Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) saves my sanity. I am on the water every day Mother Nature allows, swimwear in the summer, wetsuits spring and fall. Research indicates that being on, near, or in water is a natural tranquilizer. I can attest. Fitting a ride into my day takes commitment, but the coalescing of mind, body and spirit harmonizes into sharp focused thought, creative ideas, innovative solutions, imaginative conflict resolution, and open-minded acceptance of those around me.

Each morning before dawn, or maybe at dawn, if my internal clock didn’t get me up, I make a cup of coffee as I prepare for my morning paddle. There is ritual to it. Sunscreen, whistle, hat, sunglasses, carrying paddle and board to and then into the river. And that predawn river? Mirror smooth. Last weekend I was awakened by my two grandsons, who touched my shoulder and the older one said, “Nonna, look! The water’s glass. We’ve got to go get on it.” We did.

He’s nine, the glass whisperer, so … here are 9 life lessons I’ve learned on my SUP.

1. Go upriver first

I’ll be the first to admit there are mornings when taking on the river’s current is simply unappealing. I’m sleepy, my muscles aren’t yet warmed up, nor is the neuro-circuitry in my brain zipping along well worn pathways to perhaps brilliant, let alone any, thought. That hastily imbibed coffee has yet to kick in. Most often I’m cold, as the sun has yet to peek over the horizon to provide both warmth and light. But if I’m going to paddle to the end of my strength, I know I’ll be happy for the little assist the downriver current gives me on your way back.

Take on that thing you’re afraid of, or threatened by, or especially underwhelmed about, that difficult conversation, or daunting woodpile; or things you’ve put off like an apology, or junk drawer or spot on the carpet. Do it now. First.

2. Laugh when there’s no one to hear you

It’s champagne for the soul. That bubbly piece of carbonated joy froths up and into the world through me. I don’t know why, but a fish jumping in front of my board makes me laugh aloud every time. I like to think of them as jumping for joy, or with joy – or both. Ospreys make me smile involuntarily on their morning hunt to feed their family, and their chicks’ heads peeking over the edge of the nest – you got it, involuntary mirth. My laugh is wholly mine when unobserved by others.

3. Pause to absorb

The pace of a SUP is, let’s just say, “sedate.” It forces me into the moment. It slows me down and I see things I don’t notice when boating. The deer, for example, frolicking on the lawn near the water’s edge, or the small elderly woman, assisted by her mate to the dock where he tucks a blanket around her legs and hands her a steaming cup. I have sat down to watch a floatplane take off into an azure sky. I hear more, see more, absorb more, and all the while the stuff of life drops away bit by bit. I imagine all those preening negative entities jumping ship in the wake of such positive uplifting energy.

4. Do not talk trash about your mother-in-law on the water. Your story will carry 5 miles.

5. You can’t push the river

On the water I am clearer about life. I am reminded daily by the river’s inexorable journey, that there are things I can affect, like what I eat, keeping fit, working hard, or in a moment of pique, and let’s face it – curiosity – buzzing my hair; and things over which I have no control. Someone else’s opinion, for instance. I say that I have very little influence, and zero control over my adult children. Which, by the way, is as it should be, right? I’d have been devastated had we, my children and me, experienced a failure to launch – but launch they did.

6. Your paddle matters.

It is your best friend on the water. Don’t lose it. When I taught my grandboys how to SUP, we first practiced falling off without losing their paddle. We live on a river. Each night my husband and I sit down at the edge of the water and enjoy the activity. To be fair, some of it we enjoy less than others. Jet skis, for example, are simply annoying with their mosquito pitched whine. When I picked up SUP’ing, I didn’t know or see anyone else doing it on our river. Now it’s part of our nightly entertainment. For the life of me, I don’t understand why, when taking a wake, most SUP boarders lift their paddle out of the water and throw a shocked look at the oncoming wall of water. Put your paddle in the water, people! It’s your stabilizing third leg.

7. Pee first – before you get on the SUP.

8. Take the wake standing up.

In the quietude of the morning, as the world comes awake, I hear nature cheerfully greet the dawn and the dip and pull of my paddle. Utter peace in such stillness. Into this tranquility comes the sexy deep throated thrum of a boat’s motor. I hear it long before I see it. Someone else has chosen to ride the river. With this interruption of my serenity, I remind myself we share the water, after all. But like a toddler, I, with a little jut of my chin throw “Mine” into the universe. Only it isn’t, so I get ready to take the wake. With a promise to Zen, the athletic part of the ride begins.

We have a rating system on wakes, my grandboys and I. Level I, II, and III. A level I is a Personal Watercraft, like Jet Skis, and small ski boats. Level II is someone hauling ass or a large cabin cruiser. Now Level III tests one’s mettle. These are wakeboard or boat surfers, and those boats? Watch out. They pitch their motor deep in the water and throw massive amounts of water. There are two ways to take a wake. Ride over the top of it (sideways), or face it head on. Same with life. You have to decide which wakes you’re going to glide over the top of – like an annoying aunt, or snarky office worker, and which ones you’ll need to take head on. Don’t worry if life’s head-on raises your heart rate, lifts your board without permission, and then slams it back down again, Zen will take you back.

9. Watch the sun rise with wonder

I may be ambivalent about getting into the water, on occasion, but I am never sorry I took my run and saw the sun. Not only am I comforted by the constancy of its rising, I find me – my quirky, creative, opinionated, touchy, passionate, intelligent, goofy, tender, tough, loving-filled self. And I am home.


  • Laura Landgraf

    Author, activist, speaker, champion for change and empowerment, hope awakener, retreat leader, author of The Fifth Sister.