Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Art of Sea Kayaking: Rescues and Rolling

This is part of a series of posts covering what it takes to paddle on the open ocean, exposed to swell and away from easy landings. I'll discuss the techniques and ideas I feel are important to understand in order to safely paddle in such a dynamic environment with the focus on how to approach thing instead of simply how to do things. While my intention is to help guide folks who are newer to the sport and possibly neophytes on the ocean, I hope some of the wisdom I share gives even the most seasoned paddler more to think about. This is not meant to teach any specific skills, but rather to inform people on what they should be learning and give some suggestions for going about it. Many of these things are covered in typical classes (some are not), and I highly encourage instruction from a skilled teacher. But I also know many paddlers learn through experience - properly so - and hope these concepts will lead to better learning experiences.

There's a sequence to these posts for a reason, so if something seems unfamiliar try starting at the beginning. Make sure to read the disclaimers and warnings in Part 1: Introduction. And feel free to ask any questions or share your own thoughts in the comments.

Rescues and Rolling

The Theory

Paddling in the open ocean carries more risks than paddling near shore and in protected waters. If something goes wrong, it can take longer to reach safety or for help to arrive. You can't simply get to shore and take care of it. You can't simply wait for conditions to mellow out. And there are more things to lead to something going wrong: increasing winds, increasing swells, increased exposure, more rocks and dynamic water. Being able to rescue yourself (both as individuals and as a group) is an essential skill.

Let's start with the most basic rescue situation: a capsize. What should happen when you flip over on the ocean? You should be able to fix the situation, get upright and ready to paddle as soon as possible. That means rolling.

A lot of people ask: do I really need to learn how to roll? It's the wrong question. The question should be: how can I minimize risk and be as safe as possible while kayaking? Once again, that means rolling. It's by far the fastest rescue. It doesn't involve exiting your boat which brings in a whole bunch of more dangers (losing gear, becoming separated from your boat, getting washed into rocks, etc.). Rolling makes you safer and it also makes you more confident and relaxed, leading  to a more enjoyable paddling experience. There really isn't any good reason not to learn how to roll.

In whitewater kayaking it's a given - swimming is a danger that increases as you progress and should be avoided if at all possible. So everyone learns how to roll (some to greater of degrees of skill than others, but still - everyone does it). And everyone can learn to roll. I've taught seven-year-olds and seventy-year-olds, three hundred pound couch potatoes, folks with bad shoulders, and those terrified of being upside down. Some sea kayakers avoid learning to roll while they're learning all their other skills, and by the time they're ready to push themselves and explore the coast they've built a mental block that says rolling is hard and it will take too much effort to learn. Hogwash.

I do think it's best to learn rolling right along with all the other skills, but it's never too late to learn. It does take time. A good instructor makes a big difference, but it's mostly a mental thing. If you work on being relaxed underwater, upside down, the physical skills it takes to roll are not that demanding. It doesn't require much strength or even a lot of flexibility. It's about timing and understanding how your body and boat work together. And then it's practice and consistency, the same as everything in life.

But rolling isn't the only rescue you need - redundancy is always advised. You should have multiple ways to get back in your boat. It's very important to be able to do it by yourself, since even when paddling in a group, help often takes a while to arrive. Whatever conditions make one person flip over often flip others, or at least impede their ability to help quickly. So learn how to scramble. Learn how to do a paddle-float rescue (and since you're learning how to roll, learn how to use a paddle-float for a re-entry and roll). Take responsibility for your own safety and consider any assistance a bonus.

That being said, the rescue that sees more use than any other, and rightly so, is the T rescue. It's fast and efficient and can be done by competent people in very rough conditions. It doesn't take all that much to learn and it's very safe for the rescuer if done properly. A solid T rescue is the foundation from which many variations can be done to adapt to the situation. Need to speed it up? Skip the draining of the overturned boat. Have more helpers? Do an assisted T to stabilize the rescuer and help hold onto paddles. No bulkheads? That's what a T-X rescue is for. If you don't know what that is, do more reading and take a class. (A couple really good books are John Lull's Sea Kayak Safety & Rescue and Roger Schumann's Sea Kayak Rescue; and if you want to see it I recommend Gordon Brown's Sea Kayak, volume 2)

There are a number of other good rescues to learn, though perhaps it's OK if you don't know them right away. Scoop rescues, Hand-of-God, bow assists, Cleopatra's Needle, Sit-On-Top (you never know who you might run into on the ocean that needs a hand). Once you start seeing all the ways a paddle can go wrong, you start to realize how many variations you need to know to be prepared. Even if you just read up on these, it will plant ideas in your head that will pay off when that one-in-a-million fluke disaster strikes.

You should also realize that rescue involves more than merely getting a paddler back into their boat. Towing is a huge component of safety in rough conditions, whether it's to get an incapacitated paddler in to shore, a swimmer and their boat out of immediate danger, or simply to anchor a rescue so it doesn't turn into a worse situation. Having a tow line and knowing how to use it - and when NOT to use it - are fundamental skills that everyone on open water should have. This is another area where many paddlers seem content to let someone else wear the towline and the responsibility. Once again, your safety is your responsibility, as is everyone else's who you paddle with. We're all responsible for each other but we have no right to expect others to be responsible for us. If this sounds contradictory to you, you need to think it through a little more.

It's also a good idea to practice some fundamental skills that often only come in handy during rescue situations. Can you access your day hatch without flipping over? What about a foot peg that's come of the rail? Where is your safety gear stored? I often end up paddling or teaching out of a demo boat and it only takes me about five minutes to get it sorted out for me, know where I'll put things, and how it all works. But that's five minutes built on years of experience and time very well spent before I do anything else.

Finally, swimming is something most people overlook. They assume they know how to do it, and it wasn't a big deal when they were floating in the lake next to their boat as they learned a T rescue. But swimming in swell? With wind waves? Wearing a PFD stuffed to the brim with a radio, water bladder, snacks, repair kit, waterproof camera, cell-phone, etc.? All while managing your paddle and trying to chase down the boat that got away from you? That takes a fair bit of skill and that means practice.

The Practice

So you've accepted that you need rescue skills. Good. How do you get them? First, let's be clear that you don't need to master everything before you start out. Good skills are built over time, and it's OK to venture out on the ocean in certain situations with the basic skills down and learn as you go. Just make sure you're with some good people who do have more skills and experience.

Start with learning one self-rescue and the T rescue. Your self-rescue could be the roll, but for lots of folks it's going to be a paddle-float or scramble. Both of those are fairly straight forward and can be learned on your first day of kayaking. A paddle-float is a little bit easier on the balance/strength side of things but takes longer and requires more gear. A scramble is simpler but generally takes more practice to find success. The T rescue requires nothing more than a second paddler and most everyone is successful right away.

For rolling, you start in the pool. Ideally with warm water, a good instructor, and a nearby pub for discussion afterwards. The key here is patience. Everyone wants to get that first roll under their belt. But the speed at which you learn has little correlation to the consistency you develop long-term. Start by just getting comfortable upside under water. Work on your frame of mind before your physical skills. Then keep practicing every chance you get.

It is very important to understand that when you learn these skills in flat water, success isn't the same as competence. Just because you make it back into the boat doesn't mean you're doing it right. What works in flat water doesn't necessarily work in rough conditions, which is why it's so important to learn the little details that make these techniques work when they're really needed. So don't focus your practice on how quick you can get in or how many rescues you can get through in a session. Take your time to make sure that you're doing the little things right.

Can you wet exit without letting go of your paddle and boat? If not, you're not doing the rescue properly and you've just started. Work on that until you can. Make sure you know where to position yourself hanging on your boat (hint: not at the very end which will be bouncing the most in rough water). Know how to manage your paddle, how to move along your boat to get to your rescuer's boat without swimming. Know where to hold on, what sequence you do things in, and how to handle variations. Good practice is a combination of developing muscle memory and flexibility to handle real life situations.

There are too many little points for me to mention them all here - that's why people write entire books on the subject; that's why taking a class from a skilled instructor who has experience paddling in rough conditions is so beneficial. I know lots of sea kayakers who express frustration at other paddlers who never practice rescues because they think they don't need them. But if you're practicing the wrong things, or more likely practicing them without a critical eye, then you're only doing half the job.

It's perfectly fine to learn those fine points in the flats. Get them down cold. Add to your tool kit. Practice some towing and dealing with injuries while you're at it. Play around and have fun. But don't assume that makes you ready for the open coast. You need to then transfer all those skills to more dynamic water (including your roll), and it's best to do that under controlled situations before you really need them. So how do you find 'controlled' rough water?

First, pick a windy day. Then find a large body of water that isn'tt the open ocean, and stay near the shore the wind is blowing onto. It's very important to understand that winds are generally stronger on the open coast, and they tend to increase quickly and often unexpectedly. Not to mention land features can create gusty winds around points even on what appears to be a calm day. So you better get used to paddling in the wind and that means doing rescues in it as well. 

As I mentioned in technique, another good place to find semi-protected water is at the mouth of a harbor or marina. Find some swell that's right next to a breakwall so you can drift back towards safety. Or maybe a cove that has a beach without any significant surf (we'll cover surfzone next time). The key thing is to make sure that wherever you go the condition will push you towards easier water instead of away. And maybe start on a calm day so you only have to deal with the swell.

But eventually you need wind and waves. The combination adds to something greater than the sum of the parts, and these are the conditions where you really need to be able to perform your rescues because these are the conditions where they will happen. Once again, just pay real close attention to which way the wind is blowing (or you can practice anchoring rescues, another very important technique).

Lots of clubs and groups have rescue practice sessions where everyone gets together to work on things. These are great. The best part is to watch others and learn new ways to do things - and try them out for yourself. Different things work for different people and the only way to know is to give it a go. I've seen a lot of little tweaks in how rescue are done and taught over the past twenty years, and while the core technique is the same all these little pieces make things faster, easier and safer. 

But also realize that these sessions are rarely done in 'real' conditions because having a lot of people do new rescues in really rough water is a bad idea. Learn when you can, practice with deliberate thought and action, and then try things out when you get the chance to do so safely and with backup.


It's important to note that rescue is a very broad topic and I've only hit on the basics. Performing rescues in rock gardens, dealing with unconscious paddlers and medical emergencies, handling situations when you're in the remote wilderness - those all require much more knowledge and skill and go beyond what this series is about. The truth is when you look at most of the kayaking incidents on the ocean they're about people getting in a little over their head in fairly local waters. And in most cases a really solid grasp of the fundamentals would have made the difference. Get the basics down well. Advanced stuff will come as you advance.

As I said at the start (and will repeat often), it's all about risk management. Personally, I'm very risk averse (yet I paddle class V and do solo ocean crossings). Over years of teaching and practicing, I've done hundreds, if not thousands of rescues. I've done them in all kinds of different boats, in flat water and huge swells. I know what I can handle and by being able to handle a lot I feel comfortable paddling in places and situations that do contain serious risks. But they also contain incredible beauty and life-affirming experiences that couldn't be found without that risk. I've minimized it as much as possible so I find it easier to enjoy myself while I'm out there. That's the goal.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

13 Truths About Middle-aged Kayakers

A number of my paddling friends shared an article on Facebook the other day entitled 13 Truths About Whitewater Kayaking. It's a light-hearted article about the love for the sport and a lot of it 'rings true'. But when I really think about it, and as one of my friends pointed out, it doesn't actually hold true - not for me or most of the paddlers I know who aren't teenagers anymore. (The article is classified in '20 Somethings, Culture & Art).

So I thought I'd share my take on what I think is true about kayakers. And I'm including all kayakers, 'cause whitewater isn't the only place you'll find true paddlers who love their sport. Here are my truths and what I see on the water:

1. Kayaking is what you think about when you have a free moment.

Much of my day is spent thinking about my job. Sure, it's not as much fun as thinking about kayaking, but it's important and I derive some satisfaction when I figure out a problem or accomplish something important. I think about the future and how I'm going to pay for a mortgage. I worry about the state of our economy, the influx of money in politics, and what's on sale at the grocery store. I also spend a fair bit of time thinking about my family and friends, worrying about those going through hard times.

The truth is the most hard-core paddlers I know are very well-rounded fascinating people who lead interesting lives outside the paddling world. Talk to EJ about life and raising kids if you ever get the chance. Check out Diane Gaydos' highlight reel and consider the fact she did all that while in med school. Look at the beauty of Darin McQuoid's pictures and you'll see an artistic talent that reaches far beyond the river. If all someone ever thought about was kayaking I'd run out of interest in that conversation pretty quick.

2. You jump for joy when the next Moody's report comes out.

Let's face it, most of us are more concerned with how our 401k is doing than river flows. Even I, who writes about kayaking all the time, would generally rather read about important issues that affect my life than about kayaking. And I know from experience that most kayakers would rather go kayaking than read a magazine. My wife's an avid paddler and even she doesn't read this blog regularly (though bless your heart if you're one of those who does :). Whitewater kayakers in particular tend to be people who live in the moment and don't spend too much of their time worrying about other people having their moments.

3. When you meet another kayaker you instantly have something to talk about.

It is a great thing about kayaking that when you meet a stranger at the put-in you immediately have a topic of conversation. It does avoid the awkward party scene where you grope for any shared interest to start talking about. And you can indeed bond quite quickly on the river. But if all you know about me is my paddling you don't know me very well. I may end up trusting my life to a stranger I met an hour ago, but that doesn't make them my best friend. I do paddle with my best friends, but it's what they do for me off the water that's earned them that moniker.

4. You choose your vacation by how much time off you get and what you'll do with the kids.

I don't actually have any kids of my own, but somehow that's still the basis of how I choose my vacation: what does it mean for the family. My wife paddles so we often take kayaking vacations. But we do have to figure out what to do with the dog. We do have to work in time to visit friends, attend weddings, go see the family back home. It's a luxury to only worry about yourself and your desires, one that's good to take once in a while, but even us irresponsible adults have a lot more complexitites in life to manage.

5. You find little need to explain your passion to anyone.

Maybe when you first start kayaking you feel some need to justify your passion to those who don't understand the sport. After a while you realize that your kayaker friends already know what your passion is all about and those who don't kayak won't really understand. Much more importantly, who cares if they do? Don't get me wrong, if I think someone will appreciate learning about kayaking I'll share the stoke with them. But lots of people don't really care what I love about the sport. They have no interest in it. That's fine. They might love gardening or restoring muscle cars. Good on 'em. Let everyone have their passion and embrace the diversity in the world.

6. Kayaking is not your church.

Some kayakers go a real church on Sundays. Their religious faith is an important part of their life. I know that 'church' has become part of the kayaking vernacular, and it's appropriate for some folks, but it doesn't capture my thoughts towards the sport in any way. And it discounts the religious views of many that contains thoughts beyond a good boof or enjoyment of nature. Not every kayaker is a nature-before-all-else tree-hugger, and even those who are might not consider nature the same as religion. For some people kayaking is a sport and and hobby. That's enough.

7. You can't keep up with the slang of those darn young-uns.

I've run the gnar. I've thrown a brown-claw (though ironically). I do occasionally lapse into jargon talking with my paddling buddies. But I'm not into the 'scene'. I don't worry about keeping up with the cool kids. I kinda like talking like an adult and using words, sometimes lengthy onomatopoetic ones to convey my deep love of kayaking.

8. You don't judge others by how much kayaking they do.

OK, I married a kayaker. But I certainly didn't marry her because she's a kayaker. I married her for her outlook on the world, the kindness she shows others, the passion she brings to her job (which involves helping disadvantaged kids), and the beautiful person she is on the inside. I know a number of awesome couples who paddle together. I also see some of the strongest marriages with a partner who doesn't kayak at all.  If you limit your dating pool to paddlers you're shortchanging yourself.

9. You'd rather meet a social activist than a famous kayaker.

I've met a number of famous kayakers. Pretty much to a person they have been some of the nicest and most interesting people I've met. And pretty easy to meet - just do some kayaking and you're bound to run into them. But when I think about the famous people I'd like to meet it's the people in my field - famous writers who I'd love to learn from. Or possibly cool folks who do things like organize charity programs for mosquito nets in Africa or events to help disabled vets get back into experiencing life. Go ahead and fantasize about meeting a famous kayaker. But if you do, make sure to ask them about something other than kayaking. You'll learn a lot that way.

10. Female Kayakers.

Yes, female kayakers are pretty awesome. Females are pretty awesome. Kayakers are pretty awesome. Male kayakers are pretty awesome too. The traits that make someone a kayaker are often the traits that make an attractive human being. For me, these traits include determination and a spirit of adventure, but they also include concern for others, willingness to face self-doubt, respect for those on a different path, and an appreciation of peace and beauty. You don't have to be a bad-ass kayaker to be an amazing person.

11. Your ideal lazy day consists of sleeping in, reading the paper, doing yardwork, and watching a Pixar movie.

I make kayak movies. Lots of them. And I really enjoy some well-done kayak porn now and then. But I don't have time to watch another GoPro video of the Green. I'd rather go kayaking than watch it, but if that's not possible there are a million other things I need to get done. I would love to spend an entire day in bed doing nothing, but if I somehow found the time to do that I would read a book or watch a PBS documentary. Maybe see what this Avengers thing is all about. I'm happy to take a break from kayaking and have many other hobbies with which to fill my time.

12. You like a nice Pinot and wouldn't dare drink it out of a booty.

I kayak because I enjoy it. I enjoy many aspects of the sport, including the conversation, the setting, the camaraderie. I definitely enjoy sipping a beer around the fire while cooking dinner and reminiscing about the day's run. But don't need to be punished for swimming. I don't need to torture those who do something that we all admit is a part of the sport. I don't enjoy the thought of drinking a beer out of my wet booty and don't feel the need to do things I don't enjoy to satisfy some silly social convention. If you enjoy that tradition, carry on. If not, no worries.

13. Much Love.

There truly is much love in this sport. Kayaking brings together some great people and it's easy to get along with folks who you might not enjoy in other situations. I've bonded over a kayak trips, met my wife through kayaking, and count numerous kayaking stories as highlights in my life. But I like to think that most people have found something to be passionate about. Whether it's raising their kids, building model trains, or collecting Taylor Swift paraphernalia. Kayakers don't have a monopoly on love and I like to see the stoke in whatever form it takes 

There may have been a time where I let one thing dominate my life. Where I could commit myself to something completely and without reservation. Over time, my life has grown more complex and I keep adding new things all the time. To me, that's made it much richer and more fulfilling, and as glad as I am that kayaking is a part of my life, I'm thankful that my life is much more than kayaking.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Dig a Little Deeper

I've got a point, but it's going to take me a bit to get there.

Plastics are F-ing awesome!

I got into whitewater kayak well after plastic boats hit the scene and revolutionized the sport, but I have an appreciation for history and plenty of experience in composite sea kayaks and polo boats. Plastic kayaks are so much tougher and more durable, they hold up to abuse and allow for design innovation and mass production to serve more paddlers. They're cheaper, allowing more people to get into the sport of kayaking. They're lightweight - yeah, I know they're heavier than composite boats, but when you think about what they do and what they're expected to survive, they're remarkably light.

In the bigger picture, kayaks aren't really all that important to the world. But how about artificial limbs? Hip replacements? MRIs? Malaria mosquito nets? The way plastics have impacted the medical field and made our lives safer and better (and even just plain possible) dwarf any recreational use of the material. Little things, like blood storage bags that don't break when you drop them to lowering staph infection rates through use of disposables.

And for those interested in saving energy, using renewable sources and limiting carbon emissions: plastics make wind turbines possible, make planes and cars lighter and thus more fuel efficient, and can be used for insulation that limits the need for heating buildings with natural gas.

Mr. McGuire was right. There's a great future in plastics.

Plastics are evil!

There are some really bad aspects to plastic. The water bottles we all used to drink from contained Bisphenol A (BPA), which has been shown to affect hormone levels, increase cancer risk, and alter brain development. (And even if you've stopped using those bottles, BPA is everywhere and 90% already have it in our bodies).

Plastic microbeads are a huge problem in our waterways, eventually leading to the ocean and poisoning the entire food chain - the one we're on top of. Plastic's own virtues - its lightweight, almost indestructible nature - also lead to its dangers, breaking down to smaller sizes but never chemically changing to something benign.

We've banned plastic bags since they end up in landfills and will be there for thousands of years (even though we could very easily recycle them). Instead we use bio-degradable materials made from natural sources, like cotton or paper, which we farm or harvest, theoretically to regrow but often simply destroying the natural environment to produce.

Plastics aren't the issue.

Recently a few hundred kayakers took to the water to protest the launch of a Shell Oil platform destined for the waters off Alaska. A few days later, an oil pipeline burst off Refugio Beach outside Santa Barbara, spreading 21,000 gallons of oil into the sea. This is the area where I learned to paddle, paddling along the SoCal coast and out to the Channel Islands. But it could happen - and has happened - almost anywhere in the world, and disaster is disaster whether in your backyard or across the globe.

Oil is the main ingredient in plastic. About five percent of all the oil produced is used to make plastic. That oil is formed over thousands of years, consisting of biological agents (plants) which were made of carbon - carbon taken out of the air. Oil represents nature's caching of carbon, a cycle that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it safely deep beneath the surface of the earth.

But in digging up that oil we have an energy source. One that allows us to travel freely and cheaply, both halfway around the world to kayak in Antarctica, or to our local run just a couple hours up in the hills. It's made the world smaller, letting us get to know our not-so-near neighbors and move from one country to another. It's kept us warm at night and lighted the way. It's powered the electricity that transformed the very nature of society (including this wonderful internet that allows me to share my thoughts with you).

But as we all hopefully know by now, carbon in the air, in the form of carbon dioxide which is released when oil is burned or processed. affects the temperature of the planet as a whole. More plastic, more oil, more carbon dioxide, higher temperature. Higher temperatures = lots of problems.

What's the point?

The point is: it's not so simple. Those kayaktivists drove to the water in mostly gas-powered vehicles (or electric - likely generated by burning more fossil fuels and packed into a battery filled with toxic chemicals); many paddled plastic boats built from the very substance they didn't want taken from the ground. For all it's back-to-nature sentimentality, kayaking is a consumption sport, a privileged use of a limited resource that has real, negative impacts upon the world. It's a luxury.

I love to kayak and I love kayakers - hopefully that's obvious from everything I've written the past five years. The paddling community has a long tradition of supporting many worthy causes that respect the environment and our fellow man. But it's a small community and its needs are relatively unimportant for their own sake. Our hobby is part of the problem while our voices are calling for a solution. We are contradictory and hypocritical by our nature, though our hearts are in the right place and our desires pure.

Personally, I believe kayaking is a valid use of limited resources and the point of life is not to leave the planet unchanged and undisturbed, but to enjoy our time here in a responsible way that allows those who follow to do the same. I burn up carbon, heat up the environment, take short showers and recycle. I try to find my balance. But that balance is my own and I don't expect everyone to end up at the same point on the scales.

I think all paddlers - all people - need to recognize the complexity of our lives, even when we try to live simply. It's not about guilt or shaming; it's not about right vs. wrong. We all make many choices, conscious or not, and we all have goals, beliefs, and practical realities that make up our world. Each of us chooses differently, and those choices filter our reactions to each other. We all might be better of if we take a step back, consider the complexity, and even if we can't wrap our heads around it all, at least we can recognize that it's there and respect the decisions others have made. For all the talk of plastics, most of us are living in glass houses, so choose your actions accordingly.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


When I started whitewater kayaking I had a mentor. He (and his wife) took me up to the river for my first time and showed me the ropes over a fun weekend. My next trip to the river he was set to take me along with some of his paddling buddies, but a work emergency called him away, and I was left to meet the strangers the night before at the cabin where they were staying.

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.