The woman in the canoe looked confused. "What is that thing?" she asked. "A stand-up paddleboard," I replied as I strapped camping gear to the deck. "A what?" she asked again. "A stand-up paddleboard," I repeated. For a moment, I considered leaving it at that because I had grown weary of explaining the true function of my surfboard on steroids. But then I stopped and decided to act as an ambassador for this fledgling water sport. "Stand-up paddleboarding originated in Hawaii …" I began.
Nobody knows for sure who the first person was that stood up on a tandem surfboard and got it moving with an extra-long outrigger canoe paddle.
Some credit Leroy Achoy, a legendary Hawaiian surfer, who used to paddle a large surfboard along the break at Waikiki taking photos of his fellow wave riders in the 1970s.
Other believe stand-up paddleboards (or SUPs for short) trace to the early 1900s and the father of surfing and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Duke Kahanamoku.
But the sport went mainstream in the early 1990s, thanks to Laird Hamilton, a 6-3, 215-pound Hawaiian waterman probably best known for an American Express commercial that showed him sliding down the face of 100-foot wave on a "strap-in" surfboard.
"In Hawaii, guys paddle between the islands all the time," said Brody Welte, a Madeira Beach-based fitness instructor who used to train with Hamilton. "I don't see why you couldn't do some long-distance trips here in Florida."
The idea was simple. Get some paddleboards, figure out how to fasten equipment to the deck, then head off into the Ten Thousand Islands at the edge of the Florida Everglades for a camping trip.
But the devil is always in the details. My 3-year-old 12-foot, 1-inch Laird paddleboard is an all-purpose craft, well-suited for flat water and surf. But I'm sure the designer didn't build the board to carry 40 pounds of food, water and camping gear, the minimum required for an overnight stay on an island.
"How will I keep the gear from sliding off the deck?" I asked my gear guru, Darry Jackson, whose family owns the Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park.
Jackson, a SUP enthusiast, figured out a way to epoxy cleats to the deck of my well-used board, allowing me to split my gear between the bow and stern.
Welte, who also owns a paddleboard shop, didn't have a problem. His board supplier, the Destin-based Yolo (short for "You Only Live Once"), recently released a 14-foot board with tie-downs built into the deck.
"This board was specifically designed for touring," he said.
The minimalists vs. the hedonists
My regular crew is used to traveling light and fast. We carry only what we need; never what we want. The Yolo boarders, which included Welte and the company's owners, Jeff Archer and Tom Losee, aren't regular campers, so they brought everything.
"You guys look like the Beverly Hillbillies," I told Archer as we paddled toward Tiger Key. "We are just going for one night."
The average paddler burns between 800 and 1,000 calories per hour. Our journey out to the barrier island took about three hours. So when we got there, we were pretty hungry.
I broke out my customary energy bar, sipped some warm water and looked on with envy as Welte and his friends pulled a veritable feast out of the cooler they had strapped to the deck.
Dr. Steve Updegraff, an avid angler, paddled out to catch some fish to supplement our rations but returned with just one measly mackerel.
"I had to stop fishing," he said. "I had a pair of big bull sharks that kept following me around trying to steal my catch."
Later that night, as I dined on freeze-dried chicken stew, I pretended not to notice as Welte prepared a meal fit for a king.
"We have filet mignon served over couscous," he said. "Would anybody care for a glass of wine?"
The next day, as we struggled to paddle back against a 2-knot current, I was glad I carried a light load.
"You guys are the real deal," Archer told me when we finally made landfall. "Next time, I think we will take less stuff."
I held my tongue, not out of pride, but because of hunger.
"Next time, I think I'll take more," I said.
Even this old dog can still learn new tricks.