I expected hilarity to ensue. One of my dear friends, Christina Boyle Cush, a former colleague who runs Sea Glass Communications in Connecticut, brought her family to visit a few weeks ago. We used to work together at a teen magazine. She would drop by my office to read letters from readers about their most embarrassing moments. I would return the favor by dropping by her office to introduce her to actors I was interviewing for the magazine. (Hello, Jerry O’Connell. How ya doin’ Ashton Kutcher?)
Sixteen years later, we found ourselves being taught stand up paddleboard skills by a much-decorated professional SUP athlete Trent Hickman, a celebrity in his own right, and gearing up for what I was sure would be many embarrassing moments. I didn’t flinch when Christina’s 12 year-old daughter took in my outfit (pink baseball hat, pink rash guard, pink-striped surf shorts) and dubbed me “Pinky Pants.” Instead, I owned it, and determined that our two families would be “Team Pinky Pants.”
This came in handy when Trent asked me to gather everyone around for a quick safety discussion and shore-side lesson. “Team PinkyPants, circle up,” I shouted. Christina’s two girls beamed, while her son and my boys shook their heads in dismay. Then, we all got quiet as Trent explained how to hold the paddles, steer the boards and generally keep ourselves safe (when in doubt, kneel). I fully expected to remain on my knees for the entire lesson. Trent heard Seth express concern that he might not be ready to steer a board of his own, and offered him a ride on the front of his own board. Nothing makes that kid feel more proud than hanging out with professional athletes, so he could not accept the invitation quickly enough.
Before long, we were all kneeling on boards, and paddling away from the shore. And in what seemed like a blink, we were all standing. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to maintain my balance while handling the board and paddle. Chrissy and her husband seemed to have the same sense of ease on their boards, and most of the kids had no problem figuring it out. What was remarkable to me was the sense of calm that seemed to pervade the outing. It’s one of the rare sports where I have no unreasonable expectations of myself (I’m not a naturally gifted athlete, but I am hyper-competitive with myself in almost every athletic pursuit. The fact that this is ridiculous, counterintuitive, useless thinking has no bearing on my behavior—but, that’s how I roll.)
Here, I could see the calming effect of standing on a board in a placid body of water and just…gliding. I noticed that Lance, who often gets frustrated when he can’t get something right on the first try (yes, I know where he gets that from) discovered a heretofore untapped reserve of patience for himself and the learning curve.
Thrillingly, I had found a sport that involves standing on a board that my entire family can enjoy together. [See also: my kids love to skateboard, and their parents do not.]
Meanwhile, I gained so much confidence in a short amount of time that when Trent had to help other guests, and Seth still wasn’t ready to go it alone, I offered him a seat on my board. I should add that Trent had observed Seth paddling on the front of his own board and felt confident that he could handle himself–and told him as much before going ashore. Seth, however, felt differently, and when Trent returned, he made a point of telling him, plainly and respectfully, that he didn’t agree, and that he didn’t like that he was left alone. Trent is naturally gifted with kids–he didn’t belittle the feelings of a six year-old, but rather thanked Seth for telling him how he felt, and explaining that he knew, even if Seth didn’t, that the kid was capable of handling a board, solo. I loved how he both showed Seth respect and instilled confidence in him at the same time.
We paddled a while longer, with most of the kid members of Team Pinky Pants finding excuses to “fall” into the water (read: jump gleefully off their boards) only to climb aboard again and find another excuse a minute later. When our hour was up, we dried off, thanked Trent and relented to the deck of the Deer Valley Grocery Cafe for cookies.
As we sat there, the kids feeling the bond of having shared a cool experience together, I felt pretty confident that no one on Team Pinky Pants would feel compelled to write a letter to a teen magazine about their experiences.