by Guillaume Larouche

How to Challenge Yourself on a Paddle Board

For as long as man kind has existed, we’ve felt driven to climb mountains, run ultra-marathons, participate obstacle courses, constantly break new records or register on Strava? The need to compare oneself to others has always existed, yes, but social networks have also contributed to an increase in this search for personal validation. The sport of paddleboarding has evolved in recent years. Some enthusiasts now travel long distances with race or touring paddle boards, others blow our minds on Instagram with their mega yoga positions for two, the most intense paddle surfing on huge waves and fishermen with monster fish. The search for personal well-being is one of the reasons why adrenaline or endorphin addicts push themselves to the limit.

This blog, written by our ambassador Guillaume Larouche, aims to advise people who don't necessarily want to break records in the public arena, but simply want to take pride in having accomplished a personal goal.

Setting a goal 

Physical activity is a GREAT outlet for mental health. Now, because paddle boarding is a seasonal sport, especially in Canada, January and February are perfect months to set your goal for summertime (and not just because it’s the new year). This will give you plenty of time to work towards your goal or goals. Keep in mind that when you’re working towards a goal, it’s never a good idea to aim too big right off the bat. Set yourself small goals so that you can build them up one after the other. Setting realistic goals will help you see and feel the improvement, every step goes the way. Paddling distances of 5, 10, even up to more than 25 kilometres will have you experiencing different emotions, so it’s good to prepare yourself mentally and physically before jumping in. Below are some tips on how you can achieve these goals and experience the satisfaction after accomplishing a goal.

Good preparation 

Training during the winter and spring months, your choice of paddle boardpaddleclothing, food, amount of water, security gear and knowledge, GPS route, knowing which exit point you can make and general knowledge of your final destination are all factors to consider prior to going on a paddle board trip. Although some of us are lone wolfs, having good company can help lift your spirits through long, tough stretches. Good company, good equipment, and a solid plan can take all the difference in the success of your trip and road to reaching your goals - make sure you choose wisely!

To understand the importance of solid preparation, let me share with you my trip in Gaspésie.

A trip in Gaspésie 

There’s no age limit to setting personal goals. There is only fear of failure, judgement from our friends and family, or a false understanding that we’re not fit enough. Once you push those obstacles aside, the rest of the battle is 50% mental. Nothing is easy, everything is earned through effort and perseverance, but it is SO worth it in the end.

My wife Cindy and I have been paddle boarding for 10 years now. Neither of our goals were ever the same, but eventually we set goals as a team: “our goal is to go out for full days to discover our beautiful home in Quebec,” quickly paddling distances anywhere from 5 to more than 25 km.

In the winter of 2021, we planned to paddle 25km down the St Lawrence River in the Cap-Chat region while visiting friends. Because we had more experience on lakes and rivers, we had to consider new factors such as currents, tides, rocks, waves, and temperature changes in relation to the mountains.

Temperature and wind can play an important role in choosing your trip dates; over our weeklong vacation, the weather was only favourable 2 of those days.

At dawn on August 9th at 6:30am, we were on our way. It was an exceptional start to the day with 15 degrees Celsius, no wind, and smooth water conditions. The tide was low, the current was heading in the right direction, but around 11am, the wind was projected to push us in the direction we were headed. For this trip, we then planned to bring warm clothes in a drybag, several snacks with high carbohydrates, others with more protein, 3 liters of water each, our cellphone in a waterproof case, downloaded an app to follow us by GPS, a camera, drone, inflatable PFD, headlamp, battery pack for our cellphone, safety kit with a whistle, and finally, the dun par, fishing equipment. 

I strongly recommend attaching the boards leash to your ankle during your trips to avoid accidents that could have been prevented. The water is also cooler down in the lower end, so keep in mind that hypothermia may also be a possibility, even in the summer months.

Setting short-term goals 

Rewards along the way is a great way to nudge yourself one step closer to reaching those long distances. Our first treat was stopping at a great spot for fishing which we had discovered the day prior. To our pleasant surprise, 3 km later, we observed a flock of birds diving into the water. The rolling fog was also an indication that fish were present. The dream. We were lucky to experience a school of striped bass all to ourselves with no one around. Cindy and I hurried to cast and in less than 10 seconds we caught doubles. Two striped bass weighing in at over 5 pounds at the end of our lines. Our ride lasted over an hour with over 22 fish on.

Making good decisions

Making the right decisions is an important factor in achieving your goal. Making smart decisions along the way can make all the difference in the outcome of your goal, so choose wisely! An easy way to reach your goals is to remember your why. Why are you going on this adventure, why are you choosing this challenge. It could be as simple as because you want to have fun! It could be a little like “I want to complete more than 25km while enjoying the beauty of nature” or “I want to paddle more than 25km simply for the challenge; my biggest training yet”

Usually, my apps are quite adept at telling me the accurate wind strength and direction, but on this particular day, not so much. A small headwind started blow and at first, we laughed, but an hour later, we weren’t laughing so much. A wind of more than 20 km/h was blowing towards us, in the wrong direction, and we had only paddled 2 km in 1 hour. In this case, you have to respect your limits and adapt to the situation. Remember when I mentioned decision making? This is where this can be important.

Change of plans and itinerary 

For this particular trip (and most trips in general), choosing the right paddle board and paddle is essential. For us, that was the Kazuzu Air and the Hooké Air. Because of its length and width, the Kazuzu has an advantage of offering the best dynamics for gaining speed and cutting the water easily. While the Hooké is more stable and allows to you to pack on more gear. As for the paddle, the Diamond Carbon fix 1 piece was sufficed; it cuts the water quite smoothly and generates good force. It’s definitely worth the investment for a trip like this.

Now, back to the trip. With 19km to go, we decided to review our plan. After sifting through our map apps on our phone, checking out our different exits along the way, we decided to head in the opposite direction from our intended destination. Always plan your way back to your car. After adapting our route, this gave us more freedom in our route home, so we decided to call our friends who provided us a ride back, a simple and efficient solution. There’s nothig wrong with having to change routes and plans!

Two nice surprises

To keep your spirits high, it’s important to maintain confidence, even when it’s tough, and to make sure you manage what you can control well. Just like the saying goes “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just a bad attitude and bad clothing!” (and maybe also poor planning). Lack of energy, feeling cold, sore muscles and unexpected events can happen along the way and they might influence your thoughts. Little things like drinking enough water, eating carbohydrates, and regulating your body temperature with the right clothes will help you stay on track. On of the best parts about choosing a paddle board trip as your goal is that you’re surrounded by beautiful scenery, it helps take your mind off any discomfort you’re experiencing.

On our route back, a local decided to accompany us for more than 2 km. Curious by nature, seals were diving down and resurfacing around our SUP. It was quite a beautiful and magical moment to experience out on the water. The wind and tide continued to push our backs towards our new final destination. A school of dolphins became our newest members of audience - how lucky were we? At first these fins were rather intimidating, thinking that maybe they were sharks, but to our pleasant surprise, they were the dolphins instead.

Experience is an asset 

When going on a trip like this, safety must always be at the top of your priorities. The weather conditions worsened near the end of the day. That cold north/east wind blew, it clouded over, and the waves grew in size. The glassy waters were no more. Fortunately, we packed a kiteboarding windbreaker, a sweater and neoprene boots to protect ourselves from the cold. Because we had years if experiencing paddling on lakes and rivers, it helped with our return home. With no one on the horizon and a simple fall in the water, our story would have not ended the same. 

Our sport is still new, too many unfortunate events remind us to never improvise as an adventurer. Start by taking an introduction to paddleboarding class and always be informed and accompanied by people who can inspire you to make good decisions.

Feeling proud and accomplished 

After more than 8 hours on the water, and to Cindy’s relief, we docked in Les Méchins. Many reasons made her doubt her ability to overcome the challenges along the way. But in the end, the satisfaction of completing the trip could be seen all over her face. Completing this challenge, this goal of hers, was a reminder that it’s never too late to accomplish these big goals and that they’re actually important to experience unforgettable moments.