TAKS, October 3rd to 5th 2008.

This year the Traditional Arctic Kayak Symposium (TAKS) was held in Mendocino. This is practically in my neighborhood, compared to San Simeon where it is usually held. The people organizing it should have talked to some of us “locals” because they assumed that camping at Van Damme State Park was not reserved and available on a first come first served basis. But all the campsites were reserved online by abalone divers six months in advance and few TAKS attendees could stay at the state parks. At the last minute everyone was panicking and looking for sites in private campgrounds all up and down the coast. When I heard this, I looked up the Sweetwater Spa and Inn (http://www.sweetwaterspa.com) on the WEB. This is a place that has a large hot tub I have been in before. They also have rooms for rent inside old water towers and this sounded like a fun place to stay. I talked to Kate DesLauriers, Dave Littlejohn and Dörte Mann about this and we agreed to split the rent of a two bedroom tower. If you stay in one of their rooms, you get free access to the hot tub! As the weekend of the symposium approached a storm was forecast and we were glad to have a dry room and hot tub to look foreword to.

I arrived Friday morning and registered for the symposium in the parking lot at Van Damme Beach. From there we had to drive to Russian Gulch Beach for the first event: a paddle down to the Mendocino Headlands. Kate did not want to paddle in the rain. I have never been comfortable in my baidarka skin boat and did not want to go on a long paddle like this. So I paddled around in the cove by myself. I discovered a new reason to paddle into caves: To get out of the rain! I managed a new personal best: I was able to stay in the baidarka for an hour and a half.

Dave and Dörte arrived while I was paddling and we all went off for lunch and to check into our rooms. When we showed up that evening for the TAKS pot luck dinner, we saw people wearing storm outfits and trying to cook under umbrellas. The four of us left, went grocery shopping and had dinner in our room instead.

The next day had several events planned for Russian Gulch. One was a rough water paddle in big waves which I signed up for. There were also rolling and paddle-stroke classes but the stormy conditions in the cove made them decide to move these to the Big River. Dörte went off to the rolling class and learned a hand-roll! Kate took the paddle stroke class and paddled up the river. Dave joined me for the big waves.

The forecast was for 15 foot swell. Under these conditions big waves were breaking almost everywhere at the entrance to the cove. Dave was in his Greenland boat, I was in my Coaster because I wanted to at least be comfortable in my seat if not in the conditions. After some rescue practice in the cove we lined up two-by-two and started out. Two local paddlers, Jeff Laxier and Skip Paules, lead the way out between the huge breaking waves. Ralph Johnson had his helmet camera on and got this video that he posted to youtube. Dave and I were behind Ralph and we went through the same spot without getting wet a minute later.

Outside the cove the big waves just turned into smooth rolling water and we could have paddled comfortably all day. We went half way to the Mendocino Headlands and stopped there to watch some breaking waves. In a spot that is normally calm enough to paddle over, the big waves were breaking on a shallow submerged rock. The water wrapped around itself into a cone that rose up forty feet or more in the air, then collapsed into a huge crater in the water. After watching this a while, we turned to work our way back into the cove before the swell became any larger.

The trip back in was uneventful. It looked to me as if we followed a different path than the one out. I wanted to turn just a little farther north. But our local experts said this was the right way and perhaps the only way to get back to the beach. They were right and we all made it back inside without anyone getting wet this time.

Later in the afternoon we joined everyone else at Big River. The kayak race was canceled and a few of us still wanted to do some paddling. We paddled down the river with the start of the ebb tide and looked at the waves breaking in the mouth. This is an area with a bad reputation for breaking kayaks. Several people were unwilling to go into the waves at all for fear that the tide would pull them out into the impact zone. Only two or three foolhardy souls went part way out here and tried surfing in the wild broken water. The longest ride that I got was side surfing all the way up onto the beach. Ralph pointed his helmet camera at me a few times but none of the video turned out due to a bad memory card.

All text and images Copyright © 2008 by Mike Higgins / contact