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The Zen of paddling

What exactly is standup paddling?



GET OFF YOUR BELLY :  Mark Hudgens (pictured right) recently opened Central Coast Standup Paddling to teach people like New Times Office Manager Tanya Gallardo (center) and News Editor/goober Colin Rigley the art of paddle boarding. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • GET OFF YOUR BELLY : Mark Hudgens (pictured right) recently opened Central Coast Standup Paddling to teach people like New Times Office Manager Tanya Gallardo (center) and News Editor/goober Colin Rigley the art of paddle boarding.
“It’s like walking on water,” he said as his board skimmed over the surface.

A little earlier, after a brief lesson, Hudgens helped myself and New Times Office Manager Tanya Gallardo scoot our thick foam paddle boards into the water off Coleman Beach just east of Morro Rock. Despite winter swells crashing over the rocks at the edge of the bay, sending thick foam high into the air, the bay was calm and quiet—with the exception of a distant boat horn or the guttural bellowing of a sea lion.

Hudgens was comfortably dressed in a pair of board shorts and a loose-fitting swim shirt. Gallardo wore a T-shirt and pair of tights. I, thinking it was October and that we were going to Morro Bay, donned a full-body wetsuit. No sooner than I was wearing the thing did I realize wetsuits are best when you plan to get wet. In paddle boarding, it turns out, you don’t get that wet, but you do look like an ass when wearing a wetsuit.

Luckily, I did fall. Twice, actually, while attempting to hop onto the board in just knee-high water.

“Don’t look at your feet,” Hudgens told me. “Look straight ahead.”

So I did, and stood up, and felt like an idiot for having trouble in the first place. Or maybe it was just the leave-nothing-to-the-imagination wetsuit.

Hudgens, a 42-year-old kayaker/white-water rafter/surfer/paddle boarder, is a mellow guy with a slow, steady cadence to his voice. I’m not sure what the stereotypical paddle boarder would sound like, but I’m pretty sure he sounds that way.

“For the most part, people just wanna go try it,” he said. “If you fall, you just get back on the board.”

We paddled south in the bay, passing seals and sea lions, an otter floating on its back in a display of unabashed cuteness, and a boatful of pissed-off pelicans that seemed to stare us down as we passed.

“People try it and typically get hooked,” he said.

Hudgens and his wife, Haley Green, opened Central Coast Standup Paddling in August, with a grand opening in September. But wait. Stop. What is paddle boarding?

Not quite kayaking, not quite surfing, the relatively new sport—at least in terms of pop-culture awareness—puts stalwart active-types on a thick, foam-core board stable enough to stand on without the aid of a wave (though the more advanced can do so). Then, you just paddle. You’ve probably seen them out in the calm bay, or just beyond large schools of surfers past the break—those people slowly pulling themselves across the water or effortlessly catching the occasional wave.

“It’s pretty iconic,” Hudgens said.

Surprisingly, considering the economy and the relative obscurity of paddle boarding, Hudgens is doing pretty well.

“So far, it’s paying for itself, and I’m able to grow slowly each month,” he said.

Central Coast Standup shares its location with Kayak and More at 257 Morro Bay Blvd. in Morro Bay.

“It’s great,” Hudgens said. “We split the rent and support each other.”

Hudgens got his feet wet first as a white-water rafter. He lost 18 friends over the years to the sport, he said, three of whom he was with when they died. He’s fallen out of boats and been knocked unconscious.

“Rivers were kind of old, and I was a little burned out on it,” he said.

Already a surfer and avid kayaker, he saw his first paddle boarder in Hawaii: “And it was pretty goofy, I have to admit.”

But along with more traditional surfing, he got into the standup variety, too.

A contractor and carpenter by trade, Hudgens hopes to expand the business, and, maybe in 20 years or so, travel with his family to Costa Rica or, well, anywhere the water’s clear.

For now, he’s still offering lessons, rentals, and equipment for purchase. Just think twice about your wardrobe. For more information about Central Coast Standup Paddling, including pricing, visit, call 395-0410, or e-mail [email protected].

Fast facts

Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in Arroyo Grande is celebrating its five-year anniversary in November. After a brief maintenance-related closure, the store is set to reopen on Nov. 5. In celebration, Doc Burnstein’s is offering a limited commemorative T-shirt listing the top 25 audience-created flavors. …

United Cerebral Palsy of SLO County is hosting an inaugural Walk and Roll Fundraiser on Nov. 13 with music, lunch, and family fun at Laguna Lake Park in SLO from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ∆

News Editor Colin Rigley is too sexy for his wetsuit. He can be reached at [email protected].

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