Get your skates on
LOS ANGELES IS FAMOUS FOR HOLLYWOOD, SUNSHINE AND SURFING AND WILL HOST THE 2028 OLYMPICS. LISA HAYNES FINDS THE EXCITEMENT OVER THE SPORTING EVENT HAS SPARKED A NEW PASSION FOR FITNESS
CHAMPIONING toned torsos and paleo diets, Los Angeles is probably the globe’s trendiest fitness capital. There are organic juice bars on every street corner, joggers with butts so tight there’s zero jiggle, and celebrity personal trainers with the same kudos as Hollywood A-listers.
Now there’s a new wave of fitness taking hold in La La Land – the type that doesn’t even feel like you’re working out. Feel-good fitness is gripping the West Coast and there’s not a gym membership card in sight ...
Maybe it’s something to do with LA hosting the Olympics in 2028 – the third time since it first hosted in 1932 – but LA already feels, well, a whole lot sportier in preparation.
Activities and passions such as surfing, skateboarding and climbing have always been popular in LA, but now they have a new spotlight shining on them – they are three of five new sports announced by the International Olympic Committee that will debut at Tokyo 2020, along with baseball (yet another huge LA favourite) and karate.
This undercurrent of excitement hits me as I stand in the middle of Venice Beach’s famous, never-not-busy Skate Park that draws in tourist crowds. Graffiti is part of Venice Beach’s street art tapestry, but this skate park is immaculately clean with a daily maintenance operation to proudly keep it that way.
With skateboards whooshing and skidding past me (plus the occasional wipeout) on the ocean-front promenade, there’s a definite buzz in the air.
Like some sort of skateboard superhero, a guy called TJ is running circles around everybody, encouraged by his cheerleading father as he nails half pipes and kickflip tricks like it’s second nature. TJ is just 8½ years old, but has already been singled out by the Venice skateboarding community as a potential Olympics contender. “TJ’s training for the Olympics already?”
I ask our tour guide, Dan Levy from Juice Magazine, also a keen skateboarder.
“Dude!” he replies, “Everyone’s training for the Olympics right now.” I make a mental note to look out for TJ’s name in 10 years.
I notice the super-cool skateboarding collective whizzing past with ocean wind in their hair don’t look like they’re working out, but they all have insane calf muscles of steel.
My own leg muscles – along with my nerves – are put to the test as we try out another of the new-to-be Olympic sports for ourselves; surfing. We drive for half an hour along the Pacific Coast Highway over to surf mecca Malibu for a lesson with Aqua Surf School (aquasurf.com, lessons from $129/£92 for 90 minutes) on Surfrider Beach. Being a big fan of the ocean but a wimp when it comes to deep water, I’ve already decided to bow out and watch.
Our infectious instructors Allen King and Jackson Englund have other ideas and point-blank refuse to let me miss out.
“The waves are beyond mellow today, trust me,” Allen reassures, and then
jokingly tells me to “man up”. Having just returned from Hawaii where the waves were “gnarly” (yes, this surf language is alive and kicking), Allen explains that Malibu and Santa Monica are ideal for beginners, but the wilder winter months are better suited to intermediate level and upwards.
Still thinking about it, I tug on my full-length wetsuit, which takes so long I am fully committed by the time we lug our beginner longboards out to the ocean. These bigger boards are ideal for novice surfers because of their large, round noses, wide stability and longer length. Allen and Jackson’s pro boards seems impressively small in comparison.
After a group tutorial on the sand
– it’s all in the paddle action apparently – we take to the ocean. Expert wave spotters Allen and Jackson spy the crescent of a potential wave from what seems like a mile off and yell at us to “paddle, paddle, up, up, UP!” at the vital moments until we’ve clumsily transitioned to standing upright on our boards.
Going from a flat-on-tummy position, to yoga-like Cobra pose, to “pop-up” standing with bended knees (and spot-checked by Allen or Jackson), I grow more confident with each attempt until I am whooping my way to the sand, riding wave after wave.
“You’re a bit of a natural,” Allen tells me afterwards. The euphoric buzz of surfing for the first time, albeit on small(ish) waves, turns out to be one of my top five moments, ever. The day after, muscles in my upper arms, bum and legs ache as if I’ve done a three-hour aerobics class.
LOS Angeles’ varied landscape means that a trio offering of beach, mountain and desert are all within striking distance. Factor in virtually year-round LA sunshine – an average 284 days – and it makes for the dream outdoorsy sports playground.
Being an LA regular, I have been on gentle hikes at Runyon Canyon and Griffith Park countless times, but over in Malibu, we step up our climbing in a big way. We meet Roger Ramires of Rock N Rope Adventures( roc kn rope adventures. com, beach climb – $200/£142 per person for four hours) to scale the rocky promontory of Point Dume on Zuma Beach.
“Don’t worry, this is Point Dume, not doom,” Roger assures us as we listen intently to a group safety demonstration, and harness and hat fitting. We climb Point Dume one by one, with Roger holding us securely via a safety rope and being an incredible motivator-meets-rock guide below.
I’ve attempted indoor climbing before, but this feels way more real, more rugged, and a thousand times tougher. There are no man-made foot or arm boulders, just real-life rocks. And it often feels like my entire body weight is teetering on just a few centimetres.
Knowing the rock face inside out, any time I’m stuck for the next step or finger hold, Roger calmly guides me on where to go next, pushing me past my climb comfort zone until, before I know it, I’ve reached the very top of the rope at about 85 feet. I’m ecstatic. Going down, like a frog squatting, is the fun bit.
As an added reward for reaching the top (and if you have the guts to look out to the sea to your right), you might well spot humpback whales breaching in the Pacific from mid-December to March.
Yet again, the next day, my triceps and biceps are practically singing from the climb. But the exhilaration of the Malibu beach landscape and soundtrack of waves crashing means the rock climb never once felt like a workout.
I’ve always loved LA for its City of Stars vacation vibe, but now I’m a fully-signed up member of its outdoorsy sporting side, too. Roll on Olympics 2028 ... and fingers crossed for TJ the wonder-skater.
Sunshine and fun are virtually guaranteed in Los Angeles and these skateboarder are making use of of a glorious sunset to enjoy their leisure time at Venice Beach Skate Par. Far left: Surfing in Malibu is ideal for beginners