Another week, another sport and indeed, another wedding – I am at that difficult age, after all. I spend a disproportionate amount of time at weddings these days, when I’m not spending it jumping headfirst off a variety of surfaces. Still, with the deadline for completion of this project looming, it was fortuitous that Matthew and Lucy decided to get married next door to a Center Parcs.
When the groom and bride-to-be had suggested we make a weekend of it, by staying at Center Parcs, I didn’t need much encouragement. For I LOVE Center Parcs. Really, I do. I’m not even being bribed with free segway lessons to say this, though getting paid to go to Center Parcs would basically be my dream job. Apart from maybe being the person who’s job it is to weigh baby meerkats in a zoo, that might be a bit better. Yes, I would like to be paid in visits to Center Parcs, but why stop there? Why not rebuild the entire economy on the currency of visits to Center Parcs? Or better still, let us all LIVE THERE, in a kind of benign, orienteering, badminton playing commune. Surely existence would be conflict-free, basking in the universal joy of the sub-tropical swimming paradise or, if you prefer, Utopia.
I was fortunately, therefore, able to squeeze in an event that weekend. Though by sport number THIRTY ONE, I was running short on options, and actually, this would be the fourth of my events completed at a Center Parcs, so whilst they do offer a wide range of sporting activities, I’d already tried quite a few of them. Windsurfing, the artist also known as the RS-X Sailboard (I think) in Olympic terminology, was up for grabs, so this seemed like a sensible way to cross Sailing off the list. Saddened, though I was, not to be able to take up friend of Inspire a Jen, Matt Gibbs’ generous offer of assistance in this discipline, this is the harsh reality of my STUPID deadline.
I call it stupid because it is, generally speaking, but also, I’m now finding myself in a situation where I’m not able to enjoy the sports in the same way because I’m running around just trying to get them done. Yes, that is the second post in a row where I’ve alluded to enjoyment of sports and yes, I really have changed. I think I’m probably even going to come back to quite a few of them afterwards and try them without the arbitrary timetable.
Mountain biker, Stef, and fellow Center Parcs reveler, our mate Adam, were willing competitors in this event. Adam promptly labelled it “waterboarding” which kind of stuck, and could’ve caused some embarrassment on 5 Live the other night, had I been less careful. The day after the wedding and in the shadow of quite a lot of cider for some of us (me), we pootled down to the lake early on Sunday afternoon. Having had a long discussion about what to wear for the occasion (the boys were concerned about nipple chafe-age on life-jackets, I was concerned about standing around in, essentially, a pair of pants, on the middle of the lake), we decided, in our infinite wisdom, to wear wetsuits. Clearly, this would have been very sensible had it been 10 degrees, as it stood, it was about 30, and we were also required to wear life jackets and helmets. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever been more uncomfortable, or looked more ridiculous, in my life.
Our instructor for the day, Rich, talks us through some of the basics to start off with, i.e. how to stand up on the board, how to steer and turn around and then instructed us to lie down on the board and paddle to the other side of the lake, from where we would start. As I make my way across the lake, face down on the board, in the sweltering heat, I start to fear that vomiting may be imminent.
Once my competitors have joined me, Rich instructs us to stand up. But I can’t find the fin, which is important, for balancing purposes. According to a friend of mine who I discussed my challenge with before I headed to Center Parcs and who is apparently mad keen for a bit of windsurfing, balance is pretty important in the windsurfing game. He’s interested to know if my balance is any good, and seems satisfied when I tell him that sometimes when I don’t hold on to the rail on Northern Line tubes, I don’t fall over. Water is a bit less reliable than the floor of your average London Underground carriage, though, and there are LOADS more pedalos in this environment. So Rich has to help me out a bit with the fin, before I shakily rise. I’d be lying if I said I felt anything other than incredibly precarious once I’m on both feet, and I’m consumed again by the feeling of abject terror. Though I’ve now come to the decision that I’m just scared of really, really stupid things – Rich has already told us that the water is only waist deep, and, it’s, well, water.
I’m heartened to see both Adam and Stef promptly fall off, as I stay on the board, though it’s touch and go for me as I try to turn the board round. This involves, literally dragging the front of the sail round the other side in an arc, and it’s not easy to do whilst staying upright. I decide to let the inevitable happen, instead, and drift into a dock of pedalos, apologising to the people in the boats wanting to be on their way, but pretty well blocked by my incompetence. “I’m really sorry”, I explain “I literally don’t know how to stop this from happening”. I get back on my front and paddle away with my hands and eventually, Rich has to motor over to bail me out after my sail falls into the water.
There’s not a huge amount of wind, but every now and again, I move with some speed. And by speed, I mean, not standing completely still. On the other side of the lake, Stef seems to be moving at pace and with some purpose, between the occasional accidental slip into the lake. Adam, has spent quite a bit of time in the bushes, eventually being towed to safety by Rich. I find this amusing until I find myself in the same situation 10 minutes later, only to be rescued by a complete stranger, in a kayak. This is quite embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as the point at which I drift into the fishing area, by accident, and become attached to the rope. At this point, I actually have to get into Rich’s boat so he can untangle the board, before he sensibly takes the decision to give me a lift back to the other end of the lake for our final race.
The race will decide who takes the gold medal. Off we go, and it’s going fairly well for me until I drift into some more pedalos. Though Rich has been quite interested in my project and is quite keen that I should win, not least because I’m the only person not to have fallen in, today, so he tows me almost to the finish line. Though our spectators decide the winner must make it to the shoreline, where I face ANOTHER PEDALO directly in front of me. As I’m waving my arms around in victory, unaware of this game changer, Stef creeps up and bounds onto the sand.
I would quite like to give Matthew and Lucy a gold medal for getting married and for facilitating my windsurfing experience, but Katherine and Neil might get jealous, so I’ll just say massive congratulations – your wedding was AMAZING, and could only really have been better if I’d also gotten to weigh a baby meerkat. So, this is a tricky one to judge. Technically, had there not been a pedalo obstructing the shoreline, I would have won the final race, but having been towed halfway by Rich, I think it would be hard for me to claim moral victory. On balance, Stef was probably the best, overall, despite being 8,000 ft tall – quite a remarkable achievement for an actual giant. I guess I was middling on the ability scale and Adam perhaps a little worse than me. That said, Adam came up with the whole “waterboarding” gag, and we’re all about underdogs here, which I’m sure he’ll revel in being described as, so he can share the gold medal.
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