Saturday, July 19, 2008

Shared Adventures Day on the Beach

Shared Adventures Day on the Beach

On July 12, 2008, I received an email from Dean McCully, organizer for this nonprofit event. They needed volunteers for their 16th annual Day on the Beach to provide a day of beach fun for disabled people the following weekend. They needed people with battery powered drills to help assemble the platforms that allow wheelchairs to go out onto the beach. The activities include kayaking, outrigger canoeing, SCUBA diving, water floatation, and using beach wheelchairs. Sounds like a lot of fun, and it was! As soon as I saw kayaking I was hooked. I didn't know what all was involved, but I signed up via the online volunteer registration form.

By midweek, I received a call from one of the organizers, and I committed to being there on Friday morning at 9:30am at Chris Bordner Auto Body on Center St in Santa Cruz where we would be building platforms. Chris Bordner Auto Body very generously provides its parking lot for use by the volunteers to stack wood, and build frames for the weekend. If you're looking for an autobody shop, please give them a call: (831) 423-1301. I added my tool belt to the list of things to bring, recharged my drill battery, and made sure my screwdriver bits are in the case.

I left the house on Friday at 6am, and arrived in Santa Cruz by 8am. Traffic was not a problem. I grabbed a humous bagel at the Bagelry (320 Cedar St, Santa Cruz, CA). Then I headed for Bordners. Made sure to put on plenty of sunscreen, though it was cloudy, plenty of rays come through, and it could clear up. I showed up, and was put to work. Jonathan and Tom were the foremen and had been there many years in the past. Two tables were built on which lumber is laid out and frames built. The frames are transported to Cowell Beach the following day where the plywood is attached. San Lorenzo Lumber (A Division of Lumbermens) stores all of the materials each year, so shop there and support them! We worked until 3pm, and we had built 57 frames.

We were asked to show up the next morning at, gulp, 7am to load the frames and plywood onto trucks for transport to the beach. A special truck is needed, and provided by the City of Santa Cruz, that can drive on the sand without getting stuck. Another crew is on the beach to unload the frames, put them in place and attach the plywood to them. The loading went on until 10am, when I went down to the beach to join the kayaking volunteer crew.

After the orientation for kayaking crew, and safety demonstration, I put on my wetsuit, PFD, and booties, and was ready for action when the kayak trips started at Noon. Here's how the kayaking activity works. There is a loading platform where there is a portable hoist that lifts the wheelchair bound out of their chairs and lowers them into their kayaks. A loading crew position the guest into the front cockpit of a tandem and make sure that they are well padded inside, with a PFD, and a spray skirt. Then the launching crew moves the kayak down beach to the edge of the water. A contact volunteer is assigned to each guest to talk to them, find out their name, introduce them to their paddler, make sure they're comfortable, and so on. The guest may or may not have a paddle themselves depending on their abilities and wishes. The paddlers gets into the rear cockpit down at the water's edge, and as soon as they're ready the launch lead (John or Shark Mark) watches the waves, and times the launch. When the lead orders the launch, the kayak is pulled by about six launch crew volunteers into the water, and off they go. Two tandems are escorted by one safety Sit-On-Top kayak. The front paddler on the safety kayak is responsible for jumping in the water if a guest goes into the water, and your one job is to get and keep the guest head out of the water. Other volunteers may help the guest either back into the tandem, or onto the deck of the safety kayak. Safety kayakers must be prepared to spend 20 minutes in the water, so must have wet suits. The landing procedure is timed by the launch lead. A tandem returning from a route waits for the signal from the lead both to make sure that a landing crew is ready, and so that the lead can time the waves. The goal is to bring the guest in on the back of the wave, not the front of the wave. This is because the kayak is less likely to broach and roll this way. As soon as the kayak is in shallow water, the landing crew have hooks that they slip through the D-rings on the kayak, and pull the kayak up the beach. The paddler gets out, and then the crew drag the kayak back up to the platform can lift the guest out of the kayak if needed.

Bill was my safety kayak companion and we took turns escorting the first pair of tandems around the bay at Cowell Beach. I was in the rear, so Bill was on point to jump in. Jerry and Bob were our tandem paddlers. The route is out to the kelp beds, then to the point off the warf, then back to the beach. It is about one mile, and takes about 20 minutes. This is repeated all day long until about 5pm, and many people rotate into the various roles. On the first trip, we saw two sea otters in the distance off of the point where the surfer statue is. The next trip, I was on the front of the safety kayak, and after that, I switched to various shore duties, mostly launching and landing. We saw a family of three sea otters right out in the middle of the bay this time. Under the warf there are scores of sea lions barking. Since safety paddling is the most fun, most people want to volunteer to do it, so you swap out to give someone else a chance. I spent the rest of the day on landing and launch crews. Each kayaking volunteer wears as many hats as needed, and goes to where they are needed based on the situation. I was often the contact person for guests about to launch, and was honored to meet and get to know a number of our guests.

We had one capsize on launch, and a very exciting rescue. We had a very heavy guest who leaned to the right. After launch, the kayak wanted to roll to the starboard. I stayed with the kayak after launch, past the soup, to hang onto the port side to stabilize things. The lead told the safety kayak to come alongside (the starboard side) and attempt to reposition the guest to center his weight. I told the paddler that I would let go and he would call me back if he needed me to steady the kayak. I was treading water closeby in case I was needed, ready to swim back to shore. Then, suddenly both the tandem and the safety kayak capsized rolling toward each other. I did as I was trained and did a scissor kick to throw myself over the hull of the tandem. I grabbed the gunwale and threw my weight backwards rolling the kayak back upright. Looking to the left I verified that the guest was still in the forward cockpit, and his head appeared to be out of the water. Since I was viewing from behind, and his PFD was riding up, I couldn't see his face to verify that he was Ok. There were two safety kayakers now in the water, and one was with the guest, and I asked if the guests head was out of the water and they confirmed that it was. Three volunteers swam and pulled the kayak back to shore. I asked the guest if he was OK, and he was calm, said he was OK, except that he was blinded by the saltwater. I told this to the launch lead when we reached shore, and he said that we'd all done exactly what we were supposed to. We got the guest back onto the platform to hoist him out of the kayak, because he was cold we decided to cut the spray skirt off of him. Unfortunately, the guest was wearing blue jeans, and a cotton hoodie; not good water wear. If you're going to be kayaking, you need to wear clothing that drains and dries quickly, so synthetic swim trunks and a synthetic fleece are perfect. We got our guest out of the kayak, wrapped in towells and blankets, and the excitement was over. Unfortunately, the guest didn't get to do the tour of the bay.

This was a tremendous event, and I plan to be back again next year. The participants enjoy the kayaking so much, that it is well worth it, even if you don't get to go into the water. I loved getting to help others do what I love to do, and share that mutual enjoyment. I encourage others to put this event on your calendar for next year, because the event is growing. More participants attend each year, and you will love every minute of it.