Learning to row strong and carry a big paddle in Monterey Bay.
Thursday, May 30, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell; Two if by Sea-the author and kayak instructor Milos Radakovich face the bay near Adventures by the Sea''s Cannery Row location.
Milos Radakovich is waiting outside of Adventures by the Sea on Cannery Row as I park outside the headquarters of the Monterey County chain, ready to learn to kayak. It''s 9am on a foggy Tuesday and I''m the first customer of the day.
I''m here because I''m tired of the Aquarium. Granted, it''s incredible, but I want to be in the action of the Monterey Bay, not pushed between sweaty tourists trying to see marine drama through the glass.
Introducing himself as a coastal naturalist and a guide, Radakovich ushers me inside the still shop. Bikes and kayaks are lined up in orderly rows, and a wall of "dry suits"-definitely a relative term-awaits my fitting session.
"You can take off your sweatshirt," says Radakovich. "Don''t worry, you''ll work up a sweat paddling."
The Gortex splash suit Radakovich hands me crackles as I step into the bright orange pants that Velcro over my ankles. The neon-yellow splash jacket, cinched at the waist, is capped off with a fire engine red life preserver. Maybe they''re afraid of losing me. Everyone else is in shades of black and gray.
After signing a three-page waiver, noting injury and death are possible, I am issued a dry bag for my notebook and cell phone. Radakovich hands me a paddle and a padded backrest for the kayak.
We cross Cannery Row and walk down the stairs to the beach below the Monterey Plaza hotel. Open-deck, or sit-on-top kayaks, are stacked underneath the pier. "Closed-deck kayaks are a little more work getting back in," Radakovich says. "Plus novices tend to feel claustrophobic."
Paddling lesson time.
"In theory, the boat should go straight," Radakovich offers, as he demonstrates the correct wrist position on the paddle and the push, pull, quarter-turn rotation paddling rhythm. It''s hard to pay attention with baby otters popping their heads up from the kelp beds.
"Remember, wind, currents and waves will tend to push your little boat off course," Radakovich says, as he shows me how to use the paddle blade as a rudder to steer. "Don''t wait until things get out of hand to compensate."
Now I''m shown two ways to re-enter the boat if the worst happens. Either from the side, as Radakovich demonstrates on the sand, or by popping up and straddling over the back. "Remember, if you go over, keep track of your paddle," he warns.
"These boats are very stable," Radakovich adds. "I''ve only had people fall in twice in the past 8 years. One of them was a newlywed couple leaning out of their kayaks trying to smooch-the ultimate wet kiss."
Radakovich has us wait for 10 minutes, observing the cycles of waves breaking on shore.
Radakovich has me sit in the Scupper Pro kayak, paddle aloft, dry bag and flip flops between my knees. He holds onto the back of the boat.
"I''ve got you," he reassures, as a nasty wave threatens to tip me over. "Remember, stay clear of the rocks. We don''t want you on CNN."
Radakovich waits for a set of small waves and launches me. It''s a truly graceless sight, me trying to remember the push-pull-wrist rotation pattern. I quickly give up and float in the peaceful water past the breakers, peering into the kelp beds below.
A turban snail, attached to the mustard-colored kelp, bobs by the boat. Nesting cormorants snatch pieces from the kelp bed to take back to their homes on the old canneries.
We paddle over to the Coast Guard Pier, where the sounds of sea lions drown out Radakovich''s nature lesson. I try to get closer to hear him and ram into his kayak.
"Don''t be alarmed if a group of heads pops up right next to you," calls out Radakovich as he steadies the boat. A group of sea lions porpoises, or leaps, outside our kayaks. "They''re like puppies chasing cars-they''ll chase the kayaks," informs Radakovich.
Sea lions are rafting, or raising their flippers out of the water, using the non-insulated part of their bodies as solar panels to warm up in the 50-degree water. Scuba divers are entering the water on San Carlos Beach. As the fog burns off, the wind picks up. We turn around and head into the wind, towards the Aquarium. I feel my shoulder muscles inflame as I try to keep up with Radakovich. "You''re getting the hang of it," he cheers. "But I''ve got the tow rope if you get tired."
I decide to avoid the humiliation of the tow rope and head back into shore. Although the $30 kayak rental covers all day, Radakovich informs me the usual time spent on the water is one to two hours. We pass three mama-baby otter groups relaxing in the kelp as we reach our launching point.
Radakovich goes onshore first, reminding me to wait until he gives me hand signals to come in. He stands on the beach, orange whistle between his lips, hands beckoning me to stop. "Back up," he yells. My cell phone rings inside the dry bag as I try to paddle backwards. Now Radakovich is waving me in. It''s tricky trying to keep the boat straight over the waves. My butt is wet. I''m in.
We walk back the few steps to the shop where a small crew waits to warm us up. Warm towels are draped over my shoulders and legs, I''m given a piece of abalone and offered hot soapy water to wash my sand-encrusted feet and my soaked cloth flip-flops. It''s a quick and easy re-entrance to land. And after that, a tempting re-entrance back to the world of turban snails and sea lions.