If you happened to be on Main Beach Monday watching the four stand-up paddleboarders near the reef, and you happened to watch one of the paddleboarders inadvertently catch a wave and crash into her instructor — well, then you saw me.
Carlos Mendizabal and I had signed up for a lesson early Monday morning with the new Stand Up Paddle Company at Coast Highway and Oak Street. We arrived a bit bleary-eyed with our main concern being what to wear. The skies were May-gray overcast, and the water decidedly chilly at 62 degrees. Our instructors, Ryan and Shannon, offered us hot coffee to warm up, and a variety of wetsuit options to settle the attire issue. Carlos chose his own full suit. I grabbed my spring shorty with long sleeves.
Ryan carried the boards down to the sand at Oak Street. We followed with paddles and appropriate excitement.
Shore instruction was direct, demonstrated, and easy to understand.
“This is the board. This is where you put your feet. This is how to hold the paddle. This is how to get into the water, and this is how to stand up once you are past the waves. This is how to turn. This is how to stop.”
Actually, the instructions were a bit more detailed than that, but between the two instructors, their enthusiasm and skill sets could not have been better. They instilled confidence, put us at ease and emphasized the simplicity of the sport.
Carlos was first in the water. Ryan helped him with his board, waited for a break between the sets, and then pushed him toward the surf. He knee-boarded through the waves and was soon a distant spot as I worked my way through the surf — after a sweet push by Ryan — to join him.
The four of us headed up the coast toward Main Beach and the submerged reef that lies just to the south of the exposed rocks. On the way there, Shannon and I picked up trash. Stupid plastic bags, spent pieces of party balloons and bits of Styrofoam. We agreed next time to bring a bag instead of stuffing the garbage inside our bathing suits. Kind of yuck — but cleaning up the water trumped the creepy factor. I did draw the line, though, when I reached down to pick up a large chunk of plastic, and it turned out to be part of a dead jellyfish.
The water was clear with only a slight wind to ruffle the surface. Numerous bright red Garibaldi swam in and out of the seaweed-laden reef, and a bevy of starfish decorated the ledges. I knelt down on my board to be closer to the water and had a bit of a Zen moment. The sea grasses waved back and forth with the tidal flow and other tiny fish zipped among the green hair-like plant. I felt as if I were sitting in an aquarium — which I suppose was exactly what I was doing. The sun broke through the clouds, and we were enveloped in another bit of Laguna paradise.
Ryan had me follow him with the swell through a kind of obstacle course in and out of the rocks. Great maneuvering fun with only a slight bit of “Oh gee, I could really cut the heck out of my body if I fell off now” worries.
Once on the other side, the sandy bottom allowed the water to reflect a kind of elegant turquoise. It was while I was watching the water that the wave came. Without realizing it, I was paddling along, and suddenly, the wave and I were moving as one. Ryan had stopped in front of me. My skill set was not quite to the rapid maneuvering level that would have prevented me from skewing my face, realizing I was going to crash, and leaping off my board. When I surfaced, all giggling with our bodies sort of tangled together, Ryan asked, “Are you OK?”
Of course I was. It was another opportunity to play in the water. He laughed at himself. The first thing he had told us early that morning, his one cardinal rule was, “Never turn your back on the ocean.” And of course, that was exactly what he had done.
We hopped back on the boards and paddled back to Oak Street. The lesson was almost over, but I hoped to have enough time to try catching a few waves. It’s safe to say, I need a lot more practice. I found the board very heavy and my own weight not enough to carve a turn. A couple of rolling tumbles with the big board leashed to my leg, and I was ready to call it a day. I’m definitely going to have to gain proficiency with that paddle shift hand-to-hand and jump-shift-stance.
In any event, we had a great time. I was introduced to new vehicle for being on the ocean — my favorite place in the entire world — and simultaneously, had a good work-out.
I’m going back today to give it another go. Maybe this time, I’ll ride a wave all the way to shore!
CATHARINE COOPER loves water, wild places, and trying new things. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.