“You can’t go backwards. You’re always moving forward. It’s the wonderful part about life. And that’s terrific.” ~ Harvey Fierstein, actor/playwright

It’s a wonderful world we live in, but chock full of dilemmas.

We’ve all been there. Nice sunny day, lots of paddlers splashing about, then someone cruises by with their paddle held backwards. Do you say anything? Of course you do. We all would.

Myself, I’ve always offered polite advice: “You know, your paddle really goes this way.” I’d smile like a big circus clown and lift my paddle with its forward bend for proof. Some would believe me, others think they’re getting pranked. This has happened to me quite often over the last 15 years on the water, stand up kinda guy that I am. I’ve become a fixer of bad habits, through no real intention on my part. This will not happen any longer. That was the old, unenlightened Steve West.

Last summer I found myself in Coronado Bay, down in San Diego. Fun place to paddle. Easy entry and warm, flat water. Perfect for learning the fine art of stand up paddling. Up and down the bay I paddle on this beautiful glassy day. Funny that I can almost get that same “surfed out” feeling even though I’m miles from the nearest lineup. How was I to know?

Two hours later, the wind is just starting to come up and I call it a day. I’m drying off by my car when another paddler backs into a parking spot a few stalls away from mine. As I say hi, “Joe" introduces himself and pulls out a new Costco Wavestorm from his car, I notice the fin in his board is backwards. I’ve seen plenty of backward paddles in my day, but never a backward fin. I don’t say anything. Of course, it does pique my curiosity. Is this a mistake? Is Joe in a hurry to get in the water and just doesn't notice? Or, are these flat-water guys on to something that I don’t know about? I’m curious enough to go check up on the guy as he heads for the water.

By the time it takes me to towel off and walk back to the water's edge, my new amigo, Joe, is already three hundred yards from shore, happily paddling at a good clip straight upwind. And yes, he is using his paddle the right way … or is he?

Who am I to say? I’m more than a bit confused. Am I going to chase him down and tell him that he has it all wrong? Paddle up alongside him, like an out-of-breath traffic cop and tell him to pull over? Alert him to the fact that he should have his fin the other way around? Maybe it is I who is backwards. This got me thinking. And thinking. I experience a sudden and striking realization; an epiphany if there ever was one.

No longer am I going to point out my own preconceived notions of right or wrong, forwards or backwards. You want to walk around with your pants below your butt? Fine. Wear a wool beanie on a 90 degree day? OK with me. Paddle with your blade angled backwards and scooping water like a big snow shovel? Sure. You want to surf a 14-foot raceboard in a dumping shorebreak? Go right ahead. You won’t hear a peep from me. Never did like the wise elder role anyway. Even with all this backward shit going on in the world today, we are all striving to move forward, right? Couldn’t change that if we tried. It’s like trying to stop the tides, yelling at the clouds or putting toothpaste back in the tube; No can do. Time to look forward with hope, instead of backward with regret.

~ s.west