Sea Kayaking Retreats

by Eric Soares on June 27, 2011

Sometimes you kayak solo.  Other times you go out for a day paddle with buddies.  Almost every paddler I know has gone on some sort of expedition—for a week, month, even a year.  Today I want to discuss the benefits of going on a sea kayaking retreat with your best paddling friends. 

A retreat is an act of withdrawing from society for a time to regroup and refocus.  A retreat encourages us to go back to our original intent, recharge our batteries, renew friendships, share kayaking adventure, relax in nature, and discuss the future.

Dave Whalen and Sasha Joura chat while moseying along the Big Sur coast on last year's retreat

In late summer or fall, the Tsunami Rangers cloister in a beautiful coastal location for a week of physical, mental, and spiritual retreat.  We have been retreating like this for 25 years.  It’s done separately from our other kayaking activities and trips.  We have a few places we have been to over and over, and occasionally we’ll try a new place.

Eric Soares sits in a fort built by him and Jim Kakuk on their first retreat in 1985

Our first retreat was in 1985 in a secret location in southern Oregon. We have returned to this place numerous times, and know it like the back of our hand.  Nowadays we schedule our retreat in Oregon every three to five years; partially so we don’t tire of this sacred site, and partially so we remember it and keep it close to our hearts.  Since I moved to Oregon three years ago, it takes me only a couple of hours to join my mates at the most beautiful and rugged coastline in the world (all right, among the most beautiful and rugged).

Big Sur in central California has been one of our favorite retreat locations.  In our early years, we explored small chunks of north, central, and southern Big Sur until we saw it all.  Last summer, after a hiatus of nearly 20 years, we retreated back to Big Sur (to read about it, click on  We had a great time and will return to beautiful Big Sur in a few years.  I highly recommend it as a place for a splendid retreat with lots to do and very few people on the water.

A secret beach in Big Sur where we held a retreat in 1990

We have enjoyed exploring and playing on the remote Lost Coast and in grand Mendocino country, two of our favorite retreat destinations.  On the Lost Coast we traveled from camp to camp, but on the Mendocino Coast we settle on one or two good camps and play among the rock gardens and sea caves.  We sometimes have “beach days,” when we all do our thing.  An  example:  on one retreat on the Mendocino coast, while Jim Kakuk and Misha Dynnikov went abalone diving out of their kayaks, and Dave Whalen and Dennis Kuhr discussed how to save the world, and Michael Powers meditated on the fog and sun, John Lull and I spent the day on our bellies looking for agates on the beach.  We all had a really good time being with our friends and doing what we wanted.

Tsunami Rangers Jim Kakuk, left, and Tim Sullivan converse in a cave at a secret retreat location

Since most of us live near or in the San Francisco Bay Area, which we paddle regularly, we never retreat there.  No Angel Island; no San Mateo coast; no Santa Cruz coast.  Although we had a retreat on the Point Tomales to Point Reyes coast years ago, generally we like to get far away from nearby familiar haunts and see something different.

In this photo by Michael Powers, we clutch coffee mugs during a morning powwow

So we found ourselves rejuvenating on a retreat to the Channel Islands, sharing our campground with a tribe of Chumash who had canoed across the channel from the mainland, when on Day 4, which happened to be September 11th, 2001, the world flipped upside down.  As everyone on the planet watched the attack unfold on TV, we remained isolated and protected on our little island.  We explored the myriad sea caves, hiked to the top of the island, and went skin diving. When we returned to civilization a few days later, we entered a strange new land.  Everything was different after that.  I was grateful that we were spared the direct trauma of that terrible event. 

Deb Volturno captured this blissful image of the Tsunami Rangers paddling near Cape Flattery on our retreat in 2008

From time to time we roam far afield.  A few years ago we made the long haul up to Cape Flattery, Washington, which was a completely new adventure for most of us.  We explored here and there, paddled around a small island and through sea caves, dipped into a freshwater pool, went surfing and fishing, and spent a lot of time recounting exploits and planning the future.  We mostly just delighted in the splendor of this magnificent place.  Someday we will return and discover new niches on the wild Washington coast.  And north of Washington lies Vancouver Island, which appeals to us, so we plan to retreat there in the future. 

Molokai Cliffs--my vision of the ideal Tsunami Ranger retreat location

I have also been dreaming of a retreat to the sea cliffs of Molokai, and hope to gather my little sea tribe there, while we can still do it, as it will not be a cake walk and will require detailed planning.  See, these cliffs are 2,000 feet high, the highest sea cliffs in the world, and I reckon the most beautiful.  For some reason I am strongly drawn to this nexus of power, and feel I must go there, establish an outpost, and share the magical experience with my blood brothers and sisters.   Someday….

Have you been on a sea kayaking retreat?  Please share what you gained from the experience by placing a comment below this post.  I would love to hear about special retreat places you know about and/or would like to visit.  Also, I’m keen on knowing what people do on their retreats.  Do you paddle to a new camp every day?  Party?  Engage in deep conversation? 

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Steven King June 27, 2011 at 2:14 pm


The Tsunami Ranger retreats are one of the best days of the year, every year. It is hard to describe the feeling of freedom that comes with a 3-5 day retreat on the West Coast of America. I will never forget the feeling I had on my first retreat with the Rangers near Elk, California.Standing on the beach the first night, watching the waves, sun setting, Reserva de la Familia being passed around, it was an amazing feeling. Being able to pack it up and paddle to where ever you felt like landing and making camp was a total blast. I realized that it took alot of planning but it also felt spontaneous.

I have = had the pleasure of going to some beautiful places in the past but the coast, sea and surf of the Pacific Northwest cannot be beat. I recall several locations where we were close enough to the high tide line that I awoke several times to make sure I was not about to be paddling my air mattress! Having the waves crashing that close as we slept was incredible. I also recall how still and silent the Ocean was at low tide in the Straits of Juan de fuca and when I heard the tide actually change, and a slow wave slowly made its way through the rocks and up the beach, magical and mystical.

Yes an ocean paddling retreat is gift to the mind, body and spirit.


Eric Soares June 27, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Don Esteban,
We’ve had some good retreats, and we’ll have more. I won’t talk about our planned retreat this summer, as its time and location are secret, of course. And that’s also part of the fun.

In a future post I’ll write about some of the fun activities we do on retreats, like the martial contests….


Lawrence Geoghegan June 27, 2011 at 3:13 pm

The best …A bunch of mates get together every year around October for a week along the coastline..We who attend like to call it CHAOS

As a theme there are no rules except

No Forecasts
No maps
No watches ..( this is a strange one but strangely every one is up early and ready to go early instead of waiting for that watch)

Its the best weekend of the year for me.Friends, new places , great paddling and heavy and deep conversations sitting around the fire.
Example a few years ago the yearly theme had us only eating raw food, so that meant if you wanted Bread you had to bring along flour etc to make it and just for good measure we couldn’t bring plates ,pots knives and forks etc ..we ate like Kings

Why do we do it ..Well we were already doing it the a good mate who attended Andrew Mcauly died on adventure of his we decided to keep it up to keep his memory alive within us..Its a cool way to remember him.

We find the best bit of coast and pick the eyes out of the paddling there before arriving at a new camp each day.

You can see last years here

Cant wait till next year


Eric Soares June 27, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Lawrence, Your CHAOS retreats sound very interesting and fun. I watched your youtube video and must agree, you all are good at swimming in surf!


Eric Concord June 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm


I can’t remember whether I’m the Good Eric or the Bad Eric but I’m sure we could give each other a run for the money. We enjoyed our retreat in the placid waters of Jackson Hot Springs and meeting you again after all these years (Port Townsend Sea Kayak Symposium in the late 90’s). We will be in the San Juans much of this summer if you want to come up and paddle with the Orca’s. Or we will be in Lincoln City. This is an open invitation. We may be in Ashland again soon and I would love to look you up and have a Martini or paddle in the rock gardens someday.

Eric Concord


Eric Soares June 27, 2011 at 9:52 pm

You are definitely Good Eric (with a bit of Bad Boy thrown in for good measure). It was my pleasure meeting you at the Jackson Hot Springs. It’s funny how you meet somebody 20 years ago and then meet him again.

I would love to visit you in Lincoln City should we make it that way (some good sea kayaking there, as I recall! Isn’t Devil’s Punchbowl close?). When you next come to Ashland, my wife and I would love to show you our garden as we all drink our dynomite martinis. Just email me at

Bad Eric


Tess June 27, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Most who get on the water regularly instruct; lead trips; train for races or expeditions; test boats or fit in a quick session or day trip. How many of us actually plan a retreat? Thanks for reminding us of their value Eric.
By the way, the ‘morning pow-wow’ pic really speaks to me. The image evokes a feeling of friendships strengthened through time spent together in isolation (as in wilderness, not prison). Michael Powers is a skilled photographer – I can almost feel the bite of the cold fresh air, smell the smokey fire and the bitter aroma of coffee, I just can’t tell you what brand the coffee is! Tess


John Soares June 28, 2011 at 6:08 am

Eric, I just want to hop in here and second Tess sentiments. The pictures and the words really make me feel like I’m with you guys, and as always you, Michael, Jim, and the other photographers you feature here are top-notch.


Eric Soares June 27, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Yes, Tess, we treasure that morning coffee (I don’t know the brand either–probably whatever was on sale) and discussion. I think we were making plans for the day, and were obviously not in a hurry.

Michael Powers is a great outdoors photographer and the oldest Tsunami Ranger (he’ll be 72 at this year’s retreat). Many of the photos posted throughout my site were taken by Michael. For readers interested in ocean and kayaking photography, go to and check out his stuff.


Moulton Avery June 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Beautiful places, exciting adventures, all shared with cherished friends. Life doesn’t get much better than this.


Dennis Kuhr June 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm

It is all good with so much coastline to explore in the world. The hard part that you Eric, and Jim have been so good at it finding places where Herbert invasion is kept to a minimum. The Channel Island retreat is most vivid in my memory because of the circumstances, and I found Mendecino to Elk to possess the most unique features of coast and sea with the blow holes, suck holes, sea caves, and spill overs I have experienced, not to forget some awsome surf. But what sticks out most in my mind about that trip is Misha playing in “Misha’s Suck Hole”. In the end it is not about the topography, but the experiences we share with our friends. Mahalo


Eric Soares June 29, 2011 at 3:45 pm

ah Dennis, yes Misha playing at Misha’s suckhole was definitely the highlight of that retreat (for readers: there is a story about it in my book CONFESSIONS OF A WAVE WARRIOR). I also remember kayaking at night to the other side of Misha’s suckhole and surfing in the rock garden with only the light of the stars shimmering on the waves. Lots of good memories, but there will be more.


Nancy Soares June 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Yes, that 9/11 retreat was a trip. I remember the park ranger coming up wild-eyed to tell us the news. “Do you want to come watch the tv?” he asked. We sat there bleary with coffee cups in hand. We had just got up. We all looked around at each other doubtfully. “No,” we said. “We’re going paddling.” I think the ranger was surprised by our reaction. I’m sure all of us were affected when we returned to the mainland and read the headlines, but Eric is right. We were spared the drama and the accompanying trauma and I’ll always be grateful for that. The retreat really served it’s purpose in that case, helping to keep us insulated and non-attached. And that’s what I like best about retreats: the getting away. The low-tech quality of life. The free time. The food, especially if Scott’s along. And of course, the shared experiences like Michael running naked and screaming through the burning corpse of a ten-foot kayaker constructed of driftwood and seaweed (Eric, do you have a pic of that? I know we got it on video!!!)


Eric Soares June 29, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I’m sure no one wants to see a naked man run through fire. Or do they? Aside from the video footage, we have no photos of it, thank God.

To my readers: Running through raging bonfires is a relic from our past. We don’t do that anymore. I swear!


Mark Hutson June 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm

I’d say that retreat to the wild and rugged (an often inhospitable) northwest corner of the Washington coast will rank as one of my most unique and memorable kayak outtings and it was all the better for being my first retreat with you Rangers (and of course, Sasha’s)! Oh boy, did we ever have the luck to see the coast close up and personal, like one would never normally be able to see it when it’s getting it’s usual pounding from the ever persistant ocean swell! It was sublime and yet full of spirit. And, having lived in Washington State for a couple decades, it was all the sweeter to catch that coast at it’s tamest and most inviting–rather spiritual, actually. And being there with you guys, Sasha and I appreciated it all the more!


Eric Soares June 29, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Yes, Washington State is full of beautiful coastline. I hope we try out a few more spots before we get too old.


Jim Kakuk June 30, 2011 at 2:55 am

Retreats are just what the name implies: a get away back to something familiar, safe, quiet, private and comfortable. Spending time with friends in a cozy coastal environment makes the time special. It is a gathering of friends in nature, back to eden and after almost 30 years of kayaking retreats they have all been memorable and the highlight of the years kayaking events – looking forward to the next one.


Holly June 30, 2011 at 8:28 am

I really envy your experiences. I’ve never had the courage


Fat Paddler July 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm

This post raises one important unanswered question Eric. Where did you get those pants in the second photo?? 😉


Nancy Soares July 1, 2011 at 5:51 pm

OMG, FP, we were laughing about those pants! The thing about them is that is exactly what he wears now – I swear he has the same pants (minus the cuffs – I think the ones he has now are cheap pajama bottoms) and the same shoes. The pants in the pic came from a second hand store (I think he paid around $1) and the shoes he recently replicated at Big 5 (drum roll, please) ON SALE!!! As Dave Whalen once wrote, “Rags that fit all too well…)


Fat Paddler July 4, 2011 at 7:45 am

At first I thought maybe the pants were camo! 😉


Eric Soares July 4, 2011 at 7:59 am

Hey, those pants were made of wool and were warm. They did blend in with driftwood, dirt, twigs, and the like. Over the years, I have learned to layer myself with rags to be warm and comfy. Jim and I even put scarves on our heads nowadays, fashionistas that we are. The soccer shoes round out the image, and the soles really grip the sand. Who could ask for more?


Martin from Chile July 2, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Eric san,
Maybe you can plan a retreat in the far south, in the Patagonian fiords. Anyway, I like the concept, we normally go out in short or long expeditions, with I definitely miss the “deeper” meaning of a retreat. I will try to get one of those around here …
A kiyakodoka


Eric Soares July 3, 2011 at 7:55 am

Aloha Martin San,

Going to Patagonia would be a grand adventure. Michael Powers, our oldest kiyakodoka at 72, has kayaked there twice! If you and your friends do a retreat there or anywhere in Chile, I’d like to know how it went and what you did.

Later this summer I will write a blog post on Things to do on a Retreat, and list some of the fun activities we do on and off the water when we are not in a hurry and don’t have a destination we must reach.

An aside: the type of jujitsu I do, Danzan Ryu, is Hawaiian jujitsu. So we use Hawaiian words like Aloha, mahalo (thanks), and kokua (service to others).

So Mahalo for your Kokua,

Eric San


Tom Lynch August 30, 2011 at 2:13 pm


You and your buddies should try a retreat on the Inland Sea of Lake Superior. Lake Superior is spectacular Sea Kayaking destination. The cananadien north shore in particular. My group is 3/4 our way around Lake Superior doing week long trips “retreats”.


Eric Soares August 30, 2011 at 4:59 pm

That’s a great idea Tom. Many moons ago, I paddled a lot on the south shore of Lake Erie (between Toledo and Cleveland), and found it beautiful, especially in the fall when the colors were turning (way too cold in water with the ice pack and all).

I have heard (and read) about Lake Superior (Gitche Goomi), and would love to paddle along those beautiful rock gardens. Maybe some day….


D April 11, 2012 at 8:08 pm

No offense but you guys sound like an arrogant biker gang! Sounds like I wouldn’t measure up to your standards being 44 years old.

Oh, well… If your lordships are ever kayaking the San Juans; I will wave from my lone kayak aptly named the PUGET HOUND (No problem not waving back I wouldn’t want you to lower your standards and all).

P.S. Mauii Whoooped d doo! If you are all so tuff lets hear how you Kayaked LaPush Washigton in October!

Chow baby!


Nancy Soares April 12, 2012 at 7:31 am

Dude, dude, you’re trippin’. What’s the deal with being 44 years old? Most of us are over 50. Actually, Eric’s dead at 58 (Feb. 1, R.I.P. since you apparently missed the tribute on the website).

Perhaps you know better, but the biker gangs I’m familiar with don’t spend a lot of time ab diving, philosophizing about saving the world, or lying on their bellies looking for agates on the beach all day.

I’ve been hanging out with these guys for 16 years and arrogant is not a word I’d associate with any of us. Confident, yes, but we’ve all had enough experiences to make us humble too. And we’ll wave at anyone.

And no offense, but it’s spelled “Ciao” as in Italian, meaning “Later”. Or maybe in your case it is in fact “Chow”.


Paulette June 9, 2014 at 7:41 am

Howdy! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would
be ok. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog
and look forward to new posts.


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