A strange coincidence happened this week. On Friday night I was scanning through my Facebook feed when I came across a video from Lee Richardson, my friend who lives in Victoria and is a kayak guide and I had mentioned in passing to my supervisor. I first met him in Nova Scotia during a kayaking trip to the Bay of Fundy. The video showed him kayak surfing a long gentle green wave all the way onto a white sand beach. The caption read, “A little break from the winter on the Matanzas Inlet.”
Immediately I knew the place. The Matanzas inlet is in North Florida. I’ve kayaked there several times and even camped on the sand spit that shelters the inlet on New Year’s Eve when I circumnavigated Florida.
“Hey man! You’re doing a paddle vacation in Florida and didn’t tell me? I’m heartbroken!” I joked.
“Yeah! Landed in Jacksonville yesterday. I’m leading a course with two other guides for a week. Want to join us for the weekend.”
“I’ll get the Rockpool Taran in the car and head over tomorrow morning!”
For me, having an opportunity to paddle out of South Florida is tough to pass up. The winter weather in Miami is mild, but the ocean here is hardly a place to build up your sea kayaking skills. The waves are barely bigger than ripples. It takes a serious storm to whip up the water enough to get the surfers out.
I got on the road at 4:00am, drove through the night and dusk, and was parking next to the bridge across the inlet a little after sunrise. The sea was choppy, and the north wind had chilled the air to a hair raising 50oF.
“Don’t make fun of my shivering; 50oF is really cold when you’re from Miami. It was 78oF when I left home five hours ago before sunrise.” I said to Lee poking fun at myself. “When am I going to be able to try on a dry suit in Florida.”
I had just purchased a new Kokatat dry suit the week before for the princely sum of $1,300. Normally I would never spend a ransom sum of money for something I will get so little use out of, but I had already been thinking that I would be paddling somewhere cold this summer. Be it up in Vancouver or Nova Scotia, the Canadian waters are cold enough to numb you into hypothermia in less than a minute, and even the dry suit won’t keep you alive for much longer than the time you need to get back inside your boat. I remember a few years ago when I was kayaking in Oregon in the late fall, and I decided to try a few kayak rolls in a dry suit. Although my body stayed dry, my head felt the same kind brain chill you get when you swallow half a pint of ice-cream.
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The dry suit is an amazing piece of craftsmanship. Its many layers of Gortex fabric have microscopic pores, thousands of times too small for water to pass through but thousands of times larger than what the water vapor from your sweat needs to escape; and so your body stays dry, even if still chilled like meat in the freezer. The openings for the head and hands have latex gaskets tight enough to choke you and take a little getting used to but their grip is flush to the skin and water has no way to slip through. Most impressive to me are the suit’s zippers; I do not know what kind of craftsmanship goes into making a zipper’s teeth seal together so perfectly that not a drop of water is able to slip through but to me is indistinguishable from magic.
“Make sure you pull the zipper all the way to the end; you don’t want to feel like the sea is taking a cold piss on you. Also, try not to walk on the booty socks, they’re tough but they do rip if you’re shoddy with them. Also, you’ll need to buy two things to have with you. Zipper wax and silicone spray. The zipper wax is to make sure that sand and salt don’t get in between the zipper teeth, especially if you don’t have a chance to wash the suit with fresh water, and the spray is so the gaskets don’t become brittle over time. If they break, then the suit won’t be watertight.”
I surfed the waves in the inlet with Lee and his students for the next two days, practiced the paddle stern rudder while running down the face of a wave towards the beach, and duck-rolled through the breakers while paddling out from shore. I was feeling confident, I would be able to handle most situations, until Lee gave me an ominous bit of advice.
“These waves are barely bigger than folds on a rug. They can be much bigger in Vancouver. You’ll need to be fit if you decide to head out there…”
“Well, hopefully if I start on the east coast of the island, I’ll have enough miles under my boat then that I will be fit enough to handle the swells when they come. Not all of us exercise for a living.” I jabbed.
Sea kayak Vancouver Island Circumnavigation