NEWPORT BEACH — Most locals shy away from lessons aimed for tourists. The thought of a shaggy-haired beach boy demonstrating how to pop up on a surfboard can seem a little corny.
But a new club in Newport Beach is hoping to avoid such corniness. It welcomes beginners to stand-up paddling, the sport steadily gaining popularity.
SUP Dog (short for "stand-up paddle" and a play on "what's up, dog") is the name of a loose group of paddlers who gather weekly for evening harbor paddles and weekend events. Mandy McDonnell, the club's organizer, started paddling with friends and then decided to invite beginners to join.
"Every time I'd get back from a paddle, I heard someone say, 'I've been wanting to try it out,'" said McDonnell, who grew up sailing in Newport Harbor. "But they might not want to go to a rental place, or they're intimidated to try it on their own."
She checked into the local stand-up paddle scene and couldn't find any clubs, she said, so she started SUP Dog for both experienced paddlers and newcomers. It's free to join the club.
Since they started in the spring with just a few friends, the group has grown to about 20 paddlers each week heading out for evening runs. They meet at Newport Fun Tours, a rental shop behind the Crab Cooker, on 22nd Street each Wednesday.
"It just sounded really inviting because it's in the harbor," said Serena Flowers, 38, who had seen paddlers off the coast in Laguna Beach and wanted to try it out herself. She found the club on Meetup.com, a website where people with common interests can find each other.
Flowers rents a board and a paddle each week for $20. Other members use their own equipment. McDonnell is seeking sponsorships from board and paddle manufacturers so she can have a club fleet.
She gives a few pointers on how to stroke and how to turn, and then they're off.
"Everyone just wants to go paddling," McDonnell said, so she keeps instruction to a minimum. After the paddle, they usually hang out for a few beers.
And on the weekends, members sometimes head out for "bars on boards," where they paddle from restaurant to restaurant around the harbor to stop for drinks. More advanced paddlers head to races in locales like Dana Point, Lake Tahoe and San Diego.
"It's a great way to get people together," McDonnell said. "It kind of creates this cocktail party on the water."