A few weekends ago, boys and girls, I found myself standing atop what was basically an oversized surfboard, gripping a paddle that was about as tall as I am, starting to punt myself across the surface of the Monksville Reservoir.
If you’re into paddle sports, you’ll know exactly what I was doing. But for those of you who aren’t, an explanation or two is necessary.
I’ve been kayaking since I was a kid, but stand-up paddleboarding – which is what I was doing – is a somewhat different beast. It can best be described as a hybrid of kayaking and surfing, and I’d had an inkling to try it for a little while.
L.L. Bean offers a series of Outdoor Discovery School courses during the year, especially from late spring to early fall. I’d already done their kayaking discovery course at the reservoir earlier in the season; since the family and I have a junket up to Maine planned later in the summer, I’ve been working on getting my kayaking muscles into shape.
A little bit about Monksville Reservoir:
It’s up in the northern end of Passaic County in northern New Jersey, not too far from the New York state line, as a matter of fact. It’s close to Ringwood State Park and Sterling Forest, and the causeway for the Greenwood Lake Turnpike crosses over the northern neck of the reservoir. For many years, this section of the county was home to a thriving mining and ironworks industry.
There are two boat launches on the reservoir, one to the north and one to the south. On the day of the paddleboarding class, there were a lot of people out boating or fishing.
Wildlife: You’ll see plenty of cormorants, swallows and a few herons out over the water, and during the kayaking trip, as I recall, we learned that there was a bald eagle’s nest down near the neck of the reservoir. On land, I’ve seen a few red-winged blackbirds dipping in and out of the reeds.
I’d made the trek up 287 into Ringwood and Wanaque – it was a beautiful day, with blue skies and lots of white puffy clouds. (That would all change – more on that later.) I met up with the group – five of us plus our two instructors – and we had the safety briefing, the outfitting of the lifejackets and a quick lesson on how to paddle before we waded out into the reservoir to launch the boards.
I won’t lie; I had an initial case of the wobbles. It took me a few tries to stand up on my board, and I took a tumble into the water before we were too long out of the dock. But once I’d hauled myself back onto the board, I quickly found my balance. (It also helped that the water in the reservoir was nice and warm.)
I also got the hang of how to paddle, with the instructors’ help – make sure the blade is pointing the right way up, sweep the blade close to the body of the board – and before long, we were all skimming along rather nicely.
If you’ve not done stand-up paddleboarding before, your feet may start to hurt after a little while, and the instructors warned us about this; since you’re on a surface you’re not used to, your feet will be gripping the board really hard. The secret is just try to relax as much as possible while still keeping your balance.
You’ll definitely hear from your thigh muscles as well, because it’s the core muscles that are supposed to be doing the lion’s share of the work, whether you’re kayaking or paddleboarding.
And wouldn’t you know it – as we were starting to come back into the boat launch, it started to rain – rather hard. Evidently, the geography – all the mountains and lakes – makes for some interesting weather patterns. Oh, well, we were already wet, anyway. We had a few more people tumble off their boards as we came in, but everyone was generally in high spirits.
I’ve seen a few twilight kayak and paddleboard trips on the class calendar for later in the summer, and I may try to take advantage of them – stay tuned!