Just a Thought—Yolo is the Only Way to Go

By Janice Lane Palko 

I just celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary, and to commemorate the occasion, my husband and I headed back to where we honeymooned three decades ago, Bermuda.  One of the things we did on this trip, in addition to journeying back to the places we visited as newlyweds, was try to a new water sport—stand-up paddleboarding.  If you aren’t familiar with paddleboarding, you probably will be soon.  Our fun and lovely guides, Stephon and Shianne, told us that it had only come to Bermuda in the last few months and has already become quite popular.  It’s starting to catch on in various places in the U.S as well.  If you haven’t seen one, visualize a Venetian gondolier on a surfboard. 

As I’ve written before, I’ve kayaked so I was eager to try this new water sport, but as with any new experience, I was a bit nervous when our guides picked our group up outside our cruise ship. Would I be able to do it?  Would I fall off?  Would I make a fool of myself?We traveled to beautiful Ely’s Harbour in Bermuda’s West End, where Stephon told us that we’d be using Yolo Yaks.  I was informed by a woman on the tour who worked at Penn State that Yolo is short for You Only Live Once.  She was traveling singly and told me that rather than stay at home and feel sad that her kid’s had left for school, she had booked herself on the cruise.  She had a Yolo attitude so I thought I’d ignore my jitters and just give it a go.

Stephon told us the boards were virtually unsinkable, and the best way to get upright on them was to first kneel on the board and then slowly stand up, situating your feet nearly two-thirds of the way back in slight foot grooves on it.  You then take the paddle in hand, and off you go.  As we started out on the calm turquoise harbor water, I noticed how tense I was on the board.  I reminded myself to breath, relax, unlock my knees and look at the beauty surrounding us.  Then the 11 of us in the group paddled out beyond the calm waters of the harbor, past the sheltering rocks where the ocean water was choppy.  Paddling became more difficult as was remaining balanced on the board. 

We made our way to a forest of mangroves, which are fresh-water plants that grow in salt water.  Stephon told us to find a completely yellow leaf and a completely green one and then to chew each one.  It seems the mangrove plant is a real team player.  The yellow leaf tasted very salty as compared to the green on.  That is because the yellow leaf filters out the salt so that the rest of the plant can survive in the salty water.  While we were picking leaves, one of the members of the group lost his balance and plunged into the water.  He had been so intent on finding a good leaf, he had forgotten about balancing.  Relieved that I had not been the first to take the plunge, I wondered how he would ever get back up on the board.  As I studied his method, he got up with little difficulty. 

Next, we paddled to a cove that our guides informed us had once been the estate of mega-millionaire Robert Stigwood, who had, among his many ventures, managed the Bee Gees.  We took a swim at the beach there and were told that in the Saturday Night Fever heyday, the Bee Gees used to perform on that shore to the delight of the boaters moored there. 

The tour company had a group of kayakers out in the harbor too, and they paddled over to the shore.  Stephon asked if we would like to let the kayakers give our paddleboards a try for a while.  It was fun to share the knowledge we had gained even though we were still novices and to watch the little kids take to the boards like they had been born with one. 

We then paddled back to our launch point after spotting some turtles, a parrotfish and playing with a sea pudding, which Shianne said was akin to a sea urchin.  After two hours out on the water, my arms were getting tired. 

But as we rode the bus back through the tiny switchback streets lined with pastel-colored homes and palm trees, I thought how our paddleboarding adventure was a lot like life.  Everything goes better when you are relaxed.  Life is better lived in balance.  You can’t stand up immediately you have to build a good foundation and work your way up.  When the water gets choppy, dig that paddle in and keep on moving.  Focus and don’t get distracted or you’ll get tossed.  Don’t forget to look around at all the beauty.  Share with others; it doubles your fun.  And while you are at it, travel through life with the motto you only live once as your vehicle.