Walking On Water, With Stand Up Paddleboards

Experienced by Arielle Dollinger

(*As featured in our 8/14/14 issues*)

My stomach was as calm as the harbor until we walked out onto the dock.

On the first of August, under a sky that was more ominously gray than it was blue, Long Islander News intern Megan Connor and I traversed Huntington Harbor on paddle boards.

The sport of stand-up paddle boarding is basically the calmer, more sensible, far less eccentric cousin of surfing. Some do yoga and standard fitness exercises on paddle boards, many of which strongly resemble surf boards, but we were not quite at that level.

Huntington Stand Up Paddle founder Katie Aksak, who also works as a licensed salesperson for Signature Premier Properties in Cold Spring Harbor, started in the paddle boarding business four years ago. For the first year, she ran the business out of her car. Now, she operates out of a shack on West Shore Road.

The shack, with its string lights and yellow sign, looks like a beach bungalow out of a movie about surfing. There are yellow lawn chairs to the left of the door and a Coca-Cola vending machine to the right. The door is decorated with stickers and on dark brown shingles hangs a sign that reads “Surf Shack.”

The business, which Aksak runs with her husband, offers fitness classes and “Paddle Flex” classes – yoga-type classes on paddle boards.

As we looked out into the darker-than-usual waters, Megan and I began to realize what was happening. Because she lives around the block from me and is my sister’s best friend, I have known Megan since she was 5 years old and I was 7; I think that the moments before we got out onto our boards was the first time I have seen her visibly afraid.

Instructors Chris and John helped us onto our boards. Chris told us that we would start on our knees and then stand up. Standing is easier if your body is not tense, Chris told us. Done.

Our next goal, Chris told us, was to paddle out of the channel. A boat the size of a small condo was approaching when Chris looked back to tell Megan and me that we needed to get out of the channel quickly.

John, Chris and Megan paddled onward and I, somehow, could not force my board to propel forward. I was stuck in the same place for what felt like an hour but was only a minute or two.

Someone on the boat, far above me, yelled down to tell me, “You need to get out of there!” as if I were unaware that I should not remain still in the face of an oncoming boat.

I felt the way that I imagine an ant does in a world of “giant” humans – small, powerless, and somehow insignificant.

Eventually, I found my way out of the boat’s path and into the open water.

The water was smooth, disturbed by only a few stray breezes. But those breezes were enough to make Chris say that conditions were a little bit windy for first-timers. He did not say that to us, of course; I overheard him telling another instructor.

The world looks different from atop a paddle board. The immensity of the surrounding water is jolting. The long grasses on the shoreline in view keep the variable but sure rhythm of the wind. All there is to see is green and blue, save for the white and red of passing boats.

To remain standing, you must feel like you’ve conquered the water; you are on top now. If you are nervous, you’ll fall in, Chris says.

Private stand-up paddle lesson rates vary – the larger the group, the lower the per-person price. Lessons range from $90 for one person to $40 per person in groups of five or more. Equipment rentals without a lesson are $40 for the first hour and $10 for each additional hour.