Ups And Downs

The Sydney Morning/The Age Traveller

27 February 2016

 

Tatyana Leonov discovers it’s easy to surf one day and ski the next in California.

OK, so I’ve probably overdone the fish tacos and I’ve never tried stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) before – and I’m certain it’s harder with a full belly. Truth is, I’ve been stuffed all day. Tijuana is a mere 20 minutes from downtown San Diego, so it’s no surprise Mexican nosh here is as authentic and
tasty as over the border – and I’ve had fish tacos on my mind since I left Oz.

When I explain my conundrum to Izzy (short for Isabelle) Tihanyi, our SUP teacher for the day, she laughs. ‘‘Everyone overdoes the fish tacos when they first arrive in San Diego – you’ll be right.’’ Over the course of the next few hours I learn that Izzy laughs a lot. Sporting a mane of wild blond hair that blows in all directions as soon as the wind lifts a little, she’s the only one on the beach somehow looking glamorous – and peculiarly she makes it work. It’s possible we all pay more attention because of her poised mannerisms . . . or maybe it’s the contagious laughter . . . or it could just be Izzy overall.

Izzy founded Surf Diva, a surfing and SUP school for women, together with her twin Caroline (Coco) Tihanyi in 1996. Designed for women, by women, the sisters offer everything from short technique lessons and corporate team building packages to week- long clinics and hens’ parties. ‘‘We don’t completely cut out the men though,’’ Izzy hoots. ‘‘We offer the boys private lessons.’’ Classes generally take place on the pearly hued sands of La Jolla Shores, one of San Diego’s prettiest beaches, where calm reef breaks provide ideal surf learning conditions year- round.

Starting on the sand we practise paddling on our knees and getting up on our feet. ‘‘The key is to keep paddling when you’re moving from your knees to stand-up position,’’ Izzy explains. ‘‘If you stop paddling you will lose your balance and end up in the water.’’ In the ocean I effortlessly glide onto my knees and paddle towards the horizon thinking I’ll get it first go. Then, perhaps too self-assuredly, I clumsily hurdle myself into stand- up mode neglecting to paddle and end up falling into the water.

Although Izzy has gone through the procedures that will help us out in the sea, it’s hard to concentrate given the backdrop and I make the same mistake a couple more times before I get the gist.

Others in my group are having the same problem. We’re all taking in the picturesque vistas and keeping our eyes out for dolphins and sea lions – regular visitors to La Jolla Shores.

About an hour into the paddle Izzy conducts a yoga class and we make our way through numerous Asanas perched like seabirds on our boards, some of us achieving Zen . . . others achieving a lot
more splash. Either way, everyone is happy.

Paddling back to shore I drift into a meditative-like state. The waves gently lap against the board as I steadily move the paddle back and forward, staring out at the sea and sand and forgetting anything that was on my mind beforehand.

Back on solid ground I contemplate about how hard I try to mediate at home, attempting to think about not thinking without any success. But here, out in the water, it feels natural.

Skiing has the same effect on me. There’s something calming about that addictive adventure sugar-rush that comes with negotiating hulking snow- drenched mountains. Sure, it’s an adrenalin high, but the more I sweat and move, the less I think and more in tune with my body and breath I become.

In California you can comfortably do both in one day if you’re motivated enough. Catch your surf breaks in the morning and ski your heart out in the afternoon, or vice versa.

Prior to hanging 10 in San Diego I spend two days traversing Mammoth Mountain, one of California’s best ski fields.

Mammoth Mountain is located in Mammoth Lakes, about a one- hour flight from San Diego (similar flight timings also from Los Angeles and San Francisco), with various carriers flying the route.

For travellers who want to schedule in a ski as part of their US holiday experience, the accessibility is top notch. And although locals know it’s a gem of a spot, the mountain never feels overcrowded because, like the name would have you believe, Mammoth Mountain is, well, mammoth. I don’t even get through a third of the blue runs over the course of two days, choosing to stick to my selections and focus on my speed and technique.

As one of the biggest ski terrains in California, the runs are spaced out over 1400 hectares of skiing and snowboarding terrain and a 28-lift system whizzes you up to wherever you need to go.

There’s even a direct gondola from the Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth, where I’m staying, to the ski fields. People rave about ski-in, ski-out accommodation, but I’m pretty chuffed with the gondola-in, gondola-out scenario.

I make use of ski lift time to observe how other devoted snow bunnies tackle the powdery slopes. Mammoth Mountain is a prime playground for both skiers and snowboarders with a decent average of 10 metres of snowfall annually. Beginners and advanced skiers have plenty of space to explore, but it’s the intermediates who get best coverage.

Heaps of blue runs thread their way through the terrain, my favourite being Road Runner – a trail weaving its way down from the peak of the mountain back to base area.

As a first-time US skier (it’s been mostly Australian slopes for me) I learn about the rather unusual bra/panties tree phenomenon here. I notice that quite a few of the trees peppered around the mountain are adorned with colourful bras on my way up various ski lifts and probingly I ask around until I get an answer why.

The tradition goes that you remove your bra while on the lift and fling it onto a tree already dotted with other underwear items. It’s almost always bras these days, although allegedly when the trend started in the 1960s panties (as they were called then) were to go-to throw-onto-tree undergarment.

Some say it was simply a rebellious act, other allege it was a way to dispose of evidence from the night before. I keep mine on . . . but do watch out for bra-less snow bunnies.

Who knew that in California you could ski and surf in one day? Who knew people actually chuck bras onto trees? California – you’re full of good surprises.

 

FIVE MORE HOLIDAY PURSUITS IN CALIFORNIA

HIKING: California is laden with spectacular hiking trails, so it’s worth going into this one with somesortofaplan.Yosemiteis known for its ravishing lakes, gushing waterfalls, stunning granite cliffs and sprawling alpine meadows. It’s one of the most visited national parks in the USA for good reason. There’s something for every style of hiker here – slow and easy, fast and hard, moderate and musing – you’ll find it at Yosemite and then some.
See nps.gov/yose.

CYCLING: California is a bike riders’ paradise with mountain ranges aplenty and one of most spectacular coastlines in the world. The cycle tour offerings are bountiful – short coastal rides, mountain biking adventures, even epic climbs that redefine the definition of lactic burn (if you’re that way inclined). For everyone else there are bike tours through wineries. Head to northern California’s wine country for the ultimate in drink and ride. There are plenty of options – from one- day pedals to multi-day runs – most linking charming valley towns and vineyards.
See winecountrybikes.com.

BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Santa Monica is the home of beach volleyball – so why not join the locals on one of the many sand courts like others have been doing for almost a century (the first courts went up in the 1920s)? Shy? Pre-organise your game time by signing up to a meet-up group.
See volleyball.meetup.com.

KAYAKING: Head to Santa Cruz, the largest island in the Channel Islands of California, for a kayaking escapade. You can hire a kayak and explore the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary on your lonesome or take a guided tour and learn while you row. Birds such as long-billed curlews and pelicans are common sights; grey whales in springtime are frequently seen; they’ve even got moonlight paddles for active romantics. See kayaksantacruz.com.

ROCK CLIMBING: California has some of the most diverse climbing in the States with plenty of rock faces about to scale. In Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is a climbers’ mecca. With more than 8000 climbing trails dispersed over more than 400 formations, there’s something for all ability levels. Take it easy with a two-hour climbing lesson or go hard with a guided multi- day ascent you’ll be bragging about for years to come. See nps.gov/jotr and joshuatreerockclimbing.com.

 

TRIP TIPS

MORE INFORMATION: visitcalifornia.com.au.

GETTING THERE: Qantas flies to Los Angeles from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. See qantas.com.au. Virgin Australia flies to Los Angeles from Sydney and Brisbane. See virginaustralia.com. Onward connections to San Diego and Mammoth Yosemite Airport are available via various carriers.

STAYING THERE: In San Diego, the 420-room Hardrock Hotel San Diego located in the trendy Gaslamp Quarter is the place to stay. See hardrockhotelsd.com.
In Mammoth Lakes, The Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth, has 230 tastefully appointed rooms. See westinmammoth.com.

SEE+DO: You can surf and SUP with the divas in San Diego year-round. See surfdiva.com.
Mammoth Mountain has one of the longest ski seasons in world (November to June/July), so head there before or after for the ultimate ski-and-surf combo. See mammothmountain.com.

 

Tatyana Leonov was a guest of Visit California.