Thursday, October 14, 2010
Just inches away from me, hundreds of sea nettles fill the dark water like slow comets burning through the night sky. I’m standing on a 12-foot-long paddleboard I rented from Monterey Bay Kayaks, so I’m safe from the streaming stingers, a sport fishing boat Chubasco is chugging back toward Monterey Harbor, promising turbulence for my board that might knock me off. Some jellies have rust-colored bells the size of dimes, while others appeared to be as big as half-inflated basketballs. And now the board is heaving up and down on waves created by the passing boat. A tourist couple on the nearby Municipal Wharf helpfully shouts out that I’d be screwed if I dropped into the jellyfish-filled water. Luckily, I’m still standing as the waves peel onto nearby Del Monte Beach. While those moments marked the most exhilarating few seconds of my two-hour paddle, there were lots of other memorable sights to take in during the sunny afternoon adventure. Inside the harbor, I navigated between mooring buoys in the shadows of sailboats from all over the California coast. Near the Coast Guard jetty, playful harbor seals threaded the water’s surface as music from a wedding party drifted out of one of the luxury hotels that honeycomb Cannery Row’s shoreline. A few hundred yards off the jetty – on the border of open ocean – I began to think about how deep the sea was beneath me and what kind of creatures might inhabit it. But then I saw a silhouette on the horizon that looked like a man standing on the ocean surface at least half a mile away. It was a fellow paddleboarder, and he was a heck of a lot farther out than I was. Before heading out, I received a brief tutorial from Monterey Bay Kayak guide Amber Schat. Standing on a picnic table outside the building where I rented the board and paddle, Schat demonstrated the basic techniques of stand-up paddleboarding, which is frequently referred to as SUP. Holding a paddle, she stood up with both of her feet facing forward a little behind the midpoint of the picnic table. With her feet planted side by side, Schat explained that the stance is different than the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other posture used by surfers. A few seconds later, she showed me a map of Monterey’s coastal region and said that I was allowed to paddle all the way to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The primary rule was that I had to stay at least 100 feet away from all marine mammals, a task that proved difficult with all the harbor seals and sea lions in the water. Though Monterey Bay Kayaks is best known for renting out their one – and two-person kayaks, the store’s program manager, Holokai Brown, says SUP rentals have been increasing over the last year. “We’ve all been hearing that it’s the fastest growing segment of the paddle sports industry,” he says. Brown believes that paddleboarding does more than just give users a good workout. “It’s a great way to get out on the water and see everything from a different perspective,” he says. Paddleboarding most likely began in Hawaii, where surfers used outrigger canoe paddles to navigate their longboards out into the surf. These days, it seems like people everywhere are getting into the sport, including along the Hudson River, where people paddle with New York City’s jagged skyline in the background, and in the Midwest, where paddleboards are taking over the Great Lakes. Some of the sport’s appeal becomes apparent after observing all the different ways pro surfer and paddleboard enthusiast Laird Hamilton has utlized SUPs. Hamilton, who has his own line of boards, has paddled across the English Channel and used one to ride some of the world’s most notorious waves at Teahupoo, Tahiti. After my late-afternoon journey off the coast of Monterey, it was also easy to understand why SUPs have become so popular. There’s a feeling of accomplishment from powering your own small vessel through the sea, and when you get out far enough, all the worries from shore recede like the tide. VIsit Monterey Bay Kayaks, 693 Del Monte Ave. in Monterey, rents SUPs in two-hour sessions for $20. They also offer SUP classes on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 11am for $40.Frequent paddler packages allow unlimited access for two months for $100. 1-800-649-5357. Adventures By the Sea, 299 Cannery Row in Monterey, offers two hours for $30, with a lesson for $50, and a special lesson at Stillwater Cove for $85. 372-1087.