Sea kayaking activities
What a great weekend! Three days on the water with a great group of badass women. I love this event for many reasons. One, it takes place on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen, Hobuck Beach on the Makah Reservation at the tip of the northwest corner of Washington State. Two, it attracts quality both with regard to instructors and students. And three, I learn stuff and it’s hella fun!
Everyone contributes, everyone shares, and everyone approaches the weekend with enthusiasm and joy. It rains, who cares? It’s a red tide, who cares? (Well, we care but there’s nothing we can do about it so onward and upward.) We get nervous and scared, who cares? We have too much food, who cares? A lot of gung ho women and no ego.
Day One: I arrived too late to go rock gardening but was able to catch the group that paddled to Pt. Anderson and landed on Shi Shi Beach returning through the surf. Took off my pants, tucked the shirt up into the bra, waded out into the waves in my underwear and got some pics. Yep. It was fun to welcome the grrls after their 10 mile paddle. Instructor and Tsunami Ranger Captain Deb Volturno took a smaller group of late comers to Waadah Island outside of Neah Bay. Both groups saw a lot of action.
That evening we gathered for dinner at Linda’s in Neah Bay. A few people ordered the bomb wood-fired pizza but most of us chose the featured coho salmon. Yum. We welcomed old friends and met new ones and made plans for the next day. I slept like a stone in the back of the truck listening to the not so soft sound of waves anticipating a brave day.
Day Two: Weatherwise, Saturday was better than I had expected. The rain held off most of the day, with light showers from time to time and patches of sun. The air and water were warm which was nice, although the miso-colored water was a bit weird. The waves were two to three feet with an occasional four footer rolling in, and pretty nicely spaced. No wind to speak of, although it picked up in the afternoon as the storm approached.
As always we started the day in a group for the traditional Blessing of the Sea. Why do we bless the sea? As instructor Alison Reinbold said, “So it doesn’t kill us”. Right!
The sea is sentient and we play with it at our peril. It doesn’t really care about us but it does appreciate recognition. Traditional cultures know this and from the deeps of time have always offered a blessing before setting out on the waves. It’s called Respect.
We divided into three groups: beginners at the north end, intermediates in the middle, and short boats on the south. The night before we had all been asked what we wanted to work on as far as skills, and the instructors divided us accordingly. I was in the intermediate group, and the first thing on the agenda was to talk about conditions, hazards, and the Plan for the day.
It was awesome! Before lunch I spent most of the time in the water taking photos. I love being up to my neck in surf, doing my best to keep my feet while trying to get shots of people surfing. It’s a lot of work and next day my thighs were sore from bouncing up and down and bracing into the breaks but I’m getting better at timing and got some pretty good photos.
Then I went surfing. Fantastic! Waves big enough to give you some oomph but not enough to scare or crush you. I wiped out once or twice in my eagerness to catch a wave, any wave, but overall I was pleased with my performance.
There were plenty of wipe outs but that just shows we were all pushing ourselves and trying new things. As one instructor said, “Do something different!” We all know that if we keep doing the same thing we’ll keep getting the same result. If we want to improve we have to try new stuff.
That’s what happened with me. I was doing great on the waves but at the tail end of the ride I kept wiping out, flipping into the wave as I slid up the beach. After talking to instructors Melinda and Esther and student Jo Ann I figured out I had a timing issue.
I was riding the wave too long as well as bracing too long. When I let go of the ride (before getting into like two inches of water) I could turn out a lot easier. That meant letting go of the brace as well. If I did end up bracing I could ride it a bit, then take the paddle out of the water and turn before I hit sand. Duh!
I surfed for a while after lunch and then went into the soup and practiced that last part, setting up broadside, bracing, taking the paddle out, and turning back into the waves. It was so easy I laughed out loud. From then on I did pretty well and finished the day with a long smooth ride into the beach. Yay! This was actually an important lesson, to break the ride down into sections and work on just one part. And take the paddle out… Sometimes the littlest things make the biggest difference.
One of the coolest things about this day was how much better everyone got after lunch. Before we took a break, we debriefed. The students talked about their experience and the instructors offered feedback. Everyone had insights and said something useful. We had been doing pretty well to begin with, but the second half of the day was impressive. Students were catching waves and really shredding. Everyone noticed the improvement.
We ended the day with the Extraordinary Potluck that has become a joyful tradition of this event. So. Much. Good. Food. It was suggested that we do two potlucks next year, Friday and Saturday. We certainly had enough eats. Linda’s is great, but we have to drive into Neah Bay and such a large group is a bit of a challenge for such a small venue.
After the feast came one of my favorite parts of Surf Sirens. We gathered round and the instructors asked for feedback. Did we get what we wanted out of the day? What more (or less) would we like for future events? What could be done differently? It’s essentially a brainstorming session. We have a group of smart, creative, thoughtful women and everyone had something good to say. We talked about format, philosophy, and skills and came up with ideas for the future. It’s a true collaboration; everyone helps to evolve the event.
Day Three: Most of the women had to leave today, but some diehards remained to do movement warm ups with training knives (yep, we do a little shredding on land as well!) play in the surf with instructors to support, and make a few plans for next year. It was hard to leave the camaraderie but after leading the warm ups, watching some surf play, and chatting a bit I headed out as well. It’s a two-day journey home for me and there’s always next year!
I can’t say enough good things about Surf Sirens. Every year is a bit different and it’s clearly going in a great direction. Surf Sirens will never get stale. Props to instructors Jameson Riser, Alison Reinbold, Melinda Moree, Barbara Gronseth, Esther Ladwig, and Deb Volturno. You guys ROCK! And thanks as well to all the new and returning students. You are a joy to know and to hang with. I am blessed to call these people part of my sea tribe and I am devoutly grateful that life has given me the opportunity to participate in these gatherings.
Our next gathering will be on September 18 – 20, 2020. For more information about Surf Sirens, please contact me, Nancy Soares at email@example.com
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It’s a wonderful life. On May 13 I drove down to TR John Lull’s house on the Northern California coast in El Granada. Hung out for a few hours catching up and then headed over to TR El Rey’s place in Moss Beach. Had a great salmon dinner courtesy El Rey with his family and Capt. Kakuk and his lovely gal Patti. Super fun!
We had a Plan: meet at 10:00 the next day (early for the Rangers but we’ll miss the wind) to catch the surf at Pillar Point, or Microwave as we used to call it because of the old radar scope. The microwave tower is gone and in its place is a large golf ball-like object. Regardless, the lagoon, the point, the reef, and Mushroom Rock are still there offering us kayakers an ideal playground.
As you get older you start getting your shit together and so amazingly, when John Lull and I pulled up to the put in at Princeton Jim and Patti were already there with El Rey and TR Commander Michael Powers as well as TR John Dixon, boat designer extraordinaire.
These days Dixon does mostly downwind surf ski paddling in between doing mysterious things with lasers and 3D printers for his work, but he was down to check out the new X-Caliber aka the X-C recently designed by Jim. Dixon surfed the X-C on some small waves that were coming in to the beach and then Lull and I took off for the point. We portaged over the berm and launched.
As per our buddy Paul McHugh’s rehash on FB the next day, the conditions were as follows: 4′ at 19 seconds predicted, 4′ at 15 seconds recorded as main swell on the Monterey buoy. The tide was dropping and as Paul wrote the swell was developing two and sometimes three peaks. Certainly not coming in with machine-like precision, but then it rarely does in my experience out there. It was a great day anyway.
Pretty soon there were five of us messing around in the active surf. Everyone caught some nice waves, so a good time was had by all. Our buddy Paul McHugh went outside on his surf ski for the walls, and Honorary Ranger Kenny Howell blew by in his surf ski on his way to parts unknown, so there were lots of us out there and a feeling of hail-fellow-well-met was in the air. There were also about five paddleboarders with those Laird Hamilton foils out surfing by Mushroom Rock. Even Jeff Clark showed up to take a few rides. Check out the photo above. See the guy standing up on the outside? It was really weird to see those guys so high above the water. One of them got a really long ride and came way inside. He was pumping that board like a skateboard to eke every bit out of his wave.
My first ride was a really good one, but I wanted to take some photos so I set up where I could observe without getting in the way. But managing boat, paddle, and camera together in the chaotic conditions was too hard so I beached the Princess and waded out to about chest high in the surf to see if I could capture some shots. It was actually super fun trying to keep my balance on the reef with one hand held high to keep the camera dry (as if! and yes, it’s waterproof) and not get tumbled in the pummeling surf. With the help of the kelp wrapping around my ankles in the surge I could anchor myself pretty well, but the next day I felt like I’d done two hours of low tai chi stances, or about 500 squats.
While I was taking face enemas and getting pushed around by waves, the guys were catching some pretty good rides inside. After a couple of hours the tide ebbed and the waves flattened so we packed up and paddled back along the jetty and across the harbor to the take out. As we made the turn by the foghorn we saw three seal pups high up above the tide line, waiting for their moms to return. The wind never manifested as it usually does in the afternoon and we paddled leisurely back to the take out. A perfect day!
We’ve all been to Microwave a million times but the Point never disappoints. I’ve paddled there in every condition imaginable and there’s always something to do. This day, however, was a highlight. Having so many buddies out on the water together was totally cool. Everyone got good rides and the weather could not have been better. We’ll be back!
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Editor’s note: Thanks to TR Captain Deb Volturno for contributing some of the photos in this post. And thanks to everyone who participated in the Surf Sirens gathering this year. I love this group!
The third annual Surf Sirens gathering at Hobuck Beach on the Makah Reservation in Washington State was a big success this year. On the first day, Friday, September 21, sixteen women showed up for some rollicking ocean whitewater play, an impromptu rock garden paddle. It was a soft, drizzly day with relatively flat conditions but a fair amount of wind.
We paddled out from Neah Bay to Waadah Island and around to the northern side facing the San Juan de Fuca Strait. There we found some nice features: pour overs, slots, and a nifty little spot like an elevator where you paddle through a crevice as the water rises and falls with the ebb and flow of the sea.
It was cool to watch the paddlers disappear down behind the rocks and then rise again to go shooting out the back side when a good wave pushed through. I sure wish I had gotten a photo of Jo Ann Moore riding her wave; I’ve never seen anyone look so stoked!
We took a break for lunch on the rocks and then messed around some before heading back to set up camp at Hobuck and get dinner. This year I opted for a cabin. It was pricey, and I’d slept in the truck last year which is my normal M.O. but I had the feeling it was going to rain this year, and it did. It was nice to have a warm room to come back to and to hang the wet suit up to dry. I spread out the gear, ate a light dinner, and fell asleep in a comfortable bed within sound of the sea.
On Saturday, seventeen women showed up for surf kayak instruction. Eight of us (almost half!) chose to be in the short boat group, with surf kayaks, whitewater kayaks and waveskis. I chose to be in this group. I really enjoyed the long boat surf instruction I got last year, but this year I’ve been playing around with river kayaking and paddled my first Mamba, and I wanted more.
It was so much fun! The instruction was great, as always. Jameson Riser and Melinda Moree were the instructors for our group, and were really good at helping us in our attempts to master the admittedly shitty surf. However, I always maintain you can have a good time and learn stuff regardless of conditions. In fact, paddling in challenging conditions makes you that much better on nicer days.
We stayed out till we were all pretty thrashed. The waves were choppy and droppy. Before class, I watched the few board surfers out there braving the rough conditions. Boards and bodies were flying. Almost no one was getting rides. Rather than try to catch the waves on the outside I decided to spend the day playing in the aftershock. Out and in, out and in, catching a few short rides and getting dumped a fair amount. Lots of face enemas, but fun and a really good workout. Finally I was getting tired so I started waiting for something resembling a good ride before boldly springing into action. It was a good day for boat control.
That night we regrouped for another fantastic potluck – yum! The bar keeps getting raised. Everyone contributed and we had a massive spread of healthy, nourishing, and REALLY GOOD food. Barbecued ribs, yummy soups, fruit, bruschetta, salads, desserts, all kinds of delights for hungry stomachs.
Here’s what Surf Sirens Co-Founder and Tsunami Ranger Deb Volturno had to say: “Saturday was an extraordinary day for surf play! Great to see the fun and excitement with everyone out in the waves shredding it up. I think almost everyone got out for some wave time!”
Before I left, I made time to drive out to Cape Flattery and take the short hike out to the tip of the cape where I was rewarded with amazing scenery and a view of Tatoosh Island. It was great to stretch my legs after sitting in a kayak all day the day before and before the long drive to Vancouver, WA, my next stop.
I really enjoy this surf camp. I like the way it’s set up so participants can take advantage of anywhere from one to three days of instruction. Days One and Three are unofficial paddle days; some of the instructors come along and are available for questions and a little coaching but the official day for instruction happens on Saturday. That’s the day you really don’t want to miss.
When I saw at the waves Sunday morning conditions had improved drastically. The waves looked small and well-regulated and the sun was making a fitful appearance. I would have liked to have stuck around but duty calls. Last year I paddled one day, this year I paddled two days, so probably next year I’ll arrange it so I can do three. Why not make the most of the long drive? Plus it’s a beautiful place to paddle. And may I say, the cabin was totally worth it!
Everyone did well and had a good time. Instructor Jennifer Yearly joined us this year from down California way and it was great to have her. She wasn’t in my group but I know she was appreciated. It’s wonderful that we have so many fantastic women kayak instructors who together offer us students umpteen years of combined experience.
Here’s one more comment from Deb: “I love this event, and always feel energized by the level of commitment and enthusiasm of all who participate!” I second that emotion!
Join us for the fourth annual Surf Sirens Kayak Surf Camp in 2019 coming Sept 20-22!!! You don’t want to miss it. And check us out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/177597272647770/?ref=bookmarks for photos and comments regarding this event.
Editor’s Note: This poem The Autumn Wind was written by former NFL Films President and co-founder Steve Sabol. The poem was first used for the Oakland Raiders’ official team yearbook film in 1974, of the same title. It also epitomizes everything that happened on the Rangers’ annual retreat this year. You can read the full poem at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Autumn_Wind Also, many thanks to Tsunami Rangers Jim Kakuk and Steve El Rey King as well as guest Jerry Albright for the great photos of this year’s retreat!
The Autumn Wind
The Autumn Wind is a Raider
Pillaging just for fun.
He’ll knock you ‘round and upside down,
And laugh when he’s conquered and won.
Conditions were not ideal. When Andy Taylor checked the NOAA forecast the morning of our departure it called for swells 7 feet at 7 seconds and high winds gusting up to 35 knots. On top of that, wind chop to 8’ was predicted. I launched with the First Wave: Captain Kuk, TR Scott Becklund, and me. We beat through the chop and the wind, keeping to the inside as much as possible, but we had big waves as well so care was needed. Nearly to our destination, we paused at a sheltered spot before threading the caves and rocks that guard our beach.
As we paddled into Thunder Cove, we noticed a stairway that had never been there before. Allowing access from the cliffs above down to the beach, it was reinforced with wooden treads and even had a railing. We found the recent footprints of a small person (a woman? a child?), and a very large dog. This caused some consternation. The Rangers have been coming to this hidden place for nearly 30 years because it’s so isolated. Civilization had finally found us.
We selected tent sites and unloaded boats while waiting for the rest of the team. Squinting into the brilliant sunlight reflecting off the wind patterns on the sea, we soon saw the Second Wave approaching through the rocks. Deb, Paula, and Lance had arrived! Lance is from New Zealand, part of the Rangers’ Kiwi connection.
Now we were waiting for Michael, Jon, Steve, Jeff, and Jerry. Since conditions had worsened throughout the day and they were coming in late there was some speculation that our companions might wait till morning, but after a long interval we saw them shimmering toward us over the waves. Our team was complete!
We discussed whether or not to remain at Thunder Cove given the presence of the stairway. The general consensus was that it was going to be fine, and if someone came down to challenge us we’d come up with a story. But no one came, and the wind and waves dropped somewhat as the evening lengthened. We had a great party. After a smoky summer in the Rogue Valley it was wonderful to see the brilliant stars and the Milky Way overhead.
We were moving leisurely the next morning. After breakfast a pod of kayakers took off to play in the caves and rock gardens, but quite a few of us decided to stay on the beach. Looking out at the whitecaps our general attitude was, “We already did that!” Those who launched were also going to check out other beaches to see if there was an alternative in case we decided to move.
It stayed windy as hell all day and the swells stayed up. Jerry found cougar tracks at the far end of the beach, so he and I took off on a little trek to do some tracking. We found quite a few tracks and determined they were recent. When we got back to camp, Jerry found another track up by a little spring trickling out of the cliff behind our tents. We found deer tracks there as well, and it looked like the cougar was stalking a fawn. We actually found a dead fawn, or what was left of it, on the sand. It’s a wild place.
That night we had another great meal and a party and mercifully the wind dropped again and the night was quiet. However, the rough conditions would continue and maybe even worsen so we decided to bolt the next morning. We’d been on the beach two nights, the wind was still whipping the surf and sand during the day, and the presence of the stairway was disconcerting. We launched first thing even before breakfast or coffee in order to beat that wind.
The launch was dramatic. Swells were coming in at 8 to 12 feet. The entrance to the cove had taken on the appearance of a boiling cauldron. Tall waves rolled briskly through the rocks, and once out of the protection of the rocks the sea was chaotic. As I started to cross the less protected area a wave dumped a long fat strand of bull kelp across my bow. It slid down the bow and smacked into my stomach where it remained, pressed uncomfortably into my belly. Acting like a sea anchor, it arrested my forward progression. Maintaining control of my paddle I grabbed the kelp with both hands and hoisted it over my head. It slithered back off my helmet and I dug in to the next wall of water rising up in front of me. Doing this stuff with a fully laden boat is just hard and I was glad to get through the mine field and into shelter around the point.
We made it out without incident, although Deb told me she submarined right into the kelp as well. Capt. Kuk, Michael Powers, Jon, Steve and I took off to find a new camp site. After one potential option was found to be washed out, we settled on another small beach we named Shaman Cove.
It turned out we loved our new beach! Good call, Captains! Our tents were huddled together close to the cliff but hey, we’re a team! We can get cozy! We had just enough room at high tide not to worry about getting wet that night, and everything turned out dandy. That day we broke a record. The Tsunami Rangers have never before left a beach at 8:30 in the morning especially sans coffee! The team can move!
Shaman Cove was idyllic and completely sheltered. Some of us took off to explore, but others decided to have another beach day. We set up a target and tossed tomahawks and knives. Paula distinguished herself by being the only one to stick two tomahawks at once.
Our last night was pretty fab. Lobster tacos courtesy of Scott, Jim, and Steve, and the tequila flowed and the fire glowed as we mellowed. Once again, the wind and waves dropped to almost nothing as stars filled the sky. Don Miguel, aka Michael Powers, was promoted to Admiral and given a ceremonial paho (prayer stick) to commemorate the event. Interestingly, after the promotion several people went beach combing and Michael found something wonderful. A flawless makau, a Hawaiian fish hook carved from bone on a woven twine necklace.
It was totally dry. At first we thought it belonged to Deb or one of the Kiwis but no… it didn’t belong to any of us. My theory is that a wormhole opened in the universe and dropped it so Michael could find it, a gift from the Great Beyond. Since no one else had a better explanation, I’m sticking to my story. The strange thing is we had been all over that beach all day and no one had seen it till Michael picked it up. He decided to give it to his daughter Marika, an intrepid wilderness guide.
The next day we packed up and paddled back to the take out. Despite conditions, it was a great trip. A good team can flow and adapt to extreme situations. This was a hard trip in many ways, but I came home exhilarated. We have an awesome team. I was reminded again how much I love these guys. The support, the cooperation, the effort, and the skills and talents each of us brings to the experience all combine with deep love to make for the best camaraderie in the world.
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