Friday, February 29, 2008

Paddling La Jolla's Caves

I'm excited to be going on a paddle today in La Jolla Marine Preserve. I'm visiting my dad in San Diego, and decided to check out the kayaking options while I'm down here. I don't have any equipment with me, but I found that there are a few outfits here that will let you rent equipment, or take a tour.

Here are three that I checked out:
  1. San Diego Bike and Kayak
  2. La Jolla Kayak
  3. OEX Dive and Kayak Centers

I chose a tour with number one, because their trip sounded like the most fun. I'll go out for a two hour paddle, and hopefully see some cool wildlife. When I was a kid, I would snorkel out here, and you'd see great fish life, like the garibaldi damselfish, out among the kelp. Today we could see sea lions and dolphins. I'll follow up after the trip, and we'll see if I get any good pictures. I had the option to either rent a kayak and go out by myself, or take the more expensive tour. I think this will be more fun to do with other people, so I'm going for the tour. It runs $45 for two hours.

After The Trip
I showed up at 9:30am for the 10am tour, and Mike signed me in and got me started on the paperwork. Turns out that I'm the only taker for this tour, but they will still take me out with my own guide. I decided to rent a wetsuit for an additional $10. The day was overcast, and not terribly cold, but the water temperature is about 60F. Since this is my first put-in through the surf, and on a sit-on-top, I decided that a wetsuit is a good idea to stay as warm as possible. After signing the appropriate forms, I just had to move my car out of the 90 minute parking zone, and I was ready to go. After I got dressed in my wetsuit, life preserver, and helmet, I was ready for a short training. Curtis took me across the street to a grass lawn and explained the basics of controlling the kayak, how to get back in if you fall off, and some safety tips. Then I headed out to the beach and waited for Mark, my guide to arrive with the kayaks.

Curtis drove Mark down with the kayaks in the back of a truck, and dropped them off right at the beach. The boat launch is right at the end of Avenida De La Playa in La Jolla (San Diego). I stuck my flip-flops under the webbing of the Ocean Kayak Scrambler XL, and walked my kayak into the surf. After I jumped in, which was easy, Mark told me to paddle out, lean back through the waves, and meet him at the white buoy closer to shore. I found the sit-on-top very easy to navigate. I also noticed that sit-on-tops were the only kayaks being used out there. There were a lot of fisherman putting in or taking out. I'll have to re-evaluate the pros and cons.

Mark paddled out and met me, and took me on the tour. We stayed close to shore, but out of the way of the breakers. As it was low tide, waves were starting to break a little farther out from shore than normal. He is a Geology student (Jr.) at San Diego State University and showed me evidence of the Rose Fault where one plate is pushing underneath another resulting in rising cliffs on one side, and a deep offshore ocean trench. There are a lot of caves here, but we couldn't go in because the sea was just a bit too rough today, and it was very low tide, so many rocks were exposed. We heard a lot of barking from the Sea Lions, and they were in the water all around us, some in small groups. It was excellent seeing so many sea lions hunkered on the rocks where the waves were crashing. Every now and then a sea lion would surface right next to us to take a look. At one point a cormorant flew right by in front of us with a big mouthful of sea grass. Mark said this time of year they are building their nests on the cliffs.

Then we paddled out over the kelp forest. This is an amazing experience, as you can look down and see the kelp "trees" going down quite a distance into the depths. Mark said that on a clear day that you can see down 40 feet. He also said that the kelp leaves, called blades, could be the size of a kayak at the bottom. Each blade has its own gas filled bladder that float and keeps the kelp close to the surface for photosynthesis. He said that the kelp can grow as much as four feet in a day! He also pointed out that kelp is the source of alginate, which is used in ice cream, salad dressing, tooth paste and other products. While paddling through the forest, I startled a harbor seal who was resting in the kelp. One way you can tell the difference between harbor seals and sea lions by the ears. Sea Lions have ears that stick out, Harbor Seals just have small holes for ears. Once you've seen a few of them, they clearly look different. Mark said that the seals like to wrap themselves up in the kelp, like a hammock, and just hang out. That's what this one was doing before I disturbed him. (Photo by Alaskan Adventure Cruises)

After paddling through through the kelp forest, we paddled a little farther out and looked out for migrating whales. Even though late February is a little late for gray whales, there was still a chance. There were other groups of kayakers looking for whales. On shore, folks line up with scopes, and they're looking for any marine mammal activity. We didn't see any whales, so we paddled a little closer to Children's Cove, then back toward the direction of Scripts Pier. On the way we saw a harbor seal eating a big red fish, and a sea gull came down to get some scraps. Then we paddled around for a bit, until it was time to head in.

Coming in through the surf was fun. Mark gave me some pointers. He said, lean in the direction of the wave to ride it. I did ride in on a small wave for a bit, and though we could have played more in the waves, it was pretty cold and I was ready to go in.

This was a great experience, and I would recommend it to anyone in the San Diego area, no experience necessary. It's a great way to try kayaking. You'd be amazed at how easy it is, and how rewarding the experience is.

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