Monday, March 31, 2008

Trip Report Saturday 22 March 2008

Freddy and I got the usual breakfast at Agua Java before cruising down to the beach around noon. There wasn't much wind yet, maybe the occasional puff upto 8 MPH.

I decided to borrow the stand up paddleboard from Worldwinds, a Mistral Pacifico. A stand up paddleboard is a long surfboard intended for paddling from a standing position. At around eleven feet, the board looks gargantuan compared to the usual short boards.

Worldwinds didn't have the proper paddle for the Pacifico yet. Instead, they made a Swiss Family Robinson paddle using a canoe paddle, a chunk of mast, electrical tape, and probably some coconuts. It works, even if it probably cost a few hundred dollars less than a proper paddle.

I asked Rob for advice on how to use the Paddle Board. Rob is a windsurfing pro who has been hanging around Worldwinds for a while. He gave me a few pointers on the operation of the board before I embarked.

Of course, the first thing I did was to step on the side of the board instead of the middle. Duh! After stumbling I remembered to step on the centerline. From there, it actually felt fairly stable as I took position on the board.

Unlike a normal surfboard, the standard position on a paddleboard is to face squarely forward, legs shoulder-width apart, toes facing forward. Unless you're riding a wave, but not many waves disturbed the face of Laguna Madre today.

The top of the Pacifico (entirely covered with a nice foam pad) is marked with a nice tan oval. Rob advised to keep my feet within the oval for stability. I could walk towards the nose to raise the fin in shallow water, or towards the back to lift the nose.

Although keeping my feet wide near the edge of the oval felt strongest and most stable for paddling, walking up and down the board this way felt tippy. Walking along the centerline felt quite stable.

I paddled in the shallow water to get my sea legs, and then decided to go investigate some curious man-made structures along the shoreline. Paddling the board isn't exactly fast -- I'm fairly certain that a kayak or canoe would have been faster (although I admit the problem could be my paddle technique). However, I think I prefer standing up while moving. The view is better, and standing feels a lot more comfortable than the typical canoe or kayak seat.

The Paddle Board also can be a lot more maneuverable than a canoe in certain cases. If you trot to the tail and sink the back, the board becomes quite easy to spin around. If you're in a contest to turn around, the Paddle Board will definitely win over a canoe.

As I tried to return to Worldwinds, I discovered why Rob warned against paddling back against the wind. Even though the wind came from the side, I had difficulty keeping the Pacifico tracking straight. Unlike a canoe, which generally has a keel to help the worst paddlers move straight, the Pacifico only has a fin at the back of the board. Proper technique, and forward headway is critical to staying on course. I'm not saying I had either, but I think it would have helped.

Also, I suspect that there are better places to stand on the board when the wind picks up. Since my body probably acts like a sail, maybe the place to stand is further back, closer to the fin. Honestly though, I just brute-forced it. I paddled stronger, really putting my knees into the stroke. That helped.

Once I got back comfortably close to Worldwinds, I noticed that Jason had finally arrived and made it out on the water. He was out trying to perform a water start. I was able to paddle right up to him and have a chat.

There is something to be said for not having a huge sail hindering you when you're just trying to stand on your board and chat. As I discussed water starts with Jason, I got to stand tall astride my golden Pacifico. Jason got to stand in the muddy bottom of Laguna Madre. I bet Paddle Boarding with friends would be a bit more social than windsurfing -- but where are the beer holders on this thing?

As I paddled away from Jason, I attempted to show off with my fancy tail sink 360 move that probably has a real name. I fell into the water instead. Of course! My first time falling off a Paddle Board, right when I'm showing off. Pity.

After fooling around a bit more, I returned the Pacifico and broke out my own gear for some windsurfing. Unfortunately, the winds remained mostly light with the occasional gust clocking from odd directions.

I spent most of the day sailing with my weight and the sail forward to help me follow the changing wind directions. Occasionally I got pushed briefly on plane, but mostly it was a low wind day. I'm not complaining though, the weather was at nice, and any day on the beach is a good day.

Freddy, Jason, and I all got off the water early so we could get to Cirque Du Soleil's Saltimbanco on time. For dinner, we stopped at the Island Italian Restaurant and devoured their awesome sandwiches.

We all met in the Best Western lobby after cleaning up. From there, we walked along the sea wall to the American Bank Center Arena. I thought it was neat how a mix of tourists, joggers, and Saltimbanco audience were wandering on the sea wall. As we approached the arena, we knew we were going the right way because the concentration of well-dressed Cirque goers increased.

Inside the arena, a brightly colored stage was partially covered by a white tent, obscuring the middle and back portions. Suspended above the stage, a decorative circular structure of interlocking rings held lighting equipment.

As everyone got their seats, some colorfully dressed performers came out on stage and began performing skits. These skits mostly involved pantomime, funny sounds, and audience members. If you want to become part of the show, front row seats are your best bet.

Finally the show actually started and the "tent" was pulled back to reveal the stage, some acrobatic apparatus, and a live band. From that point on, the show became intense.

There were trapeze girls who hung from each other's feet. A biker who rode a bike just about every way imaginable. Acrobats launched from giant swings to land on the shoulders of colleagues. In each act, the whole stage was alive with performers crawling and rolling and running as if they were catnip addicts.

After the show, we walked to Havana to get another round of tapas and mojitos from Stephanie. As we ate "El Infidel", we reflected on the crazy awesomeness of Cirque.

To round out the night, we paid visits to Club 21 and Bourbon Street. Other than accusing a few women of following us around, we didn't get into too much trouble at the clubs. Returning back to the hotel, we discovered several women riding hotel luggage carts down the sidewalk. I interrupted their fun to chat and try out the luggage cart.

One of the cart racers insisted that she had never at any point worked for the hotel. Of course she had. Who else would know how to ride a luggage cart? How else could she have recognized me as a hotel regular?

Defying death in a luggage cart seemed like a good end to the night. We said goodnight to the ladies.

No comments: