The In­ter­na­tional Fight to be SUP’S Top City

SUP Magazine - - Contents - — WT

Where is the best place to live and be a standup pad­dler? That sim­ple, eter­nal ques­tion drove the lat­est it­er­a­tion of SUP Mag­a­zine’s Pad­dle Town Pad­dle. This year, we broad­ened the query to its log­i­cal limit: Where do the most pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties meet the best SUP life­style po­ten­tial? Nat­u­rally, we had to ex­pand our scope be­yond North Amer­ica to the top cities across the globe. Our se­lec­tion cri­te­ria was sim­ple: Ur­ban hubs where you can max­i­mize days on the water, and en­joy dif­fer­ent types of pad­dling ad­ven­tures within a day’s drive. Nar­row­ing down a nom­i­nee list to de­ter­mine win­ners, how­ever, was any­thing but. How do you de­fine best? How do you judge cul­ture? How much does com­mu­nity count for? Pas­sion?

So, we handed the reigns to our read­ers to de­cide. After thou­sands of votes cast on so­cial me­dia, with count­less com­ments hurled (some pro­fan­ity-laced), in the end, the fol­low­ing Elite Eight locales sur­passed all oth­ers as the world’s best cities to live and pad­dle now.

While sun-drenched San Diego al­ready sits atop Amer­ica’s list of most pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tions, now it can of­fi­cially claim the ti­tle as the hottest pad­dle town on the planet. Of course, that won’t come as a sur­prise to those lo­cals for­tu­nate enough to call San Diego home.

Whether you are into SUP surf­ing, tour­ing, rac­ing or even down-wind­ing, “Amer­ica’s Finest City,” will keep you stoked and on the water year-round, with nearly per­fect weather and end­less pad­dling op­tions.

No mat­ter your skill level, San Diego County is a SUP-surf fan­tasy land. The coast­line’s dot­ted with count­less breaks from the Mex­i­can bor­der to San Onofre. While many lo­cal pad­dlers pre­fer the clas­sic Sup-friendly waves at pop­u­lar spots like Cardiff and Tour­ma­line, those with a sense of ad­ven­ture will be re­warded with re­mote stretches of coast­line that re­veal shift­ing sand bars, rocky reefs and un-crowded point breaks shaded by mag­nif­i­cent sand­stone cliffs.

If tour­ing is more your speed, San Diego has two mas­sive bays and miles of beau­ti­ful coast­line that are per­fect for ca­sual cruis­ing. Mis­sion Bay af­fords op­pos­ing views of keep-dream­ing real es­tate to marine wildlife in wind-pro­tected coves per­fect for windy af­ter­noons. Thirsty? Pad­dle right up to the dock at Bare­foot Bar, a dif­fer­ent type of wa­ter­side wa­ter­ing hole. Mean­while, San Diego Bay of­fers sweep­ing views of the city’s sleek down­town sky­line, mega-yachts, huge Naval ships and the Coron­ado Bay Bridge.

For na­ture im­mer­sion, La Jolla Cove is a must. Against the back­drop of mag­nif­i­cent cliffs, pad­dlers can peer down into the crys­tal-clear water filled with bright-or­ange garibaldi (Cal­i­for­nia’s state fish), bat rays, leop­ard sharks, seals and dol­phins.

Of course, it takes more than pris­tine pad­dling op­tions to jus­tify a ‘world-class’ la­bel. Peo­ple mat­ter. And San Diego has wel­com­ing and pas­sion­ate pad­dlers in spades, with pad­dling groups gath­er­ing reg­u­larly through­out the county. Don’t let the surf line­ups fool you; S.D.’S pad­dlers won’t bite. They’re happy to strike up con­ver­sa­tions on or offff the water.

Events are the eas­i­est way to make those con­nec­tions, and the area boasts two of the big­gest in the sport. The Hanohano Huki Ocean Chal­lenge at­tracts hun­dreds of pad­dlers to com­pete in Mis­sion Bay each Jan­uary, while the big­gest event in SUP, the Pa­cific Pad­dle Games, takes place each fall at Do­heny State Beach, lo­cated only an hour north of down­town. The county is also home to some in­dus­try big-hit­ters, in­clud­ing Board­works, King’s, Surftech, Tower, ISLE, the list goes on.

If you’re still feel­ing crowded and can’t yet see the up­side of one of the largest, thriv­ing com­mu­ni­ties of pad­dlers on earth, then con­sider its im­me­di­ate prox­im­ity to the empty es­cape of Baja Cal­i­for­nia.

Let’s ad­dress this first: It rains a lot in Port­land. But what lo­cals are less apt to ad­mit is that sum­mer and fall in the Rose City are ridicu­lously beau­ti­ful. And with at least 13 renowned places to launch within 20 miles of down­town, it’s an ur­ban pad­dling par­adise—and that’s not to men­tion the count­less op­tions for day-trips.

Port­land pad­dling be­gins with the Wil­lamette River, which runs right through the heart of town. Check out Gorge Per­for­mance for rentals, les­sons, re­pairs and in­side info, walk­ing dis­tance from the river (they even rent dol­lies so you can roll your board).

Put in at Wil­lamette Park and take a spin around Ross Is­land with house­boats, per­sonal wa­ter­craft and kayaks all tak­ing in views of down­town. If you’re feel­ing feisty you can even keep go­ing down­river and head un­der Port­land’s fa­mous bridges. This stretch of river is also the site of the Rose City SUP Clas­sic in early Septem­ber. Many more stel­lar launch sites lie up­river, where pad­dlers gather for the spring’s Wil­lamette SUP Cup at Ge­orge Rogers State Park. Head­ing slightly farther afield only yields more pad­dling ad­ven­tures on the Columbia, Clacka­mas and Tualatin rivers. Down­wind, white­wa­ter, scenic tour­ing: Take your pick.

You can’t talk Port­land-re­gional pad­dling with­out men­tion­ing Hood River and the Columbia River Gorge, only an hour drive from down­town. Home to one of SUP’S ma­jor na­tional races, the Gorge Pad­dle Chal­lenge, this wind fun­nel of a town has some of the best down­wind pad­dling on Earth. Check out Big Winds in Hood River for rentals and beta on how to get the best bumps of your life.

Did we men­tion that the raw might of the Paci­fific is only an hour-and-a-half from west of the city? Great surf, forests plung­ing to the sea and his­toric sea­side towns stack a life­time worth of ex­plo­ration onto the case for Port­land . — WT

You won’t find a more his­toric pad­dling town than Honolulu. Duke Ka­hanamoku, the fa­ther of mod­ern surf­ing, the beach boy life­style and, some would say, SUP it­self, called this place home. That’s some se­ri­ous street cred.

First pop­u­lated by ca­noe-sail­ing Poly­ne­sians, surf­ing and pad­dling has long been part of Honolulu’s lifeblood. Cen­turies later, there’s good rea­son it’s still present to­day: There’s some­thing for ev­ery pad­dler. It helps that the city is lit­er­ally on the beach. Trav­el­ers from around the world min­gle with lo­cals, renting boards for a fi­first surf ses­sion or SUP pad­dle, get­ting sun­burnt or just splash­ing around. But, off­shore is where the real goods are: miles of reefs cre­ate some of the most iconic surf in the world. There are soft waves and steep waves, fun waves and se­ri­ous waves, lo­cal waves and tourist waves.

If you’re not into the surf, you can find sanc­tu­ary with SUP en­thu­si­asts of all stripes en­joy­ing the di­vided water lanes at Ala Moana Beach Park: first-timers, in­ter­val-train­ing pros and ev­ery­thing in be­tween.

When the trades kick in, a world-fa­mous down­wind run starts in Hawaii Kai and shoots 7.5-miles to Kaimana Beach on the lee­ward side of Di­a­mond Head. Hawaii Kai is also where the most fa­mous open-ocean race in the world, Molokai 2 Oahu, ends.

And that’s just the stuffff around town. The North Shore of Oahu, only an hour away from the heart of Honolulu, is the most fa­mous stretch of surf in the world. The west side is rugged, dry and beau­ti­ful. The east, wind­ward side of the is­land is lush, beau­ti­ful and home to fan­tas­tic beaches for boat­ing, snor­kel­ing, fish­ing and, of course, pad­dling.

Honolulu is standup pad­dling’s mecca: Ev­ery pad­dler needs to visit at least once.

Known for sports teams that can’t clinch cham­pi­onships, Toronto might want to re­brand it­self as an un­der­dog SUP par­adise. The con­ti­nent’s fourth largest city boasts an 85-mile Lake On­tario shore­line that’s al­most all pub­lic park. Launch any­where for down­winders or tours of the Scar­bor­ough Bluffs’ nine miles of wild shore­line cliffs. Ex­plore Tommy Thomp­son Park—a three-mile spit jut­ting into the lake that’s home to more cor­morants and coy­otes than hu­mans. From the Har­bourfront Ca­noe & Kayak Cen­tre, which serves 12,000 pad­dlers a year smack at the base of the city’s land­mark CN Tower, it’s short strokes to the Toronto Is­lands, an 800-acre ar­chi­pel­ago where you can skinny-dip at Han­lan’s Point Beach (of­fi­cially cloth­ing op­tional), tuck into placid la­goons or pad­dle the out­side to lose sight of the city’s stun­ning down­town sky­line. At KewBalmy Beach, sign up for SUP yoga, a surf class or sun­rise pad­dle with the SUP Girlz—toronto’s old­est SUP school.

Did we men­tion surf? The rapid 10-year growth of Mike San­dusky’s rec­om­mended Surf On­tario shop, from sub­ur­ban garage into its bur­geon­ing in­dus­trial space, high­lights the un­likely Toronto trans­for­ma­tion into an avid surf town. “All along the lakeshore there are shelves that kick up pretty good shore­break when the con­di­tions are right. It’s not un­com­mon to surf clean, waist- to head-high waves,” says Larry Cain, Olympic sprint-ca­noe cham­pion turned world-class SUP racer and coach who trains out of nearby Oakville—and who of­ten lines up for the city’s mar­quee race events like the an­nual Mam­moth Marathon around the Toronto Is­lands, as well as the Ni­a­gara2­toronto, a 32-miler across Lake On­tario in­spired by Molokai 2 Oahu. When Cana­dian win­ter winds push denser air to stoke ocean-like con­di­tions, that doesn’t stop the hard­core lo­cals. “Some of the best pad­dling of the year hap­pens when there’s snow on the ground,” says Cain. “I can’t think of a bet­ter place to pad­dle in the north­east.”

While the gov­ern­ment grinds in­side Wash­ing­ton, D.C., work life comes se­condary to what flows within and just out­side the Belt­way: count­less standup pad­dling op­tions that don’t jibe with sim­ple as­so­ci­a­tions about “the swamp.”

The U.S. cap­i­tal is nes­tled be­tween two ma­jor rivers— the Po­tomac and Ana­cos­tia—in ad­di­tion to an ar­ray of smaller lakes, rivers and bay trib­u­taries. Put in at the Capi­tol River­front to pad­dle north­east along the Ana­cos­tia River, a scenic route that takes you past the his­toric Navy Yard, King­man Is­land and through the na­tional ar­bore­tum.

The Po­tomac pro­vides pad­dlers a chance to ei­ther es­cape the head-turn­ing news cy­cle with miles of lush shore­line, or just play tourist apart from the crowds—most no­tably by duck­ing into Tidal Basin for a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive of the world-fa­mous cherry blos­soms, Jef­fer­son Me­mo­rial and Na­tional Mall. North of the Mall, An­gler’s Inn River Ac­cess of­fers an easy launch for the C&O Canal, which runs par­al­lel to the Po­tomac and of­fers a narrower, more scenic pad­dling ex­pe­ri­ence. For more ad­vanced pad­dlers, the Po­tomac also of­fers white­wa­ter and surf­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties be­low Great Falls. “There’s a wave there that’s off the charts, as well as a pretty strong river SUP scene,” says long­time lo­cal SUP surfer and pho­tog­ra­pher Skip Brown. “You can stay on it for hours.”

For those with the race bug, early June’s Bay Bridge Pad­dle in An­napo­lis hosts close to 400 par­tic­i­pants. “Next to the Carolina Cup, it’s the big­gest SUP race on the East Coast,” says Chris Nor­man of Cap­i­tal SUP, a shop that’s grown into D.C.’S go-to for SUP gear, les­sons and tours, serv­ing over 8,000 pad­dlers a sea­son (check out more on Cap­i­tal SUP on p. 43). — JH

Blessed with count­less beach­fronts to launch a board, Tampa’s es­tu­ar­ies, slow-mov­ing rivers, lakes and more—in­clud­ing 165 parks and beaches cov­er­ing 2,286 acres within city lim­its, and 42 more in sur­round­ing sub­urbs cov­er­ing 70,000 acres—make this Gulf city a haven for standup pad­dle­boards. Those SUP fa­nat­ics want­ing a pic­turesque flat­wa­ter ex­pe­ri­ence will be hard-pressed to find a bet­ter place to dig their pad­dle.

The Tampa Bay Area is rich with lazy rivers in­clud­ing the Lit­tle Mana­tee, Myakka, With­la­coochee and the easy-to-spell Chas­sa­how­itzka, or as the lo­cals call it, the “Chaz.” Each of these water trails offf­fer warm water temps year-round with a high chance of marine wildlife en­coun- ters—in­clud­ing al­li­ga­tors on the Myakka and a guide­book’s worth of birds on the With­la­coochee. Mean­while, the 3,000-acre wildlife refuge Wee­don Is­land Pre­serve of­fers a four-mile pad­dling trail that in­cludes scenic man­groves and sea­grass beds ( just make sure the tide is high enough to pad­dle the en­tire trail). But it’s not all man­groves and man­a­tees, those look­ing for an ur­ban pad­dling ex­pe­ri­ence can em­brace pad­dling past the shim­mer­ing lights of down­town Tampa.

With so many beau­ti­ful pad­dling lo­ca­tions, it’s no sur­prise that the area fea­tures a ded­i­cated and tight-knit SUP com­mu­nity. “The SUP vibe here is amaz­ing,” says Good Vibes SUP owner Yen Loyola. “In the past it’s been pretty scat­tered, but ev­ery­one is com­ing to­gether more and more now. You see pad­dlers out all the time.”

Both the In­vic­tus Pad­dling Club and Tampa Bay Pad­dling Club offf­fer lo­cals an op­por­tu­nity for group pad­dle out­ings and so­cial gath­er­ings while the area’s big­gest gath­er­ing of pad­dlers takes place at the an­nual Shark Bite Chal­lenge and Pad­dle­fest, which at­tracts more than 500 pad­dlers to Hon­ey­moon Is­land State Park in nearby Dunedin, Florida, each April. Mean­while, Ur­ban Kai and WHATSUP Pad­dle­sports high­light the many out­fit­ters and SUP shops pop­ping up in the city that lo­cal news­pa­per­man Steve Otto deemed The Big Guava.

Take one look at New Zealand’s largest city on a map and it’s no sur­prise that Auck­land and SUP are a per­fect match. Large bays and in­lets sprawl through the city that is sand­wiched be­tween the Tas­man Sea to the east and the Hau­raki Gulf to the west. For pad­dlers that like to mix it up, Auck­land pro­vides the op­por­tu­ni­ties to get on the water in count­less ways.

For flat­wa­ter fans, no spot is more iconic or pop­u­lar than Taka­puna Beach. It faces the beau­ti­ful vol­canic is­land of Ran­gi­toto, which dou­bles as a block­ade from South Pa­cific swells. Be­gin­ner pad­dlers can go easy in the shel­tered and shal­low wa­ters of Point Che­va­lier, while both Mis­sion Bay to the south and Cas­tor Bay to the north are both pop­u­lar among the pad­dling faith­ful.

Pad­dlers look­ing for a lit­tle more ex­cite­ment only need to wait for the wind to rise, which it of­ten does. That’s why Auck­land will be host­ing the Amer­ica’s Cup sail­ing com­pe­ti­tion for the third time in 2021. Down­wind pad­dling has ex­ploded in New Zealand and de­pend­ing on the wind di­rec­tion, the Hau­raki Gulf of­fers sev­eral difff­fer­ent runs fre­quented by pad­dlers, most of which end in the Mis­sion Bay area. Main­land runs in­clude a trek south from Mur­ray’s Bay, a run north from Beach­lands and a run back to the main­land from Wai­heke Is­land’s Hu­ruhi Bay. While New Zealand is world-fa­mous for its waves, Auck­land is pro­tected from swell by the is­lands. The clos­est Sup-friendly wave is at Orewa, which is only a half-hour drive north from Auck­land. Mean­while, a 40-minute drive to the west coast will put you at the shifty sand bars of Muri­wai, and within an hour, there are al­most too many op­tions to choose from.

With a friendly pop­u­la­tion, end­less water and myr­iad land­scapes to ex­plore nearby, the City of Sails is enough to make any pad­dler swoon.

We’re not go­ing to lie. When we ran the in­au­gu­ral Pad­dle Town Bat­tle in 2014, Puerto Rico sur­prised us. The small U.S. is­land ter­ri­tory with a pop­u­la­tion of 3.4 mil­lion banded to­gether, voted hard and sent Rincón to the num­ber one spot. It was a ma­jor up­set, but only be­cause of who they were up against. This year, Puerto Ri­cans—re­cov­er­ing from the dev­as­ta­tion of Hur­ri­cane Maria in late 2017 (check out the fea­ture on p. 54)—did it again, send­ing their his­toric cap­i­tal city, San Juan, to num­ber eight.

If you’ve been to Puerto Rico, you get it. The laid-back vibe, the sway­ing palm trees and the Latin flair au­to­mat­i­cally set you at ease. San Juan is the cen­ter­piece. It’s a place where old meets new, Amer­ica meets the trop­ics and the water meets the city. Con­dado La­goon is a per­fect place to start an aquatic city tour, pad­dling by beach­front parks, watch­ing lo­cals and tourists bar­beque on the beach, just en­joy­ing the sun­shine.

But the real bang for your buck is when you leave the la­goon. Head out into the At­lantic and take a tour past La Perla, Old San Juan and the Felipe del Morro, the old Span­ish fort that was once used to pro­tect the mouth of San Juan Bay. Then loop around the rest of San Juan Is­land for an eight-mile trip (be sure to check the fore­cast—the weather here can change quickly).

The whole north coast of Puerto Rico is fully ex­posed to swell, which makes it one of the most con­sis­tent wave zones in the At­lantic. Wave-rid­ing cul­ture here is rich and there’s a hot­bed of lo­cal tal­ent out push­ing the lim­its of standup pad­dling through­out the re­gion.

For those that like a slower pace, head for the is­land’s north­west coast for ex­cel­lent surf and a slice of is­land life. Rincón, home to the Beach Boy, Puerto Rico’s big­gest SUP race, also has some ex­cel­lent waves and great cul­ture.

We could go on: La Playuela and Los Mo­ril­los Light­house in the south­west cor­ner of the is­land make for a stun­ning af­ter­noon of tour­ing. Or you could night pad­dle in a bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cent bay at La­guna Grande, lo­cated on the very north­east tip of the is­land.

What­ever your fla­vor, what­ever your speed, Puerto Rico has what you need. Don’t think, just go.

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