"I may not be the best, but I'm the first," Newport Beach Mayor Nancy Gardner joked Monday morning as she accepted a certificate recognizing her for a ground- (or surf-) breaking achievement.
Gardner is the first mayor in the country to stand-up paddle board in office — at least, as far as Bruce Gabrielson of the National Surf Schools and Instructors Assn. knows.
"I've been all over the world," he said, standing beside Gardner tucked into a back corner at ABC Surf shop on Balboa Boulevard. "To my knowledge, she's the only SUP mayor in the U.S."
Gardner, who in October led a popular "Paddle with the Mayor" cruise through Newport Harbor, has ridden waves since she was a child and said she picked up SUP a couple of years ago as an alternative to winter surfing.
"I get so cold in wetsuits," she said.
Despite the drizzly chill Monday morning, ABC Surf was warm, and the scent of maple syrup wafted through the store as a small crowd of shop staffers and friends gathered for the laid-back event. A table lined with grapes, doughnuts and steaming waffles ran down the center of the room.
"Sorry, we forgot the chairs," said ABC Surf co-owner Jamie Bernard, perched behind the register speaking into a microphone. "Since it's for stand-up paddling, this is a stand-up event."
Gabrielson, along with former surf champion and NSSIA SUP Director Ian Cairns, also commended a couple of ABC Surf instructors for recently becoming certified through the organization's training program.
He said the group's aim is to standardize surf and SUP coaching with a level of rigor similar to the training required to become a Little League baseball or high school sports coach.
It's important, Gabrielson said, that the city of Newport Beach supports programs for those who want to learn to surf or SUP.
Cairns added that Newport, with its relatively flat waters in Newport Harbor and the surf along the coast, is an ideal place to promote the burgeoning sport.
A Laguna Beach resident, Cairns said he could see Newport as a kind of "epicenter of stand-up paddling in the United States."
Gardner said Newport may not quite be headed for a "SUP City USA" designation, but she always enjoys events that highlight Newport's "rich surf history."
Likewise, said Paul Torrealba, who was one of the ABC instructors to earn NSSIA certification, it was nice to see someone of Gardner's stature advocating for SUP.
"It's vital," he said. "As part of the community, the mayor needs to be involved."