Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium

Down to the very last minute I was jamming gear into bags and buying food. I would not miss the first one! I had decided to join my friends and co-workers Dave and Amanda for the first ever Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium on Tuesday and we were leaving on Thur!

The event is a skills symposium dreamed up by Sean Morley, Jen Kleck, and Matt Palmariello. They put in a lot of time and energy to get some of the best coaches in the World. Nigel Dennis, Steve Maynard, Tom Burge, Sean Morley, Jen Kleck, and Ben Lawry just to name a few.

Dave, Amanda, and I made the drive down from Portland on Thursday (the 8th) in just a little under twelve hours in a shinny new 09 Subaru Outback. All the driving would be worth it to enjoy some great people, fun paddling, and warm California sun.

Sean Morley, Jen Kleck, Matt Palmariello

The symposium met each day at Horseshoe Bay for a morning meeting. We got a safety chat, class list, and some helpful forecast information before setting off. The venue was really nice. There was no shuttles necessary because we could paddle to whatever water you needed. There was enough tidal current to play on in the bay, lots of space in the cove for flat water work, and the outer coast was just a 20 minute paddle under the bridge. It was ALL right there, set against the backdrop of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and one of the most visually appealing cities in the world. San Francisco!

The Golden Gate and San Francisco

Morley (safety officer) delivers the safety chat under a clear blue sky...

...As students look on (not a bad size crowd for a first year event)

During the first couple days (Friday and Saturday) I helped coach the Tides III classes. This was a fun class that allows for some really in depth coaching on one of my favorite subjects...Tide Races!! We spent our time playing at Yellow Bluff, around Angel Island (The Ellis Island of the West), and under the Gate. We worked on precision, timing, technique, and trim while surfing and moving amongst the rocks. When the big ocean liners would cut through we would actually get some good surf waves.

Looking back towards Horseshoe Bay and Yellow Bluff from Angel Island.

Dave leads Mark in and around the rocks at Yellow Bluff

Steve takes a ride while threading the needle

Dave offers his student, Noah some advice.

Noah gives it a go.

This was great group management practice. Everyone wanted in the race when the big boats went by...

...And most caught some good rides!

The sunsets were amazing, but often out staged by the intense glow of the full moon that was never far behind. The symposium was timed to coincide with the full moon and large tide exchanges. Typically this makes for more challenging conditions, but when it came to the night nav Amanda and I went on, it helped show us the way around Richardson Bay.

During the symposium three people were going for their 5 star. Nigel Dennis and Steve Maynard were assessing. Amanda and I went along to observe and be "guinea pigs" for the group. I have always been curious to know what the night navigation exercise was like during the 5 star. It was a calm clear night. We could see EVERY light in Sausolito including the traffic lights. That was the REAL challenge of navigating that evening...deciding if what you were seeing was the channel marker or the light at the next intersection down.

Nigel snaps a shot of Richardson Bay under the light of the full moon

We set off on our night paddle around 7pm under a clear night sky.

Things cooled off dramatically over night. Everyday we were there it would hit 65 degrees about mid-day and drop to low 40's once the warm California sun went down. Amanda and I were looking forward to hot cocoa back at the Hostel. We both had a long day on the water to begin with. Nigel called it quits after about 3 hours.

Back at the hostel, noisy boaters buzzed around trading stories and sipping tea until night fall. Some would try their luck on the ropes set up in the basement and others studies their charts for the next days activities. It became obvious who was there for assessment and who was there just for fun. Each night people would settle in and watch slide shows of trips from around the world.

The class I was looking forward to most would happen on Sunday. I was scheduled to help Dave White, Matt Nelson, and Sean Morley with the Rock Gardening Class. Things were shaping up nicely...We had 17 second periods, six foot swell rolling in from the NW and clear sunny skies all day long.
All the rock gardening students begin to gather and observe the break with anticipation

Jack contemplates... (above) while Dave and Matt Discuss the plan. (right)

The plan was to launch the group through the dumping surf on Rodeo beach (just North of the bay) and explore amongst the rocks south to the Gate and back. We split the group in two. Matt and I took half (once we convinced them to come with us instead of THE Sean Morley). The other group headed straight out and got down to the gate then worked their way back along the rocks.

Getting off the beach took timing, but it was good to go.

Matt and I had a great morning with the class. Everyone made it outside the break. (Mark shown above caught about 5 feet of air after just making it past a big set that rolled through). We eased into things with our group and worked a lot on observation, personal judgement, and boat control. We could tell people were pretty freaked out at first, but they warmed up to the idea once we spent some time in the zone. They began to relax once we paddled a bit. We made it around the corner enough to see the Gate and stopped for a group picture.

Mark and I went ahead of the group so we had time to rock out a bit. This is the light house at the bay's northern edge.

From left to right: Matt, Adenon, Alex, Matt, Mark, and Hugh

We worked them hard on the way back to the beach. Everyone was showing progress and we could hardly tear them away, but after we got everyone in and lunched only Mark had the time and wanted to go back out. Matt, Mark and I launched once more and made our way out to join the other group. We found them at Bird Rock congratulating Dave on some sweet carnage.

Apparently, Sean told him to "go big or go home." So he did.

Dave back got back surfed through a slot, pitoned on a rock that quickly flipped his bow into the barnacle covered wall behind him. Having completed his "pivot turn" he flushed through the full length upside down. To every one's amazement he managed to keep his skirt on and rolled up clear of the slot; his boat slightly shorter due to the impact.

The carnage was not over yet. Soon after that, Mark misjudged a different rock slot and ended up high and dry. He was a sitting duck for the next big wave that came in...

Matt looks on as Mark get hung up

Matt approaches, but is wise to keep his distance...

Because the next wave was a real crusher. You can see Morley digging in to get to Mark asap.

Mark took a swim, but Matt was right there to pick up the pieces.

The sun started to get low and the gang was all tired by this point. We played a little while longer and called it a day. Everyone was preparing to get on the road and back to work the next day. Dave and I would be on the road soon, but work would have to wait. Amanda still hadn't been out on anything but flatwater this weekend and was really looking forward to a little more action. Dave and I were not done yet either.

We spent one last night at the Hostel and were driving north along the California coast with Bryant Burkhardt the next morning to find some more rocks! Bryant showed us an amazing place! Russian Gulch near Mendocino provided us a twisted labarinth of rock and sea. It was unlike any place I had ever paddled. We were constantly warned about the possibility of Great White Sharks by surfers, locals, and kayakers alike. As we were getting dressed we were warned yet again by a curious on looker. It was breeding season so we took it seriously. Every corner you turned revealed a new challenge or an amazing view; or both. We kept a watch out for sharks but we were easily distracted by the spectacular scene before us. There were huge rooms within caves within archways, all filled with the strong salty aroma of the sea.

Bryan discusses options with Dave and Amanda...

...While I am off taking pics.

This is the bridge at Russian Gulch, our put-in.

I love plastic boats! I mis-judged this one just a bit.

The gulch provided us a nice protected launch and warm up area. Once outside, you could feel the water's energy change. The full strength of the 6 foot swell could be felt by all. Everyone's eyes got a little bigger, and the group fell silent.

Amanda and Dave hold position while Bryan gets the timing down for his big move. You can just make out the long series of tunnels on the right side of the shot. Bryant times his move and commits to the tunnel. Then he is gone.

You can make out Bryant's silouette as he heads into darkness. The color of the water was a beautiful light blue, and soo clear.

Amanda makes her way through yet another long tunnel, with Dave up ahead.

Bryant paddles around from the backside of his long tunnel move and joins back up with us. We all have a good time bouncing around in the rocks slowly making our way north, seeking out every cave, tunnel, archway, and slot we could find.

One of many caves that went back farther than we wanted to go.

An egret watches Dave glide by through the bull kelp.

At some point we slipped into a protected spot and found a nice lunch beach...

The view from lunch. (not too shabby)

After a nice break we were right back at it.

Amanda headed back out to sea after lunch

From the lunch spot we kept heading north to the point. There is a pretty exposed spot that we had to get through to get outside. There was substantual swell coming through, but the water was deep.

Amanda gets a quick stretch before heading out.

Dave shows her the way, as she follows close behind.

Dave White

The light house N. of Russian Gulch

The foam is everywhere and reminds us that waves break heavily in this spot. We don't waste any time.

Bryant makes his way back outside as the sun gets low in the sky.

You can see some good sized surf coming in. We were threading the needle between the rocks to our left and the big breakers to the right. We found some deep water and snuck through unscathed. It took us no time to get back to the bridge with following swell. What we took three hours to do on the way out only took us 30 minutes on the outside!

We all watched the sky in silence as the sun slipped below the horizon line revealing the evening's first stars. I remember wishing that we could paddle fast enough to keep the sun hovering just over that horizon allowing endless time to stay and surf.

We had one day left. We would just have to make the most of it. Bryant treated us to Sushi in town before he left for Sacramento. (What a great guy) We parted ways after a nice meal and ice cream. Dave, Amanda, and I headed North along the coast into the redwoods. We drove long into the darkness and found a pull off with enough space to pitch the mega mid and catch a few winks before it got too late.

The next morning we started the search for some good surf break. We found a park ranger that told us about some great flatwater bays to paddle in and warned us to avoid the beaches due to the "dangerous" sneaker waves. Oh, and even he made mention of the sharks! We thanked him for the advice then headed straight for the nearest beach.

In our search for waves, we drove through every beach side campground in the area. In one of them, we found some elk living it up.

The challenge is made

Mostly what we saw were calves milling around looking for fresh grass to munch on, but these two gave us quite the show.


This went back a forth for awhile. It seemed like the little one was practicing for future battles. There was no chance of a victory for him today.


Maybe next year.

We eventually found a nice spot, but it was over-run with board surfers (much like EVERY decent break we saw in Cali). There was one guy was still squezing into his wetsuit in the parking lot, so Dave started asking him questions. "What is the general feeling towards kayakers around here?" Dave asked. The surfer responded, "You see that guy out there...That's Chad. He is a real dick..." (Just as we suspected). After some nice chatting I told him what we were after. "We want some nice shore break to surf." I pleaded. "In those things?!?" He inquired. "Seems kinda tough, but alright... I know of a spot down the way; It's pretty sharky but good."

He gave us directions to Golden Bluffs at Davidson Beach. It's a 7 mile dirt road full of potholes. Once we get to the beach we were told to find the mouth of the river. "There is only two of us that surf that break and we are both here today, so you should have the place to yourselves." We thanked him perfusly and headed for the "secret spot."

We had to wade through 20 yards of super cold knee deep water to get there, but it was well worth it once we saw the spot. There was a nice high plateau of sand overlooking clean break with a great rip to help you get out. There were still nice long periods and about 5-6 feet of swell coming in. The sun rising behind us created prime lighting for photos. Dave opted to be the photographer for the day. We established a shark signal for him to use and Amanda and I headed out.

Amanda gets outside with ease

1st ride of the day

It was easy enough to get out that I didn't mind riding some all the way into the beach.

The waves were well organized, big, and clean

Things got a bit "chunkier" once inside. Amanda prepares for the hit.

One of my rides felt really sweet. I caught a nice wave and had some quality turns. Who says long boats are good for surfing??

Me, droppin' in.

It begins to break

Starting the bottom turn...

...into the cut-back.

Amanda was enjoying her second day ever in the surf zone. She looks quite comfortable!

I was doing everything I could to get some ends. The Boreal Designs "Baffin" I was paddling has a very full and up-turned bow that would just not plug in. I guess that's a good thing if you want to stay on the surface. Here was my best attempt.

Plugging in...

Once the bow was under, the stern began to come over the top...

Now back surfing, I wait patiently for the next end

My stern buried next sending the bow up and over my head.

Amanda caught a few more rides before calling it a day. This is one of the biggest of the day!

Nice one!

I probably should have joined her. I didn't get too many decent rides after she went in. Take a look at a few more good trashings...

Gettin closed out on...

Feelin' tired after a long week.

This never goes well.
Eventually, we convinced Dave it was worth getting his drytop from the car so I could snap some shots of him. Unfortunately the tide was heading out, taking with it all the best waves. things got real dumpy real quick. I managed to get one shot of Dave as the sea spit him out oneo the beach like a watermelon seed.

After our surf session we re-packed the subi and made the long haul back to Portland. We were back home by mid-night. It's nice to know that just an afternoon's drive south you can find warm California surf in the middle of Janurary. I'm coming back...SOON I hope!