Surfing the Hala Playa at the mecca of SUP
Surfing is a great full body exercise. You work your legs and back as in a traditional paddling session. You also benefit from some cardio during the intense bursts of speed when you paddle to catch a wave. Let’s not forget there is typically a bit of effort exerted paddling back out, popping up and over oncoming waves and whitewash. All in all, it is a good way to loosen up the body and get your muscles energized. Could surfing be a good pre-race warmup prior to an outrigger race?
Two weeks ago my outrigger canoe club had a 9-man race in Dana Point, California. It was our first 9-man race of the season and I was excited. For the uninitiated, a 9-man outrigger canoe race involves paddling a 6-man outrigger canoe along with an escort boat carrying three additional paddlers. The paddlers on the escort boat periodically swap out with paddlers in the canoe. The fun, or tricky part depending on your perspective, is this process is done without stopping the canoe.
A designated change coach on the escort boat will shout out the change. The escort boat then surges ahead and crosses in front of the canoe and drops off 1-3 paddlers in the water. The canoe continues forward and the incoming paddlers climbers climb in on the left as the outgoing paddlers exit the canoe on the right, leaving their paddle in the canoe for the incoming teammate. When I first got involved with paddling outrigger canoes a few years ago I thought 9-man racing was what outrigger canoeing was all about after watching a video produced by Quickblade Paddles during the annual US Championship Race across the Catalina Channel.
The official event site was set up in the grassy area at the north end of Doheny State Beach, while the canoes would be loaded and unloaded in the nearby harbor. As many readers know, Doheny State Beach is practically hallowed ground for standup paddling. SUP racing’s first major international competition, The Battle of the Paddle, took place at Doheny State Beach. Numerous local and regional paddling events are held there throughout the year, The Paddle Academy regularly trains there, and it is a popular SUP surfing locale. Consistent waves, ample parking and good amenities make the park a popular destination for locals and visitors.
What better place to test the Hala Playa in the surf, I thought.
My friend Brandon, a fellow Lanakila paddler, and I made plans to ride down together for the race. The men’s race was not scheduled to begin until 12:30. This would provide ample time to surf in the morning and Brandon offered to bring his camera along and we could trade-off surfing and shooting photos of one another for an hour or so in the morning.
Brandon brought a long board, while I rolled in (literally) with my Hala Playa. I’ve previously written about the virtues of Hala Gear’s board bags. The compact rectangle design is super easy to transport in your vehicle. And when visiting a developed park such as Doheny, you can quickly roll it along the paved path to the beach without even breaking out the comfortable, padded backpack straps.
Inflating the board always draws attention as people tend to assume it is more difficult than it actually is. Around five minutes is all it takes. Even less if you’re using the electric pump (included) to push in an initial 2-3 PSI.
Due to its popularity, the surf zone at Doheny is divided into two sections. The sections are demarcated by a crumbling breakwall known as the “Hammer”. Paddle surfers must remain south of the Hammer. Prone surfers largely stay north, but are allowed to surf the entire beach.
The waves were predominantly in the 3-4 ft range that morning, but as most visitors to Doheny know, this can be punctuated by an occasional larger set rolling through. When the larger sets materialize it invariably sends everyone scrambling to either catch “the wave of the day” or avoid being caught inside.
The Hala Playa is quite simply a lot of fun to surf on small to medium days. The 10’11” x 30” dimensions offer excellent stability and enhanced wave catching ability over shorter boards. The Playa’s rails are 4.75” thick and sufficient to carve a bottom turn. This is especially true when stepping back on the kickpad to engage the fins in the thruster set up on the board’s tail.
The nose of the Playa features a generous amount of rocker, but don’t be lured into a false sense of security by thinking the nose will not pearl. I took a late drop when paddling for one wave that morning and was quickly ejected as the 4.75 inch thick nose of my inflatable SUP went under and I was flung over.
The defining trait which distinguishes the Hala Playa as a true surfer is its ability to carve turns on the wave. The board is not professing to be one thing when it is actually another. The Hala Playa is a true inflatable SUP which can be surfed and not just ridden straight to shore. And it is a lot of fun!
Surfing proved to be a great warm up prior to my outrigger race and the schedule allowed for plenty of time to relax after our session. I think I may have found a new element to incorporate into my pre-race routine!