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Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) in Santa Cruz: A Complete Guide

Last Updated on January 12, 2024 by Jess Grigsby

In This Article

stand up paddleboarding in santa cruz, california

Want to spend a fun, active day on the water? Then it’s time to try stand up paddleboarding in Santa Cruz!

Exciting, challenging, and interactive, stand up paddleboarding is quickly becoming one of the most popular water sports out there.

Here at Kayak Connection, we love introducing people to this exciting sport. Our shop provides stand up paddleboard rentals in Santa Cruz to help visitors and locals hit the water. 

This blog breaks down everything you need to know about stand up paddleboarding in Santa Cruz, California from what gear to rent to how to plan your first outing. 

Why Try Stand Up Paddleboarding in Santa Cruz?

With so many other water sports out there, why try stand up paddleboarding?

Here are a few good reasons:

1. It’s fun

Stand up paddleboarding is a fun activity! It’s a great way to experience the water, explore new landscapes, get some sun, and enjoy an active day outdoors. 

2. It’s accessible 

Stand up paddle boarding is an excellent sport for people of virtually all ages and abilities.

Unlike surfing, it’s low impact, which makes it ideal for kids and adults alike. 

3. It’s a workout

While stand up paddleboarding may seem relaxing (and it is), it’s also a great workout that’s good for your health.

Standing and balancing on the board works the stabilizing muscles in your core, while paddling works muscles in the back and shoulders.

4. It’s easy to do as a group

group paddleboarding santa cruz

Want to get out on the water with friends, family, or co-workers? Stand up paddleboarding is a great way to experience nature with the people you love the most.

Here at Kayak Connection, our team of paddleboard experts can help you and your group rent all the paddleboarding gear you need to enjoy a fun trip on the Santa Cruz waters. 

5. It’s a great way to enjoy nature

Paddleboards are silent, non-motorized, and unobtrusive to the natural landscape, so they’re a great way to see wildlife like sea otters, birds, and more.

Being on a paddleboard is also an excellent way to enjoy stunning, unimpeded views of Santa Cruz and the coastline. 

6. You’ll enjoy more visibility

When you kayak, you’re sitting at water level. When you paddleboard, though, you’re standing up on the board, way above water level.

This provides a stunning view of underwater wildlife, kelp beds, and more. Our guests have seen rays, dolphins, schools of fish, seals, and sea lions cruising under their boards!

What Can I See When Paddling in Santa Cruz?

what to see when paddleboarding in santa cruz, ca

We mentioned that stand up paddle boarding is a great way to see wildlife, but what exactly will you encounter out there?

Here are a few of the most likely sights in the Santa Cruz Harbor:

  • Kelp beds
  • Sea lions
  • Harbor seals
  • Sea otters
  • Sea birds
  • Crabs
  • Dolphins
  • Humpback whales
  • Lion’s mane jellyfish
  • And more

What you see depends on the season and time you go paddleboarding and where you are in the Harbor.

Is there a specific type of wildlife you want to see? Talk to our guides! They’ll be able to recommend ideal locations and provide tips to help you see as much wildlife as possible. 

What are the Best Places to Paddleboard in Santa Cruz?

If you want to enjoy the perfect paddleboard trip, you’ve got to choose the correct location.

Here are a few of our favorites in the Santa Cruz area:

1. Santa Cruz Harbor

The best place to paddleboard in Santa Cruz is the Harbor.

In addition to being sheltered and protected (which means fewer waves to challenge your balance), the Harbor is filled with wildlife and stunning views, making it an excellent destination for beginners and experienced kayakers alike.

At Kayak Connection, we provide SUP rentals to help you explore the Santa Cruz Harbor. 

2. The Santa Cruz Wharf

Outside the harbor, we recommend checking out the Santa Cruz Wharf – particularly the area near Cowell’s Beach.

While this can be a great place to catch glimpses of migrating whales (depending on the season), it’s also a popular spot for surfers, swimmers, seals, and kayakers, which means you’ll have to share the water. 

3. The Capitola Wharf

Like the Santa Cruz Wharf, the Capitola Wharf can be crowded. Parking can be tough to find, and the area is popular among all sorts of water sports enthusiasts.

Still, once you’re out on the water, it’s a great place to spot sea lions and enjoy views of the scenic Wharf itself. 

4. Soquel Creek

If you’re paddleboarding during the summer season, head to Soquel Creek, which is the perfect place to enjoy a quiet, lazy paddle.

As you work your way upstream, you’ll paddle under the Stockton Bridge and Union Pacific train trestle.

Eventually, the route will take you right by Capitola’s famed Shadowbrook restaurant if you feel like stopping for a bite.

If you’re nervous about the waves and moving water of the ocean, Soquel Creek is a nice, tranquil alternative. 

Tips for a Fun Santa Cruz Paddling Adventure

santa cruz harbor paddleboarding couple

Santa Cruz is an ideal place to fall in love with paddleboarding. 

If you’re a beginner, set yourself up for a great trip with these tips:

1. Plan your trip carefully

Planning makes perfect!

Before hitting the water, you need to decide where you’ll go.

If you’re new to paddle boarding, it’s helpful to get some professional input on the location of your paddleboarding adventure. 

Come by our shop, and our paddleboard experts will help you decide which location is right for you and what kind of gear you need to rent.

No matter what you do, we recommend taking at least one paddleboard lesson before you head out.

A lesson teaches you how to balance on the board, hold the paddle correctly, and navigate efficiently.

We offer paddleboarding classes for beginning and advanced paddlers alike, which will set you up to hit the water safely. Book your class online today!

2. Know where you’ll rent your gear

It’s frustrating and time-consuming to piece together rental gear from many different places.

Instead, come to Kayak Connection and enjoy one-stop-shop rentals and expert input from our team of guides.

We’ll get you all set up with everything you need to enjoy a fun, comfortable adventure. 

3. Start slow

While it might look passive, paddleboarding is a workout! With this in mind, start with a short, accessible trip and work your way up from there. 

Avoid bringing young children who might not be able to handle the elements or duration of the trip, and make sure you’re in an environment that’s suited to your skillset.  

If you’re a novice paddleboarder, we recommend keeping your first outing to an hour or less.

4. Stay safe

Paddleboarding is a very safe sport, but it’s still essential to understand and recognize hazards. For beginning paddleboarders, the wind is the most common hazard. 

Wind creates waves on the water and can make it harder to balance on your board. It can also blow you off course and make paddling and steering difficult. 

For the best day on the water, we recommend going out only when the wind is below 13 knots. Wind speeds above 13 knots cause the water to become choppy and difficult to navigate.

If it’s a windy day and you still want to hit the water, the Harbor is a nice, protected area to explore.

If you’re paddling in a river or other small body of water, be aware of underwater hazards like rocks and tree roots. 

Make sure you always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) and dress for the elements. 

5. Stay hydrated

In paddleboarding, as with any sport, it’s essential to eat and drink enough to keep your energy levels high.

Most paddleboards have bungee cords on the nose, which is a great place to secure a dry bag or water bottle. 

If you’re going to be out for more than an hour, we recommend packing a few high-energy granola bars or other non-perishable snacks in the dry bag, along with a sturdy water bottle. 

Keeping yourself hydrated and energized is critical to enjoying a great day on the water. 

How Long Should I Paddleboard for?

sunset paddleboard santa cruz

Again, if you’re a beginning paddleboarder going out on your own, we recommend limiting your excursion to an hour or less.

If you’re more experienced, you might consider going out for a half-day rental. Not sure which option is right for you? We can help you decide!

Here at Kayak Connection, we offer two rental options: a one-hour Harbor rental or a half-day ocean rental. 

The one-hour Harbor rental is perfect for paddlers who want to get out on the water for a quick paddle and then spend the rest of the day relaxing at Twin Lakes Beach.

This rental stays within the Harbor’s protected waters, making it ideal for people who want to see wildlife, families with younger kids, or anyone who wants to enjoy an easy, mellow paddleboarding experience.

On the other hand, the half-day ocean rental gives you up to four hours to explore the scenic waters of Monterey Bay, just outside Santa Cruz Harbor.

This is an excellent choice for more experienced paddleboarders or larger groups.

It’s also an excellent option for anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of harbor seals, sea otters, kelp beds, or dolphins. 

What Should I Bring When I go Paddleboarding? 

Suit up for an adventure! Make sure you have these things on board when you head out for your first paddleboard excursion:

1. A board and paddle

First things first: you’ll need a paddleboard and SUP paddle.

It’s worth mentioning that paddleboards and paddles come in different lengths and sizes.

For example, a lightweight beginner who is 5’3 will likely prefer a shorter, more maneuverable board 10’6” and approximately 30-33” across). Someone 6’5” and over 200 lbs., on the other hand, would prefer an 11’5 board that’s at least 33” inches across.

No matter your size, a board that’s fewer than 29” wide will be less stable.

There are also different board shapes: recreational boards that are good at traversing and surfing waves and racing boards that are ideal for covering long distances quickly. We rent both types at our shop.

Finally, we rent adjustable paddles that can be lengthened or shortened to be the perfect length for you.

Before you hit the water, stop by the shop so our guides can help you find the proper setup for your adventure.

2. A Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

The US Coast Guard classifies stand up paddleboards as vessels, which means you’ll need a PFD on board if you plan to paddle outside a swim or surf area.

While adults don’t have to wear their PFDs, kids must have them on at all times.

For safety, we also recommend that adults keep their PFDs on throughout the duration of their paddle.

If you don’t have a good PFD of your own, stop by the shop to rent one from our selection. 

3. A safety whistle and light

Because paddleboards are classified as vessels, the Coast Guard requires you to carry a safety whistle to warn other boats and vessels of your location (learn more about the Coast Guard’s paddleboard regulations here).

If you’re planning to paddle after dusk, be sure you also have a safety light on board. 

4. Layers

The weather can change quickly on the water, so it’s essential to dress appropriately.

You might choose to wear a swimsuit, board shorts, and a long- or short-sleeved rash guard during the summer months to protect you from the sun.

In cooler conditions, we recommend wearing a wetsuit when you head out.

You’ll also want to wear a sun hat and sunglasses and bring a spare change of clothing for once you’re done paddling.

Can I Paddleboard with My Dog?

paddleboarding with dog in santa cruz

Maybe you’ve seen pictures of people paddleboarding with their dogs, and you’re wondering if you and your four-legged friend can give it a try.

The answer is yes!

Our team provides dog PFDs with convenient handles, so you can quickly get your buddy back on the board if they go for a swim.

We also rent big foam boards that are stable enough for you and your dog and will make both of you feel more secure. Come see us at the shop if you’d like to explore paddleboarding with your pooch.

Ready to Go Paddleboarding in Santa Cruz? Rent Your Gear From Kayak Connection!

Join the wave of people flocking to stand up paddleboarding! An excellent way to get some exercise and enjoy nature, stand up paddleboarding in Santa Cruz, CA is the perfect summer pastime.

If you’re ready to hit the water, Kayak Connection has all the gear you need to get out there.

1 Hour Harbor RentalReserve Online Now
2.5 Hour Ocean or Harbor Rental Reserve Online Now

Or, swing by the shop today to talk to our expert guides and get suited up for your adventure!

Author: Jess Grigsby

Since 2012, Jess has co-owned and operated Kayak Connection together with her husband Dave. She is a lawyer, coach, avid kayak enthusiast and mother of two teenage girls. At Kayak Connection, Jess oversees a team of experienced kayak guides who are all CPR certified, with many holding advanced Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certifications. Our team is composed of environmental educators, naturalists and classroom teachers with experience working with all kinds of visitors, from school groups to large corporate teams.