By Tsunami Ranger Steve El Rey King 

A humpback feeding off the southern end of Surfer's Beach, Half Moon Bay, CA

A humpback feeding off the southern end of Surfer’s Beach, Half Moon Bay, CA

Near the end of June and during the first few weeks of July this summer large numbers of humpback whales were seen on a daily basis south of the Golden Gate Bridge, especially close to shore in Pacifica and Half Moon Bay, California. National and local television stations showed wonderful footage of this amazing gathering of humpback whales as well as dolphins, pelicans, sea gulls and numerous other bird species all feeding on an abundance of bait fish close to shore.

It’s common to see the mists of whale spouts rising above the sea from the shore just south of Princeton Harbor at Surfer’s Beach. Lucky whale worshiping people like me have also seen lunge feeding, spy hopping and occasionally breaching.

A spyhopping whale imitates a periscope.

A spyhopping whale imitates a periscope.

A brief definition of these behaviors is appropriate to frame the experience I had on July 9th a few hundred yards off the beach on a warm sunny day with a light breeze. Lunge feeding is when one or more humpbacks surface vertically with their mouths open, filling their lower mouth area with large volumes of water that contain fish or krill. The water is then pressed up to the upper jaw which closes while it squeezes the water and food through the baleen attached to the upper jaw, capturing the food. At times two or more whales will surface side by side lunge feeding. This sight elicits squeals of delight from dozens of people standing on the shore or in a boat with cameras, binoculars and cell phones. Spy hopping is when the whale rises vertically straight out of the water, mouth closed, allowing the individual to literally see what is above the surface. This behavior is more common in less clear water when it is more difficult to for the whale to see. Breaching is of course when a whale leaps fully out of the water, landing with a loud splash.

Lunge feeding. Note the open jaws.

Lunge feeding. Note the open jaws.

Many people who paddled kayaks out of Moss Landing in Monterey Bay witnessed whales doing this in the summer and fall of 2015 when large numbers of whales took up residence in the Bay. I spent several afternoons observing this wondrous spectacle in my Tsunami X-15 kayak, always seeking to maintain the appropriate and legal distance of 100 yards from the marine mammals. Whales of course choose their own path and my fellow Tsunami Ranger, Scott Becklund and I had whales surface and dive at times within a few feet of our motionless kayaks.

It is especially interesting that the epicenter of whale activity south of Princeton Harbor was directly in front of the elder Tsunami Ranger Michael Powers’ house. It’s almost as if the breaching, feeding, and magic of these beautiful and mystical sea creatures were being summoned by the Viking architecture that is a local landmark and part of the fabric of Miramar Beach. One day I had just returned to Michael’s house after our weekly ritual 6-mile hike among the redwoods in the Purissima Open Space Reserve and when we got out of the car we saw many whales lunging and spy hopping close to shore. I went home, collected my X-15 wash deck kayak and launched just north of the Miramar Beach Inn. There were also a few people on paddle boards just outside the lines of surfers.

A whale surfacing near a paddleboarder - eek, pretty close!

Eek, pretty close!

I launched through very small surf, paddled out about 75 yards and began to take in the spectacle with an elevated heartbeat, soul awakened and camera tethered to my life vest. Within a few minutes a whale rose out of the water lunge feeding right next to a person on a paddle board. Shortly after that two whales surfaced lunge feeding close to several surfers who also were elated by the close proximity of these leviathans. I paddled around for about 2 hours and took photographs up and down the “alley” of whales who were spy hopping and lunge feeding on a regular basis. I had paddled south a bit toward Half Moon Bay when I saw a whale blow about 100 yards away. I paused as it appeared it was heading in my direction. I hoped to take another photograph when she or he surfaced to breathe.

It's always fun trying to hold position while capturing that great photo op!

It’s always fun trying to hold position while capturing that great photo op!

Then the whale gracefully and silently lifted out of the water perpendicular to me and placed his upper jaw across the cockpit of my kayak and lowered his upper jaw onto my thigh across the boat, pinning my leg very hard, essentially squeezing down as they do to force water and fish through the baleen. It did not work of course as his lower jaw was stuck on my hull. It hurt quite a bit and I was clamped briefly onto my kayak (I could have tickled its baleen) until he released and slid back into the water, rolling me out of the kayak and capsizing me. I flipped the boat up and climbed back in. My thigh really hurt and I thought maybe it was broken. As I got into the cockpit I noticed a small fish in my foot pedal area, clearly part of what the whale was trying to eat; at least that was what he first thought.

At least I was close to shore...

At least I was close to shore…

I was alone and could not quite believe what had just happened. I was able to move and bend my leg, so it was not broken but I was in a lot of pain. It took 15 minutes or so for the pain to subside. I did have a cold “first aid” beer in my boat, so I drank it and continued following and photographing the whales for another hour. When I got home my leg was bruised underneath and around the knee, and was stiff and painful for the next 5 days, but it got better so no permanent damage I believe. I went to yoga class and was able to do most of the Vinyasa postures, so things looked good.

Clouds of birds feeding off the rich waters

Clouds of birds feeding off the rich waters with the whales

I did take my daughter Lena and her friend out the next day. There was a lot of wind but we saw many whales feeding again all in front of Michael’s house up and down the beach close to shore! All quite remarkable. I do feel a powerful affinity and animation with these gentle and majestic giants.

Of course many ocean kayakers have had the great pleasure of being in the presence of various species of whales and other marine mammals. It’s part of the magic and mystery of open ocean kayaking. But I think my experience is unique. A humpback whale did breach last October in Monterey Bay and land on a double kayak, startling but not injuring the two paddlers who were on a tour to view the profusion of whales in the bay last summer and fall. But so far no one has reported being bitten by a whale.

Why do whales bite?

Why do whales bite?

I have enjoyed the various explanations put forward by the many people I have shared this experience with, from ”spiritual totem with mystical implications” to “gee, what did you think would happen if you followed them around while they were feeding?” to “must have been a male protecting the female and her young” or “your white boat in the not clear water looked like a ball or school of fish”. So please create your own explanation for what happened to me or better yet, paddle and maintain a safe distance, and revel in the presence of these magical marine mammals yourself. Then support or continue to support marine conservation NGO’s that are seeking to protect and enhance the future of marine mammals and ocean ecosystems around the world so we can always have the possibility of this miraculous experience happening to anyone (the experience of paddling with whales, not the bite!)

One of the great privileges of sea kayaking is the opportunity to witness such miracles.

One of the great privileges of sea kayaking is the opportunity to witness such miracles.

Lessons Learned

Paddling in a skirted kayak can reduce the possibility of having one’s legs pinned onto the deck of a kayak by a lunge feeding whale (but I love my X-15!)

Paddling among whales is likely safer when they are not lunge feeding or breaching. When they are lunge feeding it is wise to allow even more than the 100 yards of distance required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Question: I wonder if my white kayak in murky water may have looked like a fish ball or school of shimmering fish, so maybe darker kayaks are less likely to attract a lunge feeding whale? Are dark kayaks safer?

Don’t watch movies like “The Shallows” (which I did the week before the event) before having a whale engage you and your kayak in a case of mistaken identity. This movie shows a very persistent great white shark chewing up metal buoy. To a kayaker, it’s unnerving.

Finally, as member of the Tsunami Rangers I have been trained in a variety of ocean kayaking skills and have always been taught that anything can happen on the ocean. But I have not found an account of this sort by a kayaker in the literature yet. I did however, find a video of two divers who were nearly swallowed by two large adult lunge feeding humpbacks, missing then by a few feet only a couple of yards from their boat.

I have a deep respect for these majestic marine mammals. I have no desire to cause them any stress as they enjoy the richness of the waters around Half Moon Bay. In the future I will stay back well beyond the 100 yard limit, and I will exercise even more caution when they are lunge feeding!

Want to see some video footage of this amazing event? Check it out at: and feel free to share your close encounters with marine mammals below!

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Sport Taping for Sea Kayakers

by Nancy Soares on August 1, 2016

Editor’s note: Thanks to Taylor Furry for taping my shoulder with Kinesio Tape and taking the pictures. Thanks also to Robert Kendall for photographing the wrist wrap and helping me with that and thanks to Holly Hutchinson for the RockTape.

Kenisio Taping for a rotator cuff

Kinesio Tape for a rotator cuff

Sport taping has been around for a long time but lately people have taken it to new levels enhancing healing and performance. My personal taping experience comes from a martial arts background – in order to pass the first degree black belt exam in DanZanRyu jujitsu I had to demonstrate the ability to tape. My sensei Professor Musselman taught us students to tear off multiple small pieces of athletic tape to set up for the project. This saves time and just makes it easier. You can anchor the pieces to something nearby like a table for easy access while you tape. The tape goes on the joint in the direction best suited to stabilize it, each strip overlapping about halfway. Then a second tape layer is wrapped in the opposite direction, those strips overlapping as well. It’s a good technique – I wrapped an ankle for the test and when we cut the wrap off it stood alone like a boot. Solid.

Sport taping has generally been used for supporting joints so athletes can continue to train and compete. Taping can also support a joint during the healing process after an injury. But new technologies are being applied to the tape itself so that it can be used in more therapeutic ways, and new taping techniques are being developed to help active people stay active. For example, I tried Kinesio Tape for the first time on my shoulder. Here’s what the Kinesio Taping website has to say about its method:

My kenisio taped shoulder from the back

Kinesio Taped shoulder from the back

“The Kinesio Taping® Method is a definitive rehabilitative taping technique that is designed to facilitate the body’s natural healing process while providing support and stability to muscles and joints without restricting the body’s range of motion as well as providing extended soft tissue manipulation to prolong the benefits of manual therapy administered within the clinical setting.”

The tape is designed so that it massages the tissue gently while the body moves. This promotes circulation which in turn speeds the healing process by bringing blood and nutrients to the injured muscles. It’s also soothing.

From the front - note the overlapping

From the front – note the overlapping

When my shoulder acted up (good ol’ rotator cuff) one of the guys at the dojo taped it for me with Kinesio Tape, and it definitely helped. My shoulder felt secure and it didn’t hurt when I trained. You can leave the tape on for a few days and it will keep supporting and protecting the joint.

I’ve also used RockTape. According to their website, RockTape reduces pain, decompresses areas of swelling and inflammation, and delays fatigue, among other benefits. Below I’ve included a technique for supporting the wrist joint using Rock Tape taught me by my massage therapist, Holly Hutchinson. Because wrists are one of the weak links in a kayaker’s chain, I thought this method would be useful to our readers. It really reduced the discomfort in my wrist and allowed me to move without pain.

Pull the flesh down away from the hand, stretching the tissue.

Pull the flesh down away from the hand, stretching the tissue.

Pull the muscles down away from the hand to stretch the tissue and then, holding the muscles in the elongated position, apply the tape perpendicular to the tissue fibers. Release the muscle and leave the tape on for up to three days. It helps to have someone to assist you if you’re taping a shoulder, elbow, or wrist.

Place the tape perpendicular to the muscle fibers and then wrap, keeping the tissue pulled down.

Place the tape perpendicular to the muscle fibers and then wrap, keeping the tissue pulled down.

Keep the tension on the muscles gentle but firm, not horrendously tight. You should feel a mild easing in the joint as the muscles stretch.

Wrap the joint tightly but not so as to restrict movement or blood flow.

Wrap the joint tightly but not so as to restrict movement or blood flow.

I highly recommend tape for even minor joint pain. We don’t always think of ourselves as athletes, but everyone who values an active lifestyle can benefit from treating themselves like an athlete. A little support goes a long way to heal and preserve our active bodies. We hope you find this information useful.

I’m sure there are other types of tape out there but Kinesio Tape and RockTape are the only two I have personal experience with. Got any other suggestions for taping or methods of joint support? Let us know by adding your comment below!

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Crescent City Solo Kayak Adventure

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ShareEditor’s note: This is my second solo kayak trip ever. It was way cool. I decided to write it in the third person. It just seemed like the right thing to do. She started out on a hot, sunny morning. The drive to the coast was lovely. Cloudless blue sky and tall green forests, a […]

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ShareNow I’m retired I spend my time pursuing mostly physical interests. Yoga, martial arts, skiing, hiking, camping, and kayaking are pretty much what I do. In order to keep vigorous and resilient I have a regimen. To stay healthy, I eat right and get plenty of sleep, regular massages, and take at least one Epsom salt […]

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In Memorium Eric Soares August 1, 1954 – February 1, 2012

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ShareEditor’s note: Thanks to my son Nick for this segment of Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. At this point in the poem, Ulysses (the speaker) is walking to the port, soon to depart. Here he begins his final thoughts before departure as a sort of swan song essentially rounding off his reasoning for leaving again […]

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Kayak Resolutions 2016

January 11, 2016

ShareI was at something of a loss as to what to do for the first blog post of the New Year. It was weird. For nearly four years I’ve managed to keep the blog going to honor Eric’s posthumous wish and it’s been fun. Searching for copy I’ve enjoyed trips to Kauai, Sardinia, and the […]

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