Why Do You Paddle?

Maybe we should make this question a monthly meditation. But really, why do you? What is it about paddling that keeps you doing it? What has it brought to your life?

“Paddling” is a loose word, and I define it as simply that. Paddling. It doesn’t matter what I paddle; I just have been doing it for a while. Rob and I bought our first kayak well before we were married. We bought it to keep in shape and spend time together on the water. We never imagined that that pink (um, I mean “raspberry,” as Rob always corrects me) sit on top kayak would take us on an adventure that has lasted us over a third of our lives. We have pretty much have paddled everything we could – from sea kayaks to stand up paddleboards and everything in between. We’ve toured, we’ve raced, we’ve guided, and any paddlecraft is great, as long as it floats.

Karen Mirlenbrink

When we get caught in the hype or in the paddletics of whatever paddlesport we participate in, sometimes it’s good to look back at why we paddle. Sometimes reminiscing on your roots can bring things back into perspective.

I’ve reflected back at what I have learned and experienced in my paddling experiences. As I typed them below, I found it amazing what came up, and how each item affected me emotionally. The memories were great, and I know and understand the lessons that each one has taught me. That’s what life’s about, isn’t it? Experiencing life, and learning from it.

Here is some of what paddling has done for me:

I’ve accomplished things I never thought I could. I’ve pushed myself beyond my perceived limits. I’ve looked fear in the face, and smiled at it. I’ve been forced to swim for my life. I’ve put myself in life or death situations, and survived. I’ve seen a man die.

I know the courting rituals of alligators. I know the names and calls of my local sea birds. I love the white pelicans and their big orange feet. I know the fishing seasons, and what bait they eat. I’ve seen a stone crabber crabbing. I’ve seen many endangered species. I’ve been bumped AND humped by a manatee. A shark has tasted me. I’ve been pinched by crabs and stung by jellyfish. I know why the fiddler crab fiddles and why the tarpons run. I was almost clobbered by a tarpon once, and a large spotted ray almost landed on me. I know what time of day the dolphins swim past Honeymoon Island. I’ve found seashells as big as my head, and have seen beaches covered in white sand dollars. I paddled through the worst red tide in history (yuck!). I have brushed ice off of my surfksi then went paddling in it. I have seen dolphins do things what words can’t describe. I have seen sea turtles as big as Volkswagens. I know who has lived on my beach far before me; I’ve found their tools in the sand.

I can tell you how the weather is going to change by looking at the clouds in the sky. I can tell you what the tides will do by looking at the moon. I can predict a hurricane season by looking at the location of the sea turtle nests. I can feel the current and find the flow. I can find the rhythm and feel the energy.

I’ve been to the most amazing places, many of which most people don’t know exist. I have seen the real Florida and I’m in love with it. I’ve paddled waves in Hawaii. I’ve swam in the Kaiwi Channel. I’ve scouted and paddled the Colorado River. I’ve paddled around Manhattan and Key West. I’ve even paddled in Tennessee! I paddled down Florida’s West Coast. I’ve paddled crystal clear rivers and alligator-infested lakes. I’ve paddled around a barge while being pelted with flying fish, and I’ve paddled through a lot of piers. I’ve surfed everything I can paddle. I’ve ridden big waves on a north to south downwinder. I know how to enter and exit shore break safely. I’ve only crash landed on the shore once!

I’ve met the most amazing people, and have made my best friends.

I think I have salt water in my veins. I think I’m really a mermaid.

The ocean has taught me about of life. I’ve learned that sometimes I can’t change things, but I can go with the flow. I’ve learned to harness nature’s energy and use it to my advantage. I’ve learned not to get in Mother Nature’s way. I’ve learned to listen when she speaks. I’ve learned to respect, love and celebrate nature and her ocean.

I’ve learned more about myself than I ever want to admit.

I paddle for me. I paddle for clarity. I paddle as meditation. I paddle for the love. I paddle passionately. I don’t paddle for money. I don’t paddle for hype. I don’t paddle for recognition (though it feels good sometimes). I paddle for me.


March 31, 2013 at 9:09 am

Although I haven’t been SUPing as much as I’d like to lately the reasons I embrace the sport haven’t changed–it’s allowed me to reconnect with the water, the community and friendships I’ve made are priceless, and it’s plain fun. It clears my head and nourishes my heart; it’s allowed me to venture away from a computer and experience a world without walls which ultimately helps my mental state. Rediscovering the treasure that is Lake Tahoe never would have happened without playfully participating in the Tahoe Nalu or Race the Lake of the Sky and my official gateway into summer is now The Great Russian River Race, held the first weekend in May each year in Healdsburg, California. Without SUP I never would have pushed myself to try a Duathlon or embrace running (my second 13.1 is a week away)–it’s made me brave. Thanks for sharing, Karen 🙂


March 31, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I ….I …. I…… I ….. I …….. I …… I ……???
So many Is….

Dianna OSullivan

March 31, 2013 at 9:08 pm

My father built my first kayak out of wood with a fiberglass covering. He designed and sanded layer after layer laboring lovingly to assure a beautiful finished product and the safety of my sister and myself. Forty some years later, I kayak when I can. My favorite time and place is the still waters found on a lake in the early morning hours just as the sun is rising.

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