A few weeks ago, Rita Root at West Coast Stand Up Paddle invited me to go for an early morning paddle at Agua Hedionda, a sparkling lagoon just north of Grand Pacific Palisades Resort & Hotel in Carlsbad, California.
Earlier this year, I tried stand up paddle boarding (SUP) for the first time in Maui, and the experience was nothing short of awful. My husband and I rented two boards from a local surfer who gave us a five-minute SUP lesson in front of our condo. We lugged the bulky boards down to the beach, where a balmy breeze was already kicking up swells. Again and again, I tried to move from lying flat on the board to standing, but each time I rose to my feet, I wobbled and slipped off the side. After about 20 minutes, I swore off SUP for good and retired to a cabana by the pool.
Now here I was, carrying a paddle down to the water for what I assumed would be yet another humiliating experience. There were already several paddle boarders on the lagoon looking as tranquil as can be, including one man who appeared to be in his 80s. Seagulls drifted overhead. The morning sun danced on the glassy lagoon. A mullet splashed as it nabbed a flying insect several feet above the water. None of this quelled my anxiety.
“A lot of people just rent a board or try to go out with friends,” Rita said as we slipped off our sandals in the sand. “Yes, you can try to SUP this way, but it usually ends with more time in the water than on the water. When this happens, people become frustrated and defeated. They tend to curse the sport or, even worse, beat themselves up.” I told Rita about my mishaps in Maui, and she smiled knowingly. “It sounds like you may not have had the right board. And I provide instruction not just on land, but out on the water where it really counts.”
Rita explained that the board I used in Maui was probably too small for a beginner of my size and that I was going to use her “Cadillac” board for extra stability. She also said that one of the biggest mistakes people make is looking down instead of at the horizon. “A lot of your balance comes from where you look. If you look down when you’re standing up or wobbling, you’re going to fall.” And after just a few more minutes of instruction, we waded into the water with our boards.
Rita had me paddle on my knees for a few minutes, just to get used to the feel of the board and paddle. Then it was time to stand up. My first attempt was unsuccessful. I looked down at board, flailed around, and promptly landed in the lagoon. But as I pulled myself back on the board, I emerged with a sense of calm and determination. I had already gotten wet, and that was the worst that could happen.
The next time I stood up, I focused on my line of sight. Instead of staring straight down at my feet or at the water around me, I looked at the hills surrounding the lagoon, the distant shoreline, and the other paddle boarders on the water. To my amazement, it made all the difference. I was still a little shaky, but I caught my balance as I began to paddle, the forward motion adding to my stability.
We paddled around the lagoon with ease, chatting the whole time and even tackling some boat wakes. We practiced yoga poses on our boards in a quiet cove and saw a sea lion sunbathing on a dock. It felt as natural and effortless as breathing. I couldn’t believe what a difference it made to have a professional instructor and the right board—or the fact that we were there enjoying the water on a morning in late autumn.
That’s the beauty of Southern California. Everyone flocks to the beach in summer for the sunshine, but there’s something about the low season that shouldn’t be missed. Perhaps it’s the mild and moody weather or the slightly slower pace of life. Whatever the reason, fall and winter are ideal for exploring the coast by paddle board, even if the water is a little chilly.
Through many adventures abroad, including working in a Spanish inn making beds, cooking batches of paella, and conversing with inn guests, Christine Anderson discovered her passion for hospitality and copywriting. She joined Grand Pacific Resorts in August 2014 eager to contribute her writing skills to a collaborative marketing team. She prides herself on never having a cavity and walking 350 miles across Spain in five weeks.