It’s a beautiful 70 degrees in Marina Del Rey, and I’m pulling up to beach. The boats, tied to the docks, are behind me, and the low-tide shoreline falls into the water. The wind blows across my face. My legs ache that dull pain of having worked them out a little too long. But the marina front property is inviting me to dry land. So I dig my paddle back into the water and row the few yards left to shore.
Stand Up Paddle boarding, SUP, is a sport I never thought I’d try. I’ve tried most other aquatic sports, had swum competitively, and played water polo. But I’d never gotten on top of an extra-large surfboard and paddled around. So this was my first time stand-up paddle boarding.
We just recently got a deal on our site for Pro SUP Shop, a business that specializes in Stand-Up Paddle boarding. The owner invited us try it for ourselves. So I invited my coworker Taylor. We made plans for Monday.
We find the Pro SUP Shop nestled in the beach side parking lot of the Jamaica Bay Inn. It turns out to be a lot larger than we imagined with around 50 boards total. It’s around 11:00 AM with clear skies, a light breeze, and warmth from the sun. Goldilocks weather for the beach.
We’re given “regular” paddleboards. I’ve never done it before and Taylor’s only done it once, so the racing paddleboards are out (but, they let us take them out later that day. I’m on a racing board I the photo). They are essentially larger and wider surfboards with the nose rounded out. We’re given a quick instruction lesson, but the basics aren’t very hard to follow.
You take the board into the water. You hop onto the board and assume a kneeling position. Paddle on your knees out onto the water until you reach a depth where you can stand and the fin won’t go into the sand.
The hop on is easy enough, and the paddling is intuitive. It’s a little bit rough to stand up, but I manage to be smooth enough that I don’t topple over. Taylor has an easier time getting up (I put it down to the fact she’s 7 inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter than me. So, you know, she has a lower center of gravity).
We paddle out into the water. They told me to do six strokes on each side, but I’m only able to manage three strokes on each side. If I do anymore per side I find myself having turned more than 90 degrees. The paddling isn’t actually that hard, and you find a rhythm pretty quickly.
As we leave the beach, a wonderful wind is pushes us down the channel. My body is acting like a huge sail, catching the wind coming off the beach. We pass by dozens of boats from small speedboats to large yachts (some of those things were as large as a house). We catch sight of ships like Amigo, Valiente, and The Three Musketeers. We can’t see the ocean blue from where we are, but all of the different ships create a delectable scene.
That’s all contrasted by my first few minutes on the board. Thankfully the water was calm, but the up-down motion of the current requires my attention. Surprisingly, it only took a few minutes. After that, my body instinctively took over. I didn’t have to think about balancing unless I was making a turn or changing my paddle angle.
Getting the hang of it, I entertained the urge to race down the channel. But another paddler had warned me on shore, “Save your energy for the way back, or the wind will get you.” The signs in front of the shop caution the same thing. You have to paddle back as far as you went out. With the wind at my back though, there was no real need for me to power paddle. I let push me out to sea, so I could get used to maneuvering on the water.
I can’t stress enough that as a first timer I definitely appreciated the calmness of the Marina. After the excursion, the owner told us that’s the big difference between SUP in Marina Del Rey and SUP in the ocean. When paddle boarding in the ocean you have to lug the board (these things are NOT small) to the ocean, and then crash and swim through waves before finally getting out to water calm enough to mount the board. I appreciated, “getting my sea legs” without having to thrash through white water.
The marina itself was gorgeous, and we took our time. We passed two other channels and dozens more boats. But the first inlet we passed had currents that pushed us out into the middle of the marina. This wasn’t a huge deal, but it was a precursor of the trek back. We chit-chatted, talked about the names on the boats, and had a surprisingly fun time. It was tranquil. Very few boats, kayakers, or other paddleboarders were on the water.
After a while (neither of us had a watch). We decided to turn around. At first, the way back wasn’t too bad. It was just as peaceful as the paddle out. It was only when we turned into the channel to head back to shore that it became a problem. That same wind that had pleasantly pushed me out to deeper waters made it hard to get back to land.
As the day became later (and hotter), the wind got progressively stronger. There were a couple of times I gave up on maintaining my momentum and just put my paddle in the water in order to hold my position.
Slowly but surely we made it back. I hopped off the board, and felt that I was still swaying. If you have ever been on a cruise, most people come back with sea legs; you continue to feel the sway of the ocean once you come back to shore. It was a similar experience. It lasted only for thirty minutes, but it left a lingering feeling of calm.
And calming is the perfect way to describe it. I can imagine that on a busy Saturday or Sunday it may not feel like that. But between the stillness of the marina’s waters, the lackadaisical stroking, and the traffic-free waterways, that Monday’s adventure was relaxing.
Which was not how I imagined paddle boarding at all. There is an entire sport built around SUP, with paddleboards that have racing keels that cut into the water and specific paddle techniques that give you that extra push of power.
Even during such a tranquil experience, the latent power was there. I felt that if I wanted to zoom ahead on my paddleboard, I could. But the regular, relaxing repetitiveness of the stroking with the backdrop of a beautiful marina gives it a patina of pleasantness. As a sport, I can definitely see its charms. As a calming and exhilarating workout, I could find myself doing this every day.