Standing + Paddling
A Balancing Act on the Sea
By Claire Saylor
Walking on water is a feat reserved for Jesus Christ Lizards, the son of God, and anyone that’s mastered the newest fad in the water sports, a cross between ocean kayaking and surfing known as SUP. What’s SUP? ‘Stand Up Paddling’, a rewarding mid-ocean workout atop a buoyant long board.
I had the pleasure of trying out this hybrid sport in Nosara, one of Costa Rica’s many surf meccas, that has been rounding up offbeat adventure seekers for quite some time. While many come and go, the ones who stay convert their hobbies into careers. Spencer Klein, formerly the personal assistant to Jack Johnson, has been offering SUP tours for more than six months in the region. For the moment, he stands alone.
“In a year, there will be 15 other companies offering this in Nosara,” the foresighted instructor said. Not used to your conventional work situation, Spencer found a niche in nature-oriented tours. He started his own company, Experience Nosara, offering kayak and hiking tours as well as multi-day surf excursions to some of the best spots in the country.
In my first lesson, Spencer’s advice was all too encouraging: “You will fall 10 to 15 times before you get it right”. More out of fear of falling than talent, I earned the title of “natural”, keeping it to three spills, mainly from loss of concentration when I’d pan the shoreline for my boyfriend who was left in my wake.
In my first attempt, I wiggled my way on to the board before assuming the crouching dog position. Up to my knees and then foot by foot I was standing on wobbly legs. Like a proud Ngobe chief, I rowed my board slowly, eyes glued on the horizon. The learning process evokes tightened muscles that amount to a full body conditioning work-out. Once you get past the fear of falling, it is truly a Zen-filled experience, minus the beginners’ ache in my arms.
After our three hour lesson, we returned to the beach, failing to upgrade to paddle surfing. I felt like I had earned my way into some kind of secret club. A club of ‘people in the know’ like Pierce Bronson, Matt McCaughnehey and Jennifer Gardner – all SUP veterans.
Spencer has led tours of people from age five to 78. Some are looking to explore and others for a good workout, or a new way to fly fish. “I think it's those people who are interested in getting out on the water but haven't found their calling in any other ocean sports,” Spencer said. “My wife never really got into surfing, but when she tried stand up paddling, I would watch her paddle miles on end with a pregnant belly.”
The sport originated in the 50s or 60s with Hawaiian surf instructors known as The Beach Boys. They’d stand up on long boards and propelled by outrigger canoe paddles to keep an eye on the waves and large classes. “It saw a quick resurgence in Hawaii about a decade ago, and now you can read about Jennifer Aniston and Julia Roberts paddling on Time.com,” Spencer said.
If there is a place for the sport to really take on, Nosara is it. The healthy lifestyle ambiance is contagious, and the variety of beaches appeal to the equally varied SUP fans. As I returned to the juice bar at the eco-friendly Harmony Hotel, I opted for a Mango-Cucumber-Cilantro smoothie over an Imperial and started plotting my next boarding adventure to the region.