The sky darkened ominously and the first spatters of rain hit the ground with a violence that marked the approaching storm. In less than twelve hours time I would be floating in the middle of lake in Cornwall, so it was with some alarm that I pondered the earthing qualities of a wetsuit as the thunder rumbled and lightning flashes danced across the sky.
The next morning, the storm had blown over but the day dawned dully with a bank of cloud that looked like it had settled in for the duration. At least the high winds of the previous day had died down, steadying my fears of being blown helplessly across the water. Today I was going to attempt a 30 New Things challenge – stand up paddle boarding.
I roped a friend, J, into coming with me. For all my bravado when I signed up for the taster lesson, I still had a real fear that I might hurt myself and have to suffer the indignity of being tended to by strangers. J, being the fittest person I know, was an ideal candidate for a mid-lake paddle board rescue, should one be required.
The first hurdle was in the changing rooms. A wetsuit is not the easiest of garments to get on even without taking a fused ankle into consideration. There were a few swears and some helpless giggles as we squeezed into our suits. Once on, they were immediately clammy with sweat from the oppressive overcast July air.
Lakeside, we listened as the instructor gave us some very basic instructions: stand there, paddle like this, try not to fall off. J and I exchanged glances: try not to fall off. Wading in, we pushed off and the instructor and J settled on the board on their knees, I sat with legs pulled up, to avoid placing strain on my damaged kneecap. We paddled into deeper water.
I immediately got into trouble. My ineffectual steering had led me into a bank of moored boats on a small jetty and like a bad driver at the Dodgems, I was unable to reverse my way out. The instructor paddled over and gave my board a shove and after some serious manoeuvering, I was off into the wide expanse of open water.
The water was calm and aside from a small party of excitable school children learning to sail, the lake was empty. Time to attempt to stand up. J and the instructor were already standing and making it look easy. With a huge amount of trepidation, I rose first to my knees, then placed one foot flat on the board. With hands firmly planted, I made an extremely ungraceful, bum in the air, ‘V’ position. This was the moment; would I stand or to the delight of the watching school children, tumble ignominiously overboard. I rose slowly, hands outstretched and in a semi lunge, like I was performing jazz hands in a closing number in a musical. The board remained surprisingly stable, the small lapping motions of the water easily counterbalanced by body weight and not dependent, as I had feared, on constant adjustments to feet and ankle.
Standing, I was delighted to find that paddling was smooth and fast. We made short work towards a sheltered inlet, disturbing a flock of geese, who flew low and disgruntled over over our heads. The sun broke briefly through the cloud and sparkled on the water. The instructor, J and I did not speak, wrapped as we were in our meditative trance of paddle and water.
The spell was broken when the sun disappeared back behind the intractable concrete sky and the wind picked up. Almost instantly, waves rocked our boards, making us swear and struggle for balance. I was the first to give in and I landed heavily on my bottom on the board. From my sitting position, I paddled towards the buoy that marked our return route.
For a while, we made very poor progress as every foot gained by fierce paddling was undone by a hefty gust of wind blowing us backwards. My damaged arm was starting to protest, the metal plate straining at the constant rowing motion. Finally, the wind died to more manageable levels and we began to gain ground.
With the jetty in sight, we once again found our feet and backs straight, we boarded triumphantly back past the children, who were now expertly steering their small boats around a series of coloured buoys. Our boards hit the shallow beach and we stumbled to shore, with aching shoulders and wet feet.
Paddle boarding was more physically demanding than I imagined, but mentally freeing. There is no space for intrusive thoughts as you concentrate on water and board. I definitely want to give it another go. I began the day just hoping that I could make it to my feet, next time I want to make it right across the lake.