Moonstone Beach to San Simeon, August 9th 1997.

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Joan Wiener scheduled another trip to kayak along the Central Coast area of California and I came along. At this time of year we should have had milder waves than the last trip down here, but unfortunately there was a hurricane down by Mexico. One reason Joan likes to paddle this area of the coastline is because almost all the beaches face south and are protected from the usual northwest swell. But when a hurricane sends swell from the south the waves break into all these formally protected beaches. We studied the data from the California Swell Model for days before this trip and watched the waves from the south get stronger and stronger. Joan, Gawan (Joan's dog), Robert Dorsey(another BASKer) and myself drove down the coast together on Friday. We stopped at all the put-in spots from San Simeon to Montana Des Osos and looked at the waves. Joan was almost ready to abort the whole trip. We had fish and chips in Cayucos and camped overnight at San Simeon State Beach.

The next morning the swell did not look any better, but when we drove down to Moonstone Beach the waves there were very mild at this put-in spot. Robert has not had much open ocean experience but he wanted to try paddling a short distance and sitting in the kelp beds. So the two of us convinced Joan to come along. We easily launched at this mild beach and paddled out to the kelp beds a kilometer from shore. I paddled around an offshore rock and then we paddled north for a while. We saw lots of otters, seals and a few sea lions. I was looking for a rock we had seen the day before that had a little cove behind it. By the time we found it we had paddled half way north to San Simeon Point. Nobody else was willing to try landing in this cove, in fact nobody else was willing to get any closer to shore. I paddled in to look at the cove. It had looked possible to land here from the top of the cliffs the day before, but it looked pretty rough today. The southern swell was creating waves that broke across the cove and broke into the vertical cliffs on the north side where there was no beach to land on. With my friends a kilometer out to sea I decided that landing here was not worth the risk. I paddled back out and we headed back to the beach. Robert did not have much experience with surf launchings and landings but we all made nice landings at Moonstone Beach.

After a picnic lunch at Moonstone, we drove down to Morro Bay to do some surf launch practice in the soupy beach there. There is a campground here that looks like a parking lot, we were glad we had not arranged to camp here. By parking on the street outside of the campground we were able to carry our boats over the wide sandy beach. When we got to the water, we saw an otter playing in the surf with the kids and their boogie boards. The otter was apparently diving for something and came up over and over again to float on his back and eat. The kids wanted to play and chased after the otter, often getting close enough to touch it's tail before it dove away. The otter didn't seem to mind the kids hanging around much and let them get close enough to touch before diving after something else to eat.

We tried to find an unused section of the beach to launch our boats away from surfers and boogie boarders. Robert was learning to brace and stayed close to shore in his sit-inside kayak. I warned him that when you go out to do surf launch practice, you will get rolled over and dumped out of your boat. Joan was feeling intimidated by the large swell from the south and stayed fairly close to shore. I plowed out through the breaking waves and surfed back in quite a few times. On several occasions I saw windows in the surf that I could have paddled out through, but stayed in the soup zone. On one ride, the wave slid under the kayak until the nose and tail came out of the water on both ends. In this position I was able to effortlessly rotate the boat to face the other direction up the beach, then paddle a few strokes to surf back in front of the breaking water. I'm starting to feel more in control. But then as I got tired I lost this feeling of control and got knocked out of the boat more and more often.

When I left the car, I forgot my paddle leash. Joan told me not to go back to get it, since paddle leashes are considered a liability in the surf. The fear is that the leash will wrap around your neck and strangle you one day. I felt naked without it and lost control my boat a few times, as I expected. One time I had to swim a long distance back to shore. Bryant Austin recently told me that it was possible to use a feathered paddle (like mine) to assist in swimming. I tried it out and it worked pretty well. However, I'm starting to think that the leash is a good idea in the surf: The boat can't get away from you as easily, so you don't have to swim as far to get it back. Loosing control of your boat without a leash, it could fly to shore and slam into an innocent bystander with enough force to break bones. The most common failure I have with my leash is getting my feet tangled in it near shore and having the boat trip me and drag me around. A small price to pay for the ability to hold onto your boat farther from shore. I'll be using mine from now on, even when surfing.

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Mike Higgins /