[EDITOR’S NOTE: I share my column space with only one other person. My brotha from anotha motha, Chris Aguilar. Please welcome him back, writing-wise. Great story! ~Katie)
Yesterday my mom was telling me about two of her staff who just got into SUP and that they were signing up for a gym membership -solely so they could get into shape for paddling. Ok, I know this is supposed to be about prone paddling – but I cannot consider prone without talking a little about SUP. It got me thinking about paddling in general and why at 40 – I think I may be in the best shape of my life.
Growing up in California, you are issued a surfboard. It just happens. In my late teens, I quit surfing and opted just to party and read poetry instead (and yes, I did wear all black and want to be Henry Rollins when I grew up). When I cleaned up my act, I got back on a longboard and it was like meeting up with an old friend. We instantly connected and I have not left the ocean since. During that time (this was about 13 or 14 years ago) I wanted to get into prone. Mainly to get into better shape for surfing. I had seen the Catalina Classic and the prone guys out there while I was surfing it just looked so fun. But I had no idea where to start, how or who to contact. Certainly, Joe Bark was down the road, but I admit – the guy is a legend in these parts and I just did not want to bother him with my beginner questions. I kept surfing. I worked my full time job, I met “her”.. tried to take up golf (big mistake), gained a lot of weight…and well…then in 2009, I got on a SUP. I was cocky about it – I had seen them around and was like “ah, that looks so easy”. I tried it and fell right off. Once I got it I was hooked. My new wife and I got boards and started paddling and had a little crew of friends we paddled with. At the time I was close to 200lbs, over worked, stressed and was just starting to shoot video stuff as a hobby. My big dream at the time was to make a surf movie. Somewhere in there I met Morgan Hoesterey at a Travel Channel workshop and my life really changed.
But what stand up did was not only get me into this community, give me my dream career – but it made me care about myself. That must sound funny, but I am the guy who was always a little overweight. And I still am. I was screwed by the gene pool as far as getting six pack abs. Paddling has become a gateway for me. Once opened, that door led me on a path of self discovery, friendships and fitness that I never thought in my life I could achieve.
I had always been a bit of an athlete – in high school I ran cross country and track. I was pretty good at it. So much so my coach once told me “Chris you could be an Olympian, you have the heart for it. But your legs are too short” (Thanks Coach). Once I met and was taken in by the Bark clan, not only did I want to train, it became part of my lifestyle. That crew does not know how to sit still. I paddled that first Rock 2 Rock SUP pretty much off the couch. But while lightly training for it- I started running again. Then I somehow managed to survive the crossing. To this day I will never forget seeing Charlie at the finish and the huge hug he gave me. I had never had friends like those guys before.
Next, as a group, we started to work on running the Catalina 50. We would meet at Joe’s and a small pack of us would go running every afternoon. This was not training, it was social hour. I rediscovered how much I loved running. I have since run two 50’s now, besting my first time by over an hour. Then came the marathons- I have been able to run four marathons on Catalina. Then came prone paddling, which has really changed my lifestyle, my body and fitness.
I am not the type of person who thinks himself an athlete. People are impressed by the things I have done, and I am proud of them, but I don’t take pride in it. There are far better runners, paddlers and all around athletes out there (try working at Quickblade with Jim Terrell and Jamie MItchell around – that will certainly keep you humble as far as your fitness level). Paddling has not just opened my eyes to new ways to investigate the water, but to a world of being active and friendships with people who like to do the same thing.
Lately, we have been on this “Beach Workout” thing Joe came up with it. Everyday when we can, myself, Joe, Reno and sometimes Steve meet at Rat Beach at 4. We run between two spots on the beach and drop and do pushups on one end. At first this was terribly painful. We could only do about 7 or 8. Then we got up to 10, then 12, then 17..which when you add it up comes to 170 pushups. I never thought I would be able to do ten push ups let alone that many. But when you are laughing with friends, outdoors, and doing it for fun. It becomes easy. While in South Carolina last weekend, Joe looked at me and said “Beach Workout?” – there was no beach. So we made it up with a group of benches and got up to 20.
Its funny to think back to those early days of me doing SUP and where it led to. Someone said “ you backed into prone by way of SUP. SUP is your roots” and that is true. Because I still love stand up and cannot wait to do Rock 2 Rock again SUP to go after my old time. I have a new Dominator on the way and cannot wait to cross train all winter on it. It was my gateway drug, from there came friendships, prone paddling, but really the active, healthy lifestyle I had always wanted – but did not know how to get.
The 200lb stressed, Chris would have never been able to envision my life today. And to be frank (and this could be another blog for my own site) I still see myself as the “200lb Chris”. But then I do a race, or run or do beach workout and realize that at 40 years old, I am somehow in the best shape of my life and having the most fun I have ever had in my life.
It is amazing to see people just starting to SUP and prone paddle and then next thing you know they have a trainer, they are eating better, they are suddenly on a mission to get better. What they find it what I found- that paddling is kind of a gateway drug to other areas of fitness.