A SUP-posedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, or MEC Paddle-stress, or Maybe I’ll Stick to Kayaking

Sunshine stretching out into the evenings. Freckles, multiple tanlines, accidental patches of sunburn. The smell of barbecues and bonfires. Summer is here, and it’s delicious.

I was happy to discover I had no plans for the weekend of MEC Paddlefest in June. Get me in a body of water outdoors, and I’m happy. When I was younger, I canoed with my dad, and Tim and I went once in the Yukon. I also really enjoy solo kayaking, and try go every opportunity I have, which ends up being once a year or so.

I have friends who often take overnight canoe trips, and I have been a bit jealous. I wouldn’t feel confident doing that and it’s something I’d like to do with Tim, so I suggested we take an Intro to Tandem Canoeing workshop. I thought it would help us go over basics together and practice our communication. I’ve also been curious about stand up paddleboarding (SUP) for a few years, so I signed up for an Intro to SUP for Women workshop directly after.

It was long run day, and I knew I’d be at Paddlefest from 9:15am – 1:30pm or so, so naturally I thought it’d be wise to run the 13.5km down to Sunnyside Beach. Because of course. On the run, I was getting a sense of just how windy it was. Hmmm.

The setup for Paddlefest was really impressive. There were lots of vendor tents, workshops, and helpful volunteers. They even hooked us up with a free Nalgene bottle.

MEC Paddlefest 2016

The two canoeing instructors were really knowledgeable and cheerful. We covered some basics on land, including:

  • proper fit for lifejackets – unsurprising answer: tight! If you lift up from the tops of the shoulders, the lifejacket shouldn’t be able to move above your chin
  • the parts of a canoe

1 bow (front), 2 stern (back), 3 hull, 4 seat, 5 thwart, 6 gunwale, 7 deck, and 8 yoke (used for portaging)


  • paddle sizing – hold the paddle with your non-dominant hand on the grip, and your dominant hand on the shaft. Lift your arms and place at a 90-degree angle, triceps parallel with the ground. You should have at least 9 inches between your dominant hand and the start of the blade.
  • how to safely enter and exit a canoe – tip – slide your paddle across the gunwales for balance and support!
  • and basic strokes. – forward, backward, j-stroke, pry, draw, and sweep.

So much to learn! For whatever reason, I asked to be in the stern, meaning I was responsible for steering. Tim was in the bow, providing the power. Note to future self: this is the complete opposite of how it should be. Tim rowed in high school. When he’s curling, he skips. His brain gets it. Me, on the other hand? I have no technique, no finesse. I like brute strength. I’m the one at the office who says, “please, allow me to carry that case of paper for you,” or “I’ll move that couch!” In the words of Drake, know yourself.

View this post on Instagram

The rodeo show.

A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on

To be kind and generous to myself, it was a windy day. Really windy. It’s hard enough to get your canoe to go straight on a calm day. I also kept reversing my draws and pries.

I’m a curious person. I like to learn and try new things. Tim describes me as “coachable.” But lately I’ve found that I’ve been getting overwhelmed in new learning situations, especially if I feel some sense of pressure from the instructor. In hindsight, I’m confident that instructors are absolutely not pressuring me, but in the moment, it’s hard to recognize that fact. I have such a strong desire to please others.

Towards the end of the workshop, I was feeling tired (maybe from running 13.5km beforehand?) and was getting frustrated by my mixups and inability to steer. An instructor paddled up offering suggestions and instructions, and I finally had to blurt out, “I just need to a take a break!” It’s really embarrassing to get so flustered, but I know the alternative of not stopping would have led to a bigger meltdown.

It feels ridiculous to get worked up when you have trouble learning something that you’re doing for fun. Is it because I’m a perfectionist? Do I set expectations for myself too high? People are hardwired to be failure adverse. Not being good at something sucks. I think we all (not-so) secretly want to be innately good at everything we try.

I took some deep breaths and decided not to stress about having perfect technique or efficient strokes. I just paddled. We got back to shore. Before the end of the workshop, we practiced portaging as a duo or solo, which was really fun.

Bowman and sternwoman

Bowman and sternwoman

Next up was my SUP workshop. There were only three of us in the workshop, which meant lots of close instruction. Again, we started on land, covering:

  • paddle sizing – much longer! You want to be able to hold the grip while keeping the blade on the ground and your arm straight above your head),
  • strokes – mostly the same as the canoe strokes, though you use and rotate your core a lot more in the sweep stroke
  • how to transport the board – hold it like a suitcase against your body using the hole in the middle of the board,
  • and how to get on and off without hurting yourself or the board – be mindful of the fin on the bottom and use that paddle across the board for stability!

The wind was much more of a challenge – laughably so. We spent most of the time paddling on our knees, practicing strokes. In between gusts of wind, we practiced standing up by going from a tabletop position to a squat position one foot at a time. I will say that standing on the board is a pretty cool feeling. You know what’s cooler than cool? Falling into ice cold water because you’re standing up on the board and then the board bumps into a wall because the wind takes over. Whoops. It wasn’t that bad, and in a way, falling in took the fear out of falling in, though my classmates in sweatshirts looked really apprehensive.

Again, I couldn’t steer the thing. Our instructor stressed that ideally you only ever need to paddle on one side – you should be able to do the necessary corrective strokes to stay on course. I don’t know about all that, I thought to myself as I fell in the water for a second time. By this point, I accepted that I was pretty much done for the day. I was tired, it was windy, and I don’t think I was born to SUP.

Last weekend, I attended a wedding that was hosted at a resort in Muskoka. The resort allowed access to all sorts of equipment for water sports.

Yeah, this was real life.

Yeah, this was real life.

They had a SUP board, so I decided to take it for a spin in the much calmer water. I had an easier time steering, and slowly paddling around was fine but… I just don’t think it’s my jam.

I returned the board to the resort’s boathouse, and grabbed a kayak instead. I hit the water and I was off. I had control. I felt strong. There’s a reason I go kayaking every chance I get – it’s my jam!

So who knows? Maybe I won’t go on overnight canoe trips. I’m probably not going to do more SUP classes. But I tried, and I only panicked a little. It’s good to try new things, but maybe not all new things are good for me. If I really want to do something and I’m not good at it the first few times I try, I’ll practice. Otherwise, I will remind myself that I can’t be good at everything, and it’s good enough to give it a shot and be less afraid of failing.