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.

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