Won’t you come out tonight and SUP by the light of the moon! I can honestly say I never thought I would stand-up paddleboard (SUP) on the San Francisco Bay at night. But last weekend, with the help of REI, I did. The brand had me register for a guided outdoor class of my choosing and bring a friend. I have to tell you, when I chose the Moonlight Stand-Up Paddleboard tour out of Redwood City, I was not wild about going out on the bay at night! The idea of darkness, deep water, unknown sea creatures and shipping boats was a little, shall we say, unsettling. But I wanted to try a new experience, and once I got out on the gentle lull of the water my uneasiness disappeared completely under the starlight.
Gear for Stand-Up Paddleboarding in the Bay
REI took all the stress out of trying a new experience. All we had to do was show up with and they took care of everything else including showing us where to park, providing gear and instruction, and guiding the tour. They brought a big van with boards, paddles, PFDs, headlamps, jackets and wetsuits. There was a kayak tour at the same time–see all the tours offered in your area!
If you’re wondering what to wear stand up paddleboarding, it depends on the time of year and location. This was at night in the cold bay, so I wore my nylon/spandex leggings, old sneakers, a wool long sleeve shirt with an activewear vest, a wetsuit top (provided by REI) and a windbreaker. I’m always concerned about being warm and dry enough, and these things did the trick. REI does paddle boarding tours all winter, our instructor Hayley said, they just supply more layers!
Stand-up Paddleboarding in Redwood City
First we practiced paddling around the Marina, which I’d been to once before for sailing. It definitely looked different by moonlight and by paddleboard. The wind dies with the sunset, so it was a glassy surface for the most part. SUP is definitely an arm workout and it requires lots of balancing muscles throughout the body, but without wind it was accessible enough for beginners. The group was intimately sized–our tour was limited to five participants and one instructor. It was open to different levels of participation–two of our group members owned boards and were comfortable in advanced paddling conditions. My adventure partner had never paddled before, and I had only gone a few times (on lakes in Minnesota). I’m happy to say that no one fell in (including me, and I’ve taken accidental swims off of stand-up paddleboards in the past).
My Experience with REI’s Outdoor Adventures
We paddled by the light of the harvest moon (the full moon closest to the start of fall). Hayley was so very knowledgeable and kept us entertained the whole time with facts about the area, the ecosystem, and, when prompted by me, the most fascinating things that have happened to her while paddleboarding (In New Zealand, she paddled under the milky way through bioluminescent plankton into a glow worm cave. In California, she had a close-up encounter with a whale).
When a fish jumped on Hayley’s board, that was the closest wildlife encounter we had on our SUP tour. Leopard sharks are the only sharks to venture this far down the bay, she assured us. She had us paddle close to a cement seawall to look for crabs, barnacles and anemones there. We also peered into the water with our headlamps to look for fish.
After we left the marina, Hayley led us beyond the buoys and across to Bair Island which provided shelter from the the (very light) wind. I learned that Bair Island is one of the only uninhabited islands in the Bay Area. After floating a bit and taking a break to sit on our boards and drink water, we paddled back across the bay to look at houseboats and then finished the night back at the marina. Hayley was always making sure we were comfortable and not getting too cold or tired, and she adjusted the tour based on our needs which I really appreciated.
Here, you can see me pointing out the general part of the Bay we were in:Truly, stand-up paddleboarding is a way to connect with nature on a deeper level. We were just steps away from Highway 101 and mere miles from one of the biggest cities in the world, but it was like being on a different planet. It was peaceful, dark and remote. We didn’t see any other boats moving on the water except for the kayak tour that embarked the same time as us. The moon provided more light than I expected and we looked for constellations and planets.
I left the experience grateful for having experienced the Bay in a whole new way. Paddleboarding is a graceful outdoor experience that gets you super close to the water, and if you haven’t tried it I recommend it highly!
REI offers plenty of other options besides paddleboarding in the San Francisco Bay Area and other cities, including hiking, cycling, nature photography and kayak trips to see whales and otters. I have no doubt they are all as quality as the one I experienced. The nighttime adventures especially are easy to fit into a busy weekend. Instructors don’t push you to purchase any gear or anything but they do try to prepare you to continue the sport on your own independently. Discover a tour for yourself by clicking here.