There is nothing more douchey-sounding than a sport involving expensive, kind-of-but-not-quite surfboards that is abbreviated as “SUP.” I used to live in an apartment in North Austin that backed up to a flooded quarry where I could take a stand-up paddleboard out for free if I wanted to, and I never did. Why? Because it is called “SUP.” SUP!

SUUUUUUUUP. The mating call of stoner frat boys everywhere. (Not that I actually know any.) Have you ever seen the window display at Hollister? It practically screams “SUUUUUUUP.”

I couldn’t be associated with something that sounded that ridiculous.

At least that’s what I said out loud. However, at that time, trying something new that I would probably gracelessly klutz up in front of tiny, fit, tanned people in bikinis crippled me with terror. I mean, I have social anxiety that follows me well into four beers at a dive bar, so that was a hell no.

This decision was reinforced by the set of 20-somethings in our apartment complex (we were 20-somethings too, then, technically) who obnoxiously went SUPping and used their boards to tan or, even more offensively, to do yoga. As a super-pale, inflexible person of curves, well, I was affronted.

Anyway, years went by, babies were had, and I never had any real inclination to SUP even though (and I probably should have mentioned this sooner) I LOVE the water. Especially oceans, but also lakes, streams, rivers, swimming pools, bathtubs – not so much hot tubs because they feel like death to me – but everything else. My soul is happiest when I am kayaking or swimming or canoeing and now ESPECIALLY when I SUP. With SPF 50 sunscreen, of course.

So how did I get over the douchey name and fear of an Abercrombie & Fitch-sponsored, modern day Carrie scene that would inevitably transpire were I to try it? Well, I’m very glad you asked that weirdly specific question.

First, the social anxiety. I still have it. But one of the many benefits to living in Austin is that there are so many people who come off as weird and are accepted here. Personally I have made some HORRENDOUSLY bad first impressions and some of those people who saw me do the really, really stupid things are actually friends now. Mostly no one has been mean-hearted about it though, so that gives me strength to venture beneath the pig’s blood on occasion.

More important was a legitimately crippling problem that I had following the birth of my second son. About two weeks out of the month, during PMS and my period, my lower back was KILLING me. I couldn’t stand for more than five minutes at a time. If I sat for too long, I couldn’t get up all the way. I had to walk hunched over for a few seconds or minutes till I could straighten my spine.

I tried, with all my might, to lose my baby weight in dance classes, on the elliptical, etc. But I could not stay in a routine when half the month I could hardly stand. Eventually I stopped trying. I put on the pounds I’d managed to lose and started the awful doctor game show in which they try to Guess the Non-Specific, Intermittent Ailment (and vaguely accuse you of a pain pill addiction).

Fortunately, we only spun the wheel a few times before the answer became pretty obvious: after having my son, my uterus had tilted way, way back and was pressing on nerves and causing muscle spasms. I read on the Internet that there was a surgery for this. My OB/GYN said it was a hack surgery, wouldn’t actually work, and would probably cause more problems.

“So…what?” I ask, actually sobbing in front of him in that embarrassing, open-back gown.

“Well, you’ll have to power through the pain and do some core building exercises. If you can build those muscles, it might alleviate some of your pain.”

“Like what?”

“Well, what about water aerobics?”

“Do you see me? I can’t wear a swimsuit in front of people right now!” Something about those gowns, and the stirrups you were just in – you’re vulnerable. You’re too honest.

“Well, you need to get over your body issues.”

“Well that’s a shitty thing to say!” I grab more Kleenex.

He sighs. “Well what about Yoga or Pi-LAH-TAYs?” He said it just like that.

I glared at him. “Do I look like someone who does yoga?”

“You can take private lessons.”

“Will insurance cover that?”

“Fine, do you just want me to write you the pain script?”

My pride was wounded. “NO!” I said, sucking in my tears, “I will figure it out. Just let me go. Please.”

I pulled on my clothes, stomped out to my car, cried some more, then went home to Google core-building exercise.

And guess what is really good for your core?

That’s right. SUUUUUUUUP.

If my options were “swimsuit/cellulite in public,” “my butt in yoga pants thrust in someone else’s face,” or “fat lady on a little board”— fat lady on a little board it was. At least I could wear shorts and a t-shirt and present as generally inoffensive.

The best part was one I hadn’t considered: you don’t have to stand the whole time.

You can sit and paddle, too. And then stand up and paddle and work it. Then sit. Then stand. Until your back becomes a towering pillar of strength, you lose 25 lbs and you find yourself able to continuously paddle standing up for more than two hours at a time. Which is what happened to me in four months.

I still get pain, but I don’t get stiffness or spasms. All the clothes fit. I even hike and do the elliptical and swing my kids around.

And I look forward to SUP every day. I go early in the morning 3-4 times a week, the lake is quiet, the scenery and sky are beautiful, and I’m on the water. My soul is very, very happy.

All because of SUP, y’all.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am pretty much the only representation of my demographic out there most mornings. If I have to look at one more set of washboard abs disappearing into a pair of Hawaiian-printed shorts…

No. Wait. There really isn’t a downside.

Photo via Flickr/kansasphoto (CC BY-NC 2.0)