End-of-Summer Suping in Montauk

How I became a paddle diva

Escape // Cristina Black
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The fabulous "Paddle Diva" Gina Bradley

I spend as much time at the beach as I can. I sit in the sun, listen to Wavves and Best Coast and the Drums and all manner of SoCal lo-fi. I play ukulele and love the taste of salt water, but I do not know how to surf. And that sucks. I keep on telling myself I’m going to learn, but you know, I live in Brooklyn, and it’s hard.

So, when my friend Theresa said she was heading to Montauk for Labor Day weekend to learn paddleboarding, I thought: Now, here’s a way for me to stand up on a board on the ocean without going through the million wave-dumpings it will surely take me to learn to surf. We booked a lesson and a tour with Paddle Diva—a Hamptons-based woman-focused paddleboarding outfit owned by the fabulous former extreme surfer Gina Bradley—and jumped on the Long Island Rail Road.

I was pleased to find that the learning curve with paddleboarding (a.k.a. SUP, or Stand-up Paddle) is quite sharp. We met at the very calm Hands Creek, and after a few pointers from Gina, paddled off, first on our knees, then standing—steady as she goes!—into the far reaches of the creek. Paddleboarding is amazingly zen. It requires constant focus and a peaceful oneness with nature. It’s a wonderful way to explore small coves, inlets and estuaries. When we reached the far end of Hands Creek, Gina had us pause to appreciate the unaltered status of our surroundings. “This is what the Indians saw,” she said, and just then, a seagull ran along the shore with a crab in its mouth. Lunchtime!

After my fear of falling subsided, I started to play around with technique: back-paddling on one side to steer around marsh grasses and sandbars, challenging myself to go faster, bobbing merrily over the wake of nearby speed boats. When we got back to our starting point and beached our boards, I found I was bone dry. Gina said I was a natural, and even if she was just being nice, it felt good.

The next day, after we shook off our sore arms and backs and abs—SUP, is turns out, is a fantastic total-body workout—we met Gina at an even more beautiful spot, Maidstone Park Beach in East Hampton. We’d learned the basics and were ready for a real tour. This time, we enjoyed a mix of civilization and nature. In our hour-and-a-half-long trip, we paddled past fancy Hamptons beach houses, and crossed paths with yachts cruising in and out of Three Mile Harbor before making our way into a secluded estuary where gentle little currents pushed us through a maze of waterways wrapping around marshy grasses. Looking down, we saw minnows, crabs and big, beautiful psychedelic jellyfish. Pink and red rocks formed a backdrop on the bottom of the ocean floor.

When we returned to the beach, I realized we’d been in a place we would neither have swum nor boated to. And that felt really special. Someday, I will learn how to surf, but for now, I found a fun and easy way to be closer to the ocean, which is all any of us really wants.

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