News: Hop on board for safely stand-up paddling on base
Story by Christine Cabalo
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII - Tame the waves instead of getting saved for the next stand-up paddling session at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Stand-up paddlers, who glide on the water with a surfboard and a paddle, are allowed in several base areas: Bayside of the base’s marina, Hale Koa and Fort Hase beaches. These areas have calm wave conditions that are ideal for the water activity, said Sam Mench, head lifeguard for Marine Corps Community Services Aquatics.
“Stand-up paddling is a popular sport, and there are a lot of beginners out there who are still learning their balance,” he said. “They can be blown out to sea if they aren’t handling themselves right in the surf with their boards.”
Mench said the sport requires good balance to stand up on a surfboard with a heavy paddle. Due to that, stand-up paddling is not allowed in areas with dynamic, active waves like Pyramid Rock and North Beach. The head lifeguard said at other local beaches he’s seen large swells crash paddlers against their equipment. Strong currents can also push paddlers far out to sea. Paddlers can ensure they travel safely by keeping an eye on conditions and being honest about their strengths in swimming, Mench said.
“When you’re paddling far out, you need to think: ‘Can I get back?’” he said. “It can be easy to paddle out when the wind is at your back, but you’ll need the strength and ability to paddle back safely.”
Whenever going out to stand-up paddle, Mench also suggests to paddlers they tell at least one other person their planned route. This information could be vital in an emergency, giving first-responders a focused area to search if a stand-up paddler ends up getting lost.
A preferred route for avid stand-up paddler Elizabeth McKeon is in the waters near Hale Koa Beach. McKeon, who is a captain with Marine Aircraft Group 24, said with good safety practices she can get in a challenging but fun workout that builds up core strength. After stand-up paddling for two years, McKeon said she’s developed better upper-body strength all while enjoying the Hawaiian scenery.
“One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about it is going to these areas and all of a sudden you’ll see a sea turtle or colorful fish,” she said. “There is wonderful color and great sea life. There is so much to do and see. If you’re not cut out for surfing, you can still stand-up paddle to lot of areas that are fun to explore.”
In addition to monitoring changing weather conditions, both McKeon and Mench said paddlers should also periodically check water depth. If paddlers end up losing their balance, he suggests doing a belly or back flop. Mench has seen extensive head and foot injuries from paddlers who dived hard into the water.
Practicing good form getting onto a board can also help keep a paddler’s feet stable, said Fawn Liebengood, a recreation assistant with the Single Marine & Sailor Program who has been a regular stand-up paddler for more than a year and a half.
Liebengood often paddles on her own and when the SM&SP hosts quarterly trips to Haleiwa or Koko Marina. If a paddler needs more stability, she said they can try to get onto their knees to maneuver.
“If you’re unsure of an area, especially a wavy area, try to paddle that way,” Liebengood said. “When you’re paddling you want to hold the paddle correctly like punching the air forward, so you can get a strong paddle stroke.”
Beginners can take good precautions before going out, but Mench said paddlers should also go out with another experienced stand-up paddler. Sticking close to shore can build up skills without getting into danger, he said. Mench said often during rescues, people run into trouble by losing their board or getting too far out.
“I’ve watched good-sized waves just hurl people around with their strength,” Mench said. “The waves grab the board and you.”