“Keep your nose pointed into the waves and try to not get sideways.”
Guide Dave Lacey, left, and Amber Timm tease a kayak into the water as Aaron Fitch prepares to launch from Sporthaven Beach in Harbor. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
Those were the words of Dave Lacey, my guide for a day of fishing, kayaking and sightseeing.
I listen well, but I’m not one to follow instructions very carefully, and as I proceeded away from the beach and the safety of neck-deep water into the rolling surf next to the south jetty on Sporthaven Beach I turned sideways in the breaking waves.
As the wave pushed under the kayak I was sitting on, it tipped precariously, forcing me to counterbalance with my head and shoulders, and down I went into the freezing waters of the icebox we call the Pacific Ocean.
Interestingly enough, words like life and jacket, wet and suit, hold and on, all took on special meaning for me as I swam back to the surface, righted my sea kayak and tried to haul my soaking wet carcass out of the briney depths and back to relative safety of the bright yellow torpedo that was mine to call home for the day.
Lacey, the owner of South Coast Tours, had invited me to enjoy the day on the ocean with him and two clients, Amber Timm and Aaron Fitch.
We arrived at Sporthaven Beach early on a Thursday morning in mid-May when the ocean was supposed to be laying down enough to enjoy a day on the water without much fear.
“I don’t think anything will happen to you guys,” Lacey said as we stood looking at the waves formed by a stiff south wind. “It’s blowing out of the north everywhere else. This is weird.”
Not wanting to look like a chicken in front of Amber and Aaron – or miss out on any opportunity to go fishing – I responded with a flippant, “If you think we’ll be safe, I’m game. You’re the expert.”
Aaron and Amber agreed and we proceeded to set up the kayaks and got a safety briefing.
I have to say that I was impressed with the amount of preparedness that Dave had gone to in order to keep us safe. And he even provided a wetsuit that would fit a mighty Sasquatch.
“Hey Dave, what do you wear under the wetsuit?” I asked, having never worn one.
Surprise number one.
“Usually we go with nothing,” was the response. “It can be uncomfortable because the suits are so tight if you have any clothes on underneath.”
“So where do we change?” I queried.
Surprise number two.
The answer was a little complicated – actually it was quite simple – and involved just changing right next to the truck and trusting that no one was peeking. I could have walked down the beach to the public bathrooms, or hopped in Dave’s truck but that would have opened another can of worms, but we were fishing with leadfish and didn’t need them.
Having never worn a wetsuit, I felt pretty good about getting into it without any issues. Until I realized I had it on backwards.
I was comfortable having my bare hiney hanging in the wind for the few seconds it took me to get the suit on, but I soon realized, as I tried to take the suit off and turn it around, that I wasn’t comfortable being naked for the fifteen minutes it took me to get out of a dry wetsuit.
I went the more private route of draping myself with a supersized beach towel provided by Dave and got my suit situated.
Amber and Aaron were more fortunate – or maybe just more capable of following directions – and made it out beyond the breakwater without pitching out of their boats. And we got to fishing.
Dave likes to accomplish a multitude of things when he takes clients on the water and, while fishing is a primary activity, he encourages everyone to take note of birds and other wildlife for a conservation project he is working on with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
It was a good thing I was counting birds because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have seen any wildlife that day, as my boat did not fill with the much desired lingcod, rockfish and crab that we were hoping for.
Amber caught one, and Dave caught one, but I got skunked. Aaron probably would have caught one if he’d been able to remain on the water with us, but he took a case of seasickness a little too far and had to head back to shore.
While the trip was less than successful with regard to the fishing, it was a roaring success in instilling in me a desire to spend more time on the ocean in a minimalistic style.
After pulling the crab pots we had dropped before heading uphill – they were empty of anything keepable – we got our last bit of instruction: How to make it to the beach without rolling.
“Don’t try to ride a wave,” Dave said. “If you find yourself in front of a wave put on the brakes and let it go past. Then paddle hard and get to the beach.”
Again, let me say, simple instructions aren’t my strong suit and after watching Dave and Amber make their start toward beaching, I found a nice quiet spot between swells and started to paddle.
I thought I was doing just fine until I realized I was on the curl of a wave that was just starting to break to my left.
As I started to paddle as hard as I could to keep myself straight, I heard, “Hit the brakes, hit the brakes.”
Can I say it. Sometimes circumstances being what they are, things just go right, in spite of doing everything wrong. I rode that wave all the way up the beach and landed my kayak without any problem.
It was awesome.