Costa RicaCosta Rica

What's SUP?

Destination: Jaco

The first time I saw someone stand up paddle boarding the sport struck me as pretty dorky. To be fair, the participant was wearing a hideous bicycle helmet, which no doubt affected my first impression. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by this distinctive cross between surfing and kayaking, and couldn't take my eyes off the board. I was determined to give it a try.

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Nearly one year later, I found an opportunity to quell my curiosity with Del Mar Extreme. My guide, Giannina, picked me up from the hotel at 7:00 a.m. I weakly protested the early hour, but to no avail. Stand up paddle boarding, also known as SUP, is best done when waters are glassy and winds are calm. In the Jaco area, this means first thing in the morning.

After swimming through Playa Herradura's small waves, I stood up on the board. At first it felt wobbly, as if I could slip at any moment like a cartoon character on a banana peel. I found maintaining my equilibrium SUP boarding to be easier than skateboarding, but more difficult than surfing.

Quickly adjusting to the new sensation, I assumed a standing position. Every two strokes I switched my oar to the other side of the board to keep from turning. Originally anticipating that stand up paddle boarding would aggravate my preexisting back pain, I was pleasantly surprised to find it had the opposite effect. "If you really want a workout, try doing semi-squats as you row," Giannina advised. "That is how the girls at our fitness boot camp do it." This advanced method gave my legs a phenomenal workout.

It took us 30-40 minutes to paddle a half a mile out to the island, where the views were breathtaking. Gazing downward I noticed the water was crystal clear all the way to the bottom, allowing a view of the sand and fish below.

As we approached the island's tiny beach, I had the sudden urge to practice yoga right there in the middle of the ocean. So did Giannina. Passing the camera back and forth, we attempted headstands, tree poses and other funky positions that require serious stability and balance. Watching each other crash and fail miserably put us in hysterics -- rarely have I fallen so often or laughed so hard.

Fifteen minutes passed, and we suddenly found ourselves drifting toward rocks. "If you are going to fall, make sure you fall with your butt and not with your feet," Giannina reminded me. Before those words were out of her mouth, a wave swept me on a direct collision course with a boulder. I instinctively hit the deck (or in this case, the board), with adrenaline coursing through my veins. Lying on my stomach, I was able to backpedal just in the nick of time. Crisis averted.

Giannina either failed to notice or completely ignored the look of incredulity that washed over my face as she directed me around the island's rocky perimeter. Following her expert cues, I made it to shore without a scratch. On the beach we combed for seashells and chatted. The journey's tranquility leant a general sense of camaraderie, and we found ourselves sharing personal stories and anecdotes (despite having known one another less than two hours).

Our return trip to Herradura Bay was fairly uneventful. The repetitive motion on the open sea melted all tension from my body, which was therapeutic for both my muscles and stress levels. Paddling back, my sunglasses fell off my head and into a deep part of the ocean. Just like a mermaid, Giannina dove into the abyss and magically emerged with my eyewear. As a diver, I was impressed -- there was no way I could have held my breath for that long, or opened my eyes in the saltwater without goggles. "I used to be on the swim team," she explained with a smile.

We surfed the very last wave all the way to the dry sand, and Giannina drove me back to Jaco. I showered and enjoyed a midday nap in the air conditioning at Hotel Poseidon.

Later that evening I returned to Herradura to watch the sunset from Villa Caletas' picturesque amphitheater, an enclave that features a stunning panorama over the ocean. Just as the sun dipped below the horizon, the crowd of spectators began clapping their hands. To me, applauding inanimate objects like the sun is bizarre -- akin to clapping at a movie theater screen.

Just when I thought everyone had lost their minds, I realized the ruckus was for a young couple that had just gotten engaged. "She said yes!" shouted the man who proposed. He uncorked a bottle of champagne in celebration, and the lovebirds smiled at the slew of congratulations passed their way.

What's SUP? in Pictures

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