Every three months, La Jolla surf school, Surf Diva, holds Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) yoga retreats out of La Jolla Shores. During the lessons, yoginis practice their balances on sea-worthy paddleboards. Class founder Izzy Tihanyi said, “The in-line body poses — like a warrior’s pose — are very difficult to balance because you want to have your feet parallel.”
The popularity of Stand Up Paddleboarding has risen rapidly in the past few years. It’s increasingly common to see people launching their boards from the Marine Room shore or the Scripps Pier to enjoy the views from a vantage point, surf some waves or get a workout. To learn more about this emerging sport, La Jolla Light contacted Surf Diva and this reporter went out with Tihanyi for a SUP lesson on Thursday, Aug. 11.
“Paddleboarding first started 10 years ago,” said Tihanyi, who taught herself how to paddleboard a decade ago. “There was no one else out here who did it; we had never saw paddleboarding here at the Shores, so we just tried it ourselves and learned the hard way. Now we teach hundreds of people a year how to do it the easy way and the right way.”
SUP has been around for thousands of years if you consider a wide definition of it. But its origins as we know it today hail from Hawaii in the 1960s.
Tihanyi explained, “The ‘beach boys’ in Hawaii used to paddle out and take photos of the tourists (in the ‘60s), so they sort of invented it, and then it went from there to Laird Hamilton bringing it back with the 12-foot SUPBs that were created with surf technology. From there it exploded into a new sport that is healthy, fun and addictive. It’s good for anyone at any level.”
SUPB equipment is bigger, heavier and more expensive than a surf board, however Tihanyi said paddleboards have been decreasing in size and weight considerably in the last few years. A paddleboard can reach 12 feet and 30 pounds, whereas a surfboard for beginners is 9 feet long and weighs as much as 15 pounds. The other difference between the two, besides the constant standing required for paddleboarding, is that the balance on the wider SUPBs is achieved by keeping both feet parallel, bending the knees and strengthening one’s core.
SUPB can be practiced both on calm waters — such as lakes, rivers — and the ocean. It goes without saying that paddling on the constantly moving waters of the ocean requires more skill than paddling along a still body of water. However, Tihanyi pointed out, La Jolla offers calmer waters south of La Jolla Shores, where many beginners launch, and more challenging waves for experienced paddlers around the Scripps Pier.
When I told Tihanyi about my outdoorsy temperament and that I’d paddled before on still waters, she agreed to launch me from Scripps Pier. We started the lesson with some paddleboarding theory and surf etiquette.
“As paddleboarders, we have to maintain polite, non-aggressive behavior,” Tihanyi said. “I’m always giving up waves, because paddleboarders have an advantage, they can catch a lot more waves than surfers.”
She said I should go over the white waters laying on the board with my stomach, and once at the wave break, get on my knees and start paddling hard until past the peak, where I could finally stand. Despite the smaller waves of that Thursday — about 2 feet tall — a bigger set came in right in time to throw me off the board on my first attempt to make it in. I let the set pass ducking under the waves, got back on the board and paddled my arms out until I was way past the break. It was exhilarating.
Actually, standing on the paddleboard wasn’t difficult, even on a choppy day such as that Thursday. Tihanyi even showed me how to do the yoga downward dog posture on the board and for a while we tried our balances on the ocean. Then, it was time to paddle around for a bit.
“Where is the wind coming from?” Tihanyi asked me, and I was puzzled trying to guess the direction. “The trick is to throw some water up and observe where does it fall, or look at the flags on the lifeguarding stations,” she explained.
With the wind coming from the ocean, we decided to paddle toward The Cove and Tihanyi advised to always start paddling against the wind to reserve some energy for the way back. She added, “when surfing and catching a wave, it’s a bit more sedentary … on a paddleboard you’re constantly moving and it’s an amazing workout.”
Tihanyi said that on the jet ski-free waters of The Cove, the only hazard to watch out for are the kayaks. “They are big and they don’t turn,” she explained, adding that the maneuverability of the SUPB isn’t about muscling your way through the waves, “it’s how you handle the paddle, it’s all paddling, balance, technique and where you are positioned on the board.”
To go back in, Tihanyi showed me how to catch a wave on a SUPB. She advised I do so on my knees, and just paddle really hard forward when the wave came. I was surprised at how much easier the extra paddling power made it to catch the wave, and I rode it all the way to shore.