Sunday 23 October 2016

When your wife is better at something

Published 28/09/2015 | 02:30

Paddle wars: Adventure in Portugal ended in humiliation after several falls off the board
Paddle wars: Adventure in Portugal ended in humiliation after several falls off the board

I was being quite the big man. I had been stand-up paddleboarding before you see. Admittedly once, and admittedly in about four feet of very calm water at Seapoint. But still. I had done reasonably well; I felt like quite the authority. So I talked the wife into going in Portugal, assuring her it would be OK and she'd get the hang of it. I gently suggested to her that maybe she should use a wetsuit which would make her more buoyant (the "when you fall into the water" was silent.) She declined.

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So off we went. Johnny was technically an instructor but he was fairly zen in his instructing. We would go on our knees for a few minutes until we got the hang of it, he explained, and then we would stand up. It was as simple as that. As simple as falling off a log. More of which anon. I climbed on confidently and off we went. I explained to the wife as we went that apparently you weren't really supposed to move your arms, it was more about your core, so you kind of worked your body instead and ... I looked around and she had headed off. We got out a bit past the breaking waves and into calm water. We had, Johnny had assured us, perfect conditions. So we stood up. And then I fell down. I clambered back on again from the back, and off I went, gaining a bit of momentum here, righting myself after a small wave. Hey hey, I was doing it, and ... splash! My wife at this point was calmly gliding across the water with Johnny.

I should perhaps tell you about her new friend Johnny. Johnny was one of those tanned surfer types who sat smiling - and who knows? Possibly stoned - at the watersports centre on the beach. And it's easy for him to smile. What worries does he have except the tides and the wind? And Johnny is all very well now gliding along on his paddleboard. But what good is Johnny to her in the long run? Is Johnny going to bring up the kids with her? Is Johnny going to do all the boring stuff? But off she went, leaving me there climbing back onto my board. With no one even noticing that I was quite deft at getting back up on the board.

I hesitate to say that I wanted her to fall in, but it's true. Every time I looked over at her I was vaguely hoping to see that her hair was wet, or that she was struggling to get back up on the board and Johnny was over the other side of the bay, oblivious. And I hated myself for this. And on she went.

Part of my problem was my head of course. I got going plenty of times and when you're going you feel for a while as if there is no possibility you could actually fall off. You feel invincible, in the zone, in flow. You even manage to stay afloat after a few wobbles. But in my head, there was only one narrative. There was only one way it could end, and that was me in the water. That was the story I had written for myself.

Then she started really bugging me by shouting across to me how amazing it was. She was gliding, and talking, and enjoying herself to boot. She was rubbing my nose in it.

And then of course Johnny headed back to shore, having offered me no advice whatsoever on how not to fall in. "You can stay out as long as you want", he said with a cheeky grin to me. And of course if I had whacked him with my paddle at this point she would have taken his side. So we stayed out a while until she grew tired from all the paddling. I wasn't tired but my arms and knees were raw from climbing back on. So we headed in.

Her and Johnny had a little chat about yoga positions, while the most I could muster was to ask him if the inflatable paddleboards were more stable because on an inflatable I had done much better. No, he said. But did I go in a 'lagoon'? That might explain it, he said with his cheeky grin. Clearly it takes a real man to handle the sea.

Johnny's colleague, as in the guy who sits next to him all day on the beach, asked how we got on. I told him my wife was better than me. That's because they get the exercise in the kitchen, he laughed, making a pot stirring motion. In his own Southern European way he was trying to make me feel like a man again. She took pity on me a bit for the next few days. She would point to people falling off (Look honey; there are other losers too!) and say how my centre of gravity was much higher than hers.

But I didn't want her pity.

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