When I was in California a couple years ago we stopped at a beach to go swimming, and as we were bobbing about, a young woman paddled by me on a stand-up board. She had that classic California Girl look, all lean muscle and tan and long, wavy hair. And up on this board, casually paddling as the afternoon light started to wane, she was the very picture of cool. I had to try it.
It’s taken me awhile to accomplish that goal — finding a place to do it, a companion, a good price — but when I discovered by coworker Erin was interested too, we found a groupon for a company that operates a five minute walk away from our workplace in the Beach.
SUPGirlz (which isn’t just for girls, BTW) has a full schedule, with several classes a day, every day of the week. It was no problem to find a convenient time slot, and registering for a class via their website (even with a groupon) was a breeze.
Our beginners class (which is a prerequisite for all other SUPGirlz classes) had 6 people in it (4 newbies, and 2 more experienced ladies) — a very manageable number. (Classes can accomodate up to 7 new students.)
It started with some fundamentals on land: how to hold the paddle, how to use it, and some general advice. Janna was very matter-of-fact (do this, don’t do this, any questions?), and while some newbies might need a bit more rah-rahing, I was just fine with it. And also she had good reason: it’s ISN’T that complicated. In less than 10 minutes had covered off the bare essentials so we could head down to the water. There, she demoed how we’d paddle out (on our knees) and stand up and it was up to us to follow.
We got to take our first wobbling strokes in a sheltered cove, which made things a bit easier, and I’m pretty proud to say, I didn’t fall. Not even once. (Though, to be fair, it was a pretty calm day.) But if you do? No big deal. The water’s pretty warm, and you can get right back on. The paddling takes a little practice, especially since you’re supposed to keep your arms straight, like dragon boaters do, and use your core to move, rather than bending your elbows. (It feels unnatural, but you start to get the hang of it.)
After everyone showed Janna they could do the basics (paddle straight-ahead, front turn, back turn), we left the cove on, paddling for 10 or 15 minutes. This is when I really started to feel relaxed. It was easy! Or perhaps I had just been training for this my whole life. I realized that my years of swimming (upper body strength), lifeguarding (paddleboarding — on a kneeling board with your hands rather than a paddle, but still), and my regular yoga practice (balance and core strength are essential), actually made me feel like a natural at something athletic for the first time in my life. Guys, it feels amazing. Someone should have told me.
We took a break after this paddle and if you wanted, you could try some yoga poses on the boards. Naturally, I wanted to. I discovered a basic flow is pretty easy, but things start to get a bit harder when you enter lunge and warrior territory. SUPGirlz has a paddle flow class that I’m dying to try: you paddle out, do 20 minutes of board yoga, then paddle back.
Janna also took the time to take pictures of us on our boards: a really nice gesture, because, let’s face it, you look pretty cool doing this and you want to show it off. (She also emailed them to us the same night! Very impressive.)
We did another longer paddle in the other direction, then eventually worked our way back to the cove for a last bit of free time. At this point I was sweating. My long-sleeve rashguard may have offered good sun protection, but I’d recommend something cooler. (A bathing suit and a t-shirt or tank top would be plenty.)
I hoped I’d be sore the next day, and while my muscles were definitely tired after I got home, I only had some wrist and shoulder soreness on one side, probably more from me trying to figure out my technique than anything. But I definitely broke a sweat and felt a burn, and once you got better, I bet you’d get a solid workout. (Plus SUPGirlz has bootcamp classes that combine dry-land exercises.)
Erin, my work paddling pal, had to work a little harder to get the hang of things (not having been training her whole life), but Janna gave her some key one on one feedback, and by the end of the 90 minutes she was feeling comfortable and totally gung ho. We’re ready and raring to go back, and when I can see the lake from our office window, it’s a constant temptation. Classes aren’t cheap ($35 a piece, or 10 for $300), but I can feel my inner cheapskate softening already and my inner California Girl dying to get back on the water.