Paddling in Caledon
Needing to maintain my balance added an interesting dimension to traditional yoga, but what appealed to me most was the fresh breeze and warm sunshine in our open-air “studio.”
The verb “to paddleboard” is not included in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but given the activity’s rising popularity the world over, that’s likely to change.
Better known as stand up paddleboarding or SUP, it even has its own magazine. A recent issue of SUP World Mag features stories about “SUPing” on the Amazon and rivers in India and the U.S. It follows SUP races, SUP surfing, SUP fitness and the latest SUP boards and accessories. You can even sign up for SUP multiday wilderness trips. And now Transport Canada is in on the game with regulations requiring paddlers to have a lifejacket on board when they travel outside the surf zone.
SUP World Mag doesn’t mention Caron Shepley’s SUP yoga classes on the quarry lake south of Caledon Village, nor does it describe SUPing down the Credit River from Inglewood to Terra Cotta – but it could. SUPing is the ideal way to get outside for a yoga class. A paddleboard also out competes canoes, kayaks and even inner tubes when it comes to exploring our local rivers.
Ranging in length from about 2.5 to 3.5 metres, and nearly a metre wide, paddleboards are stable and perform well in shallow rivers. The standing position allows you to see rocks and sandbars lurking below the water’s surface, as well as peer over the top of riverbanks. In this way, you can take in the villages and countryside from a whole new perspective.
With the sun filtering through a thin cloak of morning mist last August, I climbed onto a paddleboard on the Credit River in Inglewood. Don and Paula Coats, owners of Caledon Hills Cycling, and a friend Karen Bolliger were already on their boards. We took a short practice run, paddling upstream against a surging current – at least it was surging relative to most of the river – before heading cautiously downstream.
Don warned, “If the fins on the bottom of your board hit a rock, it will jolt you forward onto your knees.”
The dry late-summer conditions meant that despite only needing a few inches of water, we had to be on the lookout for fin-catching rocks and sandbars. I couldn’t avoid them all, so I ended up in the prayer position on occasion, and we were all gently catapulted into the warmish river at least once.
But getting wet was part of the fun. Travelling on top of the Credit River added another dimension. From my lofty position I could see a side of Caledon new to me. We passed pairs of Muskoka chairs set out on the riverbank waiting patiently for their custodians to enjoy a morning’s coffee or an evening’s glass of wine. Thick forests gave way to farmers’ fields, and we drifted by the rich, green fairways of the Caledon Country Club.
This trip was pure enjoyment. Calories burned and muscles strengthened were just an added perk.
Taking me out of my reverie, Don explained that flat, shallow rivers aren’t the only way to use a paddleboard. His eyes sparkled as he described his journey from Charleston Sideroad through the Forks of the Credit. As it cascades down the Niagara Escarpment, the normally peaceful Credit picks up steam. Add spring flow and we’re talking whitewater. “When it got rough,” Don said, “we just sat down on our boards.”
Paddling in Caledon
On our more leisurely trip, we pulled out of the water to get around the Cheltenham dam, but the route was otherwise uninterrupted. It required balance, an ability to read the river so you could avoid (most) rocks, and some co-ordination to keep the board straight in the small rapids and away from fallen and overhanging trees jutting from the banks.
People along the shore recognized our upright passage with a curious wave. For the most part, however, we floated along in the trail of a pair of great blue herons. We startled a few ducks, scared up a cormorant, and felt very Zen-like as the warm sun burned through the morning mist. When we arrived in Terra Cotta, I reluctantly pulled my paddleboard ashore.
Intrigued by the idea of downward dogs and triangle poses while floating on a lake, and because my regular yoga instructor raved about it, I also attended a paddleboard yoga class. Caron Shepley, who calls her company Blue Dog Yoga, told me, “It’s my new passion. It’s fantastic.” With her enthusiastic words spurring me on, I showed up at the quarry lake south of Caledon Village on a sunny, but cool and breezy evening. Caron set me up on a board and without further ado I joined five other students for a quick warm-up paddle.
We then tethered each end of our boards to a pair of buoy lines so we didn’t float away, and Caron began the class with a series of sun salutations. An hour later and despite a few worrisome wobbles, the six of us were dry and limber. The same couldn’t be said of Caron. She’d taken an unexpected dip, proving that while paddleboards are stable, they aren’t foolproof.
Needing to maintain my balance added an interesting dimension to traditional yoga, but what appealed to me most was the fresh breeze and warm sunshine in our open-air “studio.” SUP yoga was easier than I’d expected – though I’ll leave yoga headstands on a paddleboard to those with a sense of adventure that differs from my own.
As for that magical paddleboard down the Credit, that wonderful memory has become bittersweet for those who travelled together that day. Tragically, Paula Coats, our vibrant leader, died suddenly in March this year.
Caron Shepley, a Yoga instructor, describes her Paddleboard Yoga classes. Video by Mick Partlett.