Photograph by Ben Horton, National Geogrpahic
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Two paddleboarders float into the water in one of Big Sur's secluded bays.

Photograph by Ben Horton, National Geogrpahic

Paddleboard Along California's Big Sur Coast

Float past iconic cliffs and hidden coves.

Recommended by: Annabel Anderson, Stand-Up Paddleboarder

Between Carmel and San Simeon, California, the Santa Lucia Mountains crash into the Pacific Ocean with dramatic and, for surfers, quite favorable results. To top off the spine-tingling scenery—cliffs, tidy coves, and sprawling headlands—there is consistent, pitch-perfect surf. And where there is surf, the developing sport of paddleboarding is sure to follow.

"It’s such an iconic stretch of coastline," says Anderson, who recently became one of the first to ever paddleboard the Big Sur Rivermouth, a classic break. "The location and scenery are incredible and there are insane waves."

For those who aren’t yet experts at catching waves—which is to say, most of us—flat water is the best place to start. Nearby Monterey has excellent conditions: a flat, shallow, relatively warm section of the harbor where newbies can test their sea legs before building up enough confidence to brave the area’s iconic surf breaks.

Plan This Trip: Adventures by the Sea, in Montere, offers paddleboard rentals and lessons.

Kiwi Annabel Anderson is pretty good at winning paddleboard races. In 2012, she was crowned the sport’s world champion in Hawaii and won by the largest margin ever at the Battle of the Paddle in California, one of the sport’s most prestigious races. But she also has a penchant for adventure—she has tackled challenges from the Thames (which turned out to be marginally legal) and the crossing from the island of Ibiza to the coast of Spain—making her one of paddleboarding’s most recognized faces.