Part 2 What is Rock Gardening / Features


What are features anyway? They are play spots we find in the rocky areas on the coast where waves work their way through cracks, over rocks, and against walls.  These areas are ever changing from wave to wave, some waves will hit a rock feature in such a way that will make it a fun and challenging run. Other wave sets could turn it into something that can heavily damage both body and boat. The entire section of rocky coast changes with the rise and fall of the tide by exposing new features and flooding old ones.

 On a typical rock garden trip I will be paddling on the coast with some buddies and someone will veer off toward a pile of rocks peaking curiosity in the rest of the group members. Then a wave rolls in and we’ll see a nicely formed river spilling over the off shore rock creating what we call a pour over. Many times without saying a word, we head over and look at the dynamics of the area. We’ll watch to see where the water is coming from and where it goes, figure out how much it drains and fills, calculate the risks involved in paddling through the spot, and gage the line to take through the pour over. 

Priscilla Schlottman sizing up a feature - Photo by Bill Vonnegut

 After a look, someone runs it as the rest of the group cheers them on while also watching their line and making their own mental notes of adjustments they to make for their own run. After making the first run and getting a feel for the spot in subsequent runs, we will run it again and again until we internalize what’s happening in this area. As confidence builds, we start choosing the bigger waves of the sets and the cheering really starts in, our adrenaline kicks in sharpening our senses; dialing in on our skills we aim for the perfect run by attempting it with fewer strokes, making the run backwards, and running it from different angles. Not only is it a fun challenge, but the cheering and rooting of your buddies and sense of joy felt when nailing the run draws us in and keeps us going back for more.
Bill Vonnegut & Gregg Berman running over some rocks they came across - Photo by Bryant Burkhardt
Not every rock we come across is that perfect spot. At times, we will take a test run or two and move on or watch the feature and then end up paddling onward to find something that’s working better. What determines if we move on to something else or stay at a spot can be a number of things such as not enough water in the waves to run the feature or the penalty of this spot may be too high. We determine if the penalty of a feature is high by watching where the water flows. If it ends up in an area we don’t want to be like a pile of jagged rocks in shallow water, we move on to find something better. Wherever we go on the Pacific Coast, we always seem to find cool features we can just hang out on and have fun.