I have been a competent swimmer for almost all of my life. I couldn’t humour you with an exact age, but roughly sometime before I was eight I could hold my own in a swimming pool and as the old cliche goes – learning to swim is like learning to ride a bike, only wetter and slower. Quite why humans felt the need to swim is a bit of a mystery. I suppose it may be from an inherent mistrust in the boats they learnt to make; that sooner or later their technology would fail them and they would end up in the water with a long way to go and no way to get there. You don’t often see gorillas doing back stroke or chimpanzees with 50m badges and so there would have surely been a moment when homo sapiens had the trick passed down to them from other sources or just worked it out with trial and error. I don’t have any idea how many people globally cannot swim, but then why would I care? I can and they can’t, and that’s all there is to it.
And then came water sports. Not the kind you might associate with a Tory MP but the kind involving, well, buggering about in water. Isn’t that all water sports really are: buggering about in water? They serve no obvious purpose other than to distract from the misery and mundanity of everyday life and they benefit no-one save the participant. They are known to cause all sorts of horrific injuries and at the least usually end with some silly sod, minus a flip-flop, shivering their tits off on sludgy jetty. And yet they are fabulously popular. Frankly, they do almost nothing for me but for a few rare occasions, when I have been press ganged into them at the right moment and they have miraculously paid some kind of mild dividend. And that’s about all I can manage. Some people like to climb mountains, others prefer to not climb mountains. Only people who climb mountains fall off mountains and die. I’ll leave the splashy heroics to someone else.
From memory I can recall a bit of kayaking in my youth, along with a few brief spells in a canoe (they are different for a number of reasons, but none of them matter in the slightest). I have never been on a banana boat because they are just ridiculous and you won’t find me manning my own yacht anytime soon, partly because I can’t afford one and partly because I don’t want people to think I’m more of a twat than they already do. I have been in a dinghy but I have never come close to a pair of water skis, let alone a surf board. I have also snorkelled several times but have never got on with it; snorkelling isn’t really a water sport but rather just an expensive trip to a very unreliable aquarium – I don’t know why my gear has never fitted properly (perhaps it is my unusually handsome features) but every attempt to snorkel in some manner of comfort has rapidly deteriorated into a kind of upside down saltwater-boarding exercise, as witnessed by a couple of clown fish and a lazy turtle. I once wasted an afternoon drifting around a scuba diving exhibition with the aim of planning a holiday with a kind-of-friend of mine: it turns out that scuba diving is a very time and money hungry sort of a sport and since my chief diving partner soon turned out to be an arsehole (and subsequently an ex-kind-of-friend) my lack of commitment was actually rather shrewd.
Anyway, this week I have been gently prodded out of my comfort zone once more and have paddle boarded for the very first time. I didn’t have a lot of choice because it was an early surprise for my fast approaching birthday and so felt duly obliged to partake with as much grace as I could muster, which wasn’t a lot. From dry land there doesn’t seem like a lot to paddle boarding: you float on a board and paddle out for a bit……and then you paddle back in again; but surely it would make more sense to paddle in neither direction and instead go and get a drink, or stay in bed for another hour? You could easily fill a very big space with the number of times I have been proved wrong and so once again it has come to pass – paddle boarding is really rather pleasant. It helped that I was with friends and it helped that the weather was glorious, of course, but the main point is that I enjoyed myself doing something I was too hasty to belittle. To the paddle boarding community I apologise, with a small caveat of reservations.
If I’m being picky I still can’t really see the point of paddle boarding and it’s certainly not the quickest way to get from wet A to wet B, but I can assure you it definitely qualifies as a sport because I worked up a very manly sweat in the process and discovered a few muscles that even they didn’t know existed. The use of calories is spread across two main areas: the physical act of paddling and the tension of trying not to fall in. The former is no bother at all but the later is where all the excitement lurks. You can of course play it safe and sit or kneel for the whole time but there is something much more challenging about wobbling your way to a standing position like a newly born calf and then balancing that with balancing yourself and then generating enough extra balance to start paddling again. It is, therefore, all about the balance. Oh, and making sure you stand up straight and not like you’re being given a seeing to up against a wall. Because otherwise you will flounder, flap and ultimately fall, and that leads to the most most taxing thing about water sports; which is getting wet. Perhaps that’s what puts me off the most: getting wet. Deep down I just can’t be bothered to get wet unless I really have to. Which in itself is supremely wet. I must try to stop overthinking these kinds of things and enjoy life a little more. Just throw myself in at the deep end, as they say, and enjoy the splash.
G B Hewitt. 18.07.2021