Extreme Paddleboarding

Extreme Paddleboarding

Have you ever had an adventure that went from a lazy river to an extreme sport?

A few years ago, I went on what was supposed to be a leisurely 10 mile paddleboarding trip down the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia with my best friend who had always talked about how fun paddleboarding was. She and her husband had taken this trip numerous times and knew where to start and where to park the car at the end. That morning we briefly looked at the little boat launch and stairs at a secret fishing spot in the middle of nowhere where we would exit the river. We hopped back in the car and headed to the launching spot where her husband was dropping us off. When we got our gear out, she and her husband remarked at how high the river seemed to be after the recent rains. 

Boards, paddles, inflatable life vests, cellphone pouch (me), and camelbacks were ready. We were ready for a few hours of paddling down the river and catching up on life. With 7 kids and 115 miles between us, time alone together was rare. We sat on our boards to start and after a bit we realized we didn’t even need to stand and paddle. The river was moving us right along and we got lost in conversations. The weather was beautiful, the company was fine, and the river was rushing. It wasn’t until we neared our ending point that things suddenly felt less than perfect.

This is where it becomes a bit muddled. We talked briefly about possibly having to jump off our paddleboards once we got to the stairs and it being too deep to touch. We began to steer our boards towards the fast approaching exit point. We realized that we are going too fast and there wasn’t a way to stop and get out.  We jumped in the water to try to swim to the stairs. The current is much swifter than we anticipated. I inflate my vest. The next thing I realize, I’m clinging to the underneath side of my board. I lose my paddle trying to grab some thin low hanging branches that are flying above my head. I find myself strangely calm and fearful all at the same time. I hear myself praying out loud, asking God to help me grab ahold of a branch. My friend, a much better athlete than me, has managed to get to shore and is calling for me by name.

Did I mention that this is a deep river with a steep bank? My heart is pounding. Even though I’m about 2 feet from the bank, there isn’t a way for me to stop or to get out of the river. I’m on my back with one leg and arm wrapped around the paddleboard praying and trying to grab branches that are just flying through my fingertips and too thin to help me. All I can think is that if I cannot get out here, surely I can get back on my board and find a shallow spot or a grassy edge in the miles ahead of me. I have my cell phone and I can call for help. That’s my plan. Suddenly I have found a branch big enough to grasp. I hold tight to the board and the branch. I’m still about 2 feet from shore and not sure how long I can grip the branch as the current is so swift. I hear my friend behind me as she jumps back in the water to try to help me out. Somehow we get out of the water, a few yards on the wrong side of a chain link and barb wire fence! With the adrenaline still pumping, that problem seemed much less daunting than our extreme paddleboarding adventure. 

Overall, it was a terrifying ending to a fun adventure. I’m not an extreme sport kind of gal. However, I’m thankful that in the midst of it all, I found myself praying out loud. And not in a death’s doorstep kind of prayer, but in a conversation with God about his help in times of need. Psalm 56:3 says “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.” I’m glad that was my automatic first line of defense.  Next time, however, we will go paddleboarding when the river is not flooded, and we will have a leisurely paddle not a plunge!

Table Talk: What’s your first line of defense in times of trouble? Is your speed more like a lazy river or an extreme sport?

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