Amsterdam / PADDLING

Anyone who knows Diego knows that he has rapidly adopted a variety of new activities and hobbies over the past year or so. Our small two-bedroom apartment has quickly become filled with surf boards, paddle boards, hiking boots, yoga mats, and more bikes than any two people need. Considering his plethora of newly found pleasures, I decided to try and score some brownie points by booking us a stand-up paddle board yoga class (SUP yoga, for those who are hip enough to know what SUP stands for) in Amsterdam. What could be more unique than practicing yoga, on a paddle board, on a picturesque canal?

Being an un-balaced human being  (not only in my yoga/paddling skills, but just generally in life), I was slightly unsure about the whole idea, and the snooze button was looking particularly enticing when my alarm went off on the sunny Sunday morning of our class. Nonetheless, for the love of sweet Diego, I got up and dressed myself in an eclectic blend of exercise clothing and thrifted items. As we left the hotel and started our walk to the class meeting spot, I caught a glimpse of myself in a glass window and realized just how much my ensemble screamed I’m not a sports person.

The two of us hurried alongside the Amstel river – as not to miss our ‘launch time’ – with the morning sunshine warming out faces. We passed countless houseboats lining the wide canal, appearing so well-adapted to their environments that it was difficult to picture them not being there. Some looked to be straight out of a hip home and garden magazine: spotless and well-kept, with flowers blooming beside the ramps leading from the seawall to the front door. Others boasted moss and wildflowers poking through at the seams of the roof, making us question whether anyone had been inside in years. One had a chicken coop on the grassy patch between the sidewalk and the edge of the canal.

The whole neighborhood had a tranquility about it in the morning light, while still rustling with activity. Locals jogged along the paved seaside path, and sat out front of sun-drenched cafes, nibbling on pastries and enjoying a Sunday morning coffee.

We reached our launch site early, and waited around in a nearby park, already dotted with morning sun-bathers. As we sat there, a thought meandered through my foggy morning mind: would this whole class be given in Dutch? Will I have to not only pretend to be balanced and zen, but also piece together what we’re supposed to be doing? I voiced the thought to a very unconcerned Diego, who – let’s be honest here – could probably follow along with a yoga class if it were given in Latin, on the moon.

Twenty minutes later, my worries proved to be unfounded, as our instructor gave us a 30-second ‘how to paddle’ rundown, in English. She then proceeded lead our little group of five away from the dock, past more houseboats, under a bridge, and into the most peaceful little nook of a canal that I’d ever seen (which is probably not saying much, considering I haven’t seen that many canals, but I’m pretty confident it was a goodie). One side was lined with lush and leafy trees, while the other looked onto the back yards and back decks of some Pinterest-worthy houses.

After drifting over to the treed side of the canal, we attached our boards to one another by their leashes. Just as we were arranging our shorts and our paddles and butt cheeks (maybe that last one was just me), I caught a glimpse of a large river rat swimming around the lily pads about four feet away from my board. Don’t fall in, don’t fall in, don’t fall in. 

The next hour turned out to be one of bliss and serenity, punctured by a few moments of sheer panic where I was sure I was about to lose my balance, fall in the canal, pull everyone else in with me, and get nibbled by giant river rats. But alas, I managed to stay atop my floating piece of inflated Kevlar. SUP Yoga does force you to check your ego and only do what you can do well. Allow overconfidence and showiness to get the best of you, and you’d likely find yourself toppling over into the water.

As we paddled back to our launch spot, I began to notice people swimming in the canal. Floating in their inflatable donuts, they waved up at us as we floated by, waving back. The once-empty dock we had launched from was now populated with folks lounging on beach towels while children splashed around on pool noodles. I had always assumed that the canals wouldn’t be clean enough to swim in, seeing as they’re located in the city and are so frequently traveled by boats. Before parting ways with our little SUP yoga group, we asked our instructor about the canal water and she reassured us that it was clean, seeming almost surprised that we’d assume otherwise.

On our walk back to the hotel, the sun grew warmer, and the playful energy of all the bathing-suit-clad people splayed out on the side of the canal felt contagious. Before long, I was stripping off my mish-mash of an outfit in favour of my bathing suit, and heading in for a dip. The water was murky, but felt clean as ever. I felt like if I were to extend my legs straight down, I might graze the handlebar of one of the ~15, 000 bikes that end up in Amsterdam’s canals each year (I had apparently retained some information from the previous day’s walking tour).

We walked back the rest of the way to the hotel with our bathing suits soaking through our clothes, and giddy grins on our faces.

(Click on images to enlarge)





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