"I stepped onto a stand-up paddleboard once,” said my friend Sophia, “and promptly fell headfirst into the water.” She got the hang of it, though, and now she wants me to join her.
“We offer paddleboard lessons every day at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.,” said Rick Gehris, owner of Surfari Surf School in Mission Beach (858-337-3287; surfarisurf.com). “They run about an hour, and then once the lesson is over, you get an hour of practice time on your own [group rate, $55; semiprivate, $65; private, $85]. We do the lessons at Sail Bay in Mission Bay. The water is really calm there. But we start out with ten minutes of land-based instruction. That’s where we go over how to hold the paddle and the safety dos and don’ts.”
When you hold the paddle, “you want to hold the paddle with the blade out at an angle. Most beginners hold the blade facing in. You put one hand on the top of the paddle and the other in the middle, and you keep your arms straight. If you bend them, you wind up using your small muscles. If you keep them straight, you use your core — the back and shoulders and the hips. And we show you how to turn the board by backstroking.”
As for safety, said Gehris, “the most important thing is, if you fall, push the paddle away from you so that you don’t land on it. Then, swim to the board first and then get the paddle. It’s very hard to swim with a paddle in your hand. You get back on the board by laying on it with your chest, grabbing one rail with your hand, and using your momentum to slide your feet onto the tail of the board. Then go to your knees, and then to your feet.”
Once the class moves to the water, “We have you paddle on your knees to the middle of the bay and then have you pop up to your feet by putting your hands on the board and pushing up.”
Surfari offers a wide variety of boards. “They come in different shapes and sizes. The wider the board, the more stable it is. The length you choose will be based on your size and weight. I have 9-, 10-, 11-, and 12-footers.”
Gehris left me with a pro tip: “It’s easy going downwind, but remember that you’ll have to turn around at some point. When you go upwind, you have to shorten your stroke, and it’s harder and takes longer. I recommend hugging the water’s edge, about 50 yards out. When you turn back into the wind, you won’t struggle as much; it’s much harder going upwind in the middle of the bay.”
Over at SUP Coronado (619-888-7686; supcoronado.com), cofounder Vicki Carson explained the nonprofit she runs with her sister Crystal. “She teaches bay lessons, and I teach ocean lessons. We have a flexible fee — we ask for $60 to $100, but we tell people they can pay whatever they can afford. We take people out by appointment only, since we both have full-time jobs. If we can’t find a time that works for you and for us, we’ll refer you to the Coronado Recreation Department. They also rent boards and give lessons.”
SUP Coronado’s lessons last 90 minutes.
“If you go out with me, I’ll teach you to catch waves. We go to Tidelands Park in Coronado, and since the beach there faces south, we don’t get direct hits from the swells. So, it’s nice and gentle, a great place to learn. I show up with a van and about 12 boards ranging from 9 to 12 feet. I think correct equipment is about 80 percent of being able to paddleboard on the ocean, and I’ll make sure you’re on the right board for your size. It’s easier than surfing — you’re already standing when you go to catch the wave.”
Other places around town:
Aqua Adventures in Mission Bay (619-523-9577; aqua-adventures.com) charges $50 for a one-hour lesson, including equipment. Additional paddleboard rentals are $22 for an hour, $40 for two hours.
Mission Bay Sports Center in Mission Bay (858-488-1004; missionbaysportscenter.com) rents paddleboards: one hour, $15; two hours, $30; three to four hours, $45; all day, $60.