Learn to paddle, while you travel
Anyone can do it anywhere, that’s what makes standup great. The sport continues to grow because new runs, new breaks and new tours are being explored daily by new paddlers like you.
If you’re looking for a Mecca, a place where you can immerse yourself in learning to paddle—or take your paddling to the next level—the following stops are a must. —Will Taylor
Nosara, Costa Rica
Who doesn’t want to go to Costa Rica? You might hear the jaded local complain that it was “better 20 years ago,” but that doesn’t change what it is: a warm-water paddling paradise.
That counts doubly for Nosara, located on the northwest coast of the Guanacaste province. The area is home to some of the most consistent beachbreak on the planet including Guiones, a soft, playful, beginner-friendly wave that has surf 300-plus days a year right in front of town.
A civic association in the 1970’s made reforestation a priority, specifically the coast. The result is a 200-yard band of untarnished forest stretching away from the high-tide line. The jungle is filled with monkeys and iguanas and dotted with cafes, hotels and bars hidden from view as you paddle past.
High End: Experience Nosara is a peaceful enclave (10 guests max) tucked 800 yards into the jungle away from the beach. It’s a perfect place to unwind and paddle until you’re a zombie. The resort offers weeklong SUP instruction packages with video review, guest instructors and lessons tailored to their students’ abilities. If you want peace and paddling, Experience Nosara gives you that and more.
Budget: Buena Vista Villas offers something many places in Nosara don’t: a view of the surf. Perched on a hill in the jungle, the Villas are secluded, quiet and peaceful. They offer kitchens for those who like to save cash and cook for themselves. Rent a board at Coconut Harry’s Surf Shop right next to the beach with an ever-evolving collection of SUP boards and lessons.
Sayulita is a classic Mexican town. Once a sleepy fishing village, it’s become a destination for expats and wandering surfers. Add SUPers to that list. This area (including Punta Mita 30 minutes to the south) offers more waves than you can shake a paddle at. Beginner offerings are about as friendly as you can find: long, lazy pointbreaks in warm green water and protected, beautiful coves. If you want a little more juice, hire a panga (fishing boat) to take you on a surfing safari up or down the coast. For exclusive flatwater paddling, book that boat to Las Islas Marietas, a remote, offshore wildlife sanctuary. Only 45 minutes from Puerto Vallarta and rated one of the safest towns to visit in Mexico, Sayulita is a place to paddle in peace.
High End: Sayulita is a destination where people come to visit and never return. If you’re into paddling and/or surfing that chance is at least doubled. Punta Sayulita, a real estate development, was built with that in mind. The members-only (property owners) estate hosts the Punta Sayulita Longboard & SUP Surf Classic annually, drawing standup figureheads like Chuck Patterson and Gerry Lopez. They also offer SUP lessons and guiding by a highly trained staff. If you’re not looking to get permanently lost in Mexico, check out Playa Escondida, a peaceful beachside resort with a private beach outside of town.
Budget: Book ahead to snag one of the six rooms at the inexpensive Petit Hotel d’Hafa, located on the corner of the plaza in downtown Sayulita and only a two-minute walk from the beach. In the evening, take a drink to the roof deck to soak in the Mexican sunset as the town square comes alive. Look up Wildmex for high-quality SUP lessons and expeditions. You really can’t go wrong, though, as most of the SUP instructors in town are International Surfing Association-certified (Punta Sayulita sponsored a certification for local teachers) and most of the shops carry a wide array of SUP boards.
If you haven’t thought of Tampa Bay as a SUP desto, pull up a map. See that giant lobster-claw of water pinching into the west side of the state? You’re looking at endless flatwater paddling opportunities, the occasional downwinder and sometimes, elusive Gulf of Mexico waves.
The Tampa Bay area offers some archetypal Florida experiences, which include paddling through mangrove barrels or going face-to-face with manatees and baby sharks. Once you’re off the water there’s plenty to see. For ethnic flavor, head over to Tampa’s Latin Quarter, once called the “Cigar Capital of the World.” Indulge in some paella, café con leche, or a hand-rolled cigar. You’ve earned it.
High End: If you’re into paddling with your dog and staying at a Florida classic, look no further than Loew’s Don CeSar Hotel. Built in the 1920’s, The Don offers beachside accommodation and a dog-friendly environment (think doggy placemats and bowls on arrival). Urban Kai Stand Up Paddleboarding give fitness, SUP 101 and paddle surf classes. Instructors will carry cameras so you can brag—with proof—to your friends back home.
Budget: Stay on St. Petersburg Beach with a room at the family-run Bon Aire Resort Motel and be sure and try a burger at Sandbar Bill’s in the motel. It’s an ideal spot to try out SUP surfing for the first time in the small waves. Have Tampa Bay SUP bring you your rental board and paddle with their mobile SUP rental. They also offer beginner lessons and regional tour drop offs: put in at a pre-vetted touring location and they meet you when you’re done or guide you along the way.
Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing and Maui, the Valley Isle, is the birthplace of modern SUP. SUP icons Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama and a host of others took to the windswept waters with paddles in hand and never looked back. You know the rest.
Although it’s the windiest island in the Hawaiian island chain, there’s more than enough paddling for beginners. Downwinding is the Maui staple (see the Maliko run and its premiere event, the Olukai Ho’Olaule’a) but there are plenty of flatwater and surfing opportunities here as well. Don’t be surprised if you run into one of your SUP heroes from any generation headed out for a paddle: Kai Lenny, Slater Trout and Connor Baxter all call Maui home. There are countless reasons they do.
High End: Lumeria Maui, only a 20-minute drive from Kahului International airport on the north coast of Maui, specializes in creating a peaceful and adventurous time on their six-acre compound. Not only do they offer SUP lessons, but also yoga, massage and cleanses, all included in the price of your stay. The architecture is also unique: it was originally plantation housing for sugar cane workers but has been remodeled into luxury digs with a historic feel.
Budget: Ma’alaea is a great place for good weather, protected coves and reasonably priced accommodations. Stay at the Aston Maui Lu, a quiet resort located on a 28-acre coconut grove. A few miles down the road is Kihei proper and Kalama Beach Park, where you can rent a board and paddle across the street from the beach and launch into calm waters. If you want specialized lessons, try Action Sports Maui for beginning to advanced lessons.
North Shore, Oahu
The North Shore of Oahu is the holy ground in the surf world. Nowhere is as steeped in myth, history and legend as this seven-mile stretch of coast. Every winter, both the Standup World Tour and the surfing World Championship Tour swarm the “Seven Mile Miracle,” turning it into the most game-changing length of beach in the surfing world.
But don’t be intimidated, there’s something for everyone. There are plenty of protected coves with small or no waves. If you need a day off, head up Waimea Valley for a mile-and-a-half hike to the waterfall for a freshwater dip. Then get back to the ocean.
High End: Turtle Bay Resort, located on the pinnacle of the North Shore, is probably the most surf-savvy of any resort in the world. Not only do they sponsor elite events but they also make it easy for new paddlers to get their dip on, offering a complimentary SUP demo in Kulima Cove in front of the hotel every afternoon. If you’re hooked—or just want to try out a new board—cross the hotel lobby to Hans Hedemann Surf School and choose what type of lesson you want and what equipment you want to ride.
Budget: Surfing’s Mecca has no shortage of the storied—and pervasive—surf bum, so doing the North Shore on a budget is a good option. Stop in at Uncle Bryan’s Sunset Surratt Surf School. When you’ve had enough for the day, lay your salt-crusted ears on pillows in a private room at the Backpackers Vacation Inn & Plantation Village around the corner from Waimea Bay, the original big wave.
Smorgasbord: that’s the word that comes to mind when we think about paddling San Diego. Mission Bay, San Diego Bay and Carlsbad Lagoon all offer calm, beautiful paddling. There’s also that little body of water called the Pacific Ocean. If you want to get your paddle in both flatwater and the ocean, this is the place.
San Diego is as SUP-friendly as cities get, with a smattering of paddling schools from fitness (Brody Welte’s PaddleFit) to women’s-only (Surf Diva). The weather is almost always pleasant (65 to 80 degree highs year-round), plus, there are around 50 craft breweries to choose from when your muscles give out. What more do you need for a week of learning to SUP?
High End: If you’re looking for the quintessential place to stay in San Diego check in at the Hotel Del Coronado. With a Victorian design and red-shingled roof the Del Coronado has been a beacon on the California coast for over 120 years. Yes, it is right on the beach. Head over to Surf Diva (don’t worry: they’ve gone co-ed after their women’s-only beginnings) for SUP lessons, a SUP bachelorette party or summer family camps.
Budget: For a more downhome experience, look up 2 Stand Up Guys. It’s all in the name; Matt Poth and Ryan Judson are two guys who love to paddle. They’ll get you stoked too, by meeting you for your lesson at any body of water you’d like to try out (they recommend Carlsbad Lagoon for first-timers). After lessons, loosen up at the hoppin’ Pearl Hotel near semi-tropical Shelter Island. Self-described as a “lively hotel” there are poolside movies, a retro bar and food deals. Don’t go overboard, though. You’re here to paddle.
This article originally ran in our 2013 Beginner’s Guide.
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