On Father’s Day this year, the kids and I didn’t want to give their dad stuff. It was day 101 of the lockdown, and he’d already had a pandemic birthday shuttered up inside. We wanted to give him an experience, to leave the house, to do something together as a family instead of just spending money on physical doo-dads he may or may not want or need.
We found a state park nearby whose boat rental shop was open: Fairy Stone Lake. Our son, who was learning to drive at the time, drove the hour and a half drive on winding mountain roads. We thought about renting canoes, but then decided we all wanted to try paddleboards.
We loved everything about paddleboarding: the portability of the boards, how easy it is to swim off of them, their versatility — you can sit, stand, kneel, or even lie down to paddle. We loved that when you want to hang out, you can sit on the board and dangle your feet in the water, or you can lie back and chill out with your hat over your face.
Shortly after that trip, my husband and I bought paddleboards. They get us out of the house without having to get near other people, and they complement sailing perfectly because they’re better for days when there’s no wind.
We’ve paddled several times on Claytor Lake, a nearby lake we also sail on. But Claytor Lake is busy with power boats and jetskis. It can be loud, and there are lots of boat wakes to navigate when you’re standing on a floating board.
On Labor day we decided to try a new place to paddle: the New River. We’d tubed down the New River before, but we’d never paddled on it. A friend told us about a good place to put in where the current’s not too strong and there’s plenty of depth so you don’t have to worry about crashing your board over rocks and rapids.
I loved it. When we paddled upstream, the sun was behind my right shoulder, and when I looked into the water on my left, the sunlight streamed in golden rays into the topaz depths. Sometimes the rays converged at my crown’s shadow, as if my shadow self were radiating sunlight from beneath the river’s surface.
The air temperature was in the low 80s. Not too terribly hot. On the river, though, standing on my board in a long-sleeved sun-protective rash guard and a life-vest that covered my torso and back, and the sun beating down on me at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, I was hot. I put in a few good strong pulls with the paddle to get me going into the current so I could jump in quickly to cool off, and the water was crisp and chilled. It was colder than the lake, and it made me think of my favorite scene in The Sun Also Rises, when the characters go fishing in France and chill their wine in an alpine stream.
But my favorite part was the light in the water. September is beautiful for light. When we paddled into the shallows of an island in the middle of the river, the water was crystal clear. Looking out over the nose of my board, the shallows rippled golden in the light. When we stopped in shin deep water to hang out, the pebbles beneath us shone gold and bronze and copper. The colors are so beautiful, it’s no wonder those metals are precious.
But the pebbles through the clear, rippling water were even more awe-inspiring than precious metals because their beauty included light and water, two things that are uncaptureable. You can’t hold light and water in your hands. You can’t hold golden ripples. I think that’s why I love them.