Paddleboarding on the Guadalupe is my replacement for surfing on the East Coast. I’ll confess/complain: it’s a poor replacement. Yes, it has the satisfying feel of being on water, being in the sun, working the muscles, being completely analog without an iPhone within a half mile or more of my hand.
But it lacks the noticeable movement of water around me. Surfing is an invitation or even a dare to come and dance with it. To a large extent, so is canoeing a river that has rapids. Surfing, with its occasional waves that form “tubes” that one can get covered up under and inside, is a return to the salt-water womb — a metaphor that’s not much exaggerated.
Now, the advantage of paddleboarding on a lake-like river as the Guadalupe has formed in Kerrville, however, is that conditions are fairly uniform throughout the year. The variables of course are water and air temperature, which can largely be neutralized with my wetsuit. The variable I can’t avoid is when the river rages significantly above its normal level, which has happened a couple times since I moved here three and a half years ago. Otherwise, it’s placid and navigable. Always.
Yesterday afternoon, I put in at the southern end of Flat Rock Park, just prior to the one-lane bridge that leads to the large open field serving as a dog run. There’s a scored ramp for wheels or river shoes to get traction over the algae clinging to each inch. The rainbow oil slicks circle randomly and then form jewelry around my calves as I slowly shuffle deeper into the water.
Not long ago I showed up and two men were fishing. One was in a kayak about 20 feet off the shore. The other man was standing on the ramp, which was almost completely occupied by his black truck — this is a ramp for putting in and then driving back around the side of the big tree to park, not for using as a parking spot, I might add — holding his rod in his right hand and untangling his line in his left.
Without my glasses, it looked more like he had hauled in a fish, which seemed a happy moment for him and one that required only a slight shift to the right side of the eight-foot wide ramp, so I could make my way down the left.
I said, “Excuse me?” preparing to clarify that I wanted access on the left.
Apparently, the man affected by a tangled line and dying liver believed he had riparian rights, when he had not even littoral rights. (I thought I should flex my NY State real estate salesman license just this once, since it never got flexed before I moved.)
To express myself to you instead with the brevity that Twain or Hemingway encourage but with emotion more suited to Tarantino, the guy wouldn’t move out of the fucking way.
He didn’t acknowledge me, so I repeated my question, which to be fair I should have announced in the indicative case of the verb or even the imperative, since neither of us had rights to the shore or waterway of the Majestic Guadalupe. Admittedly, he could equally have responded using the imperative, “Fuck off.” That rejoinder of course would be the correct verb case for that purpose but would be factually incorrect, because it would assume said rights.
Upon the second question, he looked sideways at me and said, “Really, dude?” I hate it when people I don’t know call me “dude,” especially when they’re angry.
“I just need only about a foot here on the left to slide by.” He had seven feet. To his right was the cooler containing further Liver Death.
“Really, dude?! Can’t you see I’m untangling my line?”
“Oh, sorry; I don’t have my glasses on.” Why I was so accommodating, I had no idea. I had a paddle with a “blade” and metal shaft, like a medieval hatchet, and he had only a skinny bendy stick thing. Of course, he did have a hook. But his line was indeed tangled and the hook had a plastic worm on it, so I figured it would be a fair fight.
(You see how quickly men can devolve to fighting? One has a dying liver and tangled fishing line, and the other has an impatient desire to get on the river at 7:15am when there’s only sun and no wind and the surface is like glass. Selfishness creates a tarbaby.)
He turned back to his line and said, “There’s another ramp right over there.” He tilted his head left toward a break in the reeds and a concrete step leading to another broken step, submerged about 15 inches and surrounded by other rocks obscured by murky water. Not much of a put-in.
I grumbled, did as suggested and had a fantastic session on a beautiful morning.
And then there was coming back in.
He was still there, this time fishing (from the ramp). About thirty feet out, I asked where his line was because I was a stand-up guy and all and didn’t want to paddle over it. He burped its location.
When I started to guide myself toward the ramp, he said, “Just use that other one there.” The ankle-twister.
“I can’t get up that way. I need the ramp.”
“You got in that way. Why can’t you get back up that way?” Made me wonder whether as a kid he had ever lied down on his back in gym class and then tried to do a sit-up. Gravity, asshole.
Now I was pissed. “This is a public ramp.”
“Yeah, but I’m here and you can use that one there.”
I wasn’t going to press it. Tarbaby.
I worked my way up the broken steps and then mouthed off: “You know, this is a public ramp, and you’re taking up all of it.”
He had some last word or another, and I walked back to my truck. It was still a great session. Nothing was going to diminish it.
The above was all a bad memory with a tarbaby at its center. Yesterday, which I digressed from, was delightful. I put in at the same ramp, nodding to a couple other fisherman who also nodded back, and after getting myself wet in the middle of the river I paddled downstream toward the dam. The sun and clear skies made for a mid-90s afternoon. There was a moderate wind against me, not as stiff as some days, but significant enough that it was a good workout. I hopped back and forth between right foot forward and left one, working each quadricep. I developed a blister along the base of my right thumb, which indicated that I hadn’t been on the river enough days and also that I was having a good workout. (It could also mean that I wasn’t holding the paddle correctly. But, no.)
I hugged the right (west) bank, where trees formed a pocket of calm from the wind. A great blue heron lifted off from my right and first flew south and then wheeled around to my left, disappearing behind me.
I reached the dam, touched my paddle to the edge just to say I had, and then turned around to head back upstream, with the wind. At first, there was a breeze against me, and I thought of the “walked five miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways” fib. Soon enough, I had a barely perceptible breeze at my back. The sun fell onto my chest and shoulders. I could watch my triceps flexing as I stroked and realized that in surfing one can’t stop to appreciate the way the body gets toned and challenged during exercise.
These malleable machines God allows us to travel in are certainly marvelous things.
Finally reaching the ramp, I figured I’d paddled about 8,000 feet, according to Google maps. One and a half miles.
I had passed a duck couple on the way back. They were standing on lily pads as far as I could tell.
PHOTO CREDIT: Surfer Magazine