My winter training plans, well, they all went to pot, as my grammy would say, on or about December 20, 2014, when my dad had a heart attack and I had to fly out to Phoenix, AZ. Truth be told, they were severely compromised already when I came down with the Carolina Crud that seemed to hit everyone in the state this flu season and then linger as long as an everlasting gobstopper. But the seven weeks in the desert, despite having my trusty inflatable with me and a beautiful lake 45 minutes away made training for my first attempt at the Graveyard course at the Carolina Cup downright impossible. If not even more stupid. And it put a dent in my run for the Money Island course, too. Well, that and my affair with Senor Taco, but that’s another story. Not to mention caring for not one but two infirm and impaired parents and all the fun and games that comes with being the adult only child of parents who can no longer manage.
Not paddling as often as I normally would was driving me as crazy as a llama running away from a retirement home. Not being physically active despite eating quesadilla after quesadilla from the ever so close and delicious Senor Taco was taking its toll. And yet, every day, as I made my way to and from the hospital, lawyer’s office, rehab facility, assisted living place, and gun range (just once, to learn how to shoot the 1920’s era pistol I will inherit) I’d notice how wide and smooth the streets of Sun City were. When they were llama-drama free, of course.
“Man, if I just had my longboard and land paddle out here,” I thought to myself on more than one occasion.
What is a land paddle, you might ask? It is essentially a stick with a rubber stopper or ball on the end of it that you use to propel yourself on your longboard skateboard. Ideally, the longboard is made for land paddling so it is a bit wider and longer than the traditional street surfer. In much the same way a standup paddleboard is wider and longer than it’s cousin, the surfboard. Some boards are designed for the glide, while others are super carvey. Think downwinder versus sup surfer. No matter what style you go for, land paddling is a fantastic cross training tool, and it saved my life and my sanity while I was away from home. It and Amazon.com and a little retail therapy!
I grew up in a rural area where there just wasn’t a good place to learn to skateboard, so I came to longboard skateboarding late. The addition of the “skate stick” though, adds stability, makes just about any greenway or flat street or sidewalk skate-able and is a great core and cardio workout with that familiar balance component and paddling motion. Several board makers shape bruiser cruisers wide enough to stand with feet parallel al la the standard sup stance, but most of the time, I skate regular-footed and paddle on my right side. I am working on switching it up to get a more balanced workout when I skate.
I’ll admit, I got a little crazy with the retail therapy while I was away – who wouldn’t? It was a stressful time out there away from home. I found good deals on several kinds of boards – a Kahuna Creations pin tail cruiser, a Pallisades stringer and a Meyers Boardmakers Dart which is a true land paddle board – big as a cathead biscuit with a fish tail. Rounding out the Sun City quiver was an adjustable Kahuna Creations Big Stick land paddle.
At first, I was a little bit skittish about riding the streets in Sun City, where the average age of residents is about 75. Sun City, despite billing itself as the “Original Fun City” is known for its extremely restrictive covenants. Even the yoga class at the rec center there has rules. Grandchildren are allowed to visit no longer than two weeks at a time. I was sure that as soon as I hit the asphalt in my Chattajack hoodie and Star Wars Vans, I’d be in trouble. I imagined the next door neighbor peering out from behind her curtains, phone in hand, dialing the Fun Police to report the hoodlum on a skateboard, carrying a big stick, terrorizing Country Club Drive. Every time a golf cart would pass me and slow down, I expected a lecture.
In reality, only a few people ever said anything to me. Maybe my age mitigated any skateboarder rebel thug threat I may have posed. I got the most looks on the Skunk Creek Trail – a fantastic, smooth and long greenway that runs through Sun City, Peoria, and Glendale. Of course there was the one guy who snickered at me, then cussed me out when I told him not to knock it until he tried it. Soon, the self-consciousness subsided and I even got brazen enough to poach a short skate on the golf course path. I even did some Riding Bumps-style intervals. Riding Speed Bumps intervals, you might say.
On those days when I was so worn out from navigating senior health care and memory care, desperation would take hold and I’d find myself wondering if I would ever get home and get back in the salt water. Wendy, or a paddle buddy – Julia or Joel usually – would tell me to just go land paddle. Even just a two-mile cruise around the block was enough to make me feel better – to reconnect me to the way I feel when I am on a board. Even if it’s on asphalt and not in salt water. It re-connected me to my paddle peeps too, as I learned more and more of our 100/100 Facebook group members land paddle, and they would share their experiences with me online. Sunset-to-night cruises through the neighborhood became a habit that I would look forward to, skating through brilliant Arizona desert colors punctuated by iconic cactus silhouettes. On my last night in Sun City, I actually found myself thinking about how I’d miss surfing those streets. Coyotes, bunnies, quail and all.
Back home now in Raleigh, the new Neuse River Greenway is an awesome place to land paddle, as are most of our greenways. When they are not covered in ice and snow, anyway. Earlier this week, I had a session on my street in a tee shirt, serenaded by Spring Peepers. At the end, I was smiling almost as big as I would be after a great sup paddle on Falls Lake or at the beach at Wrightsville.
All of this to say, as our off-season is about to wrap and we get back on our boards in warmer temps, having the land paddle as an alternative to those times when we can’t get in the water is a fantastic thing.
To quote Ferris Bueller, it is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.