‘Keep going straight!’ Mike yelled out, a couple feet behind me ‘ Follow that paddler!’ he pointed into the distance at a very relaxed and confident paddler, aiming for the cove of the bird sanctuary. I paddled harder against the waves, trying to steer the nose of my board towards the beckoning island.
Mike, the owner and brains behind East of Six SUP had only just finished introducing us to our boards and movements we could use to get up onto our feet moments earlier on land at Cherry Beach. Cut to 15 minutes and half way across the lake to the island later, a group of us were headed into calmer waters and a place to ‘park’ our boards while we enjoyed some light snacks and waited for the sun to set over the city.
A boat full of partiers and loud electronic music passed in front of us, creating a line of choppy waves headed straight for me. Another paddler turned to look back at me ‘Get some speed, head right into them; it’ll be a lot easier to get over them that way’. I dipped my paddle into the lake and pushed hard and fast, somewhat bracing myself and hoping I didn’t fall in – playing chicken with the waves. My board flew over one bump, and then another, I steadied myself and made it over without getting wet. It was exhilarating.
Thirty or so Cormorants passed over my head in V formation on route to their home on the island. They got go close to me I would hear the faint flap of their wings and make eye contact with a few as they checked me out curiously. If I hadn’t looked back to the city skyline behind me, I would have sworn I was at a cottage in Muskoka.
I was nervous on land when Mike was showing us how to get onto our feet, where we should stand or kneel , what different sides of the paddles did and how to secure our lunch bags and backpacks on the front end of the board. It seemed like a lot and I had never done this before. As much as I like swimming, I didn’t want to fall in far from shore or be unable to steer when the winds picked up. Mike was very thorough and relaxed throughout; he gave you a sort of confidence and tough love approach. “We’re going to get you up on the board’ he said to me as I was kneeling in the calmer waters of the bird sanctuary. ‘Oh, no, I think I’m OK’ I replied with a nod. “This is comfortable” “No, we’re going to get you up!” he continued, paddling his board alongside mine.
Mike had started East of Six SUP last summer but isn’t new to the paddle boarding game. He’s worked with them as far as India and California. They’ve been a part of his life for many years now, after a partner of his once brought him to a lesson he wasn’t too thrilled about, only to find out after trial and error and a few falls into the water that he loved it, and you could tell by the way that he taught. He was patient but encouraging. He placed the paddle on top of the board in front of him and got me to do the same. ‘Hang onto the paddle; put your weight into it’. I leaned into my paddle from my knees and quickly brought one foot up and paused. ‘Whenever you’re ready, bring the next foot up and stand’ He gave me a second to think about it. I took a breath, waited for my board to stop wobbling on the water and flung my last foot forward, slowly I rose.
‘I’m doing it! I’m standing on the board!” I yelled to my friend Cheryl, surprised in myself. Mike paddled over to Cheryl and coaxed her onto her feet next.
Now, a little surer of ourselves, Cheryl and I turned into a swamp like area of the bird sanctuary. Double- Crested Cormorant in their nests, feeding their little babies occasionally, called out to us as we paddled by, unsure of our motives. They seemed to ease up a little after Cheryl and I pushed our boards onto the shore to steady ourselves and untie the bright yellow bag containing our dinner from the tops of our boards. It was nice to relax after about an hour or so of paddling and the location made it even more serene as we munched away on our meat, cheese and crackers. “I didn’t even know this place existed!” I told Cheryl between bites. Neither did she. It was such an added bonus to the already fun excursion
The sun was slowly setting over the city and we were told to pack up and get ready to pose for some pictures. Mike plays the role of photographer, finding the perfect angles to catch the glowing city behind you. He sends them to you via text after so you don’t have to worry about losing your phone or camera in the lake. Great idea for those who are doing it for the ‘gram.
After admiring the sunset of purples and oranges in the sky, we paddled back, all of us standing now. I felt really comfortable and we made much better time back to shore than my shaky start away from it a few hours before.
As Cherry Beach slowly came back into view I found myself already longing for the next time I could step back onto the board. Maybe I could venture further into the islands next time? Maybe I could ride over more waves from passing boats? Maybe I could do the whole trip standing? And lucky for me, East of Six has a few options and routes to choose from.
Mike operates from Toronto and Pickering, he does group or private lessons, sunset excursions and even SUP Yoga (that last one is out of Pickering only). Already an experienced SUPer and don’t need a guide? No problem, Mike rents his boards out by the hour as well. Check him out on his website www.eastofsixsup.com or his Instagram feed @EastofSixSUP that he updates with enthusiastic paddlers and beautiful sunsets on the regular.
Mike was a really fantastic instructor and I would recommend him for first time or nervous paddlers, it was such a beautiful experience and I can see how this is becoming so popular in Toronto. Thanks again to Mike and East of Six SUP for the really fun mini getaway! Can’t wait to see you again soon!
Hey! I'm Sarah! A 30 something living in downtown Toronto with a great guy and an OK dog. I love seeing what my city has to offer and try to hit up as many fun events or attractions as I can! I haven't slept since 2004.