Man About Town: Gliding along on a stand-up paddleboard
Admittedly, I am in the 50th percentile of everything — looks, intelligence, sex appeal, strength. My core muscle group is mostly pudding. I have the muscle tone of $1.99-a-pound sirloin.
When I exercise vigorously, I emit the faint aroma of fresh-baked muffins. If it’s a summer morning, you might also get a whiff of the previous evening’s margarita mix. You could hang me on a tree to attract hummingbirds.
I don’t say that to brag. I say that so that you’ll know what a well-sunscreened physical specimen I’ve become.
Fear the beast.
This summer, I’ve surfed and jet-packed. I’ve drunk myself silly under city wharves just because. I’ve played rock-paper-scissors (for money) with demons and debutantes (not so different, really).
But summer wouldn’t be complete without trying a stand-up paddleboard, popularly known as a SUP. I guess SUPing would be the gerund. I’m not entirely sure what a gerund is, but I know a healthy diet requires them. Hence, I am constantly gerunding as well.
But back to this SUP stuff. You might think a beast like me might not find much challenge in it, gliding across Dana Point Harbor like a lily pad on a pond. Cezanne would’ve painted this sport, or more likely Monet.
Honestly, after a rough-and-tumble summer of thrashing about the surf, to gently carve one of California’s finest waterfronts is a bit of a relief. What’s even more of a relief is that this up-and-coming sport is a complete cinch.
Stand-up paddleboarding has probably the easiest learning curve of any water sport. After an unsteady first five minutes, I’m off and strumming.
That’s the sensation you get, a gentle strumming motion with the paddle — right side, left side, a couple of strokes, then switch.
Pros, such as my instructor Nancy Malleo, barely bend their arms when they dig deep. In fact, one of the first things she teaches is to raise the paddle straight-armed over your head, forming a V.
That’s basically the geometry you want with the paddle. After that, it’s mostly a matter of finding the right spot on the board — feet spread to the edges, just past shoulder width. You begin by paddling while on your knees, build a bit of speed, and when it feels right, stand up.
If you can breathe, you can probably paddleboard. To guzzle a beer requires way more finesse.
That’s not to say a $60 lesson isn’t necessary; as with any new activity, it’ll offer a few precious secrets (as in “eyes on the horizon,” not your own ugly feet).
For about an hour, my daughter Vi$a and I glide around the harbor, down here in the County a L’Orange, which really is a much better county than it gets credit for. Makes a great milkshake, pours a frosty martini. Rich in fluids, Orange County. The county logo should be a Republican handing you a cocktail.
As outdoor lifestyles go, Orange County offers one of the nation’s best. That’s what drew my instructor out here. Malleo is paddleboarding personified, a woman reborn promoting a sport that’s undergoing its own renaissance.
One day — and I love this, for it’s such a California thing, such a sun-cured codicil of our traditional manifest destiny — the single mom poured two teen daughters and two dogs into a used minivan and headed west from New Jersey. Her mother had passed, and there was this moment — sort of spiritual, sort of what-the-flub — in which she wondered if there might be something better.
“I really felt like there was something pulling me this way,” the former actress says now. “Whatever that pull was, I just needed a change.”
Laguna is where they finally landed — “Pulled in looking like the Beverly Hillbillies,” she says, half their belongings strapped atop the car.
After a stint in a gallery and attempts at waitressing, a paddleboard proved Malleo’s salvation. Sixteen months ago, she bought six of them and started SUP Fitness Laguna. It’s now a TripAdvisor hit, mostly because of her love of the water and easy charisma (my daughter Vi$a said Malleo reminded her of Lisa Kudrow).
Which brings her, and us, to Dana Point Harbor, on a shimmery morning in July — a confluence of risk and reward, new beginnings and the relentless lure of sunlight and sea.
How California, right? How right.