Editor’s note: This is number three in our Meet the Rangers series. Now that Captain Jim Kakuk has become Vice Admiral Kuk and stepped back, Deb is our Captain although the Admiral reserves the right to have the last word. Also a big thank you to all the Rangers who took the time to write their contributions to this story!
There’s a lot to say about Deb. In fact, we could write a book about her kayaking life. Maybe one day we will. But for the purposes of this post we can’t do better than quote from Eric’s book Confessions of a Wave Warrior:
“Debrah, a high school science and math teacher, formerly a geologist, is a kayak surfing champion and ACA Instructor Trainer who also teaches kayak classes and leads sea kayak expeditions. Deb took her Tsunami Ranger officer test at Pillar Point in 1996 and was awarded the rank of lieutenant. Her test is featured in The Tsunami Rangers’ Greatest Hits video…
“Volturno has paddled extensively in Alaska, the west coast of the U.S. and Canada, in Baja Mexico, Italy, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Brazil. Recently she helped start a kayak club in Port Angeles, Washington, and helped develop the Hobuck Hoedown Pacific North Coast Surf Kayak Festival, now a nationally-sanctioned surf competition.”
This quote was written in 2010 and Deb has done a lot more since then. For one thing, she’s been promoted in the ranks of the Tsunami Rangers until she is now our fearless leader, and we were unanimously happy to welcome her as Captain on our annual retreat last year. If you’d like to see her TR officer test, check it out on our Greatest Hits video. It’s worth a watch.
I’m going to let the Rangers themselves tell her story. Vice Admiral Kuk goes first:
Vice Admiral Jim Kakuk: Deb Volturno joined the Tsunami Rangers in 1996, 23 years ago. She was introduced to Eric and me by John Lull through the Half Moon Bay paddling community. Kayaking along the exposed and dynamic San Mateo coast, Deb was a natural. Surfing the break at Pillar Point or dancing through the rock gardens along Sniveler’s Row, Eric and I were impressed and could see that she was a very skilled paddler; smooth and seamless in all conditions.
She has good balance and is nimble and quick with great awareness and good decision making. Easygoing and a natural in the water, Deb is the ideal paddling companion. Most important she is easy to be with and lots of fun on the waves or in the white water clapotis zone. Deb is also an expert wilderness camper and cook, and as a bonus she likes tequila, really good tequila! Blending well with the small team of Rangers we had back then, we all liked her and agreed to invite her to join us, and fortunately for us, she accepted.
The Tsunami Rangers are a team of kayakers and each of us has a position or rank that makes the team work. Primarily, we are friends and a sea tribe family, a close knit gang sharing a mutual love of ocean adventuring in paddle craft.
Rank explained: The Tsunami Rangers use the standard naval ranking system and apply it to our positions on the water for decision making. Rank is awarded by skill and how a person fits with the team. Basic levels are: Lieutenant – a skilled paddler who can take care of themselves in most conditions. Commander – mission leader, does recon, leads missions and explorations. Captain – in charge of the team, makes decisions on overall actions. Admiral – retired and only here to give advice… or just vice.
On our annual retreats we award rank and it is usually a big fun party. Deb’s was always a good one as she rose up through the ranks quickly. My favorite was when she made Commander at Cape Flattery. It was an amazing week of rock gardening in Mordor, entering the dark realm of interlacing caves and delving deep into the nether realms below the menacing ragged cliffs, while above us the gargoyles looked down with sharp eyes. The raucous party around the fire went late into the mystic night. Oh, and there was tequila. Lots of tequila.
Some more highlights from my log with Captain Tortuga: in 2008 surfing through the caves on Tatoosh Island in the straights of San Juan De Fuca, crisscrossing each other as the waves came from both directions. All this while dodging pillars of basalt that hung from the ceiling and plunged down into the green water inside the tunnels.
And in New Zealand on our first trip in 2008, under a pohutukawa tree in a crowded tepee tent with Mark Hutson telling stories in the pitch dark night while the driving rain from the tail end of a typhoon raged outside. Oh, and there was rum. Or, on our many adventures in dramatic conditions along the ragged headlands of our own Mendocino “Rivendell” with the rat pack of unusual suspects.
Captain Tortuga has continued to build connections throughout the international sea kayaking community. With her writing, symposium presentations and on water instruction, Deb has expanded the depth and range of the Tsunami Rangers. The future of our sea tribe will depend on how well we evolve as a team with Captain Tortuga being the next generation. I am sure she will keep the team on the right paddling path.
Commander John Lull: I first started paddling with Debrah Volturno back in the early ‘90s when she and I ran the California Canoe & Kayak outpost in Half Moon Bay. We conducted countless American Canoe Association Instructor Training & Certification Workshops out on the open coast and on San Francisco Bay. Deb’s kayaking and teaching skills are top notch as she demonstrated during these workshops in surf and rough water on the coast and in strong tide rips on the Bay and at the Golden Gate. Her sense of adventure and sheer joy on the water is always on display. She is a fearless paddler, but not reckless. It soon became apparent that she would be a perfect candidate for the Tsunami Rangers, especially after numerous kayak surfing sessions out at Pillar Point with Eric Soares and me. And no, Michael, not at Maverick’s, but at the wraparound break near “Mushroom Rock,” a short ways inside Maverick’s. It’s not a 40-50 foot, crushing wall of water like Maverick’s, but can easily reach 10 feet at times! Eric and I both agreed that Deb was Tsunami Ranger material, so we scheduled her Tsunami Officer test to be held in the ocean rock gardens at Pillar Point and Ross’s Cove.
Deb aced the test of course, showing off her kayaking skills and ability to judge the waves and handle whitewater surge in the rocks. One highlight of the test was the feast she served us for lunch on the beach at Ross’s Cove. I recall a large white tablecloth spread out on the sand, loaded with goodies. The only thing missing was the silver cutlery. Luckily the test was mostly completed because we all gorged ourselves. This was in stark contrast to the Spartan lunch of canned anchovies on crackers that I served Eric and Jim during my test at Dreamer’s Island on the Oregon coast many years ago. They were not impressed; my excuse was the fact that we were on a kayak camping excursion and I travel light. All that aside, after her test Deb has joined us on many Tsunami Ranger excursions, played an important role in the instructional Kayaking Ocean Rock Gardens video Eric and I produced some years back, and has been a great paddling companion.
Lt. JG Nancy Soares: I’ve known Capt. Deb since she took her Tsunami Ranger test in 1996. TR John Lull was her sponsor and she did him proud. I didn’t paddle much with her back in the day and then she moved north to Port Angeles, but she’s always stayed connected to the team and to my life. As far as I know she’s gone on every retreat with the team since her induction and she represented the Rangers at the Coastbusters Sea Kayak Symposium and International Kayak Workshop in New Zealand in 2008 along with Capt. Jim. She also led the first Tsunami retreat to Cape Flattery and was promoted to Commander on that trip.
Now that Eric is gone and I am a Tsunami Ranger I have more contact with Capt. Deb. One of the things that brings us together is the Surf Sirens kayak clinic which is held every year on the third weekend of September at Hobuck Beach. Deb and some instructor pals started this event in 2016 and it’s hot! Three days on the water, with a rock garden adventure on Friday, formal surf instruction on Saturday, and free play day in the surf on Sunday. I’ve attended the last three years and it’s been a great experience every time. Capt. Deb suggested I lead the Blessing to the Sea to start the official day of instruction as well as help out with drills and I obeyed. Oh so gently she forces me to participate and overcome my inherent laziness and in the process plays to my strengths and helps me develop my skills.
There is so much to admire about Deb. She is pure, noble, and true. She is compassionate, inclusive, and humble. Her kindness knows no bounds. She encourages me to expand my kayaking horizon, improve as a paddler, and travel. By signing me up to lead the Blessing at Surf Sirens and to lead a “movement drill” from my knife fighting skills each year, she A. included me in the event, B. drew on my skills outside kayaking, and C. forced me to step up and drive the two days to Hobuck and perform. As I say to myself, “There she goes making me do stuff again!”
This is the sign of a true leader. Those gentle nudges, like skilled paddle strokes that look like nothing but have a powerful effect, move me outside my comfort zone and make me stronger and better as a paddler and a person, and I’m grateful. Because of Deb and Surf Sirens I decided to check out whitewater kayaking the last couple of years, thus bumping up my skills and introducing me to the people at Cali Collective in Northern California and Sundance here in Oregon. And I rolled my first kayak. So yeah, Deb’s been a great influence on me. I owe her a lot.
Lt. Commander Jeff Laxier: Deb and I first met at a kayak event up near her home in Washington. I thought, “WOW what a ball of positive energy!” It wasn’t until years later that we put on the water together. This was an instructional event and the tribe was on stage. Here Deb’s leadership, organization, and ease of encouraging students to push their limits was exposed. She excels in boat control and her ability to read the water knows no boundaries. Now when it comes to laying out camp, wow this lady has got some skills. As we live our lives in harmony with nature Deb works hard but Easy, Efficient, Effective, and Encouraging as a community leader.
Lieutenant Steve El Rey King: Captain Deb Tortuga Volturno is a gift from Ocean goddess and gods to all of us who have the pleasure to paddle with her. Deb has an amazing infectious enthusiasm for life, the sea, exploration, nature and fine sipping tequila! It is wonderful to paddle with her, to witness the skill, ease, fluidity, agility and mastery of her paddling. She is a patient and excellent teacher who I always learn from anytime I have the joy to be on the water with her. In fact Capt. Tortuga is an extraordinary teacher and mentor to many, many people around the world. She continues to cultivate and certify highly skilled kayak instructors to help expand the number of people who can, like herself, teach other people to wander safely in the rocks, waves, sunsets and currents of the water planet. She is also a very skilled and enthusiastic knife and hatchet thrower, hitting her mark frequently.
Deb shares her awe and love of marine mammals, fish, birds, and creatures large and small like a wide-eyed child who has only recently been introduced to these magical marine inhabitants but in fact she has been paddling with and among them for decades. It always so wonderful to be exploring the Ocean with her and I am grateful for each opportunity to be with her on retreats or anywhere on the sea. Deb is an Ocean warrior and goddess of kayaking; she is a core element of the Tsunami Rangers and we would not be who we are without her joi de vivre. Gracias a Deb for being who she is!
Lt. JG Nancy Soares: Well, folks, that’s it for our paean to our courageous Captain Deb Volturno. You can clearly see how much we all love and admire her. Stay tuned for our next Meet the Rangers post coming in 2020.
Questions? Comments? Want to know more about Deb, Surf Sirens, or the Hobuck Hoedown? Let us know by clicking below!