By Pat Reynolds
Recently I was chatting with a friend and the conversation turned towards the rise in popularity of stand-up paddleboards within the boundaries of Marina del Rey harbor.
He and I were both rather amazed at how a once novel and rare little vessel has proliferated and now become so very omnipresent. Mike, who has been a marine professional in the area for decades and has seen the Marina go through plenty of changes, shrugged and said it was okay with him – adding it was nice to see young people and a mix of genders in an area dominated by middle-aged men.
And a mixture it is. By 11 a.m. on a weekend morning, dozens of paddlers are working their way slowly up from Mothers Beach and Phins Water Sports Club in D Basin on what are essentially 10-to-12-foot enlarged surfboards propelled by a long paddle. Teenagers, young couples, old couples, middle-aged ladies, solo riders with little dogs up front, are all in the eclectic mix – this basic, primitive sport seems to bridge a very wide demographic chasm.
“Stand-up paddling has been steadily growing,” said Steve Phinny, owner of Phins Water Sports Club that rents paddleboards, kayaks and rowboats. “We get a large number of first-timers; the learning curve is really short – as little as 15 minutes. I think the popularity is due to it being a great affordable way to be out on the water, enjoy the marine life, fresh air and get as much of a workout as you want.”
Although Phinny has incentives to publicly promote the sport, his assessment is clearly on the mark. The sport allows people to get out and enjoy time on the water for very little investment, physically or financially. Would-be paddlers can rent a board for about $30 an hour (varying) or pick up a new or used one for $700-1,000. Unlike boating, there are no real maintenance or storage fees and no moving parts to be concerned with.
“I think its major appeal is that it’s possible for anyone to enjoy, regardless of their age or athleticism,” said Sarah Tiefenthaler, who operates Yogaqua, a stand-up paddle yoga business. “You can make it as easy or as challenging as you like. You can cruise around in a harbor, learn some paddle technique and race, you can take it into the waves, or of course, go through your yoga flow on it while floating on calm water.”
Tiefenthaler represents another aspect of the stand-up paddle equation – the paddleboard as a yoga mat. Beyond the cruising/paddling action, the boards are also becoming more and more popular in the world of yoga. What was once a rather strange sight of a few people doing headstands on paddleboards in the harbor has become more commonplace, with many full classes going on regularly. Tiefenthaler created Yogaqua in Marina del Rey and is seeing the trend growing by leaps and bounds.
“This is the third summer now for Yogaqua and there has only been growth with my business,” she said. “And it’s not only Yogaqua that is growing – there are more and more (stand-up paddle) yoga organizations popping up all over the world.”
Both Tiefenthaler and Phinny, who are in the business of stand-up paddling, are both encouraged with the sport’s popularity but the looming question is whether or not it’s a fad. Many boaters feel that having such an influx of uneducated operators of watercraft is a recipe for future accidents and problems.
For instance, longtime Marina del Rey boaters Paul and Jeannie Miller, who own and operate the California Sailing Academy, have become frustrated with what they’ve seen. They say that most riders don’t have an understanding of navigational rules as they travel throughout the harbor, noting it’s become “way out of control.”
At this stage it’s hard to determine if the two factions will happily coexist into the future or if this present discomfort is simply growing pains brought on by a new element that will now always be a facet within marina environments.
Phinny is optimistic and sees the paddleboarding popularity as an opportunity for more people to be exposed to Marina del Rey and places like it, and hopefully become concerned about its stewardship. Beyond the learning curve or lack thereof, he sees stand-up paddlers as possible future advocates that will potentially help in the long run even if they may frustrate some in their learning stage.
Indeed, just recently many stand-up riders were involved in a Marina clean-up for the Kurmalliance organization and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation will soon host its Ninth Annual Marina del Rey Kayak Cleanup Day Saturday, Sept. 21, where dozens of paddlers are expected to be involved.
Phinny also believes the sport will continue to grow:
“All of the people we work with in the industry have high hopes for its future,” he said. “We remain optimistic, as long as the industry promotes itself properly, devotes time to making sure that all the participants get the best instruction with an emphasis on safe, responsible paddling. It will continue to grow and be a regular part of marine life, much like snowboarding is now to ski resorts.”