How I Became a Stand Up Paddler
From Hiker to Stand Up Paddler and Back Again
Everyone has a story about how they started stand up paddling. Many of the top SUP racers initially made their name at another paddling discipline long before making the transition to SUP. Andrea Moller, Danny Ching, Travis Grant, and Georges Cronsteadt are a few of the names which readily come to mind. Each excels at paddling outrigger canoes, among other craft. Similarly, many recreational stand up paddlers living along the coast were already immersed in a culture of water sports and easily added stand up paddling as another way to spend time on the water. In contrast to most of these folks, I found stand up paddling because I am a hiker.
Unlike many stand up paddlers, I’m equally as happy pursuing some form of terrestrial activity. I’ve backpacked rugged trails on three continents, logged countless miles, and reached the summit of numerous peaks. Almost immediately upon moving to Los Angeles in January 2008 I ordered a new pair of hiking boots and began exploring the trails at Topanga and Malibu Creek State Parks in nearby Malibu. I love the rugged, dry terrain (I had been living in England for the previous six years.), but one of the elements which struck me the most was the proximity of many of the trails to the Pacific Ocean.
I had never lived anywhere where you could hike in the mountains and see the ocean. The vastness of the water was captivating and the curvature of the mountains along the Malibu coastline offer a wide selection of sights. From city views, the mountains, the ocean, even Catalina Island and the Palos Verdes Peninsula on clear days. Before long, I wanted to take advantage of the coastal location and find a way to get out on the water so I could see the mountains from a different perspective.
Stand up paddling was not yet the worldwide phenomenon it is today, but it was common to see kayakers plying their way around the bay. I had rented a kayak a few times over the years and it looked like that was the best way to go. I’d yet to discover the thriving SoCal outrigger canoe scene and stand up paddling…what was that?
I began scoping out kayaks to see what would work the best for me when I saw my first stand up paddler in Marina del Rey. My wife and I rented a pair of boards from Poseidon Paddle & Surf shortly thereafter. I soon bought my first board and the rest, as they say, is history.
Even so, I am still a bit more at home in the mountains than I am on the water. Regardless of where I am, I will always be an explorer seeking out new and interesting places both on land and at sea. One of my favorite local mountain hikes, it has now turned into an annual trek, is to the summit of Mt. San Antonio, better known locally as Mt. Baldy. Rising up 10,064 ft, the mountain is the highest peak in Los Angeles County.
The view from the summit is amazing any time of year and while strenuous, it is not an extremely difficult climb. One of the nice aspects of hiking Mt. Baldy is the fact there are multiple routes to the summit. The Devil’s Backbone trail via the Mt. Baldy ski lodge is undoubtedly the most popular route. I’ve taken this path in the past, but prefer the lengthier and more diverse Mt. Baldy Trail which begins approximately ¼ mile from the Mt. Baldy Visitor Center in Bear Canyon.
Hiking Mt. Baldy is a right of passage for SoCal hikers and you’ll always find first timers as well as veterans ambling their way up its steep slopes. On my most recent outing, I was fortunate to come across a group of desert bighorn sheep. This was the first time I’d ever seen the desert bighorns and sighting them on a hike is analogous to seeing a whale while stand up paddling. I like to return to the mountain each year to commemorate my time in California and survey the region from on high as I think back on my adventures of the past and those which are yet to come.
There are a lot of options when choosing your outdoor gear and over the years I’ve developed a good sense for what I like. I’m a big fan of Merrell boots, so much so they are the only brand I’ve worn for the past 15 years. I selected a pair of Merrell’s Moab Ventilator Mid hiking boots. Designed for a dry climate, the Moab Ventilator Mids are able to be worn right out of the box. Your legs may get tired over a long hike, but rest assured, your feet will be comfortable in these boots from start to finish. Paired with the Ventilator Mids, I wore the Merrell Stapleton SE pants which are by far the most comfortable technical hiking pants I’ve ever worn. You could wear them out around town, but these pants are most at home in the outdoors.
Merrell also makes a great wicking technical t-shirt that is a fantastic initial layer. It is lightweight, designed with an athletic cut, and is infinitely superior to wearing a cotton shirt. I timed my last hike between winter storms and knew I could get by with just a lightweight wind jacket as my outer layer. On this occasion I chose to take the Merrell Capra Hybrid Wind Layer. The Capra Hybrid is an amazing, technical designed wind layer. It is easily packable, works exceedingly well at blocking out the wind, and has two well placed pockets to keep small items close to your body without bouncing around.
When it comes to paddling, stand up paddleboards and watercraft may change over time, but I always have a Quickblade Paddle between my fingertips.
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