Sea Kayaking Personalities: Are YOU a Herbert?

by Nancy Soares on December 4, 2017

“Herbert was a minor official notorious for his limited and rigid patterns of thought.” – First Officer Spock, from the original Star Trek episode “The Way to Eden”

We should tackle reality in a slightly jokey way, otherwise we miss its point. – Lawrence Durrell

Bah, humbug! – Ebenezer Scrooge

The Tsunami Rangers are known for extreme sea kayaking but we embrace the whole sea tribe. We like sea and river kayakers, touring kayakers, whitewater kayakers and kayak surfers. We like long boats, short boats, skirted boats and surf skis, boats of wood, plastic, fiberglass and kevlar, and we like inflatables. We like wing paddles, Greenland paddles and single bladed paddles. We also embrace SUPers, board surfers, outrigger canoeists and dragon boaters as part of our family of wave riders. If it’s a paddle sport we’re in. Share the waves!

Share the waves!

Share the waves!

We embrace everyone and we also mock everyone, including of course, ourselves. Light-hearted mockery (as opposed to mean-spirited mockery) has always been part of the Tsunami Ranger way. Eric was the king of mockery. He was also very generous and enthusiastic and he felt that people get a little too serious, almost grim, about our sport. Eric wrote a post about this phenomenon, and the comments on the piece are priceless

Star folk. They look just like Sea Gypsies!

Star folk. They look just like Sea Gypsies!

Take the Ladies of the Lake Symposium that’s held every August in Michigan. They have a costume party (Sea Gypsy/Reef Madness anyone?) on a Saturday night. Bill Thompson, the founder of the symposium said, “We thought we can’t do that! That’ll never fly.” But he also said that now the party is as important as the kayaking and they’ve been partying for over a decade. It’s all about bringing like-minded people together and having fun.

Capt. Kuk and Honorary Tsunami Ranger Kenny Howell en regalia

Capt. Kuk and Honorary Tsunami Ranger Kenny Howell en regalia

How about Audrey Sutherland and her inflatable kayak? No one disrespects Audrey for her sou’wester and rubber boots. Audrey achieved more in her rubber ducky than most kayakers will ever do in their state of the art sea kayaks. Without audacity and individuality where would kayaking be today? B-o-r-i-n-g, or worse, non-existent.

I remember inviting some newbie kayaker friends to the Sea Gypsy Race one year. They turned me down. They disdained our boisterous, devil-may-care approach. Costumes? You want me to dress up?? They missed a good race and a good party. HERBERTS!!! When Eric quoted Spock he always threw in the word “nay-saying”. Even though nay-saying wasn’t in the original quote, I can see how Eric made the connection. 

No Herberts here!

No Herberts here!

In the Tsunami lexicon the word Herbert refers to people (not just kayakers) who take themselves Very Seriously. People with no sense of humor. People with a herd mentality. The term comes from an original Star Trek episode in which it was chanted to mock the uptight.

In the spirit of letting our hair down for the holidays, here’s a question: are you a little uptight? Would you benefit from lightening up a bit? In short, Are YOU a Herbert? When Eric paraphrased the Star Trek quote above, he added a few adjectives. Based on those adjectives here are six questions to help you find out: 

  1. Are you rigid? Rigid means stiff, inflexible, firmly fixed, strict, not deviating. Do any of these words describe your approach to kayaking (or anything else)? Do you stretch your mind as well as your body? Have you tried something new lately with regard to kayaking (or anything else)? Things are always changing. Are your opinions firmly fixed, or can you change your mind about stuff? I have heard it said that those who can’t change their minds can’t change anything. Something to think about.
  2. Are you hidebound? When referring to humans hidebound means obstinate, bigoted, narrow-minded, and prejudiced. For example, when you paddle out to the line up and see SUPers and board surfers do you greet them with smiles…or frowns or a frozen stare? When we put others down, it gives us a bit of an ego boost because it momentarily puts us on top. But that’s an illusion and it’s temporary.
  3. Are you unimaginative? Can you tolerate negative capability? For example, even if you only paddle certain boats under certain conditions can you imagine what it would be like to do it differently? Can you appreciate what others do even if it’s not the way you do it?
  4. Are you limited and narrow-minded? Do you profess a narrow definition of what constitutes “true” sea kayaking or do you embrace alternative approaches? Do you have a limited opinion about how people are supposed to behave on the water? Like, if someone accidentally falls out of their kayak and cracks up laughing at themselves do you look down your nose? Or can you appreciate the slapstick quality of a harmless crash and burn?
  5. Is your ego wounded if you have to swim? Did you muff that roll? Did you get stuck on that rock and have to hump off? Not that that’s a problem but if you’re embarrassed or trying to act like it didn’t happen, Beware! You may be – gaspa Herbert! Always remember, a good beat-down makes a good campfire story.
  6. Last but not least, are you a nay-sayer? How often do say “no”? How often do you say “yes”? And why? Someone once told me that 75% of our thoughts are negative. When I started looking at my own thoughts I was dismayed to note how negative, judgmental, and critical many of my thoughts were. I’ve been working on that ever since, replacing “no” with “yes” and the negative with the positive whenever I can. 

I generally kayak with people who laugh and yell and occasionally come out of their boats as they get smacked around by the ocean because they’re not afraid to push themselves and make mistakes and learn. I’ve also kayaked (much less) with people who never cracked a smile and stayed rigidly upright. I don’t get that. Tim Shuff in a past article in Adventure Kayak said he “embraces both the playful and serious sides of paddling”. That’s a healthy outlook.

Sea Gypsies and silliness -the Tsunami Ranger Extreme Sea Kayaking Race 2003Gy

Sea Gypsies and silliness -the Tsunami Ranger Extreme Sea Kayaking Race 2003

Safety comes first and we need to educate ourselves about equipment and skills. But you can’t learn to walk if you don’t fall down, or kayak without tipping over once in awhile. Embrace the fuckups like you embrace the air and the water and the view! Embrace your fellow paddle sport enthusiasts! Together we can do great things like push the boundaries of our respective sports, clean up the environment, and enjoy the beauty and the splendor and the wonder of the ocean. We can have FUN!   

Because it's FUN!!!

Because it’s FUN!!!

I’d like to leave you with a quote from Virginia Marshall, past editor of Adventure Kayak Magazine: “The only thing I truly fear as a kayaker is the day that no one paddles…because it’s too dangerous – or worse, too boring.” As Liquid Fusion’s Jeff Laxier once asked in an ocean whitewater class, “Why do we do this?” Then with a self-deprecating grin he answered himself: “Because it’s FUN!”  In that class I got stuck on a rock and had to hump off AND later fell over on my face for no reason. And it was FUN. Bingo!

What do you think about Herberts? Or Star Trek? Or hell, any old thing! Talk to us by sharing below. 

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Tsunami Retreat 2017 Part One – The Wave in the Cave

by Nancy Soares on November 6, 2017

Editor’s Note: So much happened during this retreat we’ve decide to make it a triplicity. This is Part One, The Wave in the Cave!

A Wave in a Cave

A Wave in a Cave – Commander Eric Soares in Trilogy Cave

From the Captain’s Log: The plan was to do about a 3 mile paddle in and set up camp before dark. Scott was in the lead; close behind came Don, Steve and Nancy. It was the first day and I was trying to keep up with the Rangers ahead of me; slower than the others I was in the sweep position. This was not by choice but due to my fodder wing, an old injury that slowed me down.

Capt. Kuk and a pouover. Doesn't look that fodder wing to me!

Capt. Kuk and a pouover. Doesn’t look that fodder wing to me!

Late in the day we had made a last minute decision to Go Now thanks to Steve, rather than launch the next day as we had planned. We left the beach quickly after packing our boats in speedy fashion and without a Plan B. It was late and we were stealth-fully getting off the beach so no Herberts would come and ask questions like, “Where you goin’?” To which we would have the standard reply, “Oh just going out for a paddle about and see what we can find”. But we knew where we were going… to our “Top Secret Spot” and we ain’t telling anybody. Paddling up the coast all seemed good for the first mile or so. We took a safe route around the whitewater fringed rock gardens along the exposed Mendocino coast. Heading towards the point, I could see a clear path around the outside of the rocky headlands. A safe and sunny route, but longer and less interesting than going through the tunnels.

Scott heads into the cave

Pack Leader Scott heads into the cave

We were cruising along well on the way when suddenly I saw Scott turn inside like something had possessed him. He took a direct line towards the dark wall in the Yosemite-like rock face. Damn, I thought, he’s going for the Black Hole. Then Don and Steve started to break course and follow Scott. Nancy hesitates for a while and looks back at me with an inquisitive eye but then turns toward the dark side. Well, alrighty then, I am going to have to follow. Solo paddlers always get separated especially when there is a glitch, which is common, so better stick with the pack. All the while I was thinking, “Shit, here we are again, paddling in late with fully laden boats headed towards the caves!” So began the start of the 32nd annual Tsunami Ranger retreat, not the plan within the plan I had in mind.

The wave models for that day showed varying conditions and it had been all over the map. In these conditions there is a lot of variation in the wave patterns and when the wave frequencies combine it can make a rogue wave or a larger set. Approaching the wall I could see Don disappear into the darkness of the worm hole and then Scott. Nancy followed nonchalantly, then Steve. I hung back. Better to wait and see I said to myself. Sure enough that larger-than-usual set came wrapping around the corner and I had to back paddle and reverse punch through the incoming waves. After that I lost sight of Nancy in the chaos and decided not to enter the dragon’s lair. Backing up I took the side passage through Tunnel B which was more protected. Arriving at the outlet on the other side of the headlands I could see Scott and then Steve. Soon Don and Nancy appeared from the cave and all looked cool. Hey no problem I thought. Then Steve came over and said there was a kerfunkle on the S turn inside the tube and he had hit the wall while avoiding Nancy who was in the water swimming. Looking at his bow I saw a crumpled eye loop which was bent over and looked like a ring hanging off the side of a broken nose.

El Rey's broken bow

El Rey’s broken bow healed with duct tape

After a few minutes surmising that all was good we paddled on casually to our destination. We made it to our secret spot in time to toast our victory in battle and set up on the beach before the sun set.

Sunset at Thunder Cove

Sunset at Thunder Cove

Don, Sr. Commanding Officer: After many hours on the road, we somehow arrived at usual spot – from north, northeast, and south – at nearly the same time. It wasn’t early, but it wasn’t late! After a long drive I’m always anxious to get on the water, but didn’t want to instigate. Fortunately, Steve was the instigator, and before long the decision was made to launch!

El Rey the Instigator

El Rey the Instigator

Getting launched is always a lot of work, but this particular spot is egregious. (If you survive the put-in, you’re good to go?!) Finally we were sweaty and ready, so I helped with some launches and prepared to follow as sweep. All get off the beach well and meander towards our destination. The sea was alive, but not angry. We were paddling well and fairly close together. Sensing a level of comfort, I moved up to the front with Scott. Approaching a rocky point, we angled towards some short cut tunnels. It seemed that the tunnels would be do-able. Scott and I arrived at a tunnel mouth and had a gander. I could just see the light at the other end, and didn’t sense any big waves. I paddled through and had to negotiate only some small bumps. Scott followed not too far behind. It was a few minutes before anybody else appeared.

Dandy Don rocks the rocks

Dandy Don rocks the rocks

I was being pushed about by some currents, and didn’t have a clear view into the tunnel, but sensed trouble. Backpaddling to line myself up for a view, I could see Nancy in the water with her boat. RuhRoh. Then I saw Steve careening down a wave behind her, and then BOOM! RUHROH!! Steve and Nancy are in the water, but Nancy is swimming strongly towards me, and Steve is re-mounting in the tunnel. I assist Nancy and realize she doesn’t have a paddle. Steve paddles out and looks no worse for wear, despite the scary cannon fire. Steve confirms that Jim has taken another route, so I figure it might be helpful to recover Nancy’s paddle. I paddle back into the tunnel, but no dice. Nearly all the way through, I turn back towards the group. There in the middle I see something dark in the water – the paddle!! Finding something is always fun, but a critical piece of gear is even better. We re-group, and with Jim now present, we continue just a short distance to our intended beach. From somewhere tequila appears, followed closely by an amazing sunset.

Home at last! TR Headquarters

Home at last! TR Headquarters

Scott, Leader of the Pack: I got lucky. I got to ride up the coast with both Jim and El Rey. Ha, to have a captive audience with two of my favorite people. And what a ride! All the way up we talked about plans to bivouac along the coast. Someplace to stage and meet up with the others planning on launching and paddling together the following day. From El Rey’s questions, observations and infectious energy, I knew it would be nearly impossible to keep him from blitzing the beach and launching that afternoon. Sure enough, as soon as we pulled to a stop and saw Don and Nancy, El Rey had me salivating to be underway. While Jim and others were barely past hugs of greetings, El Rey was looking beyond us to the sea. Things like, “We could launch now and…,” or “You know we can…,” and lots of “If we tell ’em…,” were too much for me. I was in!

TR Scott plays the waves

TR Scott plays the waves

Nancy arrived from Oregon recovering from an intense year and all the smoke from the fires. Concerned about her stamina she looked as though she would rather opt out of El Rey’s now late afternoon caper. But she is always a warrior and today would not be different. As soon as she said she was up there was no turning back. The paddle in was a bit bumpy but it was nice to be on the water. As we approached the point I felt alive. Off to my right was Don as he always is, smooth as butter and looking stronger than an ox. We all lined up outside the second set of caves at about the same moment. I don’t remember if we really spoke or just nodded but in he went. Nice! I thought as I followed several seconds behind him. He got through as I came to the narrow spot in the cave. Glancing back I saw the next wave was about to break and send me surfing out. It was small enough and I opted to back paddle and just ride the surge out. Paddling out of the opening I turned to get away and make room for the next paddler.

Nancy, Learning the Dark Arts of Sea Caves: This was the worst year of my life health-wise. Sick for weeks, hospitalized for five days, months of recovery, my stamina wasn’t good. Plus I’d been housebound for weeks during the post-apocalyptic nightmare that was August in the Rogue Valley. Health warnings were in place telling people to stay indoors because of the wildfire smoke. I don’t have AC so in the triple digit weather I was opening the windows at night, and the smoke was so bad I could taste it. I was weak, nauseated, and my lungs hurt when I took a deep breath. And here I was, testing to become a Tsunami Ranger. Great.

Heading into the Cave of Death

Heading into the Cave of Death

At the caves I hesitated. I wanted to follow Jim but Scott and Don were closer so I followed them. At the cave mouth I made sure to give the guys plenty of time to get through before I entered but I neglected to look behind me. It was dark in the cave because of the dog leg and because I was wearing sunglasses. As I approached the corner a wave rolled in picking up my stern. I had the interesting sensation of surfing a wave in a cave toward a wall without really being able to see. But it was kind of cool so I just rode on into the dark. I surfed smoothly around the corner and saw the light at the cave mouth and Don and Scott outside. “Hey, maybe I got this!” I thought. But just as I rounded the corner the wave swept me against the right hand cave wall. I drove my paddle blade into the rock face to right myself and get back in the middle of the tunnel. I don’t know what happened because I’ve done that move successfully a bunch of times, but the paddle shot through my hands like a rocket slicing my fingers with the blade and slamming my hand into the rocks. I think that because the cave narrows the wave became concentrated as I came around the corner and the opposing forces of the wave pushing into the wall and the paddle thrust pushing away combined to knock the paddle out of my hand.

So there I was, high-siding it along the right-hand cave wall without a paddle. The boat flipped over and I bailed out. As my head popped out of the water I heard a massive BOOM like an M-100 going off. Wondering what the hell that was, since I’d forgotten about Steve, I grabbed the rail on the boat and started swimming out of the cave, not knowing Steve had just deliberately driven his bow into the cave wall rather than spear the back of my head. It felt like the water was sucking out and pulling at my feet so I grabbed onto the rocks of the left hand cave wall with one hand and doing a grab-pull-hump-kick-repeat maneuver swam the loaded kayak out of the cave.

The Cave a few days later. The wall to the right is where I crashed.

The Cave a few days later. The wall to the right is where I crashed.

Don was waiting outside, and like the gentleman he is he pulled the bow of my boat up onto his deck while I took a breather and told him what had happened. I actually thought my paddle might be broken because of the force with which it flew out of my hands. Don helped me flip my kayak over and while I paddled out of the way using my hands, which worked surprisingly well, he went back into the cave and found my paddle intact with only one blade a bit chewed up and the Kevlar frayed. Yay! Paddle restored, we regrouped and continued on to the camp site. My hand was bruised and bleeding, but not badly. First blood. Yeah!

Lessons learned:
1. When in doubt, follow Jim
2. Before entering a cave, look behind you
3. When in a cave, don’t forget about what’s behind you
4. It’s good to be part of a team
5. When the shit hit the fan I forgot all about how debilitated I was and just dealt

Well, at least I got THAT over with! Chillin' on the beach.

Well, at least I got THAT over with! Chillin’ on the beach.

Steve, Cave Romancer: After launching with fully loaded boats we headed to Thunder Cove. We had relatively strong winds, swells and an active ocean as we approached a series of caves and beautiful beaches. Don led the five of us toward the right cave mouth. I was wondering about that far right cave. I did not recall that it was passable as a few of these caves lead back into the rock and create loud booming percussion sounds but do not open up.

Don headed into the cave. Scott, Nancy and I were next in line behind him. Shortly after Don went in, Scott followed. There were swells and surf moving into the mouth. After Scott entered Nancy went in. I waited outside the cave for a bit before I entered. The cave had a dog leg turn to the right and after a few strokes I could see there was some light visible indicating an opening. Because of the dog leg the end of the cave was not visible. As I entered the tunnel I picked up a nice 2 to 3 foot wave that was concentrated by the cave shape. I was clear, well below the ceiling, and having a nice ride through the cave. As the mouth became visible I saw Nancy in the water in the middle of the cave, capsized holding on to her boat pretty close to the mouth. I was surfing toward her with a fair amount of momentum. She was still a good 25 yards away. Realizing I was on a collision course with the back of her head I immediately began steering away from her. I headed to her right, but with the heavily laden boat and the cave wave surge I over-corrected. My bow smashed into the cave wall with an extremely loud bammmmmm, similar in volume to a cherry bomb. The sound reverberated in the cave. Nancy did hear that! In somewhat slow motion my kayak capsized and I was swimming, still far away from Nancy and her boat.

Every year we seem to come up with some kjnd of mascot. This year it was a baby great white we found washed up and dried out on a rock. Fitting, somehow...

Every year we seem to come up with some kjnd of mascot. This year it was a baby great white we found washed up and dried out on a rock. Fitting, somehow…

I climbed back into the X-15 and paddled towards Nancy, who was swimming out of the cave with her boat but without her paddle. I steered around her and Scott examined my bow to assess damage. Then Don entered the cave again to search for Nancy’s paddle. He emerged a few minutes later with the paddle intact. About that time I looked over to the calmer cave system that we were familiar with and saw Capt. Kuk serenely paddling towards us.

And there was much rejoicing!

And there was much rejoicing!

We agreed we were ready to proceed and paddled on towards Thunder Cove, having had a bit more excitement than we had bargained for in the first 40 minutes of our retreat! A note on Tsunami X-15 integrity: even in a fully loaded boat with the bow slamming directly into a cave wall, due to the incredible strength of these vessels my bow had only a small piece of the tip scraped off and the boat was otherwise unscathed and fully operational after the impact! Thank you Capt. Kuk!

Have you ever surfed a wave in a cave? Tell us your story below! Also, if you’d like to see actual footage of waves in caves, check out the Tsunami Rangers’ Greatest Hits on YouTube at

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SCRS – The Sea Conditions Rating System

October 2, 2017

ShareMy good friend Moulton Avery of the National Center for Cold Water Safety mentioned recently that perhaps it was time to revisit the Sea Conditions Rating System (SCRS) on this website. Since the sea is dangerous and unpredictable, I think he’s right, so here’s a post introducing the Sea Conditions Rating System. River kayakers have […]

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Extreme Smoke – The Getaway

September 4, 2017

ShareAs many of you know, Southern Oregon is on fire. For nearly the entire month of August, the Rogue Valley has been filled with smoke from multiple forest fires in the surrounding areas. Even the coast has been smoky because of the fire in Brookings. And like many of my fellow Oregonians, I don’t have […]

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Balance, Momentum, and Leverage: How to Get a 25’ Kayak Off A Truck By Yourself

August 7, 2017

ShareNaturally I was devastated when my late husband died, but one of the things that really had me exercised was how the heck I was going to get kayaks on and off the truck by myself. It might sound silly to some, but I’m short, the rack is high, and the Kevlar boats are long […]

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Sea Kayaker’s Mind, Beginner’s Mind

July 3, 2017

ShareIn the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.  Shunryu Suzuki The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence. Jiddu Krishnamurti Everything you know is wrong. Firesign Theater The ocean can change in a moment, especially in a rock garden, and when the shit hits […]

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Why Do We Test New Rangers?

June 5, 2017

Shareby Captain Jim Kakuk Why do we test new Rangers? I remember as a young scruffy kid hanging out with my friends down by the river in a tree fort. We were always coming up with big plans and scheming on who would get to join in our gang as there was always a need […]

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Bird Watching From a Kayak: Princeton Harbor in Spring

May 1, 2017

ShareI recently paddled around Princeton Harbor for the first time. I know it sounds crazy, but even after living and kayaking there for 12 years I never did that. I was always en route to the outside, to the swells along the jetty, to the surf in and around the lagoon, to Mushroom Rock, to […]

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Meet Michael Powers, Tsunami Ranger and Amazing Captioned Photo Creator!

April 3, 2017

ShareAt 76 Michael Powers is the oldest Tsunami Ranger. He became a Ranger in 1990. For almost 30 years he has been the unofficial Tsunami Ranger photojournalist, filming and photographing the Rangers and their adventures all over the world. He’s had his own share of adventures as well. Michael enhances many of his photos using […]

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Inside: One Woman’s Journey Through the Inside Passage by Susan Marie Conrad

March 6, 2017

ShareReview by Nancy Soares Editor’s note: Susan is an adventurer, writer, educator, and speaker. Her tenacious exploration by sea kayak has fueled her stories and images of the natural world for decades. Her articles and photographs have appeared in Sea Kayaker, Canoe and Kayak, Adventures Northwest, and Figure magazines. Magic and gratitude. That’s what comes […]

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