Sea Kayaking Microwave – Surfin’ Tsunami Style

by Nancy Soares on February 24, 2014

By Steve King and Scott Becklund

Editor’s note: The Tsunami Rangers refer to the wave at Mushroom Rock as Microwave for two reasons: it’s a mini-version of Maverick’s and there’s a naval station with radio and radar on the bluff above the break. Thanks to TR Michael Powers for all the great photos!

TR Scott Becklund checks out the break.

TR Scott Becklund checks out the break.

Steve: About a week before the epic Maverick’s Big Wave surf contest, my friend and fellow Tsunami Ranger Scott Becklund sent me a text suggesting a surfing session at Microwave or Mushroom Rock, a sweet surfing spot where the Rangers and many other kayakers have played and surfed for decades. I was game, the big wave was forecast to come rolling in for a Friday contest, and so to avoid the hubbub we selected Sunday for our session.

I spent part of Saturday with about a hundred spectators watching roughly 15 intrepid surfers paddle out to Maverick’s via the slot at the end of the beach. We all got to see black silhouettes charging down some very large waves, this time no prize money, no rescue jet skis, just very brave big wave surfers out to enjoy Maverick’s! I knew we were heading out the next morning early (not to Maverick’s itself but inside the reef where there were still some big fun looking waves).

You can see the naval station from which Microwave got its name in the background.

You can see the naval station from which Microwave got its name in the background.

Scott: Driving down to see King ” El Rey” I drove through the Presidio and along Ocean Beach. Seeing the Pacific at first light I realized choosing today for a surf play day was either very lucky or well thought out. I was driving down anyhow to hang with King and meet Padre Jack (the Tsunami Rangers’ official chaplain) to buy a Tsunami X-15 for my son. Arriving at King’s I learned that Michael “Don Miguel” Powers was meeting us for our paddle. There is something very special about both King and Michael for such different reasons. Now I really knew this was going to be fun!

 It’s funny how many of my colleagues and casual friends know me as a kayaker yet have little knowledge of the time I spend with the ocean. As we prepared to launch I thought about how many times I had told people I was kayak surfing: no, not board surfing. And surfing at Pillar Point: no, not Maverick’s. I guess if you haven’t done it you just don’t understand. But as we paddled away from the beach that morning I forgot all this as I tuned in to what a beautiful a day it really was.

Scott scouts the break

Hmm…nice wave!

Steve: We got there Sunday morning and met Don Miguel, aka Wild in Spirit Powers, the elder Tsunami Ranger in his Tsunami X-15. He was a bit beat up from a fall he took on a 10-mile hike in the Santa Cruz mountains a few days previously but as usual his spirit and great health prevailed and he was raring to go!

When we got out to Mushroom Rock there was a paddle board and surf ski duo working the waves. As soon as we got close to Mushroom Rock, Scott slipped in to a building wave with a few paddle strokes and glided down the wave like a dolphin playing in surf. I think he was channeling Don Diego, our beloved Eric Soares, as he dropped into that wave with such ease and precision. A nice long ride was his reward. I tried to find the grooveline but found myself paddling hard with no go or flow. Then I caught one with Scott next to me but again he snabbed the sweet spot and I found myself riding the top of the wave, bracing to stay there with spray jamming up my nose. I ended up taking a long ride on top and then got dumped.

El Rey catches a bumpy ride

El Rey catches a bumpy ride

Scott: I hadn’t surfed here since Eric’s memorial in 2012. As we paddled up to the break at Mushroom Rock we joined a wave surfer and an SUP paddler both who greeted us with smiles. Man, this just keeps getting better! I thought. The NOAA forecast was for 5-7′ seas at 17 seconds. That looked accurate. The waves reflected early morning light off their glassy faces. I saw what I thought would be THE takeoff about 25-30 yards past the other two surfers and paddled straight to it without waiting for King and Michael to catch up. I’d been nearly creamed at this spot before so I kept a weather eye out for trouble. Just as I got there a nice wave approached and I took it. Okay, now this is too good! I thought. Off on one of the best rides in years on the first set!

Scott finds the sweet spot.

Scott finds the sweet spot.

Steve: I lined up for another wave as Scott continued to tune in ride after ride, smooth as silk. I was positioned a bit too far forward and found myself doing endos in my X-15. I released my seat belt as I was going through the washing machine and lost my boat for a few moments. It was a very big set and my antics provided great entertainment for my fellow surfers. For that I was grateful; it would be sad if it were all for naught! I got creamed by another set and bounced up (wave roll by Neptune) and found myself sitting in my boat, no paddle, on top of a wave like a bucking bronco. I got dumped again and was held down longer then I recall ever being held down in the past. It made me think about the courageous Maverick’s surfers and what a real big wave hold down must be like!

After my last mash-up I finally got in the zone and starting picking up rides, long and smooth. One ride was a tandem as I looked over to see Scott flying at about the same rate as me down the wave. By that time it had developed into a glorious Sunday morning surf session. Truly the core of what makes ocean wave riding so exhilarating.

TR Steve King searaches for the grooveline.

TR Steve King searches for the sweet spot.

Scott: It felt like we had the place to ourselves. We nearly did. As I paddled back from my ride King paddled up to me and we caught (or tried to catch) some nice waves. I seemed to be in the better spot and was catching a few more than El Rey when he snaked me! On the next big juicy perfect set I jumped on the wave thinking King would pull off yet there he was! No where to go but into his lap or straight down the face. I cranked as hard as I could and was barely able to pull off over the top. As I paddled around I caught myself both laughing and muttering under my breath, “Any one but King…” All this time Michael sat underneath in his kayak trying to capture that elusive pic.

Catch a wave and you're sittin' on top of the world...

Catch a wave and you’re sittin’ on top of the world…

Steve: It was so good I forgot about getting hammered. Then I found myself looking at the biggest wave of the day and I was not in the right spot. I had paddled up over the top of a few of these big guys and dropped ka-blam! on the backside but I could not get over the top or out of the way of this one. I did my best to ride the beast but it dropped hard and fierce on my head. It also creamed everybody else out there, I believe. When I surfaced I saw Don Miguel in the water, hanging on to his boat, laughing. He had had to bail to avoid being torpedoed by my boat. Scott was also mashed by this big boy. That was one hard dropping wave!

I fought the wave and the wave won...

I fought the wave and the wave won…

Scott: Anyone who has paddled with Michael can never understand how he never gets creamed. He’ll be right in the kill zone and then just off to the side as all hell breaks loose. Today as I paddled back to the takeoff spot I passed him laughing at how much air he got as he barely crested a wave. I looked up and there was King, looking as if he had changed his mind about going for a monster. Imagine his boat in slow motion stalling on a big wave, seeming to stop then changing direction and launching straight over the falls backwards, cartwheeling over and over, picking up speed as he rolled. He barreled toward me where I sat thirty yards away, lost his boat and got held under. It seemed like at least a minute before I finally saw him surface and swim toward his boat and me. Holy s#*t! That was one of the best kayaking crashes I’ve seen that didn’t involve a broken boat or… Minutes later a smiling King reconnected with his boat. I went yelling and laughing back for more. The three Rangers shared a few more rides and couple more crashes and lots of laughs with the other paddlers before we called it a session and paddled back for a hot tub soak. Magical.

Steve: We took a few more rides and then headed back toward the beach. Scott, Don Miguel and I rode one last wave three abreast heading to shore. Bliss on a Sunday morning surfing session! Thank you to the Great Spirit for the ocean, waves, and sun and to Jim Kakuk the designer and creator of these exquisite Tsunami X-15 ocean kayaks!

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Fat Paddler February 24, 2014 at 5:09 am

Great stuff Rangers. There’s nothing like a good surf with mates, and it’s even more fun when you all get creamed together! Rock on. :)

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Nancy Soares February 24, 2014 at 8:16 am

That’s what I’m talking about! Thank you so much, Steve, Scott, and Michael for a beautiful post and showing us how it’s done! For more on this perspective on sea kayaking see Eric’s post http://tsunamirangers.com/2010/12/08/sea-kayaking-should-be-fun-not-s-e-r-i-o-u-s/ Sea kayaking should be FUN! There’s a photo of a great painting one of our friends did of kayakers getting wiped at Microwave. It’s pretty cool. Check it out. So glad you guys had such a great day and shared it with all of us. I can’t wait till we paddle together again.

And yeah, FP, the only thing better than a tandem ride is a tandem wipe out to my way of thinking.

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Nancy Soares February 24, 2014 at 9:12 am

Funnily enough, the Neptune’s Rangers just posted on this playspot too, as well as Flat Rock a bit to the north. They’ve got great photos and a couple of videos of both places. Check them out at http://neptunesrangers.blogspot.com/

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Bill Vonnegut February 24, 2014 at 10:51 am

We must be on the same wavelength writing these posts up at the same time. I guess that means we have equal love for that wonderful play spot. Looks like you guy’s have as much fun as us out there.

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Nancy Soares February 24, 2014 at 11:44 am

“Wavelength”…are you punning on purpose? But yes, I LOVE that place. I know it so well I feel really safe there and so I can push myself more than somewhere I’m less familiar with. When Eric and I lived across the highway we’d go out without checking NOAA or anything and let conditions dictate our day. There’s always something to do.

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Tony Moore March 4, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Wonderful article, thank you Steve, Scott, Michael for creating it, and Nancy for providing this website to post it on!

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Nancy Soares March 5, 2014 at 9:11 am

Hi Tony! Funny, I was just thinking about you and wondering how you’re doing because it seems like it’s been a while. Thanks for commenting. Glad you enjoyed the article. Yes, this was a real Tsunami team effort and it came together pretty seamlessly. The guys sent me the photos and told me they’d gone surfing and I said hey why not write it up. A day later we had the post. Woo hoo!

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Tony Moore March 5, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Hi Nancy, I’m doing great! I get out kayaking 2-3 times a week, usually alone…it’s always harder in the winter to find others to go with, seeing the water temps. are in the thirties out here, and the air temps. have been cold, too, and it’s usually windy. I like what you said about just going out and letting conditions dictate the day. If it’s very windy, I might just slog against the wind for a couple of hours, then surf back in the following seas. Or if it’s bitterly cold, I may do some ice-crunching. Sometimes, I check on the snowy owl that’s been hanging out off Sachuest Point, a beautiful nature preserve. Surf’s up? Cowabunga! There’s always something to do on the water, you just have to be flexible. But with the soon return of milder weather, others will be going out more often, and it’s always better to share the experience!

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Nancy Soares March 6, 2014 at 8:58 am

Ice crunching? Brrr! But I’m glad to hear you’re still out there even in winter. You know, I’ve never kayaked solo. I’m a big believer in the buddy system. But now that I live so far away from other sea kayakers I’m starting to think about it. Crescent City can be a good surf spot and it’s pretty protected with a big sand beach. Any advice for me if I do go out alone?

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Tony Moore March 6, 2014 at 10:26 am

Both winter paddling and solo paddling have inherent risks, so the key is to adjust your outing to minimize the risk…it’s all a matter of scaling back on the danger. In the summer, with an experienced group, there are things I’d do that I wouldn’t even consider doing alone and / or in the winter. For example, in warm weather, we have gone rock-gardening off Newport’s exposed coast in very windy conditions with large surf. Now if I had the same conditions on a solo paddle in the winter, I would be in the bay (not the exposed coast), and on a track that the wind and waves would blow me into a safe shore…lots of fun and great exercise bouncing in steep chop and fighting against the wind, but with the risk greatly mitigated. Of course, even with a group and in the summer, safety is the prime concern. In my above example about rock gardening off Newport in big wind and waves, we were doing a “different” kind of rock gardening, avoiding narrow, treacherous passages, and only negotiating larger-scale rock formations. (Oh, and about the ice-crunching…if you are in salt water that is making ice, the temp. of that water is in the twenties, as salt water freezes at 28 degrees F.)

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Nancy Soares March 7, 2014 at 9:33 am

All good points, Tony. Thanks for the advice. One more question: do you change your equipment at all? I mean like do you bring flares or a radio when you’re solo and not when you’re with a group – that kind of thing?

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Tony Moore March 8, 2014 at 8:12 am

The only thing I can think of is a tow rope or throw-bag, which doesn’t have much use on a solo trip. Of course, on a solo trip, no one is there to cover for you, so you darn well better remember everything you may need. When I am with a group, I can often supply others with what they may have forgotten at home, because my car is always loaded with extra gloves, hoods, paddles, waterproof containers, tools,etc. Once, one member of the group arrived with a new drysuit, but he had forgotten to trim down the latex neck gasket. I had a Leatherman tool with a razor-sharp blade, which did the job nicely. Likewise, I have on occasion forgotten something, and another paddler was able to supply my need. But going solo, you have to be more diligent, especially with the safety gear.

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Nancy Soares March 8, 2014 at 8:41 am

I’ll take your words to heart. I am too lax about safety gear because I always have companions and I never paddle in places where I couldn’t swim to shore if necessary. But You Never Know, right? Thanks again.

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Moulton Avery March 7, 2014 at 2:36 pm

This was a wonderful article and I really enjoyed reading it! You mates rock!

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Steven King March 10, 2014 at 4:39 pm

It was an a great day on the water, never enough. You know I also had sort of a sore shoulder before we went out and after be smashed about in the morning my shoulder felt a lot better. Go figure sort of like wave mash therapy!

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Nancy Soares March 11, 2014 at 9:06 am

Wave mash therapy. Hmmmm, maybe there’s another potential post there. I know I’ve often gone kayaking with a stuffed up nose, head cold, or something like that and after getting thoroughly flushed out by the sea water my sinuses are clear as a bell. Also, one time I fell off a cliff into a bunch of poison oak and had to use the shrubs in order to climb back up onto the bluff. I was so freaked out – I had poison oak all over me and my friend drove me down to the beach where I ripped off all my clothes and went swimming for about 20 minutes until I couldn’t stand it any more. I just about turned blue but never developed a rash. The sea water took care of it. Love our mother ocean, the great healer!

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Tony Moore March 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Wave mash therapy! I’ve experienced that! Early on in my kayaking career, I was surfing in an Ocean Kayak Malibu II ( i cringe at the thought now!). The waves that day were moderate size and dumping. Soon after I caught one wave, I got launched high into the air and came down hard, hitting the kayak with my back. My first thought was “This can’t be good!”. However, that hit actually CURED a longstanding chronic back problem that I had!!! I must have hit my back just in the right place to effect some sort of “ocean chiropractic”!. And like you said, Nancy, many times I’ve experienced stuffiness, head colds, etc., only to have a nice paddle in the fresh ocean air clear everything up. Yes, it does seem that the sea takes care of us!

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Nancy Soares March 11, 2014 at 4:55 pm

That’s an impressive story, Tony! Glad the effects were beneficial; I suppose it could have gone the other way. But I really believe the ocean, while she can be a rough playmate, loves us as much as we love her. If you approach her with joy and enthusiasm she seldom harms you and mostly just seems to find delight in scaring the bejeezus out of you ;)

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Nancy Soares March 11, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Just picked this up on FB: the Neptune’s Rangers just a bit north playing at Flat Rock. All right, Steve and Scott – that’s your next assignment…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=if7YroC-WqI&feature=youtu.be

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Bill Vonnegut March 11, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Let me know when you are going and I will meet you there.

Hey, as long as I’m here, when’s reef madness this year?

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Nancy Soares March 12, 2014 at 8:06 am

Good question, Bill. For 27 years it was on the first Sunday in May. Last year for various reasons it was held in July. Since Michael Powers provides the launch site and hosts the after party it’s really his call. But Dave Etheridge and Ed Anderson are the key people these days as far as I know. I’ll try to find out.

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Nancy Soares March 26, 2014 at 7:49 am

This just in: Reef Madness is scheduled for Saturday June 7th. Be there or be square.

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Bill Vonnegut March 26, 2014 at 7:55 am

Well I don’t want to be square

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John Lull March 20, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Hey nice article, Steve & Scott. This is one of my favorite kayak surf spots ever since I moved to El Granada about 25 years ago. I’ve probably forgotten more of the adventures I’ve had out there than I can remember. Not only is there always action and the waves can be really fantastic, but it’s so close I can see Pillar Point and the surf from my house (just like Sarah Palin can see Russia from her front porch, lol).

Anyway, I was just out there just this morning with Paul McHugh. The swell was large and we were there at low tide; a deadly combination, but Paul only had the morning free. Once again I realized why low tide/huge swell is not friendly at Mushroom Rock (although it’s probably ok for Maverick’s surfers further out at Maverick’s). I got thoroughly trashed in one of the many closeout waves. Didn’t come out of the boat or even tip over, but still got worked in a major way, and my only thought was I’m gettin’ too old for this shit! But then I did get one great serendipitous ride. Still, from now on when the swell is up, I’m sticking to med/high tide out there. At least then the wave shapes up well enough that you can maneuver out to an escape route on the shoulder to avoid the trash zone.

Every surf spot has its peculiarities and it pays to learn them.

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