What Does it Take to be a REAL Paddler?

What Does it Take to be a REAL Paddler?

6 minute read

Many of us, while reading Rapid Magazine, covet the life that is projected by the paddlers highlighted. The perfect photos and epic trips. Travels around the world to exotic places and first descents. These are the real paddlers, right?


Maybe you have four kids under the age of ten. You work full time and enjoy your local lakes on evenings or weekends when your schedule allows. You bought a simple board and hop on it with your kid and float around the swimming area. You’re a real paddler.


Maybe you’re undergoing chemo and aren’t strong enough to stand up, so your husband tows you with his board, paddling while you sit and embrace the peace and tranquility around you. Guess what? You’re a real paddler too.


Or maybe "badass" doesn’t even start to describe you--Class IV whitewater runs on your SUP look like child's play. There isn’t a river you don’t want to send on your board. You’re just as real as the others.


By this time you should get the idea: there is diversity among all of us collectively known as “paddlers.” I personally feel the biggest barrier to entering any new sport or pastime is the lack of skill and not wanting to look silly while doing it. 


Although, you do have the complete flip side where people buy a watercraft and assume they have more skill and competency than they actually do. That is a dangerous combination.


My Start as a REAL Paddler


I think back to how I got into paddle boarding. It already interested me when we travelled to Australia for a bit of a family sabbatical from life. We rented a house in Yorkeys Knob for a month.


Yes, this is a real place!


It’s just outside of Cairns (pronounced Cannes). While we stayed there on the Coral Sea I had the opportunity to learn from our landlord. Later, a paddle board instructor moved in next door (irony!).  



lisa SUP real paddler



A natural isn’t what you would call me on a board. I was shaky. It was hard on the ocean at first. I fell in, was terrified of sharks and whatever else lived in the ocean.

I could pick many things apart with this photo: not standing at the carry handle, no PFD, no leash, no clue!


BUT this was a pivotal moment--I knew I liked SUP.


Progression from a raw beginner to an instructor was natural. I was already a personal trainer so teaching was intuitive and I took my Paddle Canada Level 1 SUP Instructor. I taught over 50 people to enjoy paddle boarding that first summer. I helped people responsibly enjoy paddling on the water with a base level of skill to be safe.


Paddling is What You Make It


Paddling means something different for everyone. It can mean buying an old kayak second hand and simply escaping the stresses of life on the water.


For some it becomes a chess game of the right board and paddle to dial in their racing combination.


Just like any industry, there needs to be an understanding that we all belong on the water. Safety is key. Drownings are preventable, exposure and hypothermia are preventable. We’ve all been there: those moments where a short quick paddle had the potential to become something so much more serious. This was our warning.


A Lesson in REAL Paddling


I’ll share this story as it was one of the most scared times I’ve ever had on the water. A simple enough idea: take my husband out to try his new fishing kayak. The below picture shows the serenity of the morning and the large gap in the ice on a small local lake in Northern Alberta. 


SUP ice


Bald eagles were eating fish on the ice, ducks were returning for the season. It was magical. 


We paddled through the gap and as we reached a point where we could go the long way around or turn back, I suggested we just head back the way we came. At this point we were literally less than a 1 km of paddling into the lake. 


I turned my board around and as I traveled back I realized we were like Indiana Jones in the Room of Doom--the walls were closing in around us. I looked back and my husband was already pinned high by two sheets of ice coming together.


Having to watch him was hard. I knew if I went to help him the two of us would be stuck, or worse, fall off and be hypothermic.


He shimmied his way off and we now had to paddle like mad trying to beat the moving ice sheets to get out without being pinched in. As we arrived within 100 ft. of shore the ice smacks closed in front of us and we’re sitting ducks in an ice bath. 


He put his bow on the tail of my board. We kept together as I began chopping ice with my paddle blade. We slowly broke our way out. My heart rate was soaring. All I could think of was we were going to be “those” people on the news who have to be rescued by a chopper off the lake, and I’m a paddle instructor!


Finally, we touched shore. I was shell shocked at what had just transpired. I had paddled many times with ice on the lake but I always only paddled between shore and the ice; I had never ventured into the ice. 


Both of us were rattled and I felt that was the closest I came to succumbing to the water. We hugged tight and he made me promise I wouldn’t ever paddle alone on water with ice, ever. Humbled.


Being a real paddler comes with responsibilities and those include wearing a PFD, immersion gear and being aware of your limits.


Let these stories be tales of caution and learning the hard way. Keep paddling, keep exploring and never stop learning.



Happy paddling!


Sending You Love n SUP,


Lisa Stocking


Advanced Flatwater SUP Instructor 



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Badfish 2021 Surf Traveler SUP Board Package


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