Introduction to Stand-Up Paddle Boarding 

I am Kevin Dintino, Regional Director of Tidewater Physical Therapy. I am RVA Strong!

As part of a health and wellness initiative, Style Weekly has partnered with Tidewater Physical Therapy, Inc. to help introduce the community to various activities in and around Richmond in the hopes of creating a healthier population. I have been challenged (code word for guinea pig) to partake in 12 different activities over the next year and then write a blog about each of my experiences. We also have video that will accompany the article giving you a close up and I suspect many laughs of what each adventure entails. I invite you to follow me as I "tackle" these 12 adventures and in the process I hope to inspire and motivate you to try some of these exciting activities and make you RVA Strong, too.

My first challenge was that of Stand UP Paddleboarding (SUP) and although I had tried this activity once or twice before on my own, these outings were self taught and I spent more time in the water than on the board. Thus I still considered myself a novice and was a little nervous that I might be in for the same experience this time around.

I met my instructor, Bryan from Black Dog Paddle, at Robious Landing Park, off Robious Rd, and it was a beautiful fall day in October on the James River. The leaves were starting to change and the water was mostly calm under a bright, sunny sky without a cloud in sight. I couldn't ask for better conditions! Hopefully, this was a good sign for a successful outing.

First, we talked about equipment which includes the Paddle Board, a paddle and the ever important PFD (personal flotation device). The paddle was sized to the length of my outstretched arm overhead, wrist bent to 90 degrees. There is a bend where the paddle meets the handle and the bend should face forward when paddling. According to my Bryan this seems to be the biggest mistake of us "newbies". There is a leash that goes around your ankle and basically ties you to the board. This is an important piece of equipment because if you should fall in, the board is your most buoyant piece of equipment so you want to make sure don't get separated from it. In terms of types of Paddleboards, there are many different kinds and they are sized based on the size of the user, experience of the user and the conditions in which they are being used. I suggest seeking out expert advice (not me in this case) to determine the right type and size of board for your needs. There is a center hand hold in most boards which is designed so that one can carry the board under one arm and the paddle in the other. This makes getting the Paddleboard to and from the water easier than one might expect.

When first getting on the board it is easiest to put the paddle across it, then get onto the board in an all-fours kneeling position. The center of the board is where the hand hold is located so keeping that evenly spaced between your hands and knees really helps keep it stable. Coming to a standing position is the first challenging thing to do and paddling a few strokes to get some forward momentum is helpful in stabilizing the board. It is similar to riding a bike or skiing, in which turning those devices is much easier if you have some speed or forward momentum. Once standing, you want to straddle the hand hold with a slightly staggered stance which will help you relax and not get "stuck" in one position. As you start to paddle you will want to make sure you keep your head up and take long stokes getting the entire paddle under the water to maximize your effort. If you look down at your feet it is hard to keep your balance and it is not good for your neck. I had an old football coach once tell me: "Where your head goes your body will follow". That will probably be in the water if you don't run into something first! Besides, there are much more interesting things to look at other than your feet.

The views on the river were spectacular and Bryan noted that compared to kayaking or canoeing, SUP gives a different and more expansive panorama because of your vertical position on the water. I have not tried kayaking yet (stay tuned- it's on the list) so I don't have that comparison, but the reasoning makes sense to me.

As a casual observer of paddle boarding, one might think that you use mostly your arms and shoulders to perform this activity. That would be incorrect. Stand Up Paddle Boarding is a total body work-out! You have to use your legs and core for balance and most of the paddle stroke comes from your core, obliques and trunk musculature using your arms as a lever to transfer the power to the paddle. This is why you want to make sure your upper hand stays on the "T" handle at the end of the paddle. This was something I did not know prior to my lesson which made my previous self taught outings less than efficient. I also wore swim shoes, and, for the record, "rubber shoes do not slide well on rubber matting"! My shoes made it very difficult to move around on the board to change positions. Even with this hindrance and thanks to the patience of my instructor I was able to accomplish moving from a staggered stance to a side or surfer's stance without "tasting" the James River. I was also able to complete forward and backward turns and a pivot turn.

Take away message: A lesson is worth the time and expense. After a 30 minute lesson I was more comfortable and effective on the board than after 2 hours of trying to figure it out on my own. A lesson will save you frustration and time allowing you to start to enjoy this activity much sooner. Another reason to take a lesson: Paddle Boards are expensive and can range in cost from $700 on up! By taking a lesson, you can experience the activity to make sure you want to make the investment. Lessons are around $70 for 3 hours and based on my 30 minute experience I think most people will be very comfortable after a full lesson.

Some exercise tips for both novices and experienced Paddle Boarders: Work your Core- planks, side planks and therapeutic ball exercise to strengthen your abdominals, obliques and trunk extensors. Also work your hips especially your stabilizers including your abductors and adductors through exercises such as side stepping with resistance, lunges in all planes, squats, and Bosu ball squats. In addition to your core work for the upper back you might want to include standing rows and shoulder extensions (pulling your arms from above your head down past your hips mimicking the paddle motion) with resistance and progressing those exercises to doing them while standing on the Bosu ball or uneven surface or while standing on one leg. This could be done single arms and both arms together and it would be beneficial to perform it on diagonals to mimic the paddle stroke.

Overall, this was a fantastic experience and with so many bodies of water in and around Richmond such as the James River, Lake Anna, Lake Chesdin, and Swift Creek reservoir to name a few, Stand Up Paddling is a perfect way to get, or stay active in our "river city". I have been in the Richmond region for over 22 years and I have not really taken advantage of the access to water activities that this great city offers. But after this adventure I am planning on changing my ways. Like they say, "No time like the present". I hope you will do the same and don't forget to bring a towel!

Paddleboarders are RVAStrong!

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