My time in and on the water started when I was very young. My mother, who couldn’t swim, wanted her young son to be able to.
My parents moved to Florida only a few months before I was born and Mom saw water all around. She wasn’t going to take the chance that I might fall in.
She was going to make sure that if I could swim and get out of the water, if that happened.
It was 1957. The space program was in its infancy and Brevard County wasn’t prepared for the huge influx of people that would one day put man in space.
It also wasn’t going to be an easy place to find swimming lessons. Somehow, Mom came across the local YMCA.
Without a pool of their own, they made arrangements to use of one of the few swimming pools around, the Harvey/Hale family pool.
The family had a large and successful orange grove. They’d built a family pool next to their home, overlooking the Indian River.
Once or twice a week each summer, I joined newly transplanted kids and began my swimming lessons, rising from Minnow Club to Fish, to Flying Fish to Shark, to Porpoise, and eventually to Junior Lifesaver.
These lessons went hand-in-hand toward my path to Eagle Scout. Both swimming and life saving merit badges were required.
Along the way I would also earn rowing, canoeing, and small boat sailing merit badges along several “one mile” swimming awards. My love of the water came from years and years of exposure.
A couple of years ago, one of my Scouting buddies from childhood took up stand-up paddleboarding. We’ve been camping, kayaking and cycling together for years.
Since he lived close to the beach and the river, he could wheel or carry his boards down to the water.
As his skills increased so did his paddleboard collection. His entry level board was joined by a more specific board which led to his long cruising board.
His cycling and kayaking took a back seat to paddleboarding and he kept asking when I was going to join him.
A change in his work schedule gave him Fridays off. So after years of talking about how “we” should go paddleboarding, we hit the water.
It’s a short walk across the grass from his condo to the Banana River. A small sandy beach makes launching easy and there’s a nice protected cove before you enter the river.
It didn’t take long before I saw several advantages over canoeing and kayaking. The paddleboards have a built-in handle so they are easily carried with one arm.
Being so light and easy to lift, putting them on the rack of a car didn’t require a great amount of upper body strength. Being flat, they take up a lot less room than a kayak.
Once on the water they are easy to paddle and offer a much better view than being in or on a kayak.
Once I’d found my balance, we slipped out of the cove and padded along the shoreline. In the distance I could see the cruise ships in nearby Port Canaveral.
Looking much closer to where I was paddling I could watch fish, dolphins and horseshoe crabs go by. Pelicans perched on channel markers and dove for fish all around us.
Finding a shallow spot with a sandy bottom we sat down on the boards for a break and drink of cold water. The water was shallow enough that we could keep a toe on the bottom and keep from drifting.
On our return trip a large power boat passed by. I pointed the nose into the wake, as I would do on a kayak.
It wasn’t a bad idea, but my balance wasn’t quite ready for that much movement below my feet. Over the back I went into the shallow water.
Sitting on the bottom with the water just above my elbows I had to laugh. It had to happen! I knew that I wasn’t going to stay dry. Falling off is just part of the learning process.
The board didn’t go far because I was wearing a leash attached to it around my ankle. I’m sure me sitting knee deep water wearing my life jacket with a board attached to my ankle would have made a great photo.
Getting back on the board was much easier than I’d expected. I was able to paddle all the way back to the beach with only falling off one more time. Once you get wet it doesn’t seem as bad the second time.
What a wonderful place to spend time with an old friend. Surrounded by water, fish, and shorebirds, without another human in sight. I look forward to our next trip!