This year, I decided to throw a twist into my annual 4 week long sojourn back to the old country. At home in California, I go stand up paddling as often as I can. if you are not familiar with this activity, essentially, you are standing up on a giant surfboard and using a paddle to get around. It’s similar to a kayak but you are standing up and, in my opinion, a lot more fun and much easier on the back. My wife wanted to see Venice since she hasn’t bee there in a while. Hence, I figured, “what better way to see Venice than with a stand up paddle board?” And since I was going through the effort of hauling a paddle board to Italy (inflatable so not that much of a challenge), I figured I might as well hit up a few other spots during the trip.
The obvious question was, “can one actually do that? Can I paddle in the Venice Canals without being cited by the Venetian Polizia or mowed down by a power boat?” So, I started researching this online and luckily, I came across someone who actually gives tours in Venice on a stand up paddle. Her name is Eliana Argine and several years ago she mixed her passion of stand up paddling with her other passion – not to mention her day job – which is giving walking tours of Venice, and now she does stand up paddle tours. I contacted her several months ago and made an appointment for a tour. I booked a BandB as close to the meeting point that I could find, which is an old Venetian rowing club, and when I showed up, she gave me a t-shirt, explained a few of the basic rules – like slow down when going through an intersection – and off we went. She ended up taking me on a two hour tour in canals that I can safely say that very few tourist have ever seen. Many of the canals are tiny and, unless you have a very small boat, you will never see these canals. A gondola ride typically lasts 10-15 minutes and they are too long to easily maneuver around the tight turns in the narrow canals. To make a long story short, if you have ever done stand up paddling and want to experience Venice in a unique and fun way, contact Eliana. Her website is http://www.supinvenice.com.
As I had done with Venice, I went online to research the possibility of supping in Rome. This time I came up empty handed. So I tried the old fashioned way and just asked around to people I know in Rome. The first 4 or 5 people weren’t very encouraging. I got responses ranging from, “you can’t do that” to “it’s too dirty and dangerous” to “sei pazzo” (“you must be crazy”). Never one to easily give up, I did a little scouting and checked out various points along the Tiber. Hmmm…didn’t look like there was too much current. There were a few good spots to safely get in and out of the river and, it didn’t even smell bad. So, I was confident I could physically do it without being washed out to sea but I wasn’t 100% confident I wouldn’t get stopped by the Roman Polizia. Finally, I asked a friend of mine who does stand up paddling at the beach in Rome and he told me about a friend of his who happens to live on the Tiber in a boat. He should know if it’s legal or not. Marco, the guy with the house boat, not only assured me that it was legal but he would let me use his boat as a launching pad. Plus, he would follow me down in his speedboat and, to top it off, he wanted me to come to a party he was having on the deck of his houseboat.
The following day I met Marco and, next thing I knew, I was heading down the Tiber full speed ahead – which is only about 5 miles an hour on a paddle board. I passed Castel Sant’Angelo, passed Saint Peter’s and got all the way to Isola Tiberina. In all about 2 miles down the river and then 2 miles back. Maybe it was because this was unchartered territory for a paddle board – as far as I know – or maybe it was because this is the city where I was born or maybe it was just because, well, Rome is…Rome but for whatever reason, this was one of the most thrilling things I have ever done. Apparently, I was not the only one impressed by this whole ordeal as the guy with the houseboat started talking about starting up stand up paddle tours on the Tiber. We’ll see…
Next on my trip was Sicily. I go to Sicily every year and have been stand up paddling there for the last several years. This is a completely different experience than paddling in Rome or Venice. First and foremost, here you do want to get wet. Second, your engagement is mostly with what is directly under you as you can see the reefs, sea urchins and the fish in the crystal clear water. The one similarity is that you get to go to places where swimmers typically don’t go. The first time I went out on a stand up board in Sicily a fishing boat came up to me to check me out. Apparently, one of the crew members initially told the captain that he just spotted Jesus Christ walking on water so they had a good laugh when they got closer up and saw me (although they still weren’t clear about what they were looking at. Again, if you like to stand up paddle and love beautiful beaches, Sicily is certain a place that you should consider. There are pockets of Sicily that are still virtually undiscovered by tourists and literally cost about 1/3rd of what you would expect to pay in Rome or Venice.
Summing It Up
I think that most people reading this post would think that this sounds like a good idea but it’s either too difficult. The fact of the matter is that stand up paddling is probably just slightly more difficult than kayaking. I wouldn’t recommend for people to go on the Tiber or in the Venice canals if they have never done it before but I think that for most people, after a couple of hours of practice, they are proficient enough to go on the Venice Canals. Rome probably entails a slightly higher degree of expertise but, depending on your weight and the size of the board, I think that even most beginners wouldn’t have much of a problem. Still, without a proper infrastructure, most people may want to skip Rome and maybe opt for the Arno in Florence where they do have excursions http://www.toscanasup.org/ or our new friend Eliana in Venice. Again, her website is www.supinvenice.com.
Hopefully, this post encourages you to do what I did this summer and will surely do again next year!