The First Annual Reef Madness Extreme Kayaking Event. May 7th 2006.

Last year about this time was the 20th annual and final Tsunami Rangers Sea Gypsy Race. At that time there was some indication that some other group was going to do a similar event this year. This turned out to be the “Reef Madness” Party put on by Ed Anderson. Ed found a place for the party by convincing the Princeton Harbor Yacht Club to host the event as a fund raiser. Instead of a pot luck party like after the Sea Gypsy, the Yacht Club would sell food and drinks. As for the race, there wouldn’t be one. A race implies that people would dash out and endanger themselves and nobody wanted to take on the liability risk. This is one of the reasons that the Tsunami Rangers decided to call it quits.

However, Ed announced that before the party he and some friends were going to meet on the beach and go for a paddle. We could, if we wished, paddle all or part of the course of the Sea Gypsy. We could, if we wanted, paddle fast and keep track of who came back to a landing before and after each other. But it’s not a race, nobody is in charge and you can’t sue anybody if you get in trouble.

The Sea Gypsy tried to launch at HIGH NOON but Ed’s friendly paddle didn’t get started until after 1:00 PM. Waiting around on Micro Wave Beach I joked that I could be a contender this year by simply launching and paddling the course while waiting for everyone else to get organized. Finally Ed gave the safety and total repudiation of responsibility talk. His daughter blew on a conch shell and the (non) race was off!

The course of the (non) race this year was shorter than the Sea Gypsy has ever been. We were to launch from Micro Wave Beach below the microwave antennas of the Pillar Point Air Force Station. In previous years the Sea Gypsy launched from beaches several miles north or south of here. This gave fast kayaks some long stretches to pull ahead. We were invited to join Ed in paddling around the Pillar Point Reef. In a format typical of the Sea Gypsy we were welcome to land at the base of the reef and portage across (only a few hundred yards from the launching spot on the end of the beach). Or paddle through “The Slot” in the reef. Or paddle through the deeper slot just south of Mushroom Rock. Or even paddle several miles out to get past all the breaking waves. Once outside the reef we were invited to paddle north past the reef again to land on Ross Beach before reversing course and returning to a landing on Micro Wave Beach.

The tide was low at the start of this friendly paddle and there were rocks exposed below the sand. This is not the sort of place you want to take your fragile racing kayak and there were none of those around this year. In fact, almost half of the kayaks were Mariner Coaster kayaks like mine. A good, tough, maneuverable boat for surfing between rocks. People had laughed at me in previous years for bringing such a slow boat to a kayak race, but it seemed the boat of choice this time. Too bad we were not having a race. I dragged my Coaster over the rocks into a foot or so of water and climbed in using my Greenland paddle as a floating support. I learned to do this maneuver when launching with a bunch of friends because I can get in the water without waiting for everyone else to queue up for the small number of good launching spots. It never occurred to me that this was a good maneuver for a race until I started paddling and discovered that I was one of the first few people to get going! Everyone else was still trying to drag themselves over the rocks after they got into their kayaks. However, soon after the launch a pack of longer thinner kayaks passed me on my way to Mushroom Rock.

I paddled fast figuring I could relax after arriving outside the reef. I tried to read the water and figure out where the deep water channel was past Mushroom Rock. From the shore it looked pretty far past the rock but I found myself turning out to sea while still alarmingly close to the rock. I had seen some big sets break here so I paddled fast to get over the reef before the next set came in. Once outside most the fast paddlers ahead of me kept going way out and around a shallow spot where we saw some big waves breaking. This looked like the spot where The Mavericks waves rise up. But the swell was only 10 feet and these waves reformed into smooth swell before arriving at “The Boneyard” of rocks at the outside of the reef. It was safe to cut the corner here. Eric Sores, a Tsunami Ranger and a local who knows this reef like the back of his hand, cut even closer to the Boneyard than I did. So did Doug Huft in his skin-on-frame kayak. All three of us started to pull ahead of the faster kayakers. I kept paddling hard to take advantage of the lead and to get out of the way in case the Mavericks did decide to Go Off.

Before the race I had climbed up to the top of Pillar Point and looked down at Ross Beach. Like last year there was a channel of green water running up to the beach. Getting into it would require paddling north around a submerged reef and cutting back at a sharp angle to land at the southern end. The water looked to shallow to land farther north at a place called Pyramid Beach that is sometimes safer. As I approached Ross Beach on the water it did not look like there was a green water channel any more. But I saw one other kayaker already in that area and watched Eric make his turn to land there. I committed to a landing but paddled hard to take advantage of a calm window in the waves. On both sides of me large waves rose up and broke but the green water channel was there. The guy I saw earlier passed me on his way out and shouted “Coasters Rule!” when I waved at him. (He was in a Coaster). This turned out to be someone named Markus and he would have come in first place, had there been a race. Eric had taken a break to go swimming and launched about the time I got close to shore. I made it all the way to the beach without getting a good surfing ride! The last wave pushed me far enough up on the sand that I decided to rock the boat up on its side and spin it around to launch nose first instead of backing off the beach. This maneuver is something I learned from Tsunami Ranger John Lull. As I headed out to sea I passed John Somers coming in for his landing. Later he told me he had a lot of trouble getting back off that beach. I had no trouble and paddled back out the green water channel without having any waves break on me.

I paddled back up the reef taking the short cut through the Mavericks area and keeping my eye on Eric ahead of me who was cutting it even closer. I watched him slow down and look at a non-descript area of angry breaking white water. I guessed this must be The Slot, a shortcut through the reef. I considered following him but he decided to go the long way around. Ahead I could see the waves breaking over a shallow spot that I knew was past Mushroom rock. I headed directly for this and eventually turned just before getting to it. Another kayaker behind me says that the fore-shortening of distance made it seem like I was in the middle of that breaking area for the whole time I was paddling up past the reef. I made my turn and slipped over the reef without any problems. By then I had been sprinting for the whole time and I slowed down to talk to Don Barch who was playing in the surf but not participating in the (non) race. I felt that I was past all the danger points in the course and did a practice roll just to cool off from my exertions. I heard later that Ed was plowed under by a big set of waves in that same place and was forced to use his combat roll to come back up and finish the course.

As I paddled across the water in front of Micro Wave Beach I saw Eric a little ahead of me. Past him I could see the flags of the finish line. There were no other kayaks anywhere on the water or the beach. Could we be the first ones back? I paddled hard to try and catch up with Eric but he landed and dragged his boat between the flags a few seconds before me. Markus had come in first by a long shot and had already carried his Coaster over the breakwater to paddle back to the party in the harbor. Eric was second that that put me in third place. THIRD PLACE! I had placed in the First Annual Reef Madness Extreme Kayaking Event! Well, I would have taken third place if there had been a race!

All text and images Copyright © 2006 by Mike Higgins / contact