I've always enjoyed trying out new things, and pushing my personal limits. It doesn't always work – in Thailand, in a remote Buddhist monastery two monks tried unsuccessfully to teach me to sit in the lotus position, and despite my best efforts, I could not push my legs together the way they wanted me to. Nonetheless, Southeast Asia was the site of more than a few of my adventures, ranging from eating a plate full of ant's eggs, to getting lost in Burma and having armed guards escort me back to the tourist area.
Mountain climbing was a little more successful, although I opted for something a little less strenuous than my first choice of the Himalayas. When staying in Kraków for a summer, I drove down to the southern border and trekked to the very top of Mount Kasprowy, the highest point in the country and part of the beautiful Carpathian mountain range.
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It wasn't a terribly rugged sort of climb. There is a path, and it's not the sort of mountain where you have to wear special gear and carry grappling hooks, but for me, it was still quite a trek and a terrific adventure. At the very top of the mountain, we were actually in the middle of a cloud – the first time I had experienced such a thing. And, after the climb back down, my legs were so tired I could barely walk. Local taxi drivers were apparently accustomed to tourists who had over-exerted themselves, and they were waiting right at the base. I couldn't walk another step, and grabbed one right away.
In California, I enjoyed watching the surfers, but never tried it myself. When I visited Australia, I considered the adventure of a longboard, but then thought better of it after seeing a few presumably much more experienced surfers wipe out. Instead, I rented a stand-up paddleboard, and found it very easy to maneuver and learned quickly.
I visited the New South Wales coastline, and found it to be the perfect spot for beginning paddleboarding, especially along the inlets and estuaries along Bermagui, Merimbula, and around the Sapphire Coast.
It's a great adventure for a first-timer, and there's nothing quite like the thrill of going out on the water on a little board and a paddle and being surrounded by the water. It's freeing! I discovered that paddleboards were quite a bit thicker than surfboards, and as a first-timer, the best choice for me was a longer one – 12 feet in length. I also chose the widest one, at 32 inches wide, to give me plenty of room for standing. I found it to be very stable once I got out. The water was calm fortunately, and it was very comfortable right from the beginning.
I found it to be a little scary at first – I started wading out, on my knees, and gradually stood up – that first stand can be a little frightening, but once you're on your feet, you gain your balance almost right away. I found it to be remarkably easy, while still enjoying the thrill of being so close to the water – definitely easier than mountain climbing!
I discovered very quickly what was the wrong way to hold the paddle! With both hands firmly grasping the shaft of the paddle, I almost dropped it in the water – after looking over at some other paddlers, I saw the best way to hold it was with one hand on top of the handle and the other on the shaft. You get a firmer grip that way and it just feels more natural.
Another big mistake – I had never been surfing, and probably never will, but I've watched my share of old surf movies on television. Surfers always have a particular stance with their feet spread apart one in front of the other, but on the paddleboard, if you do that, you'll fall – I found that out very quickly. Keeping your feet parallel and just spread slightly apart, shoulder-width, is the right way, and that makes it a lot easier to paddle and helps maintain balance.
I took this wonderful sport back with me to the United States. I live in the Midwest, and the good news is that unlike surfing, you don't need to have the big waves and ocean beaches to take full advantage of it. Plenty of people enjoy paddleboarding on rivers and lakes, pretty much anywhere you would be able to canoe, you can paddleboard. Whether along the beaches of New South Wales, or the calm waters of the Lake Michigan shoreline, I think I have found my newest favorite adventure.