WEB-EXCLUSIVE: Find out if stand up paddleboarding is the water sport for you.
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Paddle Power in Newport Beach
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I’m not new to water sports. In high school I rowed on the varsity crew team and despite having to tear myself out of bed at 4 a.m, I secretly loved watching the sunrise while my teammates and I paddled through glossy waters. I’ve tried other water sports since then – whitewater rafting, river and ocean kayaking, surfing – but none of those were a good fit. Too much adrenaline or too many rocks or rapids. Needless to say, I’ve been in an athletic rut, limiting myself to the gym and occasional walks on the beach.
I’m looking for something like what I had during crew season: an athletic endeavor allowing me to feel connected with nature, to feel at peace in mind and body and to sweat.
Maybe I have found what I'm looking for in stand up paddleboarding. Also known as stand up paddle surfing or just paddleboarding – involving standing up on a longboard, gliding across the water with the help of the paddle – it's one of the latest trends in water sports and seems like such a leisurely, elegant sport that I decided to try it out at Paddle Power in Newport Beach through an introductory lesson.
When I walk into Paddle Power I feel intimidated while passing rows of gigantic, colorful boards reaching up to the ceiling. I make my way to the back counter and meet Jeremy, my instructor for the next hour. Despite the gray skies and moderate winds, which are less than ideal conditions, we head outside to the sandy shore of Newport’s Back Bay. Jeremy helps me carry a long, bright blue 12-by-3 foot board. Board sizes vary and for my first time out, I'm using a longer board for better stability.
On the shore, my instructor demonstrates the proper way to stand up – you start with your knees on the board and then slowly rise to a standing position. Once upright, it’s important to keep your knees bent in an athletic stance for balance and agility. It sounds simple enough. The paddle is tucked under a strap on the board. When (and if) I successfully stand up, I can take the paddle out and just begin paddling it right and left, staying close to the board’s edges so that I head straight.
So yes, it sounds simple enough. After the demonstration, I’m ready to give it a whirl; so I push myself and my board into the water to apply my lesson. Surprisingly, unlike most things in life, this really is as easy as it looks.
We go from 15th Street to about 20th Street, passing restaurants and hundreds of yachts rocking idly on the gray water. What a wonderful way to start a Monday. About 10 minutes in, we pass a boat with a large, furry creature lying on its swim step.
“Come summertime, we get tons of sea lions," says Jeremy. "They can take over the boats sometimes.”
We also see jumping fish called mullets and though we don’t see any today, dolphins have been spotted in the area. As I paddle past that big, furry sea lion, it finally hits me: Paddleboarding is the perfect fit for me. No high adrenaline, no fear of sharks, no overpowering waves or burly, arrogant surfers mocking me as I fumble around on a foam board. I love that right now, on my paddleboard, I don’t look like a total novice. Right away, I get the hang of it. And I also like knowing there are ways to advance my practice if, for some reason, I feel the urge to challenge myself.
You can race paddleboards and compete. People do fitness classes on them and you can learn a variety of tricks and turns. People even take paddleboards out into the ocean despite the rocking waves. You can make a day out of paddleboarding, spending one to five hours reaching different points on Newport’s Back Bay, going around islands like Balboa or Lido.
“The more you experiment, though, the more you fall into the water,” Jeremy says midway through our lesson.
Fortunately, on this adventure, I stay completely dry. Despite Jeremy challenging me to circle around a buoy, which I manage rather awkwardly with one too many difficult, crooked strokes.
He then proceeds on the same maneuver, but glides around it with a finesse that, he informs me, took all of one summer to learn. It involves re-shifting his weight and repositioning his feet.
“Paddleboarding is so versatile,” he says as we approach 15th Street to end our adventure. “You can use the same board surfing, on lakes, on rivers… anywhere you can float you can take that thing.”
When we arrive to shore, I step off, or rather, plop into the bay. The water feels cool and wonderful, especially after I’ve worked up a little sweat. It’s such a manageable, peaceful activity – I definitely see more paddling in my future.
Paddle Power rentals run $20 per hour and $75 a day. Lessons are $50 per person and go for about an hour to an hour and a half.