I was already an experienced sea and surf kayaker with a solid roll and lots of enthusiasm. But the river worked me that first weekend and I was a little afraid of what it had in store. I wasn't real comfortable running a new stretch (still only class II) with new people. The owner of the cabin took me in and made me feel at home, entertaining us all with paddling stories told in the dark on the deck before we fell asleep under the stars. The next day he continued to look after me on the river, giving beta for every splash and turn as if he could see into the future.
Over the years I spent many nights at that cabin and paddled many more rivers with its owner. Some of my fondest memories started under that roof, and all the rest have been recounted there. And I wasn't the only one who received such hospitality. Ini the end I had not one, not two, but many mentors, most of whom I met either at that cabin or through connections made there. So many folks have graciously showed me down their local run or taken me out to their special surf spot, but none have welcomed me into their home as often and as warmly as that mustached gentleman in Kernville.
Over this past weekend I had the distinct pleasure to host that man here in my house. We ate some great food (mostly prepared by my wonderful wife - though I did help with the pancakes). We drank some great beer (and a little scotch). Most importantly, we paddled on the ocean.
He's no stranger to the sea, but he lives and surfs in Southern California. Northern Californis is different. Mendocino is the best. We had a chance to go through tunnels, run slots, spot seal pups, surf a reef break, and top it off with some fresh abalone for dinner. All within a half-mile of the beach and home by 3pm.
It's not often you get to show a waterman who's been paddling in California for forty years something new. Making him smile in wonder was by far the best part of my day.
There are some debts that you can never repay. Some that you never have to. But it feels good all the same to get a little payback in when the opportunity arises.