How Being A Father Has Actually Helped To Make Me A Better Paddler

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You know what I found myself doing a lot when my first son, Tanner, was born? Making excuses that I no longer had time to properly train for races.

You know what I do now that it’s two years later and I have a second son? Make excuses that I no longer have time to properly train for races.

Not much has changed on that front because it’s kinda the honest truth...

Dawn patrols are a little bit tougher when you haven’t slept through the night, and between cleaning up milk that’s been spilled on the floor, changing diapers, packing lunches, and that minor detail called work, those moments of “free time” to get out and paddle are few and far between.

There are, however, still random moments to log some time on the water, and it’s that fleeting, finite, amount of time that ultimately, in its own weird way, has made me a better paddler:

Before kids I’d paddle on days that offered the best conditions. I’d be up early before the sun in search of glassy waves, and schedule downwind and distance paddles on days with favorable winds.

It made for some perfect, all-time days of being out on the water—but that isn’t really a realistic approach to training for racing.

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Races, after all, are rarely held in completely perfect conditions, but rather are forced to run in whatever weather has decided to show up.

Take this past year’s Olu Kai race that was held on the island of Maui: Normally held as a downwind race on the iconic Maliko Run, the race instead was changed to a course format because of a late winter storm. Paddlers were not only faced with headwinds, but sloppy side chop, warbly waves, and horizontal rain.

It was just about as ugly as it gets—and yet I was totally psyched.

Because the dad-life doesn’t exactly offer much time to paddle, I’ve been forced to go out in nasty conditions because it's either that or nothing.

If the only time that I have to paddle is between 3 and 4 pm, then it might mean paddling upwind for a bit and then turning around for a downwinder, or practicing sprints in choppy conditions that are definitely far from ideal. 

While it’s nowhere near as fun as paddling in smooth, perfect conditions, training in tough, challenging water has only helped to improve my skills such as paddling upwind, riding mushy waves, or keeping my balance in sloppy water when I’m faced with backwash and chop. They're conditions that not many people go out in—much less purposely practice in—and that's actually ended up working in my favor to make me a stronger paddler.

So instead of lamenting how childless paddlers can train whenever they want (and joking about how there should be separate classes for dads of very young children), I’m instead going to thank my two little boys for their roundabout way of helping—one sloppy wave, tricky turn, and gust to the face at a time.

-Kyle Ellison is the owner of Wai Mauna Asheville SUP Tours in Asheville, North Carolina. When he isn't leading trips on the French Broad River he's at home in Maui paddling in whatever conditions his schedule allows for. For Father's Day his gift is actually getting to paddle downwind.