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The 90 Day Plan
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Standing up (and paddling) against breast cancer
Standing up (and paddling) against breast cancer
By LAYLAN CONNELLY
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Jodie Nelson and friend Brooke Farris found a small opening in the bushes that led into the Venice Beach canals, where multimillion-dollar homes line the waterways.
The women lugged large boards and paddles for their mission – sneak onto the canal for a cheeky adventure.
Jodie Nelson of San Clemente, carries her paddle and board across Corona del Mar State Beach in Newport Beach, before a training paddle to Dana Point.
But as Nelson and Farris were about to get on the water, a third woman stopped them and looked at their boards with curiosity.
"Is that hard to do?" Sandra Mathers asked, referring to the stand-up paddleboards.
"Come give it a try!" Nelson told her.
They went back to their car to retrieve an extra board, also known as an "SUP." The three women then cruised the canals, standing on their boards and taking in the scenery as they dug paddles into the water's surface.
After about an hour, the new friends said their goodbyes. Mathers' smile was broad, even as tears welled in her eyes.
"I just finished my first round of chemo," Mathers said, revealing her bout with breast cancer. "I've been looking for a way to be active again.
"What you girls did for me today was amazing."
Nelson was 12 when she rode her first wave and came home begging her parents for a surfboard.
"I was hooked," says Nelson, now 33. "It was tunnel vision."
That obsession – and her competitive nature – made Nelson a great surfer. As a teen, she surfed professionally, and built enough of a reputation that she was paid to surf in international photo shoots advertising surf clothing and surf gear. She eventually became a team rider for Hurley and, later, worked in the surfwear company's marketing department and as an on-air surf reporter for Fuel TVand ESPN.
Though she loves surfing, Nelson says it can be a selfish sport. It's all about your next wave, where you can go. In the lineup, she says, there's not much interaction with other surfers.
Four years ago, on a trip to Hawaii with the Hurley team, Nelson took her first ride on a stand-up paddleboard – a board about twice the size of the surfboards she'd been riding.
"It was a lot of board," she says with a chuckle. "You have to put every muscle into your stroke. It was so much fun because it was so different."
It was like she was 12 again.
MAKING A SPLASH
Soon after returning from Hawaii, Nelson started eyeing a big, lonely SUP propped up against the wall at her Hurley office.
Back then, it was rare to see SUPs in Southern California. Nelson didn't even know where to get a paddle – so she and a friend sawed off the end of her brother's old kayak paddle and used that for awhile.
While the practice of standing up on a board and paddling across a body of water dates back centuries, and was used traditionally by water-faring tribes around the world, it wasn't part of the current surf scene until about seven years ago. That's when Laird Hamilton– one of the world's best surfers – first hit the waves with a SUP.
Since then, the sport has evolved. Boards are getting shorter for surfing. People are performing aerial maneuvers off waves. And new SUP races and events are popping up every month.
As SUPs have become popular, they've become mildly controversial. Though many SUP riders use the board for mellow cruising, others use them in the surf, and some surfers get irked at the massive boards infiltrating the waves.
But Nelson, who lives in San Clemente, is one of many longtime surfers who have embraced SUPs. She can be found at a dozen or so SUP races held locally throughout the year, and she's started a side business called "the SUP Spot," a boot camp for people who want to improve their paddling technique.
The sport is not without its hazards.
On a recent day – a mile and a half offshore – Nelson heard a loud noise in the distance.
About 50 yards away, a massive gray whale cracked the surface.
"My heart literally stopped," she says. "It froze me."
Being in the middle of the ocean is different from sitting near shore on a surfboard. On a SUP, you're microscopic, insignificant.
"It's scary. There's gnarly wild animals out there. The ocean is so raw."
Nelson wants to see a shark, just to get it over with. For her, it's like charging big waves – once you do it and survive, you're past the fear.
As she stood on her board, during a 17-mile practice paddle, she looked toward Catalina – out across miles of open ocean.
"I kept looking out there thinking 'oh geez'. It's going to be mind over matter."
Only three people are known to have ridden a SUP from Catalina to Dana Point. Laird Hamilton is one of them, and none have been women.
Last year, Nelson and a fellow SUP'er, Bridget Saeman, paddled a relay from Catalina to Dana Point, switching off every 20 minutes. They were the first female team to complete the distance.
Now, Nelson is looking for something more.
PADDLE WITH PURPOSE
After meeting Mathers in Venice, and after watching her mother and a close friend fight breast cancer, Nelson wanted to show her support for people with the disease.
On March 28, Nelson will attempt to be the first woman on record to do the 39.8-mile Stand-Up Paddle course from Catalina to Dana Point. Her goal is to raise $100,000 for the Keep Abreast Foundation and Boarding For Breast Cancer.
She'll be paddling with one other person in her head, too.
Nelson's friend and business partner, Steve Adler – who has been by her side for most her SUP adventures – died this month, at age 40, from an aneurysm. Nelson is even more determined, believing Adler would want her to continue with the fundraising race.
She knows it will be tough. But she wants to be out of her comfort zone – like the close friend she sees ill from the toxic, if curative chemicals being pumped into her body, and all the other women battling breast cancer.
"They could give up. They could say 'I'm tired of being sick'," Nelson says.
But they don't.
Nelson says she won't either.
"I'm putting myself in a situation that is intimidating and scary. I want to inspire (people) to not give up. I want to inspire other people."