Paddleboarding involves risk. Not a lot, but some. You’re on the water, so drowning is always an issue. There are other hazards too: chop, lightning, critters, other boats. Most paddlers make a calculus between how safe is “safe enough” to go out, and when the risks are too high. We do it every time, and usually we choose to go out, but sometimes you’ve got to bag it. This is one of those stories.
I wanted to explore a Moodna Creek with my daughter Guinevere. It’s a small creek, maybe ten feet wide, but deep. The real attraction is that it’s filled with carp. For a kid, especially a ten year-old girl, paddling above hundreds of big fish is pretty exciting, even if they are just carp. The creek is about half a mile from Kowawese Park, one of the few beaches on the Hudson River. I don’t usually take young kids on the Hudson, but the plan was to hug the shore until we got to the creek. Easy as pie.
Kowawese Park is a popular picnic spot. Lots of families barbecuing and picnicking on this humid Fourth of July. I felt pretty conspicuous as we launched, being that I was the only person on a standup board at the beach. I had Gwennie in my trusty Bic Bilbao kayak. It’s a nice kayak for beginners, and perfect for a kid finding her sea legs. I knew those waters well, and most of the time it would be waist deep or less. The river was glassy, perfect paddling conditions.
That is until we heard thunder.
The Hudson Highlands
A quality of the Hudson Highlands is that the storms sneak up on you. The mountains on either bank hide them until they’re ready to pounce. When we launched there were gray clouds across the river but no hint of a storm. Ten minutes later we had visible lightning strikes. When lightning comes into play, there’s no messing around. You get out of any danger immediately. Gwennie and I headed for shore.
Unfortunately, our intended landing spot was cut off from everywhere else. Because of all the weird storms we’ve had over the last year or so, the shore was littered with dead trees. There’s so much tangled wood that you can’t even walk the shoreline. Gwennie and I found a small clear section, but we couldn’t go anywhere. All we could do was watch the storm across the river — thunder strikes and lightning galore. My weather app was showing a big scary blob. So we waited. And waited. A couple of times my girl jumped in the water with tweenish bravado, spitting raspberries at the storm. Other times she huddled up on a dead tree when the thunderclaps got to her.
The storm moved south. I could still see lightning, but it was getting further away. Time to move. Gwennie and I set out the way we came. She was tired though. Not really tired from the paddling, but tired from being scared. She wasn’t paddling well. We soon reached the park we launched from, then some people from the shore yelled at us in Spanish. I couldn’t understand, but I got the gist. I looked back, and that storm heading south? Yeah. It was on our side of the river now, and closer. The thing had crossed the river and turned north. It was now heading right towards us!
There’s a time to bag a trip, and this was the time. No messing around. I would be lucky to get the kayak and board on my secured on my car in time. I sent Gwennie off to get some pics of the approaching storm while I manhandled the kayak onto its rack, then strapped my board down. We had barely pulled out of the park when the rain started. Then the sky opened up! As I drove slowly home, I had a nightmare imagining still being on that little section of beach, the sky falling on us and lightning striking everywhere.
The whole trip made me think about what’s safe and what isn’t, especially when you have a child with you. It was right to hit the shore at the first thunderclap. It was also right to leave with lightning in the background. If I had played things super-safe, Gwennie and I would have gotten caught in the deluge. There are pretty firm rules — like stay on shore when you hear thunder — but that was a time I needed to break them. I knew which way the wind was blowing (at that moment!) and how far we had to go, so the risk made sense. Next time I have a kid with me, I’ll look at the satellite weather app more closely. If there are storms lurking about, we won’t even go out.