men’tor, n. (from Mentor, the friend and counselor of Odysseus
and Telmachus) a wise and faithful counselor
(Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary)
Everyone needs a mentor, especially when undertaking a new and challenging endeavor. The Tsunami Rangers have mentored many sea kayakers. Tsunami Ranger Eric Soares introduced me to extreme sea kayaking in 1996. The first thing he did was make me paddle a Tsunami X-0, a small washdeck kayak without a rudder. This boat simply turns around in circles if you don’t paddle correctly. First I learned how to make it go straight. Then I learned how to surf and how to paddle in rock gardens and sea caves.
Eric’s rationale for making me paddle that boat was that I would quickly learn all the paddle strokes a sea kayaker needs to know by doing, without having to take a class. Either that or I would turn around in circles for the rest of my life. I went out when he went out, found a safe place and messed around in that little X-0 until I knew what to do. I received very little instruction and pretty much taught myself. It was an unconventional way to learn, but it was fun and it worked.
After about six years paddling the X-0, I went with the Tsunami Rangers on retreat to the Channel Islands. I was allowed to borrow Michael Powers’ beautiful yellow and blue Tsunami X-15 for this greater endeavor. The X-15 is the go-to boat for the Rangers. I fell in love. Oh my God, a rudder! I had no idea! I came back determined to get an X-15. Jim Kakuk, Tsunami boat builder extraordinaire, fabricated one for me, a beautiful sparkly blue boat with a silver trident on the front deck. I was thrilled. With the X-15 I could do everything I needed to do to paddle with Eric. Because I had spent so much time paddling the X-0, the X-15 with its greater power and the rudder factor was pretty easy for me to handle. Now I could take on bigger challenges.
In 2004, my friend Denise Vidosh and I decided to paddle the 2005 Tsunami Ranger Extreme Sea Kayak Race. It was time to graduate again, this time to the Tsunami X-3 Trident. Denise and I dubbed this boat “The Big Pig”. It’s 24 feet long and weighs 150 pounds. At first we could barely lift it. Eric couldn’t help us because he was recovering from his first bout of open heart surgeries and his upper body was still weak. He told us we would have to buck up and get stronger so we could schlepp the big boat around. He agreed to be our trainer, though, and as he mentored us he used the opportunity to coach himself back into good sea kayaking shape. He wanted to paddle in the next race too.
Beginning August 2004 Eric, Denise and I went out nearly once a week regardless of conditions. The first thing Eric told us was not to wear our seat belts. For us, rolling that big boat in tandem was not an option. Eric showed us how to synchronize tipping the boat over, falling out, flipping it upright, jumping back in, and paddling like hell. We got faster and faster at this maneuver. We practiced in the harbor at Pillar Point, and once we had it down Eric took us out to sea. We would launch from the harbor and paddle out the harbor mouth along the jetty to Sail Rock where the Maverick’s Big Wave surf contest is held. We did this in all weather. We would paddle along the jetty hugging the rocks, keeping as close as we could. This allowed us to keep out of the wind and experience the waves and surge along the jetty.
Once out at the reef, we’d look at conditions. Then we’d make our plan. We practiced falling out and getting back in over and over in all situations. Some days we spent more time in the water than out of it. We practiced landings and take-offs on the beach. If possible, we’d surf. Sometimes we’d paddle around the point through Maverick’s and surf or land at Ross’s Cove. We also practiced paddling through the slot at the point. These features are all part of the race course, so practicing here was warranted.
Eric was really good at coaching. He’d tell us what to do, watch, give simple, concise feedback, and send us out again. He was calm and supportive. We improved greatly over the eight months he worked with us. When race day came, Denise and I did well. We weren’t trying to go fast; we just wanted to paddle the course without screwing up. It was actually one of our easiest days, and we managed to get through all four surf zones without crashing. We came in 23rd out of 32 boats and were pretty darned proud of ourselves. Eric raced successfully too.
Because of Eric’s mentoring I learned how to kayak in sea caves, rock gardens, and surf. Because of Eric I was able to successfully paddle the 20th annual (and last) Tsunami Sea Gypsy race. Because of him I have had many amazing, magical sea kayaking experiences. He opened a whole world of people and places to me that has enriched my life immeasureably. I will always be grateful to my wonderful sea kayaking mentor, Eric Soares.
Who’s your sea kayaking mentor? Give that person props by clicking below!