The answer in this 8 part article written for Canoe & Kayak Magazine
by Bill Vonnegut
When I mention kayaking, people generally envision paddling on calm
lakes or down mountain rapids, and if I talk about whitewater, they’re
almost certain to think I’m referring to a river. But there is another
type of paddling found in coastal regions. There, swells generated by
wind in a distant storm end their long journey to land with a fantastic
result: ocean whitewater. Often, the swells will break on a long, sandy
beach or a shallow reef, creating nicely formed waves to surf. Other
times, they collide with, or flow through, a rocky coastal shoreline,
creating a unique area to play in kayaks. This is called rock gardening!
In its simplest form, rock gardening is catching a ride on the ocean
swell as it weaves its way through and over the rocks and reefs along a
coastline. Rock gardening is often done in a short, playful sea kayak or
crossover boat, and it involves timing your interaction with a rock feature as it’s hit by the ever-changing swells.
There’s a mental component to this activity that requires complete
focus; concerns from the rest of life drop away. As mind focuses, we
lose sight of everything else going on in the world except the fun we’re
are having right here and now. Though the personal experience of rock
gardening is different for everyone, I think of rock gardening as the
constant work to hone my skills through new challenges. I focus
completely on the run and push myself to make my strokes smooth, clean,
and in rhythm with the sea. Each run is a new opportunity to learn,
watch, and experience the water in order to gain a better understanding
of our dynamic, coastal playground.
These areas of the coast can be unpredictable and very dangerous, so
why would anyone want to kayak right into them? The answer could be an
addiction to the negative ions we inhale–the invisible molecules created
by dynamic whitewater that can be found in ocean surf. Once they reach
our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical
reactions that increase levels of serotonin, helping to alleviate
depression, relieve stress, and boost our energy. Another reason could
be the need to push the limits of our abilities, and perhaps even the
limits of life itself, keeps us coming back to the rocks on the coast.
Regardless of what draws us, it’s where I love to be on a regular basis.
Over the next eight weeks, I want to share more details on what rock
gardening is as well as tips for paddling ocean whitewater in my new
series for CanoeKayak.com.
––Bill Vonnegut is a sea kayak instructor at California Canoe & Kayak and member of the Neptune’s Rangers
paddling posse. Check back for an eight-part rock gardening series
where Bill will discuss the techniques, skills and gear needed to enjoy
The rest of this article can be found here