Falling in the frigid waters or being mowed over by a boat were all I could think about when my good friend requested we go SUP (Stand Up Paddle) boarding in the Santa Cruz harbor for her birthday. Reluctantly, I agreed.
The little SUP Shack located in the lot at the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor is teeming with colorful boards and paddles available for rent. Owner Trudie Ransom gave a friendly nod as she introduced herself and her colleague Jay Manning, the elite SUP boarder visiting from the United Kingdom and rider for UK Fanatic, a well known paddle brand.
Sizing me over, Trudie determined I should wear a spring suit which I refused. Faced with the possibility that I may fall in, I sported my polyester workout clothes and windbreaker to keep me warm in the chilly winds of the harbor.
Fifteen dollars covered the rentals for one hour and I was given the option to have a lesson for an additional $10.
What a bargain, I thought. I’ll take the lesson.
Trudie demonstrated how to transition into a standing position from a stoop while maintaining balance, adding emphasis of the paddle placement while pulling off the perfect stance. My confidence increased and my apprehension shifted to excitement. I was ready to roll, on water that is!
Kneeling over the launch ramp, I gently placed my board on the water with rolled up pants and plopped myself on the board without much effort. My friend, having done SUP dozens of times before, was already SUP boarding about gracefully and calling me to join her.
Standing up was a bit more challenging as I felt myself rocking and feared I'd fall in.
Quick to see me struggle, Trudie came to my rescue. She reiterated the importance of correctly placing feet and slightly bent knees. It felt awkward, like a colt learning to stand for the first time.
My foot began to cramp up from an old injury and I started to wobble. With Trudie by my side, she was able to advise me on how to relax my foot by curling my toes repeatedly.
I regained my balance and enjoyed the breeze pushing me lightly from behind. The view from within the harbor was awe-inspiring and I suddenly found myself standing and paddling ahead enthusiastically.
We glided deep into the algae-colored waters of the harbor and passed many docked boats, some well manicured and others ragged. Sea otters played on their backs and fish jumped in front of us.
My previous fear that I may find myself in the path of an oncoming vessel, quickly became a ridiculous notion. The occasional boat glided by cautiously.
The SUP boarding experience brought on an amazing rush of adrenaline. My fears had vanished. It was fun to face the soft wind with verve as we made our way back towards the launch.
Now that I'm hooked on SUP, I can’t wait to get out on the water and experience the thrill of riding and the activity of sea life again. ASAP!
Trudie's SUP Shack is frequented daily by those looking to rent equipment and receive instruction. There are 12-50 paddle boarders a day out in the harbor according to Manning, and as many as 100 over the course of the day on the weekends.
The sport has gotten some flack from surfers – in much the same way that skiiers once put down snowboarder – although they don't fight over the same turf.
"The SUP Shack is a business located at the Santa Cruz Harbor where we mainly stand up paddle on the calm and tranquil harbor waters and not take our customers anywhere near the waves," wrote Ransom on her Facebook page, after someone left a piece of paper folded up on the ground with a anti-SUP symbol in front of the Shack late last week.
"We teach people to respect the waters and the other waters sports that we Californians love!"
There have been no other reports of anti-SUP messages left for other companies that I know of, she says, but there have been anti-SUP stickers left on cars at Pleasure Point and other surf spots along with some cases of paddle board vandalism.
“We don’t have many surfers around here (at the Harbor),” she says. “It’s more of a boating thing.”
Individuals, groups and families come with their children, some with their own boards and paddles and others who rent the equipment at the SUP Shack.
"There is not a size restriction," says Manning, "It's safe for everyone."
Manning, who has been working at the SUP Shack since the beginning of January, has come to Santa Cruz to escape the cold weather of the UK during the winter months and stay fit while training, as he goes out two to three times SUP boarding and running.
"I'm one of the first guys in the UK to paddle." says Manning.
In the UK, Manning runs a mobile SUP school and drives to five or six beaches regularly giving lessons. He also competes in SUP races throughout the summer.
Manning has wind surfed for years and began exploring the growing trend of SUP boarding about six years ago.
"I'm one of the pioneers of paddling," he adds.
SUP is growing everywhere, explains Manning. In Southern California and Florida they have a race or event every week. Here in Santa Cruz it's not as often but he believes there will be more as the weather warms up.
Newcomers bring their friends, says Manning. "It's like a parasite, fungi, and keeps growing. There's a little spot there" and "like a disease, there's a small spot there."
Santa Cruz-based paddle maker Big Tree Paddle has taken an interest in Manning.
"They gave me some wooden paddles to take home and I hope to get some overseas sales for them," Manning says.
Trudie chose to close the Triatholon Shop she owned near the end of 38th Avenue by soon after opening the SUP Shack in the harbor last July.
She moved to Santa Cruz in 1997 from the United Kingdom. Having grown up in Brighton, a seaside town similar to Santa Cruz, Trudie would spend her youth on the sea sailing with her family, she says.
"I got into SUP boarding about three or four years ago when I was doing triathlon training," says Trudie. "A surf tech came up to me and asked me about trying SUP and i hadn't really known much about it."
People were showing an interest in SUP in Santa Cruz around that same time so we went out looking for people to give it a shot.
"It took a good two years of really of going down the beaches and getting people to try them out." Trudie says. "So last year it just exploded. Last year it just took off.
"I ran a Groupon special with Angulo Santa Cruz designs, a paddle board company owned by former Ski Shop Santa Cruz proprietor Andy Whitman, and we got a phenomonal response."
SUP Shack will be offering yoga on paddle boards beginning in April.
Manning returns to the UK on April 4,and then plans to return to Santa Cruz again next winter. He is looking forward to hooking up with sea mates when he returns to the UK, he says, and teaching, getting sponsors, going to events and competitions.
For more information about SUP Shack and Jay Manning, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (831) 464-7467.