulled it toward me. Pushing and pulling the paddle in the right amounts is one form of balance. Being in the optimal position on the board is another. Finding the body posture that works is also a key element of balance – not leaning back or forward too much, knees slightly bent. Most of that, the body seems to do automatically.
Lesson One: Look Ahead and Practice Balance
To control direction, you can back-paddle the way you might while kayaking. You can also switch the paddle over to the other side, which also means switching which hand is on top and which is in the middle of the paddle.
It was about the shortest learning curve of any new sport or recreation, I can remember– certainly easier than anything involving a ball or wheels. Soon, we were heading up the river, first-time paddlers (ages ranging from the 20s to 60s) relishing the pleasure of something new.
Paddling offers solitude or good company.
We could be close enough for conversations or find our own niche in nature to listen to the wildlife and enjoy the jungle fauna.
It took just enough effort and attention that my mind was cleared of other worldly things. But not it did not require so much concentration that I couldn’t hum a spontaneous paddling tune, take photos with my waterproof camera, or just make up a jungle adventure.
Beautiful orange flowers floated. Coqui frogs added to the chorus. Occasionally a bird would swoop nearby. The river was so gentle, it was encouraging for practicing different speeds and directions. The water was so warm that the idea of falling in was not intimidating.
We had seen stand-up paddle boarders out at sea where conditions can be much more challenging. Those paddlers may also have the thrills of catching waves. Kneeling or laying on long boards to catch waves goes way back in Hawaiian tradition. The kind of recreational stand up paddle boarding or “SUP” we were learning has been growing in the last few decades with the advent of new board designs.
Boards left while paddlers hike.
Our little quasi-intrepid group spread out and paddled under a bridge, and past a rope swing until we were gathered near a muddy shore where some branches hung low. We helped each other ashore for a land hike.
The cleared jungle trail lead through thick growth to an early railroad tunnel in Puerto Rico, built in 1906. Naturally we felt compelled to walk through the dark passage until we saw the light again.
Paddling back to our original shore, I thought about how much this “lesson” had been like my first surfing lesson in Waikiki on Oahu- the warm waters, gentle conditions and beautiful scenery there had made it an optimal place for a sense of fun and success the first time out. The same was true here for my first SUP chapter.
At the end of our group journey, one person said she thought it was boring as a sport. She was teased that she should try it in the ocean before reaching any conclusions. Two other people said they thought paddleboarding was more fun than kayaking. One because he likes being up above the water, the other because it uses legs as much as arms. A fourth person said she really loved it and would pursue it more when they got home.
All were all glad we had tried a new way to enjoy Puerto Rico’s natural beauty and man-made features.
The Luxury Elements:
The view from the Eclipse Restaurant, part of the Villa Montana Beach Resort in Puerto Rico. The Resort can help arrange horseback riding on the beach, paddleboarding, and massages.
To make paddling in Puerto Rico a more luxurious experience, you could stay at Villa Montana Beach Resort, not far from the International airport in Aquadilla, (or find out what the Heliport sign is all about.) The spacious villas can be your home base for biking, horseback riding on the beach, tennis, golf, pool lounging, and tide-pooling.
The resort’s alfresco seaside restaurant, the Eclipse, offers wonderful food and views, and delicious fuel to start your paddling day off with gusto.
Villa Montana Resort
To end your day with soothing luxury, arrange in advance for a private massage by the shore or in your own villa.
You could open the door to your place and be greeted by dozens of candles, sweet smells, and a talented masseuse ready to ease any muscles you challenged while enjoying paddle boarding and hiking. If you want romantic ambiance for yourself or mate, trails of rose petals can be arranged, too.
Some Practical Tips for PaddleBoarding:
*Wear water shoes with good support and grip (although some people prefer barefeet to help their balance.)
*Secure your glasses/sunglasses with a strap that floats
* If you want to wear a hat, make sure it has a strap
*Pre-spray bug spray on yourself, and your hat
* Bring/borrow a waterproof bag for your camera and anything you want to keep dry
*Bring water with you to stay hydrated. Make sure the guide has plenty before you start out.
* And, of course, check with your doctor first, if you have any relevant medical conditions!
Thanks to Aquatica for a good first lesson.
Tips While There:
*Watch others to observe what works and what doesn’t
* Listen to the guides– they should know where it’s safe to get off near shore and where the submerged logs are, etc.
*Ask for a “dry bag” if you want to bring your camera and keep it dry, then use it on the hike. Make sure you learn how to close the bag properly.
*There are some elastic ropes at the front of the board for securing things like the dry bag
*Ask what the plan for the paddle is. If you are going to stop and hike like we did, you might want to make sure you bring dry shoes and put them in a bag. (Fire ants like exposed feet. Exposed feet usually don’t feel the same way about fire ants.)
*Remember to ask others to take your picture on the board, if you want a memento of your good time!
Puerto Rico- the Place!
Puerto Rico is a US territory, so if you are a US citizen, you don’t need to worry about passports or customs or international cell phone charges, the way you would with many other Caribbean islands. US currency, and both English and Spanish prevail, and driving is on the right side of the road unlike many other Caribbean islands. You can fly into the capital of San Juan on the northeast of the island, and enjoy Old San Juan’s rich history, great restaurants, party night life, and wonderful museums. After a couple of days, drive west to the Isabella area of Puerto Rico, or you can fly straight to Aquadilla airport.
If you opt to take the east to west road trip, and are willing to go a little inland, two memorable attractions in Puerto Rico are the Arecibo Observatory, and the Rio Camuy Caves (787-898-3100.)
For more help planning a great trip, check out www.SeePuertoRico.com
What more can you share about Paddle Boarding or about Puerto Rico? Please add your comments below. Viva the good life!
-Lisa TE Sonne for LuxuryTravelMavens
Photographs © Lisa TE Sonne,