Our dogs aren’t too crazy about kayaking. They were definitely unhappy with rafting. So when, as a joke, I put the dogs on our stand up paddleboards and they took to it like a river guide takes to beer, we were floored.
We drove up to Truckee on a Sunday, ripping past the traffic that was clogged up like Tom’s daughter’s shower drain, heading back to the bay. Nicole’s mother, Marilyn, has a house in Tahoe Donner, so we try to get up there when we can. I brought three of our most stable SUPs hoping to get Marilyn out on the water: The Laird 12’6″, a French 11’6″ and a French 10’6″. Now when I say stable, I don’t want you to think about stability like you would with a kayak – primary and secondary stability. I want you to think of stability like a dock sitting on a pond. Like your Uncle Joe sitting in his Lazy Boy watching the Super Bowl. The kind of stability you’d like to see in your retirement portfolio. These are stable SUPs.
Being members at Tahoe Donner gives us demi-private access to their beach and more importantly their parking at Donner Lake. For some odd reason I’d never been to Donner Lake before (just too darn convenient I guess) and I was expecting fairly cold water. Needless to say, 72º was not what I was expecting, especially after coming up from July in Sebastopol where summer was still only a fool hearty dream. We showed our little ID cards to the girl in the booth at the gate and then drove right down to the beach to drop off the boards, the mother-in-law and the dogs. Our initial goal was to be on the water by 7am, thus avoiding the lion’s share of ski boat traffic and waves – so of course, it was now almost 10. But it was Monday and the lake was probably as empty as it was ever going to get.
Marilyn wasn’t particularly interest in giving the old paddleboard a go so we thought we’d try paddling with the dogs – just for a laugh – before making a loop of the lake. When Indigo, the Aussie shepherd, and Bonnie, my step-poodle, jumped right up on the boards, walked up and down a couple times and then sat down happily, I thought, “Shut the front door”. These dogs have fought me every step of the way trying to get them on the water so we could take them with us on our various adventures. And here they were, happy as little fluffy clams on the stand up paddleboards.
Now I’ve got to say, when SUPing first started gaining noteriety, my initial reaction was FAD. But a combination of great visibility looking down into the water, awesome workout and complete simplicity in the total lack of technical gear needed to get on the water has completely sold me. And now the dogs like it? Come on!
Nicole and I jumped on our boards, she with the aussie and I – for some inexplicable reason – with the poodle. We paddled. They sat down. Then they laid down. When I put a little effort into my paddle stroke and water started coming over the nose, the poodle stood back up again. I asked Nicole if we could swap dogs as my male self-confidence only goes so far. We rafted together, made the switch and began paddling up the other shore. Maybe fifteen minutes later I heard a big splash behind me. The poodle had fallen in the drink. You’re probably wondering just how big of a splash a 35lb substandard poodle could make. The answer is: Not very. My wife on the other hand, can make a hell of a splash. And sure enough, there was my wife and step poodle enjoying the nice warm waters of Donner Lake.
As the story goes, the poodle began to get a little too comfortable on the nose of Nicole’s board. She was laying there one moment and the next she literally just slipped off the side and into the welcoming waters of the lake. Now, Nicole’s a veterinarian. And ever since we began spending time together she’s been pushing this theory of poodle superior intellect my way. That and poodles are supposed to be water dogs. So if the poodle’s so smart, and the poodle’s such a fantastic aquatic mammal, how come the poodle can’t swim? My wife the professional poodlephile doesn’t have a ready answer for that one.
According to an eye witness on the board with the poodle, Bonnie first fell off the board, then took two or three leisurely dog paddles and immediately began to sink. Realizing we could of course, keep this poodle but that there was not a chance in hell I’d capitulate for a replacement, Nicole jumped in after her. At this point even the aussie looked up at me with a face that said, “You gotta be frickin’ kidding”. But no, no kidding. There was wife, utilizing swimming skills she hadn’t used since she played water polo in high school, holding the poodle’s head out of the water. Now I’m a fairly smart guy (certainly smarter than any poodle I’ve ever met), and I knew that rolling around on the deck of my board holding my belly while tears of laughter streamed down my face was probably not the reaction to the situation my wife was looking for. I opted instead to paddle over and pull the poodle from an impending date with the internet under the embarrassing classification: News of the Weird.
I’m a petite 225lbs. The aussie is 45lbs. And the poodle is 35lbs (literally soaking wet). So with 300+ lbs on the Frnech 11’6″ I paddle back to our little beach riding as high and stable as If I were alone. About fifteen feet from shore I decided to do a little science experiment and kicked both dogs off the board and into about three feet of water. Indigo swam to shore, ran over to my mother-in-law and loosed enough water on Marilyn to fill a fire truck. The poodle just sank. I figured I’d give her a moment to let her natural instincts take over but it was soon clear to me that given a little more time, the only thing natural to happen would be selection. So now it was my turn to jump in. According to my my lovely bride, I brought this on myself when I forgot the doggie lifejackets. I’d be a fool to argue. Well, more of a fool anyway.
Nicole often takes the dogs with her for a morning run. Half way to anywhere Bonnie will decide she’s had enough exercise. This creates a fun time for my wife that she likes to call taking the poodle for a drag. Now we can add taking the poodle for a sink to our list of fun times.