oastal Californians will insist that the best way to experience their piece of paradise is to plunge into its waters. But plunging isn’t for everyone. I prefer a calmer pace: a quieter adventure with fewer humans and G-rated surf. For those who are lured by the siren sounds of the sea but not necessarily inclined toward aggressive ocean sports, a kayak or paddleboard excursion around the Back Bay of Newport Beach is just the ticket.

“People are naturally drawn to the water,” says Mark Dick, owner of Expert Active, a local adventure company that offers customized individual and small-group outdoor experiences, “especially visitors from the Midwest or other parts of the country that don’t have access to the ocean.” A drive down the coast on any given day proves his point. Orange County beaches are well-used and well-loved.

Newport’s Back Bay hits the highlights of Orange County’s coastal offerings. The largest estuary in Southern California, it teems with wildlife. A good set of eyes (or pair of binoculars) may spot over 200 species of birds, a number of them endangered. It is estimated that up to 30,000 birds call the Back Bay home. Then there are the fish, among them halibut, croaker and bass. Bat rays and stingrays are also common. Those heading out of the Back Bay to the ocean by passing underneath the Coast Highway Bridge may be escorted by playful dolphins and sea lions.

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has long been on my bucket list. Having lived in Southern California for nearly 30 years — 20 of them at the beach — I’ve spent hours staring out to sea with curiosity and longing, but also trepidation. I’d happily done whale-watching trips and dinner cruises, but being above the water is markedly different from being on the water. So I started slowly, with a scenic kayak tour through the Back Bay. It was love at first stroke; but, was I ready to shed the safe sides of a kayak for a board and finally stand on my own?

I soon discovered that I had nothing to fear. Michael Cara, a professional guide from Expert Active, met me at the Newport Aquatic Center and gave me a quick tutorial: Pull the board into the water, step on from the side, assume an athletic stance toward the center of the board, paddle a few strokes per side, and you’re off. It’s that easy. “The boards we use are like sidewalks,” Mark told me before I went out. “They’re 33 inches wide and 11-12 feet long, and the Back Bay is protected and flat.” This created a fail-safe experience, even for a novice. Not once did I come close to falling.

Michael led me on a 90-minute tour around the Back Bay. We headed out past the Coast Highway Bridge and around the private community of Linda Isle, which boasts an enviable array of homes, including the former residences of John Wayne and Nicolas Cage, and yachts, each with its distinct style. Along the way we admired graceful terns and osprey, gulls and hawks.

Best yet, there was Michael, who, with his calm manner and engaging conversation, put me at ease. “We’re never going to put clients in dangerous situations,” he told me. The guides have their eyes on the tides, knowing the exact time of day to lead guests out, where to take them and ensuring that they have a tailwind (or at least the tide) to give them a lift home.

One of the reasons I wanted to try SUP was that I’d been told it was an awesome workout, particularly for the core. As soon as you climb onto that board, all those stabilizing abdominal muscles are working, whether or not you know it. You’ll also get an amazing back, shoulder and arm workout. At the same time, SUP is relatively relaxing, making it the perfect activity for every body type and athletic ability. A leisurely paddle can burn 305-430 calories per hour, which is about twice what we get from an hour of walking.

My SUP tour alleviated another concern as well. I hate the cold. Southern California temperatures rarely dip below 65 degrees, and even this feels chilly to me. But both Mark and Michael urged me to forgo the wet suit, and, to my surprise, it wasn’t a problem at all. I stayed plenty warm and the water that occasionally splashed onto the board was a welcome reward for my work.

For those hesitant about balance but still motivated to get out there, Expert Active offers kayak tours. It is much the same experience you’d have from a SUP excursion, except that you’re sitting down and able to get even closer to the water and wildlife. Kayaking might also provide the steppingstone you need before giving SUP a try.

If the water calls to you, I urge you to answer. Not only will you enjoy unique views of Orange County’s spectacular homes, but you’ll be bobbing along with the boats of Newport Beach, sharing unforgettable magical moments. As Jacques Cousteau said: “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” Indeed. Life simply feels different when it’s experienced from the water.

To book an excursion with Expert Active, please contact the Resort concierge at 949.397.7267 or visit expertactive.com. Advance reservations are required.

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