Five years ago, ocean kayaking was a fledgling sport in Southern California. So when enthusiast Joanne Turner started a group called California Kayak Friends in Irvine, only six people signed up. Today the group, still based in Irvine, has 760 members from San Diego to Morro Bay.
The tremendous growth of the sport does not surprise Turner. "Southern California is an ideal place to paddle," she says. "The seas are calm, the water is fairly warm and we have a pretty sea coast to explore. Kayaking offers an opportunity to get close to the water in an intimate way. And it is a good form of exercise. Everyone can do the sport at their own level."
Turner, an Irvine management consultant, began paddling in 1984 after a five-day vacation in Maine, where she explored the sea coast via kayak. After returning to California, she bought a kayak and began paddling regularly in Newport Harbor. Since then she has paddled nearly every mile of the Orange County coast, Catalina and the Channel Islands. On a trip to China she explored the South China Sea in a portable, folding kayak.
As Turner watched the sport grow, especially in Orange County where the club she founded still has the most members, she realized that novice kayakers were looking for a place to go to learn to paddle. So two years ago, Turner and fellow paddler Douglas Schwartz started a Tustin-based business called Southwind Sports Resource that offers kayak lessons. "We gave 750 lessons last summer," says Turner, who has cut down on her management consulting work as her kayak business has grown. "This year we'll give 1,500."
Paddlers range in age from early 20s to late 70s, and the average paddler is between 30 and 60 years, Schwartz says. "Part of the appeal is the multitude of ways to enjoy the sport. You can do just as much as you want, according to your own ability.
"And it is easy," he adds, noting that adults of average health should feel comfortable in the bay or harbor after a four-hour lesson.
Schwartz and Turner offer a class called "Kayak the Easy Way," in which they personally escort beginners through the harbor. "We even have lots of disabled paddlers," Turner says. "We like to spend extra time with them, but as long as they can sit upright, they can do fine."
Popular kayaking spots in Orange County include Upper Newport Bay, Newport Harbor, Dana Point Harbor and Huntington Harbour. For the more adventurous paddlers, Turner and Schwartz also teach students the skills they need to make coastal trips in the ocean, exploring nearby beaches.
A sampling of a few classes:
* First Strokes, which covers basic paddle strokes and is designed for novices or paddlers who want a refresher course.
* Sea Legs, which covers coastal paddling in surf zones, safety, navigation and deep water rescues.
* Surf Zone, which teaches kayakers how to paddle through the surf zone that separates the beach from the open ocean.
* Zen and the Art of Rock Garden Paddling, which teaches paddlers who have developed good boat skills how to safely explore sea-bound rocks and reefs.
In addition to these regular classes, Turner and Schwartz also offer paddling trips to such places as Morro Bay, Anacapa Island and Lake Powell.
Costs range from $25 for a "pleasure paddle" through Newport Harbor to $165 for a weekend trip to Lake Powell.
The average cost of a kayak and equipment (including life-preserver and paddles) runs between $1,000 and $1,500, according to Turner. Kayaks range from 16 to 18 feet in length and weigh about 65 pounds.
In Orange County, you can launch kayaks only from public beaches where hand-carried boat launching is permitted; you cannot launch them from swimming beaches. In Newport Beach, any public street that has access to the bay can be used to launch a kayak as long as it is not a swim area, according to a spokeswoman for the Orange County Harbor Department. (A complete list of those streets is available at the Harbor Department, 1901 Bayside Drive, Corona del Mar, Calif. 92625.) For $5, you can launch from the Newport Dunes.
In Huntington Harbour, you can launch at Sunset Aquatic Park on Edinger Avenue, or at the public launch ramp at Warner Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. However, there is a $5 charge at both locations. In Huntington Harbour, kayaks are restricted to the harbor because of new regulations concerning ocean access through the Naval Weapons Area. Federal and county regulations that went into effect last April prohibit kayaks, canoes, Jet Skis and small sailboats without engines from passing through the Naval Weapons Area--which is the only way to get to the ocean from Huntington Harbour.
In Dana Point, kayakers can launch from the West Basin, near the public beach.
California Kayak Friends offers a variety of paddling excursions. For information on the club and its activities, write to California Kayak Friends, 14252 Culver Drive, A-199, Irvine, Calif. 92714. Membership is $20 per person and $10 for each additional family member.
Boating classes--The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary will offer two 14-week boating courses, one for power-boaters and one for sailors, beginning Tuesday at Tustin High School, 1171 El Camino Real in Tustin.
Each class will meet from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The sailing class will meet in Room 235, the powerboat class in Room 226. Subjects to be covered include boat handling, navigation, communications and safety. The classes are free, but there is a nominal charge for materials. For more information, call Bob Poore at (714) 838-5322 or Carol Seymour at (714) 547-1979.
On the Waterfront appears each Saturday, covering boating life styles as well as ocean-related activities along the county's 42-mile coastline. Send information about boating-related events to: On the Waterfront, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626. Deadline is two weeks before publication. Story ideas are also welcome.