How 'walking on water' gave Prowd another chance
STAND-UP paddle boarding in Australia, an activity once thought of as practically belonging to the nouveau riche, has been undergoing some radical changes lately.
The sport is no longer in the domain of the wealthy and bored, with the calm waters of mansion-side canals now swapped for the white water rush of beaches up and down the Queensland coast.
More than just a punishing, intense workout, stand-up paddle boarding is also providing countless benefits for the mental health and wellbeing of its practitioners. In fact, it's helping many to stand on their own two feet again.
35-year-old Noosa local Andrew Prowd had found himself adrift following a devastating injury. For most of his life the avid surfer had felt most at ease in the ocean, a love for the beach that'd been passed down from his father.
"Some of my first memories are of heading to the beach with my dad," he said.
"We would come down every weekend we could and just camp out on the front of the dunes."
Formerly an industrial engineer, a workplace accident saw Andrew's hip severely broken. The injury was debilitating enough that his days as a surfer were thrown into serious jeopardy.
"I was in a pretty bad place after going through that massive physical trauma," he said.
"That lack of mobility affects everything, and you battle depression and anxiety alongside the physical wounds too."
Facing a long, arduous healing process - Andrew credits paddle boarding for getting him into the water and out of his comfort zone.
It wasn't just himself that needed convincing either. Heading out into the surf, Mr Prowd faced an often hostile reception from the longboarders who saw him as an annoyance.
"You have to have a thick skin out there, you're setting yourself up for ridicule a lot of the time," he said.
"You'll get a lot of guys telling you to get that thing out of there - but surfing is a battle, you have to battle with it."
Ironically, Andrew said the sport is being embraced on a larger scale by older or injured surfers as the sport gains a larger local profile.
Facing injury and greater competition from young up-and-comers, taking up the paddle has allowed them to maintain an edge they might not have had otherwise.
"Suddenly they find they've got a new way to compete, something new to challenge themselves with," Andrew said.
"Because when you start its relatively low-intensity, a lot of these fellas are able to have a lot of control of the workout while facing their injuries."
And it really is a whole new challenge. While typical surfing is without a doubt a hard workout, Mr Prowd said paddle boarding has never had his endurance and strength tested like this before.
"When I first started we were doing a lot of endurance paddles - I've done a lot of hard workouts in my time but even I was astonished," he said.
"The water is constantly changing and you're having to paddle constantly to adjust to that and keep on course - you really feel like you've accomplished something at the end of it."
Since taking up paddle boarding, Andrew's profile has grown alongside the sport. A regular fixture at competitions around the world, he's racked up a number of titles for himself and is pleased to see the sport explode in popularity.
"It's rapidly growing into one of the most popular watersports in the world," he said, "and like I said before, you're seeing a lot of ex-professional surfers take it up too".
For those who are looking to dip their toe into stand up paddle boarding, Andrew recommends spending the money on a properly certified lesson first to get a feel for the sport.
And for those finding themselves facing the unknown, Andrew said he's been there himself.
Upfront when he credits paddle boarding for saving his life, it represented a fresh start, as well as a chance to ride the waves again.
"There really is something in the water, I can't explain it, but it lets you heal on a physical, mental and chemical level," he said.
"Discovering this has given me a new lease on life, and for anybody dealing with a physical or mental recuperation I can't recommend it enough."