Tsunami Ranger Retreat 2014: A New Ranger!

by Nancy Soares on October 12, 2014

Captain Kuk: When Eric and I first came up with the idea of a kayaking team in 1984 we wanted to have a system for rating the skills of the paddlers that we planned on inviting to join us. Eric proposed that we use naval ranking. Having been in the U.S. Navy he was familiar with the various ranks and how they worked in a complex organization. All navies use a form of ranking as well as sailors in the merchant marine and private sector going way back in time.

Capt. Kakuk workin' it. Photo by El Rey

Capt. Kakuk workin’ it on the 2014 retreat.

What does it take to make a Tsunami Ranger?

We decided to create a test that would rate the cadets to determine their rank when joining the Rangers. It would be a test based on kayaking skills, leadership and communication (verbal and hand signals) with the other team members. The test included evaluating the conditions that were present on that day and all aspects of boat handling. This would include basic surf launch/landings, surfing skills, rock garden white water, and caves and rescues. In the beginning Eric and I ran the test, rated the performance and awarded rank.

Scott in whitewater

Scott in white water

During the test the candidate would lead a mission, directing the other members of the team while looking out for hazards and finding play spots. A few other skills are required like how to set up for a photo op and of course, prepare a full lunch for everyone on the test day. The food part is important in that the candidate must demonstrate how to prepare, stow, transport (while keeping it dry) and feed four or more people. In addition to the kayaking skills test, and perhaps most important, is how they participate and contribute to the team and are they fun to be with. At the end of the test we have a debriefing and then a great party that night when rank is awarded.

Paula was a perfect candidate for the Rangers in that we have known her for more than six years and she has been on many of our retreats so we were familiar with her skills. We also know her to be competent in camping, cooking and social skills so we were happy to invite her to join the Rangers.

Cave surging

Cave surging

In the past when we invited people we would let them know a year before hand so they could prepare but Scott, Steve and I decided to spring it on Paula and do the test the next day! After a bit of persuading she agreed and the test was on. Scott was to administer the test with Deb as back up. Steve and I paddled along, played, watched, cheered and got some photos. It was a full day of water, rocks, caves, surf, pour-overs, swimming and adventuring with landings, launchings and lunching. At the end of the day we paddled back to our perfect camp and had a fabulous evening celebrating Paula’s initiation on our wild and free beach along the beautiful Mendocino coast. Some Tsunami Rangers are made and some are born. Paula is a natural.

Welcome LtJG Paula Renouf!

Welcome Lt JG Paula Renouf!

Deb: The TR retreat was yet another memorable event! Smaller turnout than usual, but the energy was bold and energized as ever. I have to say that Dave was missed! I was even concerned that in his absence, we Tsunami Rangers may not achieve our natural retreat pinnacle.

Deb cruising the rock gardens

Deb cruising the rock gardens

The days of the retreat were spent kayaking and playing in various galactic energy zones. By night, we ate amazingly delicious food and drank many worthy beverages, including outstanding tequila of course! One night the feast was prepared and served by the “Cabana Boys” in full dress regalia. Breathtaking!

Gotta have the flag!

Gotta have the flag!

Scott: As usual, we exchanged many emails over a couple of months prior to the retreat. The biggest stumbling block seemed to be scheduling for the PNW part of the tribe. Dandy Don Kiesling had the US Surf Ski Championships in San Francisco Bay and Paula was returning to New Zealand from SF and had little time for the retreat. Some of the tribe had bagged so we made an executive decision and set a date. In the end, Deb and Paula planned on catching us on the second day out. We invited our good friends Jeff and Cate from Liquid Fusion in Ft. Bragg and in spite of their busy schedule they said they would try to join us.

Finally in mid-August Jim, El Rey and I set out from an undisclosed beach and made the beautiful paddle to Thunder Cove. The forecast was for a week of flat seas, 2-4 feet at 18 seconds and 10 knots or less of wind. Wow!

On the way...

On the way…

Steve: On Day One at midday the advance team consisting of Captain Jim Kakuk, Scott Becklund and I paddled out into a beautiful calm. After gliding through some rock gardens a reddish tinge on the surface of the ocean surprised us. Not a healthy sign, but the water closer to shore was clear and it was nearly gone when we returned several days later. After a few hours paddling we turned shoreward to one of our favorite beaches. There was a large group of seals lounging in the rock gardens as we headed in. They looked startled to see us but then almost seemed to recognize us as some of their frequent Tsunami visitors. After a while they went about their business with only occasional stints scrutinizing our trio of Tsunami X-15’s.



We made camp and set about preparing one of many delicious meals, including the abalone we collected over the course of the retreat. We spent the next day exploring rock gardens, abalone diving, riding waves in a convergence zone and meandering along stretches of beach. Our buddies were due to arrive so in the afternoon we started scanning the horizon for boats.

Seal landings

Seal landings

We made several seal landings in the rock gardens to assess promising hot spots for abalone. We found one place that looked really good. Scott was ready first as always and was about to leap off the rocks when a big surge knocked him over and washed one of his fins into a tide pool. He recovered his gear and slipped into the water, morphing into his seal/otter form, gleeful to be back in his element. I was next up but another big surge washed me into the sea before I had my fins on. Captain Kuk took note and followed in a more graceful fashion just as Scott popped to the surface with an abalone that was at least nine inches long. Smiling behind his mask, he reported that the place was covered with large abalone at about 25 feet. When we were done harvesting dinner we got out with better timing and no washouts. Then Jim slid down the rocks in his boat and watched Scott and me as we tried to mimic his smooth re-entry.

Taking a break from the boats

Taking a break from the boats

Scott: On Day Two after a leisurely breakfast, we played in the sea wondering if anyone else would show up. Later we hiked and spotted some interesting places we thought needed exploration with masks and fins. Back at camp we noticed the wind picking up and the seas building. Regardless, we launched and paddled towards our planned dive spot. As we came out of Thunder Cove and turned south, Jim pointed out Paula and Deb heading towards us about half a mile away. It’s an incredible thing to greet friends you haven’t seen for a long time out on the water. With hoots and hugs the three of us sent them off to the beach to unpack while we checked out our wonderful new dive spot.

Paula and Deb arrive

Paula and Deb arrive

Back on the beach after dinner, Jim told Paula we planned to test her for membership in the Tsunami Rangers the next day. With grace and humility Paula tried to pass. She had many claims why she wasn’t worthy to be a candidate but we rejected all of them.



Deb: It all started with the rum! Paula and I brought an exquisite bottle of “Stolen” rum from NZ, but oddly the Rangers just didn’t seem all that excited. All were willing to give it a try of course! My sense was that the TR’s had suddenly morphed into Tequila snobs – which is obviously true! I knew that if Dave was there, he would embrace the fine rum con mucho gusto! He certainly knows good rum, being a Captain Morgan connoisseur.

A retreat without Dave is like a day without...starfish???

A retreat without Dave is like a day without…starfish???

Well, as it turned out, the first swig went exceptionally well – eyebrows lifted, followed by good eye contact, and nods around the fire – avast ye! Many things were passed around the fire that night besides the captivating bottle of “Stolen” rum that before long became a vessel of only vapors! Rest assured that by then the Tsunami Rangers tribe was well on the way to reaching their own natural pinnacle, even in Dave’s absence. All was as it should be!

All as it should be!

All as it should be!

During the “Stolen” evening, Paula accepted the invitation to take her TR test! (Congratulations Lieutenant JG Paula!) The test ensued in fine form the next day – in spite of the rum residue! Scott led the test bravely and confidently.

Scott takes a break

Scott takes a break

Scott: Paula’s test actually began during the pre-retreat emails. Deb had asked if Paula was invited. Of course the answer was yes. We had already discussed creating a test for her because she brings so much to our group. We discussed the ramifications of including a partner as a Ranger. That would be a first but it had nothing to do with our wanting Paula to feel the sense of truly belonging to our tribe. I thought of her as one of us already so I was excited to be there while she tested.

Tsunami Ranger salute

Tsunami Ranger salute

On Day Three, Jim asked Deb and me to run the test. Now it was real and on! With the usual warmup and Ranger salute the test began. Here are some highlights. First, Paula had to observe the sea and report the conditions and hazards both seen and possible. The weather forecast from several days ago had proven to be inaccurate. Deb and Paula had chased storm winds down from Oregon and while the wind didn’t hit as hard as they thought, the seas rose dramatically with swell arriving from two directions. The skies were dark and damp from the heavy marine mist that arrived the night before. All this added to the drama as we discussed our on-water plans. With Paula leading we launched and headed out to play and explore the local rocks and caves.

Wending through caves

Time to explore!

On the water Paula is as gracious as she is on land. This is one of the many things that make her such a fun paddle partner. With a few hints like “Set a sweep paddler”, she led us out of the cove and to the first of many play spots, “King’s Wash”. This feature was named after we were entertained by not one but two Kings, El Rey and his daughter, getting maytagged there on a previous visit. Paula wisely paddled around to avoid replaying the tape and becoming part of local lore. As the day passed Paula was fearless as she continued to lead us through caves, over washes and to a point in the test I was really looking forward to, the seal landing. Jim, King and I had scouted this area the previous day for both diving and landing, but with the changes in conditions, all that went out the window. And today it was time for Paula to lead and us to follow.

Checking out the caves

Checking out the caves

As we passed yet another cove Deb and I made eye contact. The great thing about being part of a team like the Rangers is that you learn to communicate without words and with a minimal amount of body language. It’s extraordinary. Deb clearly thought the same thing I did: time for a seal landing now! I got ahead of Paula and signaled it was time to land. When we saw the rocks the seas were calm but as we approached some mixed sets washed through turning the shelf white with a confused cross wash. We knew it was just a matter of timing. Ahh, the best laid plans of mice and Rangers… I went first to help Paula land her skirted Mariner. I’ve done it countless times but I f*%!ed up.

Seal launch and land

Seal land and launch

In order to demonstrate how to land (and show off) I picked what I thought was the best spot but instead I flipped into the ocean and had to swim back in, this time with more success. Paula then paddled to me landing beautifully and showing me up. Part of me wanted to knock her over so she could try again and hopefully get creamed like me but I let her land. Then she launched back out as if on picnic.

Paula exercises playfulness and skill

Paula exercises playfulness and skill

Speaking of food, after what seemed like hours King and I rafted up and talked about mutiny and whether we could live with ourselves if we resorted to cannibalism. As it turned out, my decision to forgo tormenting Paula led to good karma. After a quick huddle we landed on a soft sandy beach just as the sun broke out. As beach meals go, this one will be remembered forever. Paula, with Deb’s help, laid out a meal fit for a glamping magazine. And she put it together on rations she had packed without knowing she was going to have to feed famished Rangers. Wow!

Paula backs up to a blowhole

Paula backs up to a blowhole

Steve: Paula astonished me in one of the most critical elements of the test, the lunchtime spread for all present. We landed on a beach and then in moments she laid out a gourmet feast such as I have never had on retreat. There were three types of cheese, including one infused with truffles, and exquisite haute cuisine crackers with fresh fruit and vegetables, a large bottle of fine beer, and other delights. The coup de grace was fresh blueberries drenched in brandy and dark chocolate! At that point she had earned my vote 100% but she continued the test for several more hours in the water!

Paula stylin' it

Paula stylin’ it

Scott: At the end of the day, Jim, Deb and I privately went over our observations of Paula’s test. Independently we had each come to almost the same conclusion and had ranked her the same. Paula has walked the walk for years. Under Deb’s mentorship she has become a highly efficient and competent kayaker. She paddles in challenging places and is comfortable in a variety of boats. During the test she was a bit hesitant to lead but only at first. At the beginning she could have kept better track of the pack and kept the group closer together, but bottom line Paula led us through a long, fun day and completely wore us out. At the debriefing, I told her she could work on her on-water communication using hand signals. But her overall knowledge of the ocean, boat handling skills and understanding of group dynamics make her one of my most treasured paddling partners.

Scaott and Deb talking deep philosophy

Scott and Deb talking deep philosophy

Around the fire that evening after dinner we all discussed the test and our thoughts of the day as a group and gave Paula the rank of Lieutenant JG. Congratulations Paula!

Scott congratulates the newest Ranger

Scott congratulates the newest Ranger

Steve: Paula did not expect to be asked to take the day-long Tsunami Ranger test. When she was invited to do so by Captain Kuk she was initially quite surprised and tried to postpone it to a later date when she would be better prepared. We impressed upon her that, as the Borg would say, “resistence is futile”. I will say she was very competent, playful and skilled at all the stages of the test. Her paddling and her approach to the underlying theme of the Rangers (have as much fun in the water as possible and stick your bow into as much rock and roll action as possible) was obvious to all.

Abs for everyone!

Abs for everyone!

On the last night of the retreat we had just put away a delicious feast of abalone, fresh vegetables and assorted other delicacies when we looked up as and there was Jeff paddling into the cove! We jumped to our feet, greeted him at the beach and hauled the food back out for him. He had tried to join us the previous evenings after a full day of teaching rock gardening classes but the fog was too thick for a safe solo paddle at sunset. We had a great time paddling back with him the next day as his easy-going but well-honed paddling technique is a blast to behold.

Jeff demonstrates his well-honed paddling technique - as influenced by teh Tsunami Rangers...

Jeff demonstrates his well-honed paddling technique – as influenced by the Tsunami Rangers…






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Editor’s Note: One from the archives: Eric Soares wrote this essay illustrating the Tsunami Rangers’ approach to sea kayaking emphasizing ocean swimming as a key skill for sea kayakers. We’ll publish his thesis in five parts. This first part is the outline for Ocean Survival Swimming. Note that Eric refers to buoyancy compensators instead of PFDs. It was a long time ago but these ideas exemplify the Tsunami ethos and offer food for thought as well as suggestions for becoming a consummate extreme sea kayaker.

Eric practices rough water swmming at Maverick's in winter

Eric practices rough water swimming at Maverick’s in winter. Photo by John Lull

Prerequisites for Ocean Survival Swimming

  • Change attitude to IN water instead of ON water
  • Be physically ready, intake food energy, carry food/liquid with you
  • Wear proper equipment (wetsuit, hood, helmet, buoyancy compensator)
  • Master the basic swimming skills (swim a mile, float, tread water, swim underwater, swim in turbulence)

Ocean Swimming Training

  • Study the waves, tides ,currents, weather, marine environment
  • Body surf
  • Swim a one-mile diamond in the open ocean

Survival Swimming Tactics

  • Swim only if best option or no choice
  • Stay with boat if tired, injured, unskilled or distance too far
  • Land on rocky/sandy beaches with BC deflated, paddle/boat in front, using frog/whip kick
  • Use seal landing on rocky cliffs w/ BC inflated, or deflate BC and dive under wave – then scramble up cliff after wave recedes
  • Swim through debris (kelp, driftwood, jellyfish, sea stacks) with BC deflated, use head-up crawl stroke, push aside or dive under floating obstacles, crawl over kelp, swim way around rocks
  • Swim alert in fog or at night, use compass, listen
  • Swim perpendicular to strong ocean currents and tidal streams
  • Swim smoothly with sharks (do not thrash about) do not bleed; if injured inflate BC and engage in kick or stroke only
  • Do not approach marine mammals while swimming

Swimming Confidence Test

  • Each time you go sea kayaking, eat hearty, don your kayaking apparel, swim out 200 meters through the surf and ask yourself: “Do I feel confident?”
  • If you lack swimming confidence, you are not ready to sea kayak


Our next post in this series expands on Eric’s Four Prerequisites to Ocean Swimming. Stay tuned!

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