Get Out There and Try It

‘I’ve been surf kayaking for 12 years,” says Dan Carey, 60, owner of Carlsbad Paddle Sports in Oceanside. “There are guys who have been at it since the 1940s and ’50s. The sport didn’t sweep up the population like golf or bicycling, but there’s a small group of people who are definitely into it.”

I’ve arrived at this second paragraph by way of life accomplice Magali Noth, who clipped a surf-kayaking article with me in mind, followed by an internet info dip, finishing with a telephone call to Oceanside. When operating from a position of ignorance, I’ll often start with a compare-and-contrast banality: “What advantages and disadvantages does surf kayaking have compared to surfing?”

Carey laughs, “Disadvantages? Surfers.”

“They don’t get along?”

“If you know what you’re doing, and you can show that, surfers don’t bother you,” Carey says. “But, if you get in their way or cut them off, you’ll never hear the end of it.”

Still looking for a way in, I ask, “What’s the difference between surfing a wave and surf kayaking a wave?”

“You’re sitting down in a kayak, so the wave looks bigger,” Carey says. “You can do everything a surfer can do. You can catch waves, you can get off the lip, you can do all that, but you don’t do it the first time out. It’s like surfing: you have to learn how to do it, learn where the wave breaks, how to get into it, how to ride it, which way to lean.”

I’ll try a gentle thump on this door: “How about length of the ride? Are surfing and kayak surfing similar?”

“As long as the wave is breaking, you can ride longer on a surf kayak,” Carey says, “because you can get in the whitewater, which will propel you.”

“Is there a pro circuit? Can Surf Kayaking Guy make a living going from tournament to tournament?”

“It’s not as popular as surfing,” Carey says. “It’s a somebody-puts-up-ten-thousand-dollars-for-the-winner kind of thing. Guys can make money, but most people do it because it’s fun.”

Here’s what I really want to know: “How did you wind up selling kayaks?”

“I’ve been involved in programs dealing with the outdoors for the past 35 years. I was the director of the Boojum Institute for 15 years. We provided private schools with outdoor education. We’d take the ninth grade from La Jolla Country Day to Joshua Tree [National Park] for five days, camp out, teach them environmental education, backpacking, and rock climbing.”

I knew it. “Sounds like a great job. What happened?”

“You can tell when your time comes. I moved on and found a kayak store for sale. I had some land I’d accumulated over the years and traded for this store. I’ve been in business 12-years-plus, and now my store is for sale. I’m going to retire.”

I laugh, “Then what?”

“If you asked a surfer that, he’d say he’s going to surf.”

I sigh and return to the interview. “How would I go about learning to surf kayak?”

“I’m the only gentleman in San Diego with a kayak store who runs surf-kayaking classes. I do that on Sunday mornings at the Warm Water Jetties in Carlsbad. Come into my store and take a lesson, see what kayaking is all about. Learn how to turn the kayak, how to recuperate, how you get back into the kayak if you fall out.”

“Okay, I’ve taken my first lesson, now what?”

“If you got excited about it, you’d probably want to rent a boat or buy a boat.”

“Let’s say I rent a boat. I’ve had one lesson. Time to go kayak surfing?”

“Sure, you could,” Carey says. “You’re probably going to go out and have a good time. Learn by doing, not by watching movies about it or having someone tell you how great they can do it. You get out there and try it.”

We chit, we chat, we swap stories. I ask Carey if he’s been surf kayaking outside the U.S.

“Sure, I’ve been around the world kayaking: Thailand, Panama, Honduras, Belize, Mexico.”

Carey is married, “going on 20 years.” No kids. He was raised in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, went to Edinboro State Teachers College. Taught school for awhile and then “went back to college at Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. They have an outdoor program. From there I went to Outward Bound, and then I started working for companies that ran outdoor programs, was a guide and educator…”

Everything fits, save for one anomaly. “What happened that got you from Pennsylvania to Prescott, Arizona.”

“Luck. Being in the right place at the right time. Just like kayak surfing, just like surfing.”

Comments

I surf a kayak and now a Kaos sit-on-top in Gold Beach, Oregon. The advantage is that you easily paddle to meet a shifting swell instead of sitting in a lineup waiting for a wave to come to you. I simply move around to avoid conflict with local surfers and often get the biggest ride. In our cold water I wear a wetsuit bottom and booties plus a spring top and thrift store cloth cap with visor and mostly stay dry and warm. I've spent a lot of time in San Diego water.(San Onofre, Cardiff, bird rock, La Jolla shores, Mission Beach. I waited around and snaked rides at both Swammies and Wind and Sea.) We have enough warm days and good surf here to satisfy me now. Roy Rousseau

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