I wanted to know, so I asked, "Was there something about it that grabbed you? That made you say, 'This is fun!'"
Jennifer Kleck, owner of Aqua Adventures, a kayak emporium on Mission Bay that sells, rents, gives lessons, and conducts tours using said watercentric vehicle, says, "Yeah. When I was young, there were kayaks, canoes, and a little rowboat at the lakehouse. I'd sneak off by myself in a canoe or rowboat. I loved the feeling of floating on the water. I loved being able to get behind the reeds and watch the birds.
Kleck attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota and moved to San Diego in 1995. She got a job working in the aforementioned store and ten years later bought out the owner. "I never meant to own a kayak shop, but here I am."
I'm talking to Kleck on the phone while reading a blurb about her on the Acqua Adventures website: "...British Canoe Union 5 Star and Level 4 Coach. She is only the second woman in North America to achieve this ranking in the BCU." I ask, "What's a British Canoe Union?"
"Probably the most highly respected governing body for kayaking instruction," Kleck says. "You have to go to the United Kingdom, prove your ability to handle very rough conditions: winds and waves and tidal currents."
"What's the difference between river kayaking and ocean kayaking?"
"The river environment is more predictable. Rapids all over the world are more or less the same. There is a rating scale for them from I to VI. So, no matter where you are, a Class IV river is more or less the same as another Class IV river.
"Whereas, the ocean is unpredictable; every day the tide changes. The time of the high tide and low tide and the magnitude of the high and low tide is different every day. The weather is different every day. And the currents are different every day. If the wind is blowing against the current, it makes things much rougher than if the wind is blowing with the current. The weather can change in a heartbeat. And, of course, the ocean swell changes hourly."
I go for a sip of coffee, bong my front teeth with the cup, spill scalding liquid on my shirt. This is not as unusual as it should be. "Have you ever had students lie to you? Something along the lines of, 'Yeah, I'm pretty good,' and then he gets in the kayak and doesn't know how to paddle."
"Yeah," Kleck laughs. "That has happened. People have a tendency to overestimate their abilities. Part of the skill of a good guide is being able to judge your clients, not take their word for it. You can go to a place where there are no rapids and watch them paddle around. An experienced guide will pick up very quickly; you don't have to see them in rapids to have a good sense of what their ability level is. You might change the itinerary if they're not up to the kinds of conditions that are presenting themselves."
"When I think about kayaking I picture whitewater and rivers. When I consider kayaking in the ocean, I think, Where's the fun in that?"
"Yeah," Kleck says. "That's a common misconception. It's easy to have that misconception because it's so beautiful here day after day. The weather forecast, 90 percent of the time, is mostly sunny, winds less than five knots. We don't have tidal currents to speak of, so it's harder to get yourself into trouble here. But there are places in Europe and in the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast, places with nearby islands, and when the tide flows in and out between those islands you get serious currents and very, very large waves that are just like enormous river rapids except the scale is 100 times or 1000 times as big as the biggest river you can imagine."
"But, you're in San Diego and so are most of your clients. How do they get that kind of a thrill on the ocean around here?"
"A lot of people who sea kayak aren't looking for those kinds of thrills," Kleck says. "They're looking to relax; it's a meditative kind of thing in calm conditions. You're floating on the water. You're part of the environment -- you're not looking at the environment, you're part of it. You're often paddling next to dolphins and seals and sea lions and gray whales when they're migrating. If you want an adrenalin thrill in sea-kayaking, they're there to be had; you just have to become skilled and travel a little bit."
Kleck will be at the Southwest Kayaks Symposium on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There'll be classes, kid's classes, lots of vendors, and kayaks. Hie thee to www.southwestkayaksymposium.com for particulars or stop by www.aqua-adventures.com/