by Nicole Brodzik
Last summer, Rob Gardner went from being an avid water skier to wondering if he’d ever be able to participate in the watersports world again.
On Saturday, Aug. 6, however, Gardner was back out on Lake Minnetonka, this time with a paddleboard underfoot rather than skis. He hit the lake with a goal in mind — one that he accomplished: Gardner is the first known person to paddleboard from one end of the lake to the other, an 11-mile trek all told.
“I tore a tendon near my left elbow in a water skiing incident last summer,” the Minnetrista resident said. “After that, I looked for an alternate way to get out on the water and shifted my attention to paddleboarding.”
So, he bought his first paddle board and began practicing on Lake Minnetonka in the mornings before heading to work. Gardner said he wakes up early and is on the water by sunrise, where he spends 30 to 60 minutes paddleboarding before most people are out of bed.
“I’ve been doing it since last summer and I love it,” Gardner said. “I wanted a bigger challenge and something to work towards. I threw around the idea of going across the lake and my family and friends were really supportive of it.”
That same support group was waiting for him Saturday at Gray’s Bay where his 11-mile journey ended. While having his family and friends there waiting for him was a special moment for Gardner, he said that it was his starting point near Halstead Bay that was especially sentimental.
“I started going there when I was about 9 years old and now we’ve been living out there for about 10 years,” he said. “I’ve always had a love for that lake and it just made sense.”
It took Gardner just under 4 and a half hours to get from the 6 Mile Creek Inlet at Halstead’s Bay to Minnehaha Creek in Gray’s Bay. Gardner said that the journey started off smoothly, but reported that midway through, the lake was starting to wear on him.
“I got through to the Narrows just fine, but by the time I was to the Big Island area, the water got rough and the wind was picking up,” Gardner said. “It was one of those, ‘Oh crap, what did I get myself into?’ moments.”
Dodging boats and big waves, Gardner didn’t give up. There were a few moments where he thought about throwing in the towel, he said, but he held steady.
“I mean I was out there alone,” he said. “I had a life jacket on, but there wasn’t a boat with me or anything. I had second thoughts a couple of times, but I felt like I just needed to keep going and finish it.”
Beyond the mental fatigue of being on the water for 4 and a half hours, after a while, Gardner said his body was not happy standing and having to balance on rough water for so long.
“You’re standing still out there, so eventually you start to cramp up — your heels and the balls of your feet especially,” he said. “When those big waves come up you can’t think about that, you just have to balance and keep going.”
He pushed through the pain and after 4 hours and 22 minutes, finished his cross-lake journey. Gardner said he hopes his journey encourages others to try paddleboarding, especially people who can’t physically wake board or ski anymore.
“If we all put our minds to these bigger goals, it’s amazing what we can do,” Gardner said.