Last time I went stand-up paddleboarding I peeked overhead when I heard a scream I lost my balance and jumped off the back board in the river. My son found it hilarious.
So when I signed up for a nighttime “SUP Glow” excursion with Pirate Coast Paddle Co. in Newport Beach, I promised myself I’d do my best to stay up. Which meant doing a few training rides first.
“Good deal,” Pirate Coast owner Mark Oehlman said when I showed up for my tour. “We strongly advise people to have experience so they can have fun. Our night paddles are not for novices.
But if you’re a somewhat confident SUPer, those nighttime outings can be a sublime adventure, not least because the bottom of the boards are fitted with waterproof LED lights that illuminate the surrounding water. And because it’s often a quiet hour with little conversation, your senses are heightened as you listen to the gentle lapping of the water and watch the little fishes swim through the lights. Pay close attention and you might even see stingrays in the shallows under your board.
“It can be kind of a spiritual experience there,” said Oehlman, 40, a former professional football player and firefighter who grew up in Irvine. He started the business in 2010 and started offering tours six years ago. “Honestly, I don’t know of any other place where you can do this on the west coast, partly because working with underwater lights and salt water is difficult. But we keep things moving and our tours always fill up.
Oehlman discovered stand-up paddleboarding while visiting Hawaii. “I thought the people standing on what appeared to be surfboards and paddling around looked pretty weird,” he said. “So I asked what this activity was all about.” He tried it, liked it, then bought several boards when he got back to Southern California. In LA, SUP has become a popular water sport over the past decade – the low-impact activity can help people improve their balance and strengthen their core. And the boards, which are 10.5 feet long, are stable enough to carry a companion – a child or a calm dog, perhaps. (However, for this tour, participants must be over 15 years old and human.)
Our evening started shortly before sunset when we received our (compulsory) life jackets and were fitted with long paddles slightly higher than our arms stretched above our heads. My group – made up of families, couples and friends – met on the beach for a safety talk with head guide Andrew Oldham, a 19-year-old college student from Fullerton who grew up surfing around Newport Beach.
“I had paddled SUP before I got this job, but now I’ve probably led 50 laps,” said Oldham, who swam breaststroke and freestyle on her high school swim team.
Some paddling tips I learned: Once on the board, stand with your feet parallel and hip-width apart for stability. Keep your knees slightly bent, your back straight and look towards the horizon. Shift your weight by moving your hips.
We then picked our boards and pushed into the warm waters of Back Bay in Newport.
When I was looking around, looking at the big yachts or up to the cliff on the north side of the channel, I was also concentrating on my balance, not wanting to repeat my walk on the back of the board.
“SUP Glow” from Pirate Coast Paddle Co.
On our way out we slowly made our way from Newport Dunes Back Bay to the Pacific Highway Bridge. After the sun disappeared, we looked like a school of glowing torpedo-shaped creatures heading out to sea.
Oehlmam said paddlers will occasionally see bioluminescence, sometimes called sea sparkle, an unusual phenomenon that can be caused by single-celled organisms called dinoflagellates that produce brilliant flickers of light, especially during breaking waves, the wake of a boat or even a SUP. or surfer. “I had experienced bioluminescence when I was playing professional soccer in Puerto Rico and swimming in the ocean,” he said. “Sometimes the water would light up with each stroke.”
Eventually, as I headed west, I relaxed into a gentle rhythm and my thoughts drifted in different directions. I thought of fish lighting up in the depths of the ocean and athletes paddling hundreds of miles in open water.
As we were coming back, the wind that was slowing us suddenly gave us a boost.
We returned to the south side of Spider Island before heading back to the main channel. By this time, several members of the group were kneeling on the soft rubber tops of the boards or even sitting as they stroked each other forward. “Whatever is most comfortable works,” Oldham said.
Towards the end of the trip, we paddled past large motorboats in the marina, some around 50ft long, where we exchanged greetings with a few owners who were sipping drinks and chatting. Then we dove under a bridge into a lagoon that is part of the Newport Dunes complex for one last lap.
At the end of the tour, I gently drove my board down the beach and jumped off, stumbling ever so slightly before regaining my balance. So no fall neither on the water nor on the ground.
Oehlman congratulated me after returning my gear.
“But everyone gets wet in this sport,” he said with a laugh. “No one would have less of you. After all, it’s a water sport.