Standup Paddleboarding on Lake Ontario in Toronto
In June Emma took me on a belated birthday treat. There’s a good reason why it was belated though. In June, Toronto basks in warm sunshine and the waters of Lake Ontario lap up against the city unhindered. My birthday is in February, and back then, there may be sunshine, but temperatures are 30-40 degrees colder than in June, and the lake is covered in ice. So when your birthday treat is standup paddleboarding, February just won’t do.
We headed down to Cherry Beach for our 1 hour lesson at 10am. Unfortunately, we were let down by public transport on the day and ended up arriving 20 minutes late! We sheepishly approached the main guy who was still on the beach whilst others in our lesson continued their session out on the water with an instructor. He wasn’t impressed by our lack of punctuality, although he seemed to warm up when he checked his phone and found that he had at least 20 missed calls from me in the 30 minutes before our lesson was due to start! Fortunately for us, a couple had cancelled their 11am lesson, so we were able to join that class instead.
The paddleboard itself looks a lot like a surfboard (this coming from someone who has never surfed…), and has a fin on its underside. We walked the boards out into the water until the fin had cleared the beach, and then clambered onto the boards and into a kneeling position. It was imperative that we started paddling hard as soon as we got on, as otherwise, such was the strength of the wind and waves that day, we would have soon found ourselves at the wrong end of the beach!
We paddled around a rocky outcrop and into a small bay that was calmer than the beach which we had embarked from. Having got the hang of paddling whilst kneeling, it was now time to stand up on the board. It is just you, your balance, board and paddle – nothing else to help you into a standing position whilst your float around on the lake.
The longer term readers of our blog will be familiar with how in September last year I did the CN Tower EdgeWalk. This involves leaning backwards (easy) and forwards (scary) over the edge of the tower to a view over the city 356 metres below. Some people find the whole thought of this terrifying.
Well let me tell you, standing up on a board from a kneeling position on choppy water, whilst wearing non-waterproof clothes and desperate not to fall in a cold lake, well that is far more scary than walking round the top of a tall tower and peering over the edge whilst harnessed to it!
Anyway, there we both were, standing up on our boards and paddling around. We soon learnt how to turn the board properly, and did our best not to crash into the four other pupils in our lesson. It was still tough though. As you may have already picked up, it was a windy day and the lake was choppy. Being hit broadside by a wave on one of these boards when you are new to the activity, is a bit hairy. You soon become aware that your toes are all tense as they try and grip onto the board and maximise the small surface area contact you have with your only friend (apart from the paddle) out in the middle of the water. Then there are your legs too. When you first stand up these are so tense – about as far from relaxed as you can get – as your body struggles to adapt to this new way of balancing itself and remaining upright (and dry). The muscles in my right knee even started twitching they were so tense!
After a while, you loosen up, although with our first lesson not being on a millpond of a surface, it was difficult to feel completely relaxed. Once our lesson was up, we paddled back past the rocky outcrop, and then knelt back down on the board, before bringing the boards back into the beach.
YEEESSSSSS! We did it – neither of us fell in! We enjoyed our first ever standup paddleboarding experience, and would feel comfortable doing it again (although hopefully on calmer waters), although there is no denying that it was downright scary on occasions.
I can see why people standup paddleboard – it’s probably a better all-body workout than kayaking or canoeing, and provides an easy way to explore watery environments. Personally though, I think I’d prefer a means of water transport that has a seat and sides – feels a bit less risky for me and my possessions!
Favourite moment of the entire outing though? We’re back on the beach having just walked our boards in from the water. Emma drops her board on the sand “Careful” the main guy shouts, “the boards cost $1,300 each!”.
Turned up late and dropped expensive equipment. Probably not his favourite pupils ever.