Photo credit: Kingfisher Journeys
I launched this campaign determined to learn more about the land of 1,000 hills and a million smiles. As I keep visiting different parts of Rwanda, I constantly look for exciting things to do.
However, I didn’t know that traversing the land-locked territory in the heart of Africa would introduce me to activities popular in Hawaii and other places on the other side of the Atlantic. Between milking cows and brewing banana wine, I have found myself experimenting imported excursions here and there.
While visiting Rubavu recently, rain derailed my plan to participate in a kayaking expedition on my first day there. I arrived in the afternoon and had to deal with the disappointment of spending the rest of the day indoors.
Luckily, day two of my visit was sunny and I took full advantage of the weather. On that memorable day, I had my first ever paddleboarding experience, courtesy of Kingfisher Journeys. Paddleboarding is a water sport played on a floating board. Participants use paddles to propel their surf-like boards from one spot to another on the water surface. This thrilling activity looks like a hybrid product of canoeing and surfing.
I adjusted the size of my paddle and tied the leash around my ankle to ensure the board wouldn’t be swept away from me in case I fell. Then I knelt on the board and started paddling. I would switch sides every after a few strokes. As I did so, my board glided farther and farther from the shore.
Like any other beginner, I was nervous in the beginning. When I started getting comfortable with paddling while kneeling on the board, I attempted to stand up but my feet trembled and butterflies erupted in my stomach. I got back on my knees. I tried to stand up a few more times but failed miserably. Paddling while kneeling is easy but doing so while standing requires balancing skills that take a little bit of time to develop.
After several failed attempts to stand up, I put the paddle down and sat on the board. I looked around and recalled the number of times I had been in that lake before without the floating board I was sitting on and the life jacket I was wearing. I had swum in that lake many times before without any floating aid mechanism. Why was I afraid of falling off the board then? What was the worst that could happen if I fell? I felt stupid when I realized I was freaked out by absolutely nothing. I untied the leash attached to the board, dived into the lake and swam. When I got back on the board, I wasn’t afraid of falling anymore.
Swimming shook off my uncharacteristic water phobia. When my bond with the lake was restored, I could paddle while standing comfortably. Stand-up paddleboarding feels like walking on water. I lost balance and fell a few times but whenever that happened, I pulled back the board, jumped on it and resumed paddling. Each time I fell, I let the paddle go. Like the board, it floats and never sinks. Losing it wasn’t a concern whatsoever.
Paddleboarding is a good workout. It builds core stability and leg strength while toning arms. As you paddle, your leg muscles work to align your posture with the center of gravity. Your arms, back and shoulders coordinate to push the board. This happens when your core, back and abdominal muscles are actively engaged in maintaining balance. Despite its tremendous health benefits, paddleboarding is relatively easy in comparison to what your trainer makes you do in the gym.
The more I paddled, the more confident I became. A little while later, I did push-ups, planks and crunches on that inflated thing. I felt like I could do anything on it. It’s amazing how an hour of paddleboarding helped me to develop the ability to conquer fear and assume control.
The author is an adventurer on a tour of all 30 districts and 416 sectors of Rwanda. Follow his awe-inspiring expeditions on Twitter @GeoExposure