Photo courtesy Covewater Paddle Surf.
Although I’ve lived in Santa Cruz for the last five years, unless it’s a fogless, 80-plus–degree day, it’s unlikely you’ll find me in the water. I’ll dive in on particularly hot summer days if the waves are looking friendly, but I’m not a strong swimmer. I’m the kind who watches the surfers out on Steamer Lane and marvels longingly at their athleticism, but surfing has always looked too physically (and mentally) challenging for me. So I content myself with being a sun-soaking landlubber.
And then one evening, while walking out on West Cliff with a friend, I spot a figure gliding across the bay, standing on what looks like a surfboard and maneuvering with a long paddle. It looks so peaceful. My friend identifies the sport as stand-up paddleboarding, and says she’s gone out before and loved it. I decide to swallow my misgivings about being on the water and give it a try.
The guides at Venture Quest, a company that rents out kayaks and SUPs from the Santa Cruz Wharf, agree to take me out. After zipping me into a wetsuit, handing me a paddle almost as tall as I am and soothing my nerves, they hold a large, wide, sturdy-looking board steady for me at the edge of the dock. I’m instructed to stay on my knees until I feel comfortable enough to stand.
I slowly start to stand up and am immediately surprised at how easily I’m able to balance on the board. I dip my paddle into the water and begin rowing as I would a canoe. And before I know it I’m gliding out into the bay.
My new friends guide me out to the kelp bed near Steamer Lane. We stop and lie down on our boards about 20 feet from a raft of sea otters lounging in the kelp. I’ve never been so near a group before. We watch them watching us, and I giggle uncontrollably at how adorable they are.
We paddle farther out and watch the surfers on the Lane, and one of the guides paddles out to catch a wave. I’m feeling fairly confident about my ability to follow suit, but one of the other guides distracts me by attempting to do yoga on her board. I hold my breath as she moved from Eagle to Tree pose, looking a little like a drunk flamingo on one leg. She loses balance and falls in, but I’m impressed. Now that’s something to work up to!
I go home exhilarated and exhausted. The beauty and fun have distracted me from the workout’s toll on the rest of my body, but I feet it now in my arms, core and lower body. More than anything, I’m just happy I’ve found a way to spend an afternoon in the ocean.
Club Ed, 831.464.0177; www.club-ed.com. $110/hour.
Covewater Paddle Surf, 831.600.7230, www.covewatersup.com. Two-hour intro lesson $59.
Kayak Connection, 831.479.1121, www.kayakconnection.com. Two-hour intro lesson $55
SUP Shack, 831.464.7467; www.supshacksantacruz.com. 90-minute lesson $60.