Doonan: How Paddleboarding Became the Latest Fitness Craze

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
Sept. 2 2012 10:28 AM

Is Paddleboarding the New Soul Cycle?

The fitness craze that’s—calmly, placidly, meditatively—sweeping the nation.

Simon Doonan paddling a paddle board, the trend of the future.
Simon Doonan paddling a paddle board, the trend of the future.

Photo courtesy Simon Doonan.

 Suddenly last summer, my Jonny bought us a pair of core-strengthening, über-trendy paddleboards. You’ve seen these things: big, puffy, steroid-ey surfboards that you stand athwart, propelling yourself across the waves with a long paddle.

Simon Doonan Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

Prior to our maiden voyage, Jonny made a great hoopla over the fact that my paddle—every paddle must be 8 inches taller than its owner—was 2 inches shorter than his. “No,” he would say. “This is your paddle. If I take your paddle by mistake I will not even reach the water.”

Dude, you’re only 2 inches taller than me!

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Setting aside our altitudinally based bickerings, we flung our boards into nearby Gardiners Bay and off we paddled. Jonny fell off a couple of times. I did not. He attributed this to my “infinitely lower center of gravity.”

I slipped into smug mode, which resulted in my not concentrating and eventually falling off, which was quite refreshing and only mildly regrettable from an accessories point of view: It took a while to corral my floating hat, sunglasses, and foulard.  

Much is made of the skill required by those contemplating the sport: “Is it terribly difficult?” “How long did it take you before you could stand up?” To sum up: On a skill level I would compare it to unblocking the toilet or applying lipstick. The only really tricky part is remembering, when referring to this activity in casual conversation, to distinguish between paddleboarding and waterboarding.

“Just got back from Nantucket. Waterboarded our brains out,” sounds a bit de trop.

When we announced to our pals in the nearby fancy Hamptons that we had become addicted to our SUPs, their response was typical: “Who does your boards? Are you working with the Paddle Diva?”

This is very Hamptons. For every activity there is a concierge-slash-expert waiting in the wings to optimize your experience.

Say, for example, that you are headed to the beach for a bracing walk and a little stone skimming. No Hamptonite in his right mind is going to scrabble around in the sand and find his own flat stones. Just call the Skim King! He will pre-select and hand-polish some skimming stones and leave them nestling in a calico-lined basket at a convenient dune location. Lessons available.

Having a barbecue? Who brazes your charcoal? We always use Charcoal Charlie.

Who does your s’mores? You must call the S’more Smuggler.

Got a bunion? You must call the Bunion Whisperer of Wainscott.

Who wipes your …?

For the purposes of this article, or whatever you would call this thing that I am currently writing, I followed up and called Gina Bradley, the Paddle Diva. She is the go-to gal for highly strung moneyed South Fork-ers. (We unpretentious rustic Shelter Islanders are sandwiched between the North and South Forks.) I asked her first how she contended with all the foibles and eccentricities of her demanding clients.

“I keep them on an even keel with my temperament. I am strong and fit and I have a six-pack. I’m the diva,” replied the entrepreneurial, outdoorsy, and attractive Gina.

While acknowledging the recent explosion of enthusiasm and interest in SUPs, she categorically refuted any suggestion that paddleboarding was competing with Soul Cycle. (For those who have been kidnapped and held in seclusion without Internet access for the last year, Soul Cycle is a revolutionary full-body workout that combines tour-de-France-style cycling with inspirational coaching, and results in an immense amount of sweating and calorie-burning. It has taken the fitness world by storm. Comparing it to paddleboarding is somewhat silly, but then, I have never claimed to be otherwise.)

“Soul Cycle is fabulous. We are totally separate. I believe in fitness all day. Paddleboarding in the morning and Soul Cycle later, or vice versa.”

Sounding a bit like the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, Gina told me that she regularly advises her upscale female clients to ditch their routine of lunching and shopping and substitute it with her rugged fitness-all-day regime. She is basically taking the Real Housewives of East Hampton and turning them all into sportif lesbians, which can only be a good thing.

We moved on to a more intimate topic. I was anxious to get Gina’s opinion on my crotch. In recent weeks I have been noticing a slight post-boarding soreness and discomfort on my right side, which I dubbed “gondolier’s groin.” The lovely Gina’s response was less than sympathetic:

“If you had paddleboarded with me, I would have made sure that never happened.”

She attributed my strain to the fact that I had not had a professional lesson (from the Paddle Diva) and had been paddleboarding with bent knees, thereby stressing my groin ligaments instead of strengthening my arms.

Grody groin or not, Jonny and I are addicted. Paddleboarding induces a strange feeling of mystical contentment and, as the ospreys wheel overhead and the sun sets, gives one a Wordsworthian appreciation for the surrounding nature. At the risk of sounding like a 19th-century nelly, I have to admit that, while paddling about, the words of the great daffodil lover frequently float back into my mind from my ‘60s schooldays.

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.

Also experiencing “Intimations of Immortality” is Liberace, our intrepid and amphibious 14-year-old Norwich terrier. He hops on the stern and stares at the horizon with an expression of oceanic melancholy. Clearly he is looking back on his life with bittersweet satisfaction. I am sure he is recalling the glory and the freshness of his trampy mother, whose name was Fergie. She gave birth to him at the age of 1. (Seven in dog years.) So sad. Children having children! Nothing new in that, I suppose. I am sure it was ever thus in Wordsworth’s day!

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