This is Bubba, my yorkie poo. He’s 9 years old and we rescued him from the North Shore Animal League in Long Island when he was 2(ish). Sadie, our 2 year old border collie, has been on Gearist videos and the like several time because she’s simply a more active and adventurous breed of dog. So, it’s not for lack of want, but simply because he wouldn’t be able to hang that Bubba doesn’t go on trail runs and the like very often (see: at all). Add to that the fact that he thinks he’s a 200+ pound dog – instead of the 14 pounds that he is – and his ego can get a little bruised from time to time. So, today when I told him that we were “going for a ride” with Baby Gearist and I to do some product testing of a new stand up paddle board (SUP), a waterproof pack and some water footage from the Sony 4K Action Cam, he went crazy.
I should mention that I have indeed taken Baby Gearist with me on a SUP before and while it takes a few seconds to get things settled, we always have a blast. I’ve also taken Sadie with me on the SUP (though not with Baby Gearist since Sadie weighs about 50 lb. and I don’t want to mess with that kind of wiggly weight distribution). The board we used today was the 11′ Sport model from Red Paddle Co. which is a narrower and more agile inflatable SUP than other models. Red has a wide selection of SUP’s, most of which are wider and therefore a bit more stable. The body of water we headed to today was McIntosh Lake which is a no-motorcraft-allowed lake close to Gearist HQ. It’s a relatively small area with a circumference of roughly 3 miles.
The plan was to go around the perimeter of the lake for a nice cruise for Baby Gearist (and Bubba) and a good workout for yours truly. Upon putting the board in the water, Bubba was on it in a flash and walking/running all over it with no fear (maybe the first red flag). We set out with a tailwind of about 12 mph, which made me change the plan into doing a kind of oblong triangle. The wind was enough that it was kicking up some small waves, which in a kayak or something wouldn’t have really been anything, but for me, with a kid and an ADHD dog, it was a bit challenging. We made the first leg of the paddle with no problem. Bubba was trying to bite the paddle and the wake off the nose of the board and Baby Gearist was chatting it up about everything that caught her attention. On the board, the standing area is topped with a large area of soft foam rubber which gave Bubba’s little paws good traction. However, he was all over the place and I didn’t have a life jacket on him – believe it or not, he’s a decent swimmer so I wasn’t terribly concerned.
As we made the turn to starting heading into the wind it quickly became apparent that I was going to have to work a lot harder paddling into the wind. I did my best to keep the nose of the SUP heading square into the small (but numerous) waves, but every now and then we would get a bit off of that angle. About 5 minutes into our return trip, I noticed that I’d not heard Bubba in about 60 seconds. Up to that point he’d been sitting behind me where there was more foam rubber for grip and I’d check – or get Baby Gearist to check – for him every minute or so. This time I turned around to check on him and there was no Bubba.
Now, before I get into what happened next I want to say something about a piece of gear that I was wearing on this ride. Earlier this year I reviewed the Mudslinger polarized sunglasses from Electric [full review HERE] and part of this SUP ride would be used to film water footage for the video review. I grew up on the water in southeastern Virginia and while I’m always wearing sunglasses, there are simply times when the clarity and protection of a lens overshadows the fact of the huge difference between polarized and non-polarized lenses. The Mudslingers I was wearing today are polarized and I believe, helped save Bubba’s life – and no, I don’t think this is hyperbole.
As I turned around and saw the lack of a small dog at the back of my SUP, I immediately let loose a string of “shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, etc.” which I wish I could have not done in front of my daughter whose talent for mimicry is impressive. As I started scanning the surface of the water, having no idea if it was 10 seconds or a full minute since Bubba had fallen (or more likely, jumped) off, I realized how much the small – probably 10-12 inch-high – waves were distorting the water. After about 10 really frantic seconds, I saw a small black head and tail sticking up about 100 yards away. I turned to Baby Gearist, told her, “DO NOT MOVE AT ALL” (for the record, she was wearing a brand new life jacket and was sitting down so while I didn’t want to leave her sitting there, I didn’t have much choice) – and jumped into the lake with an eye kept on Bubba. Two things became immediately apparent after hitting the water: first, I forgot to tie my shorts which were now doing their best to come down – this isn’t a modesty thing, but it was a hindrance that was slowing me down. Second, the chinstrap of my hat was around my neck and with every stroke, the hat now trailing behind me was acting like a sea anchor and pulling on my neck. I’d also kept the paddle with me because I guess my brain hadn’t thought quickly enough to leave it on the SUP with Baby Gearist so I effectively had one hand with which to swim.
I should mention here that I’m a fast swimmer and have been swimming competitively since I was about 6 years old and I was also a lifeguard from the age of 14 on (beach, lake and pool). However, I had to weigh sighting on Bubba (thank GOD I’m used to sighting from triathlon), repeatedly looking back to see that Baby Gearist was ok, trying not to to be choked by my hat and phone case which was also around my neck and actually getting to Bubba as quickly as possible. As with most crisis situations, time goes by in sort of a haze so I have no idea how long it took me to get to him but it was probably about 90 seconds or so. When I was about 20 feet away I could see that Bubba seemed to be some sort of survival float where he wasn’t really swimming, rather, just holding still and breathing to keep his body afloat. I could see that these waves which, to me and you would be nothing, were to a dog who only measures about 8 inches at the shoulder, a huge deal. When I got to about 5 feet away, I watched him go under a wave and I dove at him and grabbed whatever I could and found a handful of leg.
I grabbed Bubba’s collar and sat him up and looked into the face of utter exhaustion. In fact, he was so tired that I thought he wasn’t breathing for a few seconds because he simply didn’t have the energy to take a breath. I held him by the collar and we swam gently back to the SUP which, much to my delight, still held Baby Gearist who’d done exactly as told and kept her eyes on me without moving. We got back on the SUP and Bubba – who normally wants nothing to do with Baby Gearist – laid in Sydney’s lap the remaining 20 minutes of our return leg.
So why am I telling you this story? Well, a few things; first, the next time Bubba (or Sadie) come on the SUP, they’ll be leashed to one of the tie-downs. Second, Bubba will be wearing a life jacket because it doesn’t take much of a chop at all to overwhelm a dog of that size. Finally, when I took that dive to grab Bubba when I saw him go under that wave, my beloved Mudslinger sunglasses fell off and now reside at the bottom of McIntosh Lake and it pains me to say that. We’ve talked about the Mudslinger from Electric being included in our upcoming Gear of the Year and this pretty much seals it. While I won’t be able to do the video review that we’d planned to publish next week, just know that this is a fantastic sunglass and I truly don’t think I’d have been able to see Bubba on that surface as quickly without them. Again, this is not hyperbole. On the way back to dock without my glasses on, I realized that the water had almost no defined contours of shadows from the stirred up sediment and the chop but with those glasses on, I was able to see and save Bubba just in time.
Born and raised in the great state of Virginia, Brandon is a former opera singer (true story) who’s had the outdoors flowing through his veins since day one. Brandon now lives in Colorado with his daughter Sydney (AKA, Baby Gearist).