Editor’s note: Last October Tsunami Ranger Capt. Jim Kakuk suggested I take a white water class. To hear is to obey. I think he meant river, but it seemed auspicious to take White Water of the Sea I & II with LiquidFusion. This post is about that class. See also Take a Sea Kayaking Class and Paddling Pour-Overs in Ocean Rock Gardens by Eric Soares on this website.
On Labor Day weekend I went white water sea kayaking with Jeff Laxier and Cate Hawthorne of LiquidFusion Kayaking in Ft. Bragg, CA. Awesome! The class offered an abundance of features all at the mouth of the Noyo River. I’m used to Pillar Point, with its harbor, jetty, beach, lagoon, reef and rock features but the point itself seems exposed compared to the Noyo. The Noyo has rocks, slots, cool caves, a surfing wave at “Chicken Point” that reminds me of Mavericks in that it plows right into the rocks, and lots of little pourovers and playspots. We encountered much kelp, but it’s always good to practice your kelp paddling, a skill in itself.
The day was divided into two parts. The first part, from 9 to noon, was basically a skills intro and assessment. There were four of us students. We started small, maneuvering around rocks and kelp and Jeff thoroughly explained basic concepts like hand signals, teamwork, and safety. I was reminded that it’s always good to go over that stuff especially when paddling with new people. Jeff and Cate gradually introduced us to more and more challenging situations. Conditions were mild, so we had a lot of opportunity to watch wildlife and check out one of the large caves. Beautiful! It’s open to the sky and there are gardens of native succulents hanging from the cliffs inside. Lots of little tunnels lead out the back side and you can see the sunlight shining through. There was the wonderful smell of ocean, earth, and ozone.
The highlight of this class was going over Nick’s Nightmare, a nice wide pourover at the mouth of the cave which was just challenging enough. Only one wipeout and it was no big deal. We took about an hour for lunch and got back on the water with a new group. The first three students left and two new ones arrived. This second session was more technical. Again, we started small, riding a wave up onto a rock, sweeping and pivoting at the top, and riding it back down.
The tide dropped and the swell came up and though conditions were still mild by the time we got back to Nick’s Nightmare the pourover had turned into a ten foot waterfall on the bigger sets. We seal landed on the rocks nearby and looked down at the slot leading into the cave behind the pourover. The water looked beautiful, icy blue-green and glassy as it poured over the rocks in a wide swath turning all white and creamy at the bottom. Again, you got that great smell when the wave crashed and churned up the water in the slot. The air sizzled.
After resting and scouting we jumped into the water, slid into our kayaks and went to check it out. I chickened out this time around but the others didn’t. It was fun to go to the back side, bounce around in the surge and watch how each ride was different. Jeff took a big one over and did a nice little dance in there. Cate took a couple of nice ones over smoothly, and the others did really good as well. I was reminded how a change in tide affects the same feature and how useful it is to check out the same place multiple times. That way you get to know it and become familiar with its moods and possibilities.
Probably the most important thing we studied was timing. Jeff asked us students what we wanted to work on and all three of us agreed on that. I’m reasonably good at timing surf but I found that to do these tricks something different was needed because in most cases I wasn’t surfing, I was riding the cushion and letting it set (or drop) me on the other side. It was also interesting because my Tsunami X-0 was faster than the other boats and only needed a couple of strokes to get in position so I couldn’t base my timing on what the others were doing. There was the occasional stranding in the process but slowly I made the adjustment. Jeff helped me in the beginning by calling the timing for me so I could get a feel for it. He also told me about the indicators, signs to look for along the rocks toward the sea so as to tell when a big enough wave to lift me over the obstacle was coming through.
One of the best things about the day is that I was introduced to drills I can do safely on my own. I’m not a fan of kayaking solo, mainly for safety’s sake, but I could see practicing the techniques I learned from Jeff and Cate by myself. One useful drill was timing the swells so we could ride a wave up and around a corner hugging tight to the rock. Once we got that down, we worked on riding the wave around, doing a U-turn at the crest, and sliding down the backside. I think that was the point at which I fell over laughing. Not sure what happened, but it felt like an underwater hand grabbed my paddle and gave it a jerk right before I tipped over. Ah, the water sprites!
We finished up about 4:30 tired and happy. It’s been a long time since I’ve spent 6+ hours in the saddle with only a couple of breaks! Jeff and Cate have done an excellent job of familiarizing themselves with this area, and in just one day I felt like I got exposed to most of the features and have a pretty good understanding of what’s there. Capt. Jim and our friend Susan Watson met us at the beach and after we got cleaned up we went for Mexican food at the Purple Rose. Afterwards we walked the boardwalk at nearby McKerricher State Park. It was a lovely evening.
It was a long drive for me but it was well worth it. The drive is beautiful, and having an opportunity to hook up with old friends (and new) is always fun. I plan to go back again, possibly for the white water class in October. I really like the mouth of the Noyo River for kayaking and Jeff and Cate are excellent instructors. Thanks, guys, for a wonderful day! Stoked!
Many thanks to Cate Hawthorne and Mark Boyd for the photos in this article. For more information about classes from LiquidFusion go to http://www.liquidfusionkayak.com/ and sign up!!! To check out more photos click on the photo gallery at http://liquidfusionkayaking.smugmug.com/Kayaking/2013-Kayaking-Adventures/Whitewater-of-the-Sea-2013/Whitewater-of-the-Sea-II-83120.