Editor’s note: For 30 years the Tsunami Rangers hosted an Extreme Sea Kayak race every spring. The first race was held at Rodeo Beach near San Francisco, California but the event eventually ended up with a permanent home at Miramar Beach in Half Moon Bay. A great big shout out to our friends who took photos over the years especially Barbara Kossy and Laura Nixon, and to Admiral Kuk for his help with this post.
TR Michael Powers and his friends built this kayak ramp off the cliff in front of his house so we could get our boats down to the beach more easily. The Tsunami race went through a number of metamorphoses over the years after its start at Rodeo Beach, Marin County in 1986. A couple of years later the event was renamed the Devil’s Dare and took place at Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica. Racers paddled along Devil’s Slide in that event. Later, the venue moved to Michael’s house on Miramar Beach where it remained and was eventually dubbed the Sea Gypsy Race. Then after a long time the event morphed into Reef Madness, with new organizers Ed Anderson, Dave Etheridge and friends, but still supported by the Rangers. Below, Admiral Jim recounts the beginnings of the race that challenged, frustrated, and terrified kayakers for 30 years.
Admiral Jim Kakuk: It was a dark and stormy night in January, 1986. It was there, literally in the rain, camped on the side of a narrow gully on the coast of Marin County, that we envisioned our own Tsunami Ranger event. That day Eric Soares and I had been surfing, practicing for the Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC) “Get Your Boat Salty” contest that was scheduled for the next day, an invitational for river boaters to surf the waves at Bolinas Beach and to “get your boat salty”. After a long day of kayaking and surfing in our river boats we decided to camp out that night. After we had paddled into the wind and rain for what must have been several hours, we arrived at our secret spot a few miles north of Bolinas Bay. Setting up our tent in the stormy conditions, we ate our few rusty cans of rations and whatever snacks we had left over from the day. To pass the time we talked about the next day’s event and wondered if the increasingly foul weather would cause a cancellation. Fortunately, to get us through the night we had a bottle of Old Crow Whiskey that was easing our concerns about getting flooded out while igniting the conversation along with our imaginations.
Of the many topics that were passed back and forth into the night along with the whiskey, one was the possibility of the Tsunami Rangers holding our own event. The conversation was peppered with the usual bursts of ideas and then tempered with some practical reasoning and a little bit of logic. We arrived at a plan to hold a race from Rodeo Beach around Pt. Bonita to the Golden Gate Bridge and back. After considering many ideas of what to call it we decided not to call it a “race”. The term “kayak meet” was more inclusive. It would be a Tsunami Ranger activity, not an organized event, and there would be no money involved. It would be fashioned in the style of the Le Mans race and everyone would start from up on the beach and have to run to the water and then enter through the surf. In typical Tsunami Ranger thinking, we reasoned that a beach entry and surf start would benefit us and hinder the skirted boaters! And so later that year on June 8th, 1986 it happened, the first Tsunami Ranger Meet that was imagined on that stormy night in the rain and mud, with a bottle of Old Crow whisky.
Lt. JG Nancy Soares: There was always a safety talk before the race. The course was explained, options were discussed, the rules were laid down, and questions were answered.
Many types of boats entered the race. Here are a few vessels ready to go. Among them, the longest boat is the Tsunami X-3 designed and built by TR Captain Jim Kakuk. The X-3 featured prominently in the Sea Gypsy races. Many different crafts were entered over the years. Necky Chathams figured prominently. Some other names: NDK Greenlander, Coaster, Sirocco, Cobra, Looksha Sport, WS Tempest, Meridian, and Nimbus. Not all came home unscathed.
This is the original race course once the race was established at Michael’s place at Miramar Beach. From there the racers paddled through the shore break and then had two choices. One, they could go around the Danger Zone at Maverick’s, where they hold the Big Wave surf contests at Pillar Point. Two, they could go through the infamous Slot at the foot of the Point. Not always an option, the Slot is only navigable at a relatively high tide. Lots of exciting stories came out of the Slot in those days. Once around the point, the racers had to paddle to and around Flat Rock, seen here as “Flatline Rock”, then through the break at Ross’s Cove, land on the beach, toss sand in the air to prove they’d accomplished that skill, and then paddle out and back to Miramar and the finish line. After a few years, the course was changed to eschew Flat Rock. Since the race was held regardless of conditions, going to Flat Rock was deemed a bit much on a rough day.
Every year there was a different poster for the race. Above and below are two of our favorites.
Here are a few photos of the start of the race on days when it wasn’t too foggy to take pics. In the third shot you can see Pillar Point (Microwave) in the distance. Directly below, Michael takes aim with a crossbow. Michael loved to start the race with a flaming arrow or some kind of bomb, anything involving fire and a loud noise. It definitely let you know when it was Go Time.
Before the race, Michael would prep his hand-made compound, decorating with flags and setting up his back deck for the after-party. And what a party it was! It was the biggest pot-luck you ever saw, with dancing to live music, most often with TR John Lull and his South City Blues Band. Awards were given, stories were shared, food and drink flowed, and it went on for hours.
Here are some photos of the intrepid racers that made it through the course to finish. One of the rules was that when you landed, no one could help you. You had to drag your boat over the finish line ALL BY YOURSELF! And you had to get the whole boat across the line to officially complete the race. Times were anywhere from around 45 – 50 minutes for the speedsters to over 2 hours for others. But although times were important to some, for others it was an accomplishment just to get off the beach, get to Ross’s, land, take off, and get back again in one piece.
There was some fierce rivalry between a few of the top racers who came back year after year. TRs Don Kiesling and John Dixon and Honorary TR Kenny Howell are all big surf ski paddlers who have entered the Molokai Challenge multiple times, paddling from the Hawaiian island of Molokai to Oahu. Below you see Don, who came in 5th one year on his Bark Catalina Paddleboard with a time of 55:38. Wowsers, what a stud! In 2011, Kenny won the race with a time of 57:37 in a surfski, but there was no Don or Dixon to challenge him that year.
The party got started about the time the racers took off from the beach, but it really got going once they began to reach the finish line. There was always a huge feast with all kinds of food including Michael’s special potato salad, and tons of beer and wine. The band played, the people danced, and awards were given to all participants including the did-not-finishers. You got a certificate for at least trying to get off the beach. Not everyone did.
And who can forget the costumes? Racers, supporters, and partygoers alike were encouraged to dress as pirates or sea gypsies or Vikings or whatever, but please don’t take yourself seriously and do come in costume. Or be mocked.
Unfortunately we never got photos of racers at Flat Rock, Ross’s Cove, or the Slot. The racers themselves were focused on racing and there isn’t anywhere a photographer could realistically set up, except at Ross’s Cove, and then you’d miss the party. Nevertheless, we got quite a few good shots over the years. Here are a few more to give you an idea.
We hope you enjoyed this Tsunami retrospective. It’s hard to believe we kept the race going for 30 years. The main reason we quit is that environmental conditions (i.e. the sea) wiped out the boat ramp one year, and the road in front of Michael’s house is in danger of disappearing. Boats were broken and there were plenty of mishaps and mayhem, but no one died and in the end we have a lot of great stories not to mention memories of some of the best parties ever. It’s been a pleasure to share our race with you!
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