I was at something of a loss as to what to do for the first blog post of the New Year. It was weird. For nearly four years I’ve managed to keep the blog going to honor Eric’s posthumous wish and it’s been fun. Searching for copy I’ve enjoyed trips to Kauai, Sardinia, and the Southern Oregon and Northern California coasts. I’ve enjoyed meeting cool people like Jeff Laxier and Cate Hawthorne of Liquid Fusion and interacting with great kayakers like Bryant Burkhardt and John Dowd, learning more about our kayaking community than I ever imagined. I’ve enjoyed working with the Rangers to produce posts on their adventures as the Tsunami saga continues. I’ve loved watching the team dynamic shift kaleidoscope-like from when Eric was alive to after he died with the change in guard and the addition of new Rangers, and to see that as the kaleidoscope continues to turn each new perspective is unique and beautiful.
The blog motivates me to get on the water, not an easy thing to do when one lives two hours away from the ocean. Plus I’m not so familiar with the coast in Oregon where I live now. If I was back in Half Moon Bay I’d have places to go and people to go with, but here in Ashland I only have jujitsu and yoga buddies, no paddling friends. Partly my fault, of course, as there are groups I could check out but I’ve always paddled the Tsunami way with a few close friends forming a rogue crew that’s basically a splinter group from mainstream sea kayaking. When you learned to kayak kamikaze style, it’s hard to fit in with people who belong to conventional organizations. Let’s face it – the Tsunami Rangers call those guys Herberts and a lot of them think we’re nuts.
But despite how hard it’s been to get on the water, up till now I’ve always had something to write about. Why then am I coming up empty handed? One reason is I have a new partner, and building a new relationship takes time and effort, kind of like learning to kayak. In fact, however experienced as kayakers we are each new boat requires adjustments. Just like learning to paddle a new boat, learning to be with someone new demands adaptation, and I’ve been adapting for the last nine months. This has tended to draw my attention away from the blog. The good news is my partner, Robert, likes to kayak with me. In fact, that’s how he and I got together in the first place. It happened like this.
It was December 2014, just before Christmas. It was a rough time for me. 2012 was my first Christmas without Eric. 2013 was my first Christmas without Eric or my dad, and my son and my mom and I scattered my dad’s ashes. 2014 would be Christmas without Eric, my dad, or my mom, and my son and I planned to scatter my mom’s ashes. So the holidays were pretty loaded for me. I was at the dojo one night and Robert asked me if I had any kayaking trips planned. It was storming out, cold and wet, and I fretfully told him, no, of course not: it was winter, the weather was terrible, and anyway all my kayaking friends were down in California. “I’ll go with you,” he offered.
I viewed him with disfavor. “Have you ever kayaked?” I asked. “No.” “Have you ever swum in the ocean?” “No.” Disfavor changed to disbelief. I thought he must be crazy. But right before New Year’s one of my friends committed suicide. Then right after New Year’s another friend was attacked and nearly stabbed to death at her home. I was traumatized. I knew I needed to go to the ocean and get on the water. I’m sure most of you know what I’m talking about. So I checked sea conditions and the next time I saw Robert at the dojo I asked, “You want to go kayaking?” “Sure,” he said, “When?” “Tomorrow,” I said. ”Uh, let me see if I can get off work,” he replied.
He did and we went. I got hold of Rebekah and together we took Robert to Trinidad. We had a great day. It was one of those wonderful January days that are more like summer than Summer on the Humboldt coast. The day started out a little active. I took a long swim trying to climb up a sea stack, and Robert nearly speared me in the legs doing a surf landing on a cobblestone beach. Because it was rough, we landed as a team. First Rebekah paddled in toward shore. She got to a safe place, checked out the surf, and when it was okay to come in she gave the signal. We paddled to where she was, and then at the next opening I paddled in to land first while Rebekah waited offshore with Robert. Once I was safe on the beach, Rebekah sent Robert in. After he landed she paddled in as well, so Robert got to experience that aspect of team kayaking. I was devoutly grateful to Rebekah for joining us since it made Robert’s first kayaking experience safe and controlled.
As we munched our lunch on the beach we watched the surf pound the cobbles. “How are we going to get off the beach?” Robert asked. How indeed! But there’s always a window (well, almost always). In this case the sea actually calmed as the day progressed and we had no problem getting off the beach. I took off first, wading into the water just past the break, jumping in to the X-0 and paddling hard to the safe zone. Rebekah helped Robert time the waves, got him off the beach safely and then followed after. We paddled leisurely back toward the put in. The water turned glassy, with just the lightest of swells. We paddled around stacks and rocks and rode the swells by the cliffs. Then we ran Robert around the pier pilings to teach him some skills before we finally beached our boats. That night Rebekah put us up at her place in Orick and we had a lovely sunset dinner on the beach near the mouth of Redwood Creek.
Since then I’ve been teaching Robert to kayak the Tsunami way, passing on the skills Eric taught me. I took Robert to local lakes and made him fall out and get back in the boat dozens of times, first in the X-15, then in the X-0. I even timed him as he got faster and faster at the maneuver. I taught him some basic strokes. I also took him to Crescent City and made him swim in surf for a couple of hours.
We crashed through waves, dove under waves, and swam parallel to waves in the troughs. We noted our position in the water using landmarks on shore and watched how the currents pulled us around. Then we swam against the longshore current. When we were tired I took him to the cliffs at Boardman State Park and showed him how to scout, watching the surge, timing the swells, noting foam lines, and observing how the water moves around and over rocks.
One of the greatest benefits of having Robert around is that he helped me rebuild the boat racks. My son had built them, but although the racks had lasted for at least five years through storms and winter weather time had taken its toll and they needed reinforcing and new roofs. Once the racks were solid Robert and I went down to Sebastopol and retrieved my X-3 from where it was stored at Maurice’s place. We took the long way home along the coast, spending the night in the back of the truck at a wayside in Willits, and went to Trinidad again where we got the X-3 on the water. So Robert got to paddle that boat as well. Now he’s had experience with all three of my Tsunami kayaks.
We had another good trip when we went to my old stomping grounds at Pillar Point. Support from the tribe was there as TR El Rey loaned Robert the old blue X-15 and TR John Lull came out with us to the Point. John gave Robert some useful tips and he got his first taste of some real surfing. Once again, we were fortunate with small surf inside – doable and very safe. Robert did well and we all had a lot of fun.
One of the best things about taking Robert kayaking was his reaction the first time he got off the water with me and Rebekah that day at Trinidad. We pulled our kayaks to safety and then ran back into the water just to play and enjoy. It was such a beautiful day and we’d had so much fun and we love the water so much! When we got out for the last time Robert said, “I feel like a whole different person!” and there was a note of wonder in his voice. That’s when I knew we’d done the right thing.
This year Robert and I will kayak more. There will be practice sessions on the lakes. There will be trips to the Bay Area and Trinidad. But I also plan to explore my own back yard with my new paddling partner, beginning with Crescent City and its environs. And I want to take Robert to Mendocino to see the caves and visit our paddling friends in Ft. Bragg and Elk. Maybe we’ll do a kayak camping trip. I’ve even picked up an old inflatable double kayak from John Lull which we launched on the Rogue last summer. Frankly, while I have nothing against solo paddling I think it’s a lot more fun (and safe) to have a pal, so I’m more motivated to get out there than ever.
That concludes my post for January, 2016. It’s all new, folks. Looking back I realize I actually did quite a bit of kayaking in 2015, with a lot of variety thrown in. I don’t know what the New Year will bring for the Tsunami Rangers and myself, other than to say it’s for sure gonna bring more Adventure! Stay tuned!
Happy New Year, everyone! May your kayak’s path be as smooth or bumpy as you could wish!