Category: SUP Boarding

Renaissance of the Self

Renaissance of the Self

Photo by Phyliss Ward
Photo by Phyliss Ward

The use of underwater breathing apparatus was referenced in medieval codices. Then Leonardo Di Vinci used his studies of lungs and respiration to create a watertight chest bag and valve that regulated airflow that allowed individuals to breathe underwater.  Wooden barrels were used as primitive diving bells in the 16th century. Then British engineer John Smeaton invented the air pump and when it was connected to the diving barrel, allowing for more air to be pumped into the barrel. Rigid diving suits appeared in the late 1800’s but weighed over 200 pounds. Fast forward to the early 1940’s and Emile Gagnan and Jacques Cousteau co-invented the modern demand regulator that pushed technology for scuba diving far from the hollow reeds used as snorkels by our ancient ancestors.

Photo by Turtle and Ray Productions, Curacao
Photo by Turtle and Ray Productions, Curacao

Can you imagine what divers from Leonardo’s time would think of our recreational pursuit of scuba diving today?

Photo by Ed Jackson on a cave dive with Simone Lipscomb and others
Photo by Ed Jackson on a cave dive with Simone Lipscomb and others

Can you imagine what they might think of divers able to penetrate caves? The farthest I have been into a cave was one half mile but there are people who go so much further by staging dives with multiple tanks and gas mixes of helium, oxygen and nitrogen. What would Leonardo think of Tri-Mix? Or rebreathers that scrub carbon dioxide out of the air, mix the cleaned air with fresh oxygen which divers breathe again.


Photo by Phyliss Ward
Photo by Phyliss Ward

Another of Leonardo’s inventions was boards that kept humans upright as they walked on water. A historic attempt at stand-up paddle boards?


I wonder what he would think. I imagine him loving the advance in technology by joining me for a river paddle. Knowing the amazing mind and spirit of Leonardo Da Vinci, he’d invent something even grander than a carbon fiber and teak board and carbon fiber paddle.

He is known for his greatness and genius in mathematics, geometry, physics, engineering, anatomy, geology, botany, geography, music, sculpture, architecture and of course painting (whew). And he was known to be handsome, have strength, dexterity, brilliance, eloquence, generosity, charm, spirit and courage. I think of Da Vinci as the true Renaissance Man.

While the other guys wore long robes of somber colors he work short doublets and tights of blue and crimson velvet adorned with silver brocade. Never mind that he was born to unmarried parents who were not well-known or wealthy. This self-created man who wore wildly different attire created art and inventions we marvel at centuries later.

When my friend Phyliss sent me photographs from the “Da Vinci–Genius Inventor” in Rome, I began thinking about how humans have the capacity for such greatness, such amazing creativity as well as the capacity for such destruction. Today, as I sit at my desk in my comfortable home with the ancient live oaks draped around it protectively, the fuel rods at Fukushima are being removed by a crane. The potential for catastrophe not know before hangs by a thread of balance and timing.

Our world seems, of late, to be in a constant state of hanging-in-the-balance due to human misbehavior and ignorance. Oil spills in corn fields, in the Gulf of Mexico, in a neighborhood in Arkansas; plastic creating an island the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean; people starving while countries spend billions of dollars in war efforts. So much darkness…such disappointment in the human species.

Yet paralleling this darkness, people of amazing light and love for the planet, for life, emerge from every country to create a better world. In Leonardo’s time, it took a some creative geniuses to bring humanity out of the Dark Ages. Today each of us is needed to bring forth our skills and talents with great passion and dedication, with wild abandon. We are called to step forward in service to our communities, to the planetary family of life. Nothing less than a renaissance of the Self is needed.

Photo by Phyliss Ward
Photo by Phyliss Ward
Eagles, Sandhill Cranes….Abundant Beauty

Eagles, Sandhill Cranes….Abundant Beauty

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Pelican flying nearby

It was a most glorious day here along the Alabama Gulf Coast. Sun was abundant and the temperature may have reached 70 degrees. This is my favorite time of year here and makes up for those humid, 90 degree summer days.

After an early morning Pure Barre workout followed by hedge clipping from a ten foot ladder, I wasn’t sure about SUP boarding today but even after the yard work and intense workout, I simply couldn’t miss some river time.

photo copyI hadn’t planned to paddle hard given that I felt my workout needs were met for the day, but the wind–blowing upriver–caused me to dig deep from the beginning and so I resigned myself to finishing the day with another intense workout.

Just past the bridge an osprey sat silhouetted in a tall pine tree. At the corner before Devil’s Hole, two brown pelicans floated along the surface.  Even though I gave them a wide berth they flew off a bit grumpily. As I paddled past the beach at Devil’s Hole, the tree with the heron nest caught my eye as a huge bird moved. The juvenile bald eagle from two days ago was still hanging around. Sweet! This was exciting. Perhaps he or she will be making the river home.

photoDownriver I paddled, digging against the wind but not complaining. Pelicans were floating and fishing on both sides of the river as it widened. When I got to Bemis Bay an abundance of the large diving birds were feasting on my juvenile mullet friends. I was so caught up in watching the pelicans that I nearly missed two bald eagles flying together, touching, grabbing talons briefly and then flying away. Did I just see that? I was in nature-rapture.

photo copy 4Continuing my downriver paddle I came across another bald eagle in solo flight and one more off in the distance. I felt as if I was in a shamanic journey and a new spirit animal was coming to befriend me. I stopped paddling and stood laughing hysterically. What else could I do? It was beyond my ability to take in, to even believe.

Then I looked up, toward the sun, and there was a huge gathering of large birds riding the thermals over the river. No matter how much I paddled, I never got as close as I wanted to. They were very high and gliding air currents in large circles. White wing feathers glistened in the brilliant light and were visible against the blue sky. Sandhill cranes in migration. I have seen this in Florida before but never here.

photo copy 7Could my ability to take-in more beauty expand any more? Then SPLASH! A pelican landed maybe fifteen feet from my board. When I glanced back he was swallowing a fish. Then on a few more minutes and a huge mullet landed less than a board length away from my board after making a big leap.

Great egrets, shining white in their fine feathers, crowned several of the cypress trees as they sat observing the river happenings. I drifted under them on my way back upriver as the breeze gently pushed me.

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Pelicans perched at the no wake zone.

I sit now, reflecting on the abundance of life and extraordinary experiences that happened during my paddle. When I got back to the wide area of the river we call Bemis Bay, I knelt down and watched the two eagles play…or whatever they were doing. Not that many years ago this would not have been possible but thanks to reintroduction efforts, the bald eagle is beginning to thrive here. And come to think of it, so am I.

Thanks for reading. Comment and/or share as you wish. May your day be filled with abundant beauty.

Flashes of Insight Come as Floods

Flashes of Insight Come as Floods

It is usually difficult to see a current or flow in the Magnolia River
It is usually difficult to see a current or flow in the Magnolia River

Today I’ve been reflecting on the river I paddled on yesterday morning. I usually walk my SUP board from my home down to it regularly so yesterday morning I thought I’d get in a paddle before rain moved into the area. I checked the radar to make sure and we were in a wide-enough window of clear skies so I excitedly donned my PFD which is a unique contraption folded at my waist and inflatable when needed by pulling a handle at my right hip. Also, since I started later than normal I grabbed a hat, sunshades and of course my paddle and board.

The river was higher than normal but not flowing so fast as to cause much concern
The river was higher than normal when I put in but not flowing so fast as to cause too much concern

After the short walk to the river I scouted it prior to unsaddling my board from the wheeled carrier and had some concerns. The river was definitely flowing much higher than normal but it wasn’t unmanageable. Of course I would be paddling against current when I returned so I stood and watched it for a few moments before scampering back to my board and going for it.

The narrow part of the river where I live has a lot of overhanging trees. They were much closer to my head and two unsuccessfully tried to knock me off my board. But the muddy water cleared up when I got to the Cold Hole, not far from my put-in beach so I was happy. Of course, had I really thought about it, I would have realized that the water had just started to rise. That bit of inspiration came later.

A mile and a half down river and marvelous sights to behold filled me with raw joy.  When I arrived at the Devil’s Hole a juvenile great blue heron flew back to the nest with a parental unit who then regurgitated breakfast for said youngster after a full-blown hissy fit was acted out by the hungry bird. I stopped paddling and watched the drama with keen interest and then continued down river.

Both juvenile ospreys had flown away from their nest overlooking Bemis Bay. I was excited to know of their graduation from standing on the edge of the nest and flapping their large wings to being able to soar over the beautiful cypress forest, river and bays.

The skies started to look dark and heavy so I turned back toward home and picked up my pace. It felt great to dig deep and move my Yolo Cruiser speedily upriver.

Not something to paddle in....given the trees floating past and nasty water
Not something to paddle in….given the trees floating past and nasty water

When I arrived back at the bridge the water level had increased so I couldn’t do my usual hand-exchange with the long paddle. I had to use care not to hit the bottom of the bridge.

The Cold Hole was looking rather interesting by the time I got back. The flow on the narrow part of the river had significantly increased in the hour since I left. I looked around and realized I could take my board out on a neighbor’s dock and walk back home if need be but that would mean leaving an expensive carbon fiber board at the mercy of honest (hopefully) people. I checked out the flow and decided to chance it. My only concern was the small beach still being there when I arrived back at it.

The beach was non-existent not long after I exited the water.
The beach was non-existent not long after I exited the water.

It was a very tough paddle. All manner of debris was floating past but mostly small items so I dodged them. And I knelt down on my board to add a bit of insurance to my safety. Falling into flood water,besides being a health hazard, could cause serious injury and stress. The sphincter factor was definitely there but I made it to the almost-disappeared beach which had evolved into a tiny bit of sand.

Great job, I thought. Whew! That was a rush.

Magnolia Springs Fire Department in our 4th of July Parade
Magnolia Springs Fire Department in our 4th of July Parade

An hour later, after eating breakfast and showering, I walked with my mom to the July 4th parade in Magnolia Springs and we walked along the Cold Hole. I looked up river, to where I had struggled not long ago, and witnessed a raging river. The Cold Hole had become a swirling mass of logs, trees and debris. Just upriver there were muddy, standing waves. I realized how very lucky I had been but also how very reckless I had been with my safety.

Several years ago I did some swift water rescue training in North Carolina and in reflecting on the river and my decision to paddle it, I realize I made serious errors in judgment. First, flash flooding brings water from other areas to streams and rivers. We had very little rain in our area but just east of us they had torrential rainfall. Why did I forget that? And water levels can rise quickly….what was I thinking? It takes less than 6 inches of moving water to knock a person down. Moving water is a powerful force. So what’s with my lapse of judgment yesterday?

I cave dive and scuba dive in the ocean, I’ve rappelled and done other outdoor activities that others might consider high-risk. I have never thought of them as high-risk because I have always trained well and applied my brain power to the safety rules. Yesterday I made a decision that wasn’t smart. Had I gone an hour later I could have gotten seriously stressed and possibly injured. But it was a reminder that sometimes people don’t think about the power of water.

I realize I was careless with my safety yesterday. It wasn’t intentional yet it was reckless. Two other times in my life flood waters have challenged me. In one case my younger brother and I had to free our horses that were trapped in our stable when a flash flood occurred at night. We were terrified yet we donned our PFD’s and held on to each other and helped our horses to safety. The other was when I was fifteen and drove through a flooded dirt road in my dad’s truck. No cell phones, deserted dirt road with an old wooden bridge. Water was up past the door….I didn’t know how dangerous it was and only by the protection of my guardian angels did I make it through that one. I’m still dancing with flood waters and hopefully learning from mistakes. Today, I’m having flashes of insight but yesterday they were no where to be found. I am grateful for my life….so I want to be careful and aware of potential and real dangers. Sometimes its difficult to separate imagined from real dangers…and sometimes it’s not.

Here’s a few precautions to keep in mind when we have heavy rains. First, if water is covering a roadway, turn around…don’t drown. The road could be washed out and what you think is a few inches of water could be several feet. If you have to walk in flood waters, do NOT walk in rushing water. Remember it only takes 6 inches of rushing water to knock a person down. Less than two feet of water can float a large truck or bus. NEVER try to drive through a flooded roadway. And last of all, flood water can contain raw sewage, industrial toxins, pesticide run-off from farms and lawns, and dangerous debris. If you come in contact with it wash immediately with hot water and soap.

Letting Go Versus Giving Up

Letting Go Versus Giving Up

simonelipscomb (4)The past two mornings on the river paddling my SUP board brought unexpected encounters. Two days ago I was squatting down on my board as it glided under an overhanging oak tree limb. An owl hooted directly above my head. And later the same (I suppose) owl flew across the river in front of me. A messenger perhaps.

That same day I officially met the osprey chicks, one of whom is now adult-sized and almost fledged with adult feathers. I also met her sibling, a week or so behind in development. Both perched with their parent on the nest as I paddled by them.

Today I heard a splash as I paddled by a pier and glanced over to see a rather large, brown triangular head swimming for shore. I felt a little shudder as I quickly moved past, thinking it was a water moccasin, but I decided to turn around and peek. I saw a squirrel, sopping wet, sitting on the dock shaking water from his fur. My laugh echoed from the banks of the river. It was a good, belly laugh.

And later, as I was headed upriver and nearing home, I heard a most raucous noise. I stopped paddling and looked high up in a pine tree from where the noise originated. The source of the noise was three great blue herons in a brawl. Evidently the nearly adult-sized baby was throwing a hissy-fit and was hysterical…another encounter that made me laugh.

simonelipscomb (2)This has been a difficult week of frustration, grief….sadness over the course humanity has set regarding the health of our planet. No matter what those of us working for change do, it never seems to be enough to create positive change that will truly make a difference. I see apathy and greed growing while suffering increases in humans, wildlife, and wild places.

At one point this week I realized it was time to let go. Not give up, but let go. This came after working on a design for a new business card. In the process I realized I really didn’t know what to call the work I do and this led me to go deeper within myself. It seemed as if the pent up frustration and grief needed space to simply be.

DSC_0179The Unknown can be a scary place. Several of my friends commented that they too are struggling with direction and a feeling of treading water, not knowing what to do next. Maybe it’s time to let go, not in an attempt to give up but simply as a way to listen and let the space bring answers and guidance.

My time in nature nurtured me so deeply as I dealt with big emotions and important questions. The soggy squirrel, the fussy teenage heron and the ospreys and owl gifted me with laughter and beauty. The experiences gave me hope that all is not lost on our water planet…not yet.

The message of the owl? Owls see in the dark so perhaps it’s time to look into the darkness happening on our beautiful planet and know that there is a way through. Even though we cannot always see, we will find our way as we open our hearts and minds to nature and reconnect with it. Perhaps nature itself will guide us if we listen, observe and then take action.

Staying Present with the Big Picture

Staying Present with the Big Picture

simonelipscomb (4)It was absolutely still when I pushed my SUP board out into the slowly flowing river. No wind stirred the air. There was not a ripple on the water’s surface. The warm, humid air hugged me as I began my warm up.

simonelipscomb (1)Clouds and blue sky reflected underneath me in the mirror-like surface of the river.  It was as if I was paddling within the clouds and sky. This phenomena has happened before and it always puts me into a meditative state. Today I felt as if I was steering a barge in Ancient Egypt, working magically to travel through the sky on a boat.

And yet I was very present this morning. The slight hum of water as it curled around the carbon fiber blade and shaft was felt in my hands. Droplets of sweat formed at the base of my skull and followed every vertebrae down my spine. Somehow, in this altered state of meditative paddling, I was deeply aware of my body as well as the little turtle sunning on the stump, the pelican flying beside me, the osprey arranging a stick in her nest….the mullet splashing to my right. And then it hit me: I was paddling a straight path.

Now this might not sound like a big deal but over the past several months I have struggled with zig-zagging and noticed that one side zigged more than the other. I changed my board fin and changed it back. I micr0-analyzed my paddle stoke–entry, position, pull…everything and it got worse. The more I focused on it the more pronounced it became until I felt like my board was possessed by a drunken spirit.

simonelipscomb (3)In this morning’s state of hyper-awareness I thought to myself, what’s different? Why am I going straight NOW? And then I knew. I had been gazing into the far water and horizon as I paddled this morning…keeping my head up. Before I was watching my stroke, keeping my vision very close to the board and surrounding water and it created a ‘situation.’

Then I realized that my paddling mirrored my life quite perfectly. I have been frustrated and felt like I was going in circles with my work. I kept focusing on the many environmental issues of destruction, death, neglect without plugging into the bigger view. I believe it is important to own our grief and sadness and allow it to prompt us to take action. But we must keep the whole picture in mind so we don’t become overwhelmed or lost.

Then I had a dream where my friend Ray told me he would help me see the sea turtle tracks in the dark, that he’d walk with me. Since he’s working out of the country I chalked it up to it being just a dream. But then he emailed me writing that he was purchasing a set of night vision binoculars that I, along with the turtle team I’m a part of, could use. This is helpful when babies are hatching since we can’t use any lights and our job is to ‘see’ them safely to the water. If any wander off over the beach we can more easily find them now.

simonelipscomb (7)Later this afternoon, many pieces came together for me. I’m not alone in the environmental work coming through me. There is support that will help me see through the dark unknown. It may come in the form of a stranger commenting on a blog post or a friend providing fiscal support, book selling, photographs used to educate the public, a pair of night vision binoculars that will help me ‘see in the dark.’ The metaphor is definitely not lost on me.

The work of writing and photography is by nature a solitary business. It takes a tremendous amount of time to organize, stay clear and focused and now…complete a photography book I started a while back. It’s easy to get myopic vision and see only this little space and time around me. But when I take the time to look up, to look out, I see the big picture. The key is to dance in both places at once.