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Thank your board shorts that Monterey Bay is so big. There’s plenty of room for paddles, whether poked out of a kayak or into the big blue by a paddleboarder. Surfers can seek sets to carve (and sets will be found), fisher-folks have places to plop their lures and scuba divers never have to hold their breath. With Santa Cruz Harbor anchoring the north end, many are the ways to rock your bad self on its waves.
But before we get into the myriad ways individuals or small parties can frolic on the drink, let’s discuss how large parties can frolic while taking a drink — and while taking in wide-eyed views of this bejeweled sea and shore. That would be via the Chardonnay.
The Chardonnay’s no rowboat. Chardonnay I, a mere tyke at 50 feet, was built by famed racing-yacht designer Bill Lee, who stretched the sequel, the Chardonnay II, to 70 feet of sleek fun. The company offers public and private charters, sunset and pizza cruises and views that won’t quit. There’s plenty of room to lounge topside, wine glass in hand, as the sails billow and the breezes blow — and you don’t have to be a tourist to go for a sail.
SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA – May 06: Passenger Simon De Aguero watches the sunset during the Chardonnay Sailing Charters’ cruise on May 6, 2021, in Santa Cruz, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
Visitors come from all over the world, says operations director Allison Green, “but we’re also lucky to cater to our local community, who have been especially supportive during the pandemic.” And, she adds, “the cherry on top of it all is having one of the best office views in town.”
Prefer plying the breaks to sailing the whitecaps? With (insincere) apologies to Huntington Beach, Santa Cruz is the real Surf City. There are breaks north and south, some only whispered about and some, like Steamer Lane, known throughout the surfing world.
For those a bit shaky on their boards, Steamer’s little brother, Cowell Beach, is where Cliff Hodges, born and raised Santa Cruzan, has been teaching surfing skills for 18 years at Adventure Out.
“Cowell Beach is one of the best beginner surf spots in the world,” he says. “The soft rolling waves and protected cove setup make it ideal for beginning surfers to get long gentle rides without getting tossed around by larger waves.”
Hundreds of people enjoy the sun, surf and sand on a perfect Sunday afternoon at Cowell Beach. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel file)
Hodges wasn’t around, of course, when three Hawaiian princes surfed the San Lorenzo river mouth in 1885, the first such ride in the continental states. But as he says, “There is so much wonderful surfing history here, and we have the surfing museum to prove it.”
If you’d rather not wait for a wave to propel you, you can put a paddle to the task. Besides tours in Moss Landing, Venture Quest Kayaking offers one from the Santa Cruz Wharf.
“The waters near the wharf are usually calm, especially in the mornings,” says owner Dave Johnston. “It’s a short paddle from the wharf over to the kelp forest near Lighthouse Point, where the sea otters live. Along the way, there are often sightings of seals and sea lions and, if you are lucky, some dolphins or whales.”
If you’d rather stand tall with a paddle, there are options there as well. Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has come into its own in the past few years, and the SUP Shack in the Santa Cruz Harbor is here to help. The harbor is an easy place to pick up the splashy sport and the shack staff offers classes, equipment rentals and, if you want to double-dip, kayaks too. And given the location, it’s easy to combine the exercise and zen with sea life sightings, too.
“Here in the Santa Cruz Harbor, there is a family of harbor seals that live here, and we get visiting sea lions,” says owner Trudie Ransom. “Both these creatures are very inquisitive and love to observe the paddlers as they cruise by.”
And if you’d rather row with a club (well, actually an oar), the Santa Cruz Rowing Club will welcome you with open boats. The group offers lessons, boat rentals and a chance to row with your fellows on the Monterey Bay.
“Rowing is a relatively non-stress sport, so it’s good for many people who have previous sports injuries,” says club president Linda Locklin. “It also gets you out into the wilderness of Monterey
Bay — right offshore of the busy beaches and streets. We often see sea otters, sea lions, many kinds of birds and when lucky, whales.”
Or you can kick back on the deck of the Chardonnay and let the wind do the work. C’mon in — the water’s fine.
If You Go
Here’s just a sampling of Santa-Cruz based water recreation:
Sailing: The sleek Chardonnay II yacht sails from Santa Cruz Harbor for two-hour sunset, wine tasting and other themed cruises, from Champagne brunch to pizza night. Tickets are $35.50 for kids and $70 for adults; www.chardonnay.com
Surfing: Adventure Out offers surf clinics, SUP classes and other adventures in Santa Cruz and Pacifica; www.adventureout.com. Surf coaching and lessons are also available from Centered Surfing (https://centeredsurfing.com), Santa Cruz Surf Lessons (www.santacruzsurflessons.net) and Surf School Santa Cruz (https://surfschoolsantacruz.com).
Kayaking: Based at the Santa Cruz Wharf, Venture Quest offers equipment rentals ($35 and up), classes and guided tours; www.santacruzkayak.com. Kayak Connection rents kayaks ($30 and up) at the Santa Cruz Harbor and Elkhorn Slough; https://kayakconnection.com. And Eskape Kayak offers coaching for experienced sea and whitewater kayakers; http://eskapekayak.com.
Stand-up Paddleboarding (SUP): The SUP Shack offers SUP rentals ($30) and classes, as well as kayak rentals, in Santa Cruz Harbor; www.supshacksantacruz.com.
Rowing: Learn to row or take a tour with the Santa Cruz Rowing Club, which offers lessons, rentals and members-only tours. Membership is $100 per year, and use of club boats is $20 per row or $150 for 10 launches; https://scrowing.org.
More aquatic fun: Capitola and Santa Cruz Boat Rentals rents motorboats, kayaks, SUP and fishing gear; http://capitolaboatandbait.com. Or you can dive beneath the waves with Adventure Sports Unlimited’s scuba and swim lessons and trips; https://asudoit.com.
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