Get your skates on


Sunday Herald Life - - Travel Feature -

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 (aqua­, 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.

Pho­to­graph: PA

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

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