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GETTING fit

Balancing mind, body on a standup paddleboard

No matter where you live in the Tampa Bay area, you’re never far from a place to paddle, like this spot off Indian Rocks Beach­.

Photo by Darrell Berry

No matter where you live in the Tampa Bay area, you’re never far from a place to paddle, like this spot off Indian Rocks Beach­.

Many of us baby boomers are searching for health, trying to find balance, beauty and wholeness in our lives. A lot of us believe health goes beyond biochemistry and genetics and includes the search for spiritual peace and wholeness. • These days, an hour or so spent balancing on a giant surfboard, paddling my way along a beautiful Florida waterway, is my favorite way to feed mind and soul, while giving my body a good workout, too. • My work takes me all over Florida and as an avid stand-up paddleboarder, or SUPer, I'm always on the lookout for prime paddling spots. Most of my favorites are right here in the Tampa Bay area. No matter where you live around here, you're not far from a place to paddle. • So how do you find balance, beauty and wholeness on a paddleboard?

• • •

Balance is an important element of mental and physical health. Mental, emotional and physical balance all feed each other.

Standing on your board and moving over the water at your own speed and under your own power has a calming, balancing effect that lasts long after you're on dry land. When I paddle out into the Gulf of Mexico at first light on a flat, calm morning, the metaphysical balance I find can last all day … and then some.

If you've thought stand-up paddleboarding looks too hard for you, consider that board designs have advanced to fit literally any body shape and level of experience. Learning to balance by starting on your knees and gradually standing is a fairly quick process for most people.

Once you're beyond the beginner's jitters and have refined your balance on the board, you can travel farther and see more. I've been paddling for a little over a year, usually several times a week, in every season. My life is busy, but making time for the board has been balancing in every way.

• • •

My board has helped me to find even more beauty in places I've always loved. Over the past year I've had some of the most profoundly beautiful experiences of my life, much of which has been lived near the ocean, in New England, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida.

I've had dozens of up-close SUP dolphin encounters this year. And they're free! I've had manatee families surround me and my board and manatee whiskers tickle my board's nose. Really! I've seen turtles, rays and tarpon up close in the bay and on the gulf. I've felt a part of sunsets and sunrises. I've ridden tidal currents and dodged summer storms. I'm convinced that experiencing this kind of beauty up close is one of the healthiest things anyone can do.

• • •

It's easy to feel scattered. Feeling whole can take some effort. As baby-boomer careers peak —or settle and recede — feeling and staying whole can also help protect your health. Finding a healthy activity that is accessible, affordable and fun is important.

Though paddleboarding is known as one of the best "core" workouts available, for me this description is true both physically and spiritually. Your core abdominal and back muscles are required to propel and guide the board. But once you've paddled hard for a while and need a rest, you can sit or even lie down on your board and look up at the sky or back toward the beach. Relax, feel the swell.

Stillness, for me, is an important part of wholeness. At these moments, a favorite verse from the book of Psalms often comes to mind: "Be still, and know that I am God." These moments can be a healthy merging of the spiritual, the mental and the physical.

Bob Clark is a Christian Science practitioner from Belleair. Read his blog at simplyhealthyflorida.com.

If you go

Free demo

While SUP may not be for everyone, it's easy to try. One great way to get started is Watersports West's free demo Saturday mornings (9 a.m. to noon) on Sand Key's bay side, just north of the Clearwater Community Sailing Center. A fellow "boomer" at the demo, who's in the 60+ category, told me she has lost weight, is stronger, has more energy and looks forward to "clearing her head" by paddling.

Balancing mind, body on a standup paddleboard 07/12/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 11, 2013 4:12pm]
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