Archive for February, 2011

Dancing with water in unlikely places

I spent a lot of my childhood in Orange County. Many weekends were spent at Wild Rivers, the local water park. I’d head straight for a wave pool called Monsoon Lagoon, and would make my way through all of the people to the very front of the pool where I’d spend the entire day on a boogie board in front of the wave machine. I can still picture the noise that the machine would make as it generated wave after wave. Every wave was the same size, had the same interval and the same amount of power behind it. Every two hours or so the wave machine would turn off and the water would go flat for several minutes. I remember lining myself up in the flat water waiting for the machine to kick in. When it did my heart would jump in anticipation of the waves that would follow.

Gorgeous morning on Humboldt Bay.

In Humboldt County, California we have a surf break that forms in the middle of the Bay if conditions are right. There are three underwater sand spits in the middle of the Bay that line up nicely with the mouth of the Bay. If the swell coming in the mouth is large enough, the tide is ebbing and the tide is low enough, waves appear over the spits. In theory, the waves can be surfed from one end of the spit to the next, and then the kayaker ferries off to the side and the current carries them back to the start, where the process can be repeated. The waves will often disappear for minutes at a time and then suddenly pop up right behind you, in front of you, next to you or directly under you. The moving current, flat water and no identifiable features make it easy to lose place of where the underwater sand spits are located, and when the waves appear the adrenaline kicks in, but unlike Monsoon Lagoon, their size, shape and strength is completely unpredictable.

Wondering if this is the right spot.

Same spot, seconds later.

Yesterday I was sitting in the flat waters of Humboldt Bay waiting for that surf break. I found myself thinking of something an instructor (thanks Steve) once told me. “It’s not the sea that is confused, it’s you that is confused.” How true is that? The ocean knows exactly what it is doing, people however, often don’t.

Location, location, location.

We played in the surf break for a couple of hours, riding what was rideable; forwards backwards, sideways. We punched through surf, and sat in an awesome spot where small waves come from every direction crashing into each other and shooting water high into the air. I played in this spot for awhile trying to position myself so that I’d be right in the middle of this convergence, which is relatively gentle, but there’s something really fun (and hysterical) about getting hit in the face by a poof of water from the sea.

Dancing water.

It’s these unknown and unlikely spots where water dances that are often the most fun.

– Happy paddling!

Pictures by Michael H. Morris and Helen Wilson.

On another note, the Necky Chatham 16 in these pictures is for sale. For information, e-mail

Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium

As I drove down the coast Thursday afternoon, I couldn’t help but laugh. Strong winds were rattling the kayaks on the roof, heavy rain and hail were crashing into the windshield and then snow… and lots of it. I was on my way to the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium (GGSKS) and hadn’t seen weather like this along the California coastline since last year’s event.

Not so typical weather.

Pot of gold?

This was my third year going to the GGSKS, and it ranks up there as one of my favorites. The event focuses on open water kayaking, and the location provides a good mix of everything from rock gardens, unique play spots, currents and tide races, not to mention the impressive Golden Gate Bridge looming over the water. Everyone stays at a charming hostel located in the Marin Headlands, and as I hauled my bag through the door I was greeted by many familiar and friendly faces, and quite a few new ones as well. Everyone was smiling and many already had tales of adventure from classes that had been taking place throughout the week.

Over the weekend I co-taught Combat Rescues and two classes of Fun, Balance, Games and Rolling. It was wonderful to work with Leon Somme, Deb Volturno, Rowan Gloag, Mark Tozer and Duane Strosaker, as well as all of the enthusiastic participants, who are the people who really make this event happen.

Just another day around the Golden Gate.

A little fun and balance.

P&H hosted a party Saturday night, complete with pizza, live music and dancing. One of the things that I really enjoy about symposiums is the evening chats of adventure, lessons learned and realizations made. Everyone seems to have a mischievous sparkle about them.

Nigel, Tom, Shawna and Leon.

Saturday evening was dinner at the hostel, followed by Greenland Rope Gymnastics in the basement and then a slideshow presentation by Eric Soares of the Tsunami Rangers. Eric took us all through the journey of the Tsunami Rangers over the past 26 years. This group of people are truly inspiring, and if you ever have a chance to listen to their tales of adventure, fun and friendship, I suggest you do it. Eric released a book this year, Confessions of a Wave Warrior, (available at I’ve read it and highly recommend it. Later that evening was a raffle drawing with lots of great prizes. Proceeds went to The Marine Mammal Center.

Tsunami Rangers, Eric and Steven.

The weekend was awesome, with way too many stories and adventure’s to list here. Thank you to the organizers, Matt Palmariello and Sean Morley, the fantastic kitchen staff who kept everyone well fed and somehow managed to keep smiling the entire time, the sponsors of the event and to new and old friends. See you all next year!

A bunch of troublemakers.

More pictures can be viewed in the Gallery.

Giant Salt Water Crocodiles Invade Bay Area – by Moulton Avery

Published with the author’s permission. Thank you Moulton for getting the word out. – HW

Paddle Floats CHEAP

When I first started kayaking I was under the impression that once you buy a kayak, a paddle and a PFD, you’re done. It seemed like a relatively inexpensive sport to take up. Yeah right! Kayaking gear is expensive, and the cheap stuff… well you really don’t want it. Nowadays whenever I purchase anything I look at it in kayak units… that car repair is going to cost me “half of a poly kayak,” or to go to that concert is going to cost me “1/3 of a helmet,” etc., etc.

I remember being a new kayaker and deciding to go to Adventures Edge, Arcata’s outdoor store, to purchase all of my safety gear at the same time. Pump, float and tow rope, that couldn’t cost more than a few bucks, right? Guess again. $243.85 later I had decided that if I needed rescuing at sea this gear should not only get me back in my kayak, with no work on my part, but should wrap me in a warm blanket and make me hot coffee as well.

I am a kayak instructor and use paddle floats for my rolling classes. Six students per class, two paddle floats per student… this could easily lead to bankruptcy. So what are the other options? Something that floats… hmmm, beach balls, swimming arm bands and even PFDs have been substituted in my classes, but I like a system, and have decided that making my own paddle floats is the way to go.

As far as safety gear on the open ocean, the paddle float that I use is a Seattle Sport double chamber float. I like this float because it rolls up small, has two chambers, so in case one fails there’s a backup, It secures well on either a Greenland or a Euro paddle and it’s easy to inflate and deflate without any high-tech functions that I’d be sure to break. I should mention that I don’t like large boxey foam paddle floats. First, they take up too much room, and second, the amount of buoyancy cannot be adjusted. That said, the floats that I make myself are made of foam, but they don’t take up a lot of room, and they’re CHEAP.

So last weekend I’m at a rummage sale with the proceeds going to Support the local high school’s safe and sober graduation. The deal is, you pay $5 and get a large bag. You can fill it with whatever you want. I strolled around for a bit looking for that rummage sale piece that I just couldn’t live without. I’d already tossed a serving dish, an umbrella, a groovy shirt for my son and a couple of books into my bag… then I saw it… nestled amongst some old gardening stuff was a large, beat up, bright blue, foam camping mat. That would be my rummage sale score… paddle floats.

So the process:

1. Acquire a foam camping mat. Recycling is always good, and getting one from a rummage sale is not only inexpensive but better for the environment than buying new.

Rummage sale score.

2. Measure the widest part of your paddle blade, round up to the nearest inch, double it and add 3 inches.

Measuring the widest part of the paddle.

3. Make marks along the full length of the mat at the number you came up with in step 2.

Marking the mat.

4. Do the same with the other long side, and connect the markings using a straight edge. Cut along the line using a razor blade.

Cutting the foam into strips.

Cut foam.

5. Fold the strips in half (parallel to the cuts you made) and push down on the folded part hard to form a solid crease. Open and spread sealant along both long sides and the top edge. The glue can be spread up to one inch of each side.

Spreading sealant.


6. Wearing a glove, spread the sealant with your finger.

Smoothing out the sealant.

7. Fold and place something heavy on the float. If you have the Complete Works of Shakespeare handy and don’t plan on reading it in the next 24 hours, it works well as a weight. Follow the same steps with the rest of the foam strips.

Weighing down the paddle floats.

8. Let the glue dry and the crease set for several hours.

9. Check the floats. If the sealant is holding well, you might be done. If not, or to add a little more strength, you can sew them as well. To do this use thick thread and a needle. Start at the corner of the crease so that you can hide the end of the thread inside the crease.

The glued end of the paddle float.

Starting to sew.


Voila, you now have homemade paddle floats.

Affordable paddle floats!

Trinidad, California

Trinidad, California is my home paddling ground. This is where I learned to kayak and where I fell in love with the ocean. Because of my teaching schedule, Trinidad often gets put on the back burner. Still though, there are a group of close friends that launch from this local paradise every Sunday morning; rain or shine, flat or ferocious. We call it Sunday Services, and this Sunday I was home and joined the group of seven others for a relaxing paddle up the coast.

Birdseye view of Trinidad Harbor

Conditions were mellow for this time of year, which allowed us the opportunity to paddle several miles north of our launch at Trinidad Harbor. A nice thing about Trinidad is that is has two launch sites; a harbor provides an easy launch (with the exception of when the swell comes from the south), and Trinidad State Beach provides a confused surf break, with waves coming from multiple directions. This is because it is nestled again Trinidad Head, and swells often rebound against it, creating a wild surf break that is better not attempted unless conditions are favorable. On this day we decided to launch from the harbor.

Trinidad Harbor

The ocean here is lined with redwood forest, creating spectacular land views, and often, on days such as this, a layer of fog floats over the water. The sun shining through the clouds and fog give the sky a magical, colorful appearance. The group of us paddled between two rocks, known as Prisoner Rock. This is tradition, and the rocks serve as a kind of gateway to the ocean. We paddled to the end of Trinidad Head and rounded the corner into exposed water. One of the nice things about Trinidad is that when the swell comes from the Northwest (its usual direction) there is a clear distinction between the harbor and open ocean. It is possible to paddle past the Head into the ocean swells and then back paddle back a few feet, crossing an invisible line into the protection of the Harbor. Rounding the Head we felt the swell and could look up to see a lighthouse looming high above us on the headland.

Prisoner Rock - The Gateway to the Ocean

The ups and downs of the sea

We made our way around Trinidad Head, stopping briefly to mingle at a spot called Smack Wall. Local kayakers gave it that name years ago because when swell hits a crease in the headland it often creates a rebounding wave that is surfable. Is is a great play spot and relatively save because the wave fizzles out quickly and there are no obstacles to surf into.

A little chop for the kayaks to dance in

We made our way further north, passing College Cove, a lovely beach that is usually somewhat protected from incoming swell and can provide a friendly surf landing. We didn’t stop here though, and instead continued north, passing rock after rock until we finally made it to Scotty Point, our destination. The swell period this day was fairly long, and the beaches didn’t look friendly, so we took an on-water rest behind some large rocks for a snack and to relieve ourselves (peeing at sea is a necessary skill to learn for extended trips along northern California, since often large waves crashing into exposed cliffs with no beaches makes landing impossible.

Relaxing paddle up the coast

We decided to paddle out to Cone Rock, a large rock about a mile offshore that is shaped like a cone. On the way we passed a sea lion lounging on a large rock. I commented that it was strange that we hadn’t seen any sea mammals up until this point, since they are usually scattered all over the place. The crossing to Cone Rock was short and uneventful and we turned toward Trinidad Head to make our way back to the beach. To the right of us, several harbor porpoises made an appearance, leaping out of the water as they headed in the opposite direction.

We had quite a way to go to get back to the launch, and the group started to spread out a bit, everyone enjoying a solo paddle amongst a group of friends. To the left of me I saw a blow of water, and knew immediately that we were in the presence of a whale. A quick call to my friends using my VHF radio got us all staring at the water waiting for the next surface. We watched the whale for awhile as it slowly made its way in the opposite direction. There’s something about a whale that makes me smile. Their size, their magnitude, even the smell of their breath makes me feel lucky to be in their presence. We kept paddling toward the Head, passed by three sea lions rearing their heads out of the water and barking at us. Then we cut in front of a large rock called Flatiron, paddling through the chop over the washrocks that surround it.

Paddle Pal, John Day... the man who taught me to roll.

Eventually we made our way around the Head and into the harbor, paddling back through Prisoner Rock and landing on the beach. After loading up the cars we headed to The Beachcomber Cafe for coffee. Looking around at all my friends I felt very lucky. I don’t paddle with them often anymore, but it’s great to know that when I’m in town we can share these magical moments together.

Winter Fun in Thunder Bay, Canada

Winter has many meanings. Where I live in Northern California winter means heavy rain, strong wind and often large and powerful Pacific swells. “Dressing for the weather” translates to a good rain jacket zipped up over a fleece hoody. I have always thought of snow as a novelty, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to travel to Thunder Bay, located in Ontario, Canada, to teach some rolling clinics for the Superior Kayak & Canoe Club and to play in the snow a bit.

Thunder Bay from the air

I met up with Sean Smith, an Australian sea kayaker (aka Fat Paddler), during a flight connection in Los Angeles, California. A business trip had brought him to Chicago and he’d decided to come to Thunder Bay for some rolling clinics and a visit. It was pure coincidence that we ended up on the same flight from Los Angeles to Toronto. We had talked many times but had never met, and after a couple of airplane cocktails we were laughing and talking like we’d been friends for years.

Sean stopped in Toronto for a night, and after a brief visit with some of the Toronto locals and Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson of Kayak Ways (who were in Toronto teaching a skin-on-frame building class) I headed on my way to Thunder Bay. As I walked out of the airport with Joe O’Blenis and his friend Seth I got my first breath of “real” winter air. My lungs immediately rejected the icy air and I went into a series of coughing fits. I was shocked as I felt the skin on my face became tingly and then hard to move and found myself wondering how long it takes before frostbite kicks in. I had never experienced anything like this.

A frozen river

The following day we picked Sean up from the airport, and went on a short tour of Thunder Bay. The novelty of walking on Lake Superior and having a deer touch my hand with his nose was quite exciting. That evening we went on a snowshoe walk with some of the locals on the frozen river. Bundled up from head to toe, it was difficult to move any part of my body, and even harder to walk with snow shoes strapped to my feet. On land I’m a total klutz, and the get-up of layers and layers and layers of clothes matched with a full-face bright blue balaclava (which kept falling in my eyes and preventing me from seeing) were not helping my far-from-graceful strides. A quick glance over at Sean, who had an Australian flag trailing off his body and looked like he was having as many problems as me made me feel a little less out of place. The locals meanwhile trotted down the river like there was nothing to it. These Thunder Bay folks are tough, and I scurried along trying to keep up without falling on my face.

A magical moment for me

Snowshoeing on the river

The next morning we woke early to head to the pool for rolling classes. It was apparently the coldest day of the year in Thunder Bay at -37 Celcius. This was my third time teaching in Thunder Bay, and it’s always a joy to see the same friendly faces, as well as some new ones. It’s also wonderful to see how much the skill level of this group jumps with each visit. Even with frozen water outside and icy cold air, the club rents the pool regularly to practice their rolls.

Liquid water

Sean learns the Storm Roll

Throughout the weekend good times were had by all, with a visit to Hoito, a popular local restaurant, evening board games, card tricks and laughter from kayakers from three different countries who were brought together because of a love of water. Nestled in my memory too are a couple of solo walks along the snowy roads and the icy river. There really is something magical about the quietness of snowflakes.

Winter wonderland

All in all it was a wonderful weekend. It was great to meet Sean, and awesome to see Joe and Diane Hogan again.

Thank you Joe and Diane!

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