Nike’s famous slogan, “Just do it,” has always been a favourite of mine. It’s a modern take on carpe diem, strike while the iron’s hot, or make hay while the sun shines. It even makes me think of my bucket list. Sometimes you have to “just do it” because if you think about it too much, chances are you won’t do it at all.
That’s why I decided to paddle the length of Kalamalka Lake–a whopping 18 kilometres–on a stand up paddleboard. I made the decision suddenly back in February after seeing a brightly coloured poster advertising the Kalamalka Classic Stand Up Paddle Festival. I was intrigued, and contacted Kevin O’Brien and Michelle Mitchell, the owners of the Kalavida Surf Shop in Vernon, and the masterminds behind the festival.
Kevin was happy to answer my questions and he kindly walked me through the details of the sport, explaining board sizes, the need to wear a lifejacket and a leash (which keeps you connected to the board should you fall off). The event would consist of a short course and sprint races on Saturday, followed by the length-of-the-lake race on Sunday.
“New people might do the sprints or the short course for fun while some might just do the long course,” Kevin said. I was busy scribbling notes when he added, “But if you’re going to write a story, you should probably do both.”
We chatted briefly about a training plan and he suggested that by April I should be paddling a couple of days a week. Before I could connect the dots–April, on the lake, cold weather–he added, “And as you get more confident, it’s a good idea to practice in windy conditions.”
I hung up the phone feeling excited … stunned. I realized I’d just committed to an 18-kilometre paddle, on a stand up paddleboard, which I’d never been on in my life. Fortunately, I didn’t have long to think about it. In early March, Michelle invited me to try a session at the pool in the Vernon Recreation Centre. Luckily for me, I was the only paddleboarder in the pool and I received the full benefit of both Michelle and Kevin’s one-on-one instruction. By the end of the hour, I was keen to make good on my earlier commitment to race. I was in love with the sport.
The next step was the lake. This happened in April. My first time out with Michelle was under blue skies and sunshine. But the weather for my second paddle wasn’t so idyllic. Under an ominous sky with howling winds, I paddled out. All I could remember were Kevin’s earlier words: “Confidence ... good idea ... practice in windy conditions...”
I wasn’t on my board 30 seconds and I knew I was in for a rough ride. As whitecaps formed, I quickly forgot everything I’d learned about technique and I concentrated solely on keeping my balance.
When I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the wind picked up even more and it started to rain. Wait, was that rain? It seemed a little, well, thick.
Michelle yelled to me from the beach. “Hey Moe, it’s snowing! You can come in if you want.” I didn’t dare wave for fear of falling so I yelled back that I’d paddle just a bit longer. Apparently that’s all the weather gods needed to hear. Within minutes the wind stopped, the sun peaked out and the water relaxed. “Ahhh...calm water,” I thought to myself as the tension eased. “This isn’t so bad, now if I could just feel my fingers…”
I left the beach that day feeling like a paddleboard warrior. I’d survived wind, cold and snow. I would paddle that 18 kilometres come hell or high water. But I needed a training regime. It was time to take this a bit more seriously.
So I started running, one, sometimes two days a week, and I used the elliptical trainer three days a week, give or take. I squeezed in some dumbbell work, a few core exercises here and there and I continued to paddle. On May 28, I participated in a skills clinic and race, the first event of the Kalavida Summer Series. As I suspected, paddling technique was key and I learned that it can make a huge difference in balance, energy expended and speed.
After that, the countdown was on. I registered for the Kalamalka Classic in the Weekend Warrior division or recreation category (the keeners registered in the King and Queen of Kalamalka competitive class). With one week to go, more than 75 people had registered, triple the number from last year.
And suddenly, it was Saturday morning. I competed in the short course (about 1.5 kilometres) followed by the sprint races Saturday afternoon and come away with a second place overall finish. It was a good warm-up for Sunday, but those short distances don’t begin to compare with the 18-kilometre trek down Kalamalka Lake.
Under grey skies and in a wicked wind (thankfully blowing the direction we were paddling), we hopped on our boards at Oyama Beach. After crossing “the Riviera” (the channel under the train tracks that leads to Kalamalka Lake), the wind dropped significantly. I took a deep breath and set a comfortable pace for the long trek back to Kal Beach.
“Comfortable” might be an exaggeration–it was a tough haul. It required concentration (the more tired you are the easier it is to fall) and some serious core and upper body work. But ask most racers and they’ll tell you the same thing–the time actually went fast.
I crossed the lake in two hours and forty-five minutes, good enough for third place in the women’s recreation category and to my surprise, a second-place Women’s Weekend Warrior overall finish. I was thrilled to have done it, ecstatic that I placed and thankful it was over. One more item off my bucket list and a new one added to my “favourite things to do” list. Now I’m going to buy a board, a paddle and yep, sign up for next year. –Maureen McEwan
Photo by Shaun Bos