Coastal exploration on the Hala Playa
My favorite attribute of paddling the Hala Playa is the board’s versatility. The Playa is incredibly fun to surf in small to medium-sized waves. It also makes a great board for just getting out on the ocean and exploring. Importantly, because it is an inflatable, you can take it places no hard board could go. You can get off the beaten path and access what I like to think of as denied territory. That is to say, you can truly get out there and have an adventure.
The Hala Playa’s 10’11” length is short by touring board standards, but don’t let that stop you from putting in a little distance with the board. This past weekend I returned to Bluff Cove on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and hiked down the trail to the rocky beach below. On this occasion, however, instead of hanging out at the cove and surfing I set my sights on a popular destination down the coast. The scattered remains of the SS Dominator.
According to Wikipedia, the SS Dominator was a freighter that ran aground on Palos Verdes in 1961 due to a navigational error after it became lost in the fog while sailing from Vancouver to Los Angeles. Portions of the wreckage were salvaged, while significant sections were subsequently pushed against the rocks by the pounding waves and scattered along the shoreline. The ship’s history dates to WWII when it was initially launched as a Liberty Ship in March 1944 and named the Melville Jacoby after a prominent war correspondent who covered the early years of the conflict in the Pacific Theater before he was killed in a plane crash in 1942.
The wreckage of the SS Dominator is a common hiking destination in Palos Verdes. I had never visited the site and decided paddling there on the Hala Playa would be a great way to test the board’s suitability for a coastal adventure paddle. Launching and recovering from Bluff Cove would also still give me the opportunity to surf!
As I’ve written in my column, Inside the Lineup, Bluff Cove is one of my favorite local surf spots. The rugged, rock strewn cove, not to mention the entire peninsula, is also a perfect place to truly realize one of the benefits of having an inflatable SUP. Their durability.
Gear for the trip
I set out to hike down the trail to the cove with the Hala Playa conveniently rolled up and stored in its rolling travel bag / backpack. I typically wear a pair of Merrell sandals down to the cove. On this occasion, however, I planned to come ashore near the shipwreck and opted for my Merrell All Out Blaze Aero Sport shoes which are a fantastic ventilated hiking shoe designed for an aquatic environment. The closed toed shoes were essential gear for protecting my feet and allowing me to confidently wade into the water when launching/recovering my board.
I decided to wear my MTI Cascade PFD which is a super comfortable Type III foam PFD, instead of my regular MTI Fluid 2.0 inflatable beltpack, since I knew I’d be offshore on my own and paddling in and out through rough water along the rocky coast.
In addition to the aforementioned items, I wore a Merrell short sleeved tech tee. Although originally designed for hiking, I’ve found that Merrell’s range of tech tees are quick drying, super breathable and great for adventure style standup paddling. (Insider Tip: If you find a Merrell tech tee you really like, promptly order a couple more as the styles are continuously changing throughout the year.)
Last but certainly not least, I wore one of my trademark Shelta Hats. These hats are so good at protecting your head from the sun I no longer wear sunscreen on my ears and face while paddling.
Paddling out from Bluff Cove
After pumping up the board and storing the bag above the high water line in some scraggly underbrush I launched through the surf zone. Bluff Cove is a reef break and it is generally easy to safely launch off the rocky beach, as opposed to other sections of the coastline where the waves repeatedly crash with a violent force against the rocky shore.
I paddled out and around the waves without incident and made my way out of the cove. Beyond the cove, the waters within 100+ yards of shore are consumed by a bed of giant kelp. The aquatic forest is every bit as impressive as its terrestrial counterparts and teeming with sea life. For all its beauty, a dense and healthy kelp bed is extremely difficult to paddle through. I slogged along just outside the breaking waves for a while before heading further offshore to find a more easily navigable path.
I was able to achieve a faster speed on the fringe of the kelp bed and it wasn’t long before I could see the wreckage of the SS Dominator on the rocky beach. I then made my way back through the kelp towards shore to scout out a landing spot.
At the northern tip of Palos Verdes: The SS Dominator
The shoreline is comprised entirely of rocks, both mini boulder sized and outcroppings of solid rock. Complicating matters somewhat is also the fact that there are several underwater rock formations which at various times may be exposed depending on the tide. As I was paddling back and forth approximately 20 yards off the beach one such rock pile suddenly revealed itself as the ocean sucked water out to sea. I narrowly missed ramming it and made a mental note of its location as I continued to scout out a safe landing location.
I spotted a section where a collection of rocks jutting out to sea formed a small, temporary respite from the rhythmic pounding of the waves. I inched closer and then quickly made my move by following the back of a wave in. As water rushed over the rocks my board hit the rocks like a Marine amphibious assault. You can’t do that with a hard board I thought as I hopped off and secured the Playa above the waterline.
I came ashore about 40 yards east of the SS Dominator. There is a narrow path of sorts running along the back of the beach. I picked up the trail and made my way down to the scattered remains of the ship. It was a Saturday and a few hikers were already exploring the site.
I spent about 20 minutes ashore before timing my launch through the oncoming waves and made my way back out beyond the kelp bed for the journey back to Bluff Cove. As it often does as the day goes on, the wind had picked up providing a tailwind to push me along. Two guys from my outrigger club were practicing surfing their OC-1s at the cove. I recognized each of them from a distance by the make and colors of their canoes and waved hello.
I caught a wave in, deflated the board, rolled it back up and hiked up the trail. My first coastal exploration on the Hala Playa complete.