Trying and Failing; Or, When to Quit

A couple weeks ago I wrote about purchasing a stand up paddle board (SUP). When I wrote the post I was still waiting for it to arrive. My SUP experience is very limited, having only been one time several years ago, but watching a few of my neighbors on their SUPs this summer renewed my interest.

Photo of a rocky area above the water with a sign in the foreground that says “Danger Risk of Falling”

Photo by Chanel Chomse on Unsplash
Photo of a rocky area above the water with a sign in the foreground that says “Danger Risk of Falling”

My SUP arrived and my partner helped me get everything set up. It is an inflatable, so it required a little bit of work, but it came together pretty quickly in the backyard. Having an extra set of hands was helpful for the initial unboxing, and I am always grateful when he is willing to carry stuff down to the dock for me, as it is steep and even with grippy shoes I sometimes feel like I’m skating down it.

The last time I used a SUP I was able to step right off the dock onto the board. That didn’t go so well this time, even with having an extra human to offer a steadying shoulder. I just couldn’t get the balance right, and the water is too shallow in that area to risk falling straight in from dock height. I was able to get onto the board on my knees straight off the dock, but then I got a little stuck and couldn’t go anywhere.

Next I tried stepping onto the board in the shallow area. That worked a bit better, but I only got a very short cruise off the shore before I fell into the water. I didn’t injure myself, but it was still too shallow there for a “safe” fall, so I picked up a couple of scrapes and scratches along the rocky bottom.

All of this trying and falling happened about 30 minutes before the neighborhood July 4th boat parade started, so I had a bit of an audience. Several neighbors were setting up chairs and making their way down to their docks to get ready for the show. I don’t think watching me fall off my SUP was quite the show they had planned! When my partner tried the SUP (he made it to standing before losing his balance and falling in) I heard one of the neighborhood children giggle and say “momma, he just fell right in!” After enough attempts to tire myself out I sat on the board and paddled around a bit, just to get a sense of balance and paddling, and then we watched the boat parade while floating in the water, cheering on our neighbors and their decorated boats. I had been prepared to fail, to be bad at something new, but I wasn’t as prepared to fail quite so publicly.

So where does that leave the SUP and I? Honestly, I’m not sure yet. A friend has expressed interest in buying it from me if I decide to turn in my paddle, and I’ve been considering the offer. I definitely have a few more practice sessions in me to see if I can make my way to standing before I decide. I’ve watched countless videos on how to successfully stand and balance, and I’m hoping that trying some of the advice offered there will get me up to standing. One of the reasons I would prefer to start from standing is that, like many people, I have some knee mobility concerns that make paddling on the knees and rising from a kneeling position on a wobbly board more difficult.

Photo of a man trying to do a headstand on a paddleboard, about to fall into the water.

Photo by Jonas Denil on Unsplash
Photo of a man trying to do a headstand on a paddleboard, about to fall into the water.

Practice may make perfect, or at least possible, but I’ve also been thinking a lot about when it is time to quit. I know I’m not ready to give up yet, but I also know I’m unwilling to keep at something that is painful (beyond normal acclimation to a new thing), overly difficult, or makes me feel bad about myself and my abilities. I’m unwilling to “tough it out” for something that is supposed to be a fun hobby/activity. But knowing how much effort is enough, how many attempts are too many, and second guessing myself that I didn’t “try hard enough” are thoughts I’ve experienced in the past when making the decision to let something go. The only thing I know to do is to keep trying, keep researching different techniques for getting into a standing position, and keep having an attitude of being willing to be bad at something (even if the neighbor children are pointing and laughing). Most of all, to keep trusting myself.

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

7 thoughts on “Trying and Failing; Or, When to Quit

  1. Some people have incredible balance. I am not one of them. My own SUP experience was definitely a one and done. All I did was shake on my knees for an hour.

  2. My mom was trying to decide if she could get comfortable enough to SUP on a trip to Costa Rica instead of kayak. I pointed out that that’s like wanting to snowboard instead of ski. It’s a whole new sport and why switch when you’re just trying to have fun on a vacation?

  3. My experience with SUP is quite limited, but I have been in/on all sorts of watercraft over the years & generally find that solid, heavier ones are easier to maneuver than inflatables. Not by any means an expert opinion here, just a question I might ask in your situation: might it be worth trying a solid board in a similar setting to see if the problem is your balance, or the board’s skittishness? In other words, perhaps the problem is not your skills, but the board’s more stubborn personality. Then you could decide whether you want to work with a different board, or allow more time to get comfortable on this one, and/or (not really, but I couldn’t help but think of this…) offer the observant child a chance to try it out him/her/them-self. Or stick to swimming.

    1. I think you’re right about the sturdiness of a solid board vs the inflatable. Unfortunately the inflatables have much higher weight limits for folks in larger bodies, which makes them the only option for some people. I may ask around the ‘hood to see if I can borrow a solid one for a comparison, or as you say, I may just stick to swimming – I truly excel at floating! 🙂

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