Paddleboarding Birthday Party

Lance bdayOur first stand up paddleboard experience was such a rousing success, that no sooner were our feet dry, and lunch eaten, than Lance decided he wanted to celebrate his impending 10th birthday by inviting a few pals to try the sport with him and then have lunch at the Deer Valley Grocery~Café.

I, for one, could not think of a more fun way to celebrate my firstborn son’s first decade. Trent Hickman, owner of Park City SUP, was thrilled. “I love when people get excited about the sport after the first try,” he said. “I can’t wait for the party!”

paddlesWe booked one board per child, and one for me, for one hour. I figured that it made sense to have an adult on the water, and since Trent would likely be on and off throughout the hour, tending to other guests—and I’m crazy about SUP—I nominated myself as the adult. Secretly, I was hoping that Seth would get up the nerve to paddle solo, and kick his old mom off the water, but I didn’t tell him that. Fact is, he announced up front that he preferred to “ride with the professional.”

trent bdayIt was, by far, one of the easiest birthday parties I have ever planned. The team at Deer Valley Grocery~Café made it easy—Janine (DVGC Manager) and I sat down with a menu a couple of weeks ahead of time, and scrutinized it for party-friendly options.

Kid-favorite/birthday party staple pizza? Check.
Lemonade? Check.
Unexpected fun nosh in the form of house-made potato chips in multiple colors and flavors? Check.
Menu settled, the countdown began.

About a week before the party, Lance got into the habit of checking the weather forecast. I keep trying to explain to him that “forecasts” in Utah are more like “suggestions of what could happen at any given time on any given day,” because the weather can change three or more times in an hour. (There’s a reason that locals wear out the phrase, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”) Still, there were thunderstorms predicted on the day of the party. I reasoned that we needed only one hour of clear weather—the hour we planned to be on the water. Fortunately, the morning of the party dawned just partly-cloudy, with the storm clouds hovering just outside of Deer Valley Resort.

kids bdayAnd so, we paddled. The kids assembled—most had paddled previously—and Trent offered a few words of safety instruction, and we were off. Seth announced to Trent, “I’ll ride with you.” Trent, as I suspected, needed to tend to business on the shore, so he suggested that Seth ride on mine. And, just like that, the kid sold me up the proverbial (and literal) river. “I don’t trust her, she’s not a professional!” Quick-thinking Trent said, “She’s better than a pro—she’s your MOM!” and Seth climbed aboard. I have never had more fun supervising a party—just watching the kids invent games while they paddled, “accidentally” fall into the water, and even take sunbathing breaks (I’m looking at you, Anna!) was a hoot.

Seth bdayThe hour-long rental was perfect—the kids worked so hard on the boards that they were wiped out after about 45 minutes, and then splashed around and goofed off for another 10 or 15 minutes before we dried off for lunch. Trent took me aside and said, “I hope we can get Seth out a couple more times this summer—he’s on the verge of gaining the confidence he needs to paddle solo, and I’d love to see that happen.” I made a mental note to use that little tidbit to entice Seth to keep at it.

candlesAbout five minutes into lunch, those storm clouds moved in, and rained onto the deck awning that covered our tables. The kids told jokes, did magic tricks and generally ignored the weather while the adults shook our heads in amazement at the luck of it all. Pizza and chips were consumed (the grownups enjoyed the DVGC Burger—delish!) and by the time we served cake, the weather had cleared.

Birthday groupAfter lunch, we rounded up the kids for a “hike” along the paths around the ponds, and a couple of photo ops. I had to take a moment to look at my child and his wonderful friends—at least one of whom he’s known since birth. Jeff and I looked at them—and then at each other—in amazement. How lucky we are that our children are growing up in a community where they bond with their friends over interesting outdoor sports, and laugh uproariously while they do it. The fact that we have Deer Valley as our playground all-year is an amazing thing, and one we don’t take for granted.

Families that Paddle Together…

family pondI 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?)

Seth Sea glass CommSixteen 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.”

family learningThis 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.

trent familyBefore 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.)

kids familyHere, 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.]

Bari Nan familyMeanwhile, 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.

family funAs 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.