The Experience: Stand-up Paddle Boarding in Cambridge

The Reason: Because I’m tired of walking in a circle, aren’t you?

Wear It With: House of Sunny’s Brown Retro Quilted Jacket. Rent Here From £15

~3 min read

We’re all getting a little antsy in lockdown, but no one is feeling the angst more than those of us braving the “new normal” dating scene. For people who love an evening Zoom or brisk winter stroll with a stranger, this has been a prosperous season. I heard these people also like unbuttered toast and talk radio. For the more adventurous types who would rather be meeting people rock-climbing, heli-skiing, or bungee-jumping, or hey, just at a restaurant, the boredom is palpable. The claustrophobic conditions call for creativity and cocktails, sometimes interchangeably. Barnaby was one of these men.

Barnaby and I met on Hinge, which by no coincident rhymes with “cringe” and causes immediate anxiety in people who found their significant other before their iPhone was upgraded in 2012 and apps were dumped into the digital soup. Dating for these people was a fun thing you did when your mom and someone else’s mom thought their kids would make a good match. I have no time for these people.

The first time we met, he brought a bottle of champagne and a stick of celery for dinner. He tossed the travel-size bottle he had drank in the Uber on the way over into the recycling bin. I was struck by our common interests and natural ability to make an entrance. Cue intrigue.

Shortly afterwards, he boldly brought me to dinner with his perfectly reasonable and lovely married friends. “How did you two meet?” they asked politely. We had considered lying to them to put them at ease, but since I’ve moved to London, I’ve been trying this new thing where I just tell people the unedited truth and live with the consequences, so instead I answered, “We met on Hinge last week.” The shock on their faces registered a solid 5 on the Richter Scale and I suspect Barnaby lost his invitation to their baby’s christening.

The following weekend, eager for a new thrill, he suggested we go paddle boarding. Previous to his invitation I had thought paddle boarding was a fun holiday activity one does in a bikini in Hawaii. I didn’t think England to be known for its warm bodies of water in wintertime. I checked the weather app and saw the temperature for the weekend was set to hover just above freezing.

“It’s going to be cold,” he said dryly. He was committed to being literal at all costs, a trait I’ve come to appreciate in the British. The Brits call refrigerators and washing machines “white-goods,” the vaccine, “the jab,” and the majestic pool of water in the heart of Hyde Park, “Round Pond.” Who has time for romanticisms and creativity anymore? The world is on fire!

“I’m Canadian,” I replied, “I can handle the cold.” This actually was only partially true. In Canadian winter I would often be spotted driving my car one block to the corner store and back in dark sunglasses, pretending I didn’t recognize my neighbours waving at me from the sidewalk in their snow boots.

Since all-season paddle boarding was one of Barnaby’s favourite weekend activities, he already had all the necessary equipment like insulated boots, thermals, and waterproof gloves. I, on the other hand, had Lululemon leggings and Nike trainers. I had thought we would cobble some sort of outer layer for me together as an exercise in teamwork, but he rang me at 5:30PM on Friday to tell me I better get to a store called Decathlon before it closed in thirty minutes if my hands and feet were to survive Saturday afternoon. He really was giving that jewelry dealer I dated in 2014 a run for the title of “Man Who Comes with the Longest Warning Label.”

My parents didn’t raise a quitter, so alas, there I was at 5:45PM riding the escalator down to the sad basement lair of sporting goods known as Decathlon. I asked the single teenage employee where the wetsuit booties were located, and he looked perplexed. “Do you want the full wetsuit?”

“No, no. Just the booties for me, thanks.” He gave me a look that said, “Wherever you’re swimming honey, you’re going to sink.”

At 6:01PM I was safely back in my flat with my new sexy waterproof shoes, a glass of wine, and the suspicion that while this experience would make for a great article, I may not have the best judge of character.

The location of choice was the river that runs through Cambridge, known as, you guessed it, the “River Cam.” Barnaby, in a demonstration of strength that didn’t go unnoticed, did all the heavy lifting. While he was blowing up the paddle boards and packing wet sacks full of provisions and canned cocktails, he taught me the rules of the river.

When paddle boarding, you pass people on the right, which is how we drive in North America so, for the first time all morning, I was at an advantage. You stay in the centre of your board (duh) and never under any circumstances push or touch anyone else’s board, which felt a little like what our kindergarten teachers used to say about the rules of the dark places in the playground.

We mounted our boards, and by some miracle, some dormant athleticism kicked in and I found paddle boarding pretty easy. Paddling down a river, if a bit chilly, was relaxing, and dare I say, lots of fun. Maybe it was the daiquiri in a can elevating my mood, but it sure beat another boring walk. There is something about being on and around water that puts even the most cynical person’s nervous system at ease. The meadows and grounds surrounding Cambridge are undeniably beautiful. The ancient universities and colleges along the bank are so steeped in history and craftsmanship, they made my Canadian university look like a Walmart.

An aquatic awakening was happening on such a scale, I started to envision myself investing in better thermal layers and doing this again sometime soon. I thought I may even change my name to something more on brand like Splash-Happy Sharon or Decathlon Deborah, that’s how serious I was becoming about paddle boarding. This tranquility, however, was quickly broken by a pair of people, standing on a bridge, waving to us wildly, yelling, “GRENADE!”

“A grenade?” I asked Barnaby, surely having misheard those lunatics.

He shrugged and kept paddling ahead, unconcerned for my safety. He better be careful, or I just might start falling for his sweet nature. Thankfully, a police officer standing further up the bank yelled, “Stick to the left,” as they suspected an active grenade had been buried in the river from WWII. In England, grenades in the river are par for the course during a Saturday swim.

Because I fear authority, I often try to disarm people in these positions with misplaced personal questions and inappropriate inquiries. This is why I asked the police officer what his name was, and he gave me a look in return that said, “I hope you paddle to the right side of the river and explode.”

Although Barnaby was ahead, he wasn’t too far ahead to be out of earshot of the officer’s rejection. “I think that was the first man in England who didn’t want to talk to you,” he said, which is one of those backhanded compliments women are delighted to receive. He had a way with words.

Our cruise came to an end, and though I had lost all feeling in my fingers and toes, I didn’t really care. I had survived, and genuinely enjoyed, my afternoon with an active grenade and an equally active Gemini.

To try or not to try? Try. It’s refreshing and invigorating, and not in the embarrassing way someone who does daily ice baths uses the word “invigorating.”

3 Pieces that say ‘Ready for Anything’:

When an outdoor adventure and style meet, lean into layers. Here’s 3 Rotaro selections that are certified Cambridge chic:

Paint your base layer black with Self Portrait’s Black Embellished Cardigan.
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House of Sunny’s Brown Retro Quilted Jacket is a subtly sporty and comfortably warm outlayer
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Keep it casual and cross-body with Florian’s Amelia Bag in Tan.
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