The Weather Outside Is Frightful!

How cute is a Santa Paddle?  All those SUPers dressed up in red outfits, looking like aquatic Christmas elves. There’s something so very silly about it. So when my buddy Lawrence told me about one in New Jersey, I jumped on the opportunity. It would be a great time to haul out Big Red, my ponderous plastic board. At 34” wide, there was no way I was going to fall off this thing, and nobody wants to fall in winter! I even ordered some waterproof tea lights to attach to the sides, plus a Santa hat and antlers. I was ready to go!

There was only one glitch, a very Christmasy glitch. My wife warned me, “Hey, it’s going to get cold out there. Snow.”

“No problem!” I retorted. “It’s all in the Christmas spirit.” Except maybe I wasn’t being honest. I don’t like the cold very much, especially cold water. Maybe it’s my Sicilian ancestry, but when things get cold, I like to be inside. But I committed to this Santa Paddle, and darn it, I was going to do it. Forget humbugs like my wife — I was going on the water!

Lawrence picked me up. He had one of those SUPskin drysuits. Comfortable and flexible. I decided to go with my 2.5 mm farmer john and jacket along with 7 mm booties. Warm enough, I figured, especially if I was moving around.

The ultimate Santa Paddle

When we got to Greenwood Lake, the snow was starting to fall. Unfortunately my tea lights weren’t sticking to the sides of the board which bummed me out — I had visions of paddling along with Big Red’s rails adorned with sparkly lights, but alas that was not meant to be. No matter! My Christmas spirit was not to be daunted, especially after I saw Micki Michelle, the proprietor of Jersey Paddleboards and organizer of this event. No simple paddleboard for her. Dressed in a full Santa suit, she had outfitted a Megalodon iSUP with a Christmas tree and two live ducks! There another paddler dressed in a full reindeer suit. And I just had a measly Santa hat.

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Micki Michelle, the proprietor of Jersey Paddleboards. Photo: Chris VanVooren

The snow was coming down harder when Micki herded into the water. Already there was an inch of snow off Big Red’s deck. Now I’ve paddled during rain storms and wind and other bad weather, but this snow was something new. There was a weird quiet over the water. Anyone who’s lived in a northern area knows that quiet of a snowstorm. The gurgle of the water and people’s voices was the only thing I heard. Maybe not a silent night, but definitely a quiet afternoon.

This snowy afternoon wasn’t perfect though. My hands were freezing, even though I had neoprene gloves. It was that feeling like when you try to throw a snowball with bare hands. Baby, it’s cold outside! I guess I should have picked some normal gloves, because they really started to hurt. Despite that, I trudged on. Soon about half the paddlers went back to shore, which told me I wasn’t the only one freezing out here. To get my mind off it, I teased Lawrence about his ride. Normally a raceboard isn’t out of place at a SUP event, but here, all-around boards were king. The wider the better! He had to be extra careful with his balance, while I was able to dance to the Christmas tunes wafting across the lake.

Local supporters

Apparently the local populace had been warned we’d be coming. They were lined on a bridge, watching this procession of Santas make their way beneath them. By now I had my own cheesy Christmas music playing. Nothing like some Bing Crosby for times like this. My hands warmed up too, which was nice. So let it snow!

No question this was a beautiful afternoon. If you’re going to do a Santa paddle right, it really should be during a snowstorm. The Greenwood Lake was like a holiday card. That said, Lawrence and I were glad to be back on land. We were smiling, but more with a “Thank God that’s over” feeling than any euphoria. There are people who truly love the cold. My wife is one of them — she loves getting on those extra layers and skiing or sledding or building a snowman. Me, I’m a summer person. Give me beaches and paddles free of constricting neoprene. Free from frozen fingers and toes. When the weather outside is frightful, inside truly is delightful.

Now, does anybody have some hot cocoa?

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Photos: Chris VanVooren

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Ian Berger

Ian Berger grew up in love with the ocean, so discovering stand up paddling was a bit of revelation. Once he bought his first paddleboard, he realized this was the sport for him. Ian Berger lives in Peekskill, NY with his wife Kirsten and three children. He teaches middle school English and drama, and also has a passion for writing, which he shares with his students. Every morning Ian wakes up to write — sometimes science fiction or comic Young Adult novels, sometimes plays, but very often about stand up paddling. The Hudson River is his home turf, and you can usually find him there when the weather is good.