You don't book a room in Condado, an isthmus lined with beachfront condos, hotels, fabulous restaurants and bars, clubs, and casinos near downtown San Juan, because you love stand-up paddleboarding. (Stand-up bar-hopping, that's another thing.) But every day more and more locals are shelling out $1,000 and up for paddleboards so they can slice through Condado Lagoon, which separates Condado from the mainland. And now a start-up company named Velauno, which I discovered with a little help from Google, is offering lessons and rentals to tourists.
What makes stand-up paddleboarding fun is:
- it's simple – just you, the board and a paddle;
- it may look a little daunting, especially when you see the local heroes racing along at warp speed, but you learn how to do it in short order;
- you see things you wouldn't see any other way, except maybe by kayak;
- almost without noticing it, you're working out your arms, lats, and core; and
- at Condado, in particular, you can do it without leaving leaving the city and the action.
One Paddleboarding Lesson – Fast
Carol, my wife, had never paddleboarded before, but I told her I could save her the trouble of taking a formal lesson by showing her how to do it myself (there's not much to show). Knowing that I'd only gone paddle-boarding two times myself, she had her doubts, and she expressed them as we walked from our hotel, the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino, to Velauno's red van near the eastern tip of Condado. Doubts notwithstanding, Carol was up and running after just 10 or 15 minutes.
While much of Condado Lagoon is surrounded by high-rise buildings, mangroves along the shoreline attract herons, pelicans, and Godzilla-size iguanas. Manatees hang out here, too, about 100-150 feet from the shore. Moreover, they're a pretty gregarious group. That first day of paddle-boarding in the lagoon, they swam nearer and nearer to us, coming up for air so close to the boards that I could see their eyeballs, whiskers, and pink tongues.
This was not simply beginner's luck; it's just the way things are at Condado Lagoon, so when we took out boards again a few days later, the manatees bobbed up in the very same area as before. This time they were even breaching like corpulent dolphins, their fat tails pointing up each time before they descended again. We also watched a half dozen mature iguanas who, when we got too close to them, shook their wattles and nodded vigorously, as if agreeing with something brilliant we had said. What the nods really meant was, Get lost.
A reasonable request, so we paddled over to the south perimeter of the lagoon and fell into a good rhythm. In two sessions, neither of us had fallen in, and we'd seen a lot of creatures without even having to leave the city.
What Does this Cost?
VelaUno offers various lessons and rental options, not to mention guided trips. A rental with a quick, introductory lesson (that's all you need) costs $25 per hour. Click here for more information on Puerto Rico.