I come from a family of sailors. My great grandfather, “Skipper,” spent half of his 101 years on the water. His brothers, John and George Barnes, helped launch the Lightning Class, one of the most popular lines of racing sailboats, with two other brothers, Rod and Olin Stephens, on the Finger Lakes of upstate New York.
Here in Colorado, my father’s sailboat obsession moved on from Lasers to Hobie Cats to a San Juan 24 and finally an Olson 25, which he raced everywhere from Cherry Creek Reservoir to Dillon Reservoir to Grand Lake. My favorite memory of those sailing years involves a race at Nebraska’s Lake McConaughy, where I stood on the great sandy beach and watched a Hobie 18 tow a water skier in the raging gusts.
Despite the heritage and those days riding the wind across the water, sailing was never really my thing. Somehow it made me feel claustrophobic, out in the middle of nowhere, lashed to a tiny craft. I much preferred paddling in a canoe, which I learned to do on one of the oversized ponds Denver natives call a lake in Washington Park.
Lake canoeing seemed more autonomous than sailing—heading off in any direction you wanted and doing all the work yourself. In my personal highlight reel, two separate two-week canoe trips in Canada remain my favorite family epics. We cruised across giant glinting waterways, camped on deserted islands, cooked fresh fish over an open fire and dreamed for days of finding a remote trading post where we could buy a cold six-pack of Coke.
Mosquitoes, Surfers and an Unchecked Box
We took the first Canada trip with another family—and four canoes, two perpetually wet dogs, frog-catching contests, the occasional leech, and the best S’mores you could ever hope for. On the second trip, it was just our family, and my brother’s best friend, Joe Massanet.
I think it was my father’s idea to invite Joe, partly because he was such a friendly person, but more so because he was the biggest kid in the neighborhood, and Dad knew he’d need some help portaging the canoes from lake to lake. I remember after one long haul how mosquito bites welted both their backs.
Along with the leeches, the mosquitoes heaped on our worst traumas. You don’t get mosquitoes like you do on those Canadian waterways here in Colorado. The gigantic, swarming fearless bloodsuckers could eat through tents.
While canoeing came naturally, surfing is another matter. Other than the frozen white waves we carve all winter, Coloradans don’t grow up learning how to surf.
Learning to ride waves remains one of the few unchecked boxes on my bucket list. Actually, I don’t have a bucket list, but riding a wave toward a sunlit shore is high on my list of priorities in life. Without waves, and landlocked like we are, I’ve settled for stand-up paddleboarding instead.
Colorado Surf Culture
The first time I stood on a paddleboard and headed out for the middle of a lake, I immediately thought, I might not come back. There’s a ease, beauty, and independence of adventure that I’ve not found anywhere else but on a SUP. It’s still so new to me that I can only describe it in terms of anticipation, and what committing to it might mean for my life.
Such as how it might bring me closer to my pup. Last November, we picked up a new four-legged friend, Rose, from a breeder in Lakewood. A black Labrador from very large parents, she already weighs 60 pounds at just seven months. And she likes to get every inch of her beautiful bulk very, very wet.
One of her favorite hobbies is trying to jump into the shower with my wife, where the dog gets so relaxed that she often falls asleep sitting up. When it rains, she likes to stand under the gutters where the water streams off the roof. To help her beat the hot days of summer, I’m planning on getting a new inflatable SUP, and maybe even a truck.
Together, we’ll camp out on the weekends beside the same lakes were my parents sailed, slowly dipping our way from shore to shore with the great gray and black mountains looming above us, as if we were paddling from peak to peak. A man, his dog, and his beautiful wife skimming across the water—I think Dad would like that.