Row, row, row your board, gently down the stream...
At 10 a.m. on July 1, while the rest of the country was sleeping in or planning Canada Day barbecues, Trevor Petersen dipped his paddle into the North Saskatchewan River and began a two-month journey that will take him from Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park in Edmonton to The Forks in Winnipeg.
The trek, which will follow a 19th-century fur trade route, would be arduous enough if attempted by canoe or kayak. But Petersen, a 17-year military veteran who is battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), intends to navigate his way across the Prairies while remaining upright.
In 2011, a year after his release from the Canadian Forces for medical reasons, Petersen took up standup paddleboarding.
"I wanted to try kite-boarding but I was having problems with my knees so I decided that wasn't going to work," Petersen said when reached by phone three days prior to his scheduled departure. "But then I found out about a place that was offering paddleboard lessons and the minute I tried it I was like, 'Yeah!'"
One of the difficulties associated with PTSD, Petersen said, is that "you're always thinking... your mind never stops churning.
"But when I'm out on the water with my board, I'm able to focus on one thing and one thing only," he said, adding his board has built-in tethers for his camping gear and cooler. "Besides the physical benefits, standup paddleboarding has changed my life in so many other ways. Isolation was a huge issue for me after I got home from Afghanistan but thanks to (standup paddleboarding), I've learned how to socialize again."
Canoeists, kayakers and boaters are encouraged to join Petersen during his adventure. Interested parties can also track his progress at www.paddlingwithptsd.com. The website includes a link where people can make a donation to Wounded Warriors Canada, a charity supporting soldiers who have been injured in battle.
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Standup paddleboarding is reportedly the fastest-growing watersport in North America. And while the activity already has its own publication (SUP: The Mag) and PGA-style tour (the Stand Up World Series) it might be said the sport really hit the big time last year when the Boy Scouts of America rolled out a merit badge for paddleboarding.
It's 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night at Fort WhyteAlive's Muir Lake.
Brad Friesen, a Paddle Canada-certified instructor, is at Fort WhyteAlive's Muir Lake teaching four women and two men the ins and outs of standup paddleboarding. The class is trying the sport for the first time.
After delivering a quick overview of what the evening's three-hour course will entail, Friesen moves onto safety -- more specifically, what students should do "not if you fall, but when you fall."
"Wait a sec," says Barb Smith, an experienced kayaker who signed up for the $75 lesson in mid-March, when there was still 50 centimetres of snow on the ground. "I don't remember reading anything in the small print about falling."
Friesen teaches stand-up paddleboarding on behalf of WAV Paddling, a division of Wildnerness Supply at 623 Ferry Rd. He and his wife, Samantha, took the sport up in 2011 and got their teaching accreditations a year later.
"We offer two courses -- basic and advanced," he says during a scheduled break, after everybody has already been on the water for 60 minutes. (Good news! So far, five of the six students have made their teacher a liar by staying bone-dry the entire time.)
"We cover things like how to find your balance, technique once you're up and moving around and board design. Most people who sign up have a paddling background but not everybody. If you're brand new to paddling in general, paddleboarding does have a shorter learning curve than other paddling sports, I find." (Although students are welcome to bring their own equipment, WAV Paddling provides boards, paddles and life jackets.)
Friesen laughs when a scribe says tonight's participants remind him a little bit of gondoliers in Venice who negotiate that city's canals at what can only be described as a leisurely pace.
"It might look like that now but give them another hour and they'll tell you this is a full-body workout," he says. "Most newbies use their arms only but that's bad technique and they're going to tire out fairly quickly. The right way to do it is to reach down with each stroke and use your core: it really is a great sport if you're looking for something to get that six-pack going."
Another advantageous thing about paddleboarding is it can be performed anywhere there is water -- at a beach, on a river or at the lake, he says.
"A place like Caddy Lake in the Whiteshell is perfect; it's usually pretty calm and you can tour through the tunnels that lead through the north and south parts of the lake," says Friesen, who grew up in Winnipeg and spent lots of time paddling with his family in the Whiteshell.
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Scott Hopper and Chris Hellesoe were on a surfing trip to Hawaii in 2008 when they witnessed stand-up paddleboarding for the first time.
"The way it was explained to us, the sport basically grew out of a bunch of big-name surfers who were trying to figure out what to do when the surf was low," Hellesoe says. "They couldn't catch the larger waves with their smaller, conventional boards but they could if they were standing up on these big paddleboards."
When Hopper and Hellesoe returned to Winnipeg they began shopping around for boards similar to what they'd seen during their vacation. After coming up empty-handed everywhere they looked, they decided their only recourse was to build their own.
The Hardcore Surf & Paddleboard Company was founded in 2009 and is located in the basement at 248 Princess St.
"We do some rentals and a little bit of retail out of here but that was never really the intention of this place," Hellesoe says, noting their alternate "office" these days is at Grand Marais, where interested parties can sign up for lessons in the lagoon area. "Basically, this started off as a low-rent place where we could build our own boards and it's just kind of grown from there."
The Hardcore Surf & Paddleboard Company markets several different types of boards, depending on how or where a person plans to use it. Some are geared more for choppy water, Hellesoe says, while others, like the one he built for Trevor Petersen's fundraising journey, are better suited for touring. Performing yoga on a paddleboard is also gaining in popularity, so Hellesoe and Hopper carry boards specific to that discipline, too.
On July 6, Hellesoe and Hopper will oversee the Coney Island Challenge, a 10-kilometre race that will take place in Kenora. The race, which was originally scheduled for June 29 but cancelled due to weather, is the first leg of a two-day competition. The second stage -- the Grand Beach SUP Cup -- goes Aug. 9 at Grand Beach.
"This sport is growing so fast I don't know how many people to expect (tomorrow)," Hellesoe says, noting that 30 people participated in 2013's inaugural Coney Island Challenge.
Hellesoe hopes to improve on last year's second-place finish -- a result that still sticks in his craw.
"Hopper and I both got pulled over by the harbour patrol because of what we were wearing," he says with a laugh. "You're required to wear a (personal flotation device) and even though the belt-style we each had on is Transport Canada-approved, the guy refused to believe us. We got it sorted out eventually but by then it was too late to catch up."
For more information on the race series go to www.hardcorepaddleboards.com. And for information on paddleboard lessons run by WAV Paddling, go to www.wavpaddling.ca.