Sea Kayaking Malibu to Baja - 580 Miles
In 2018, I paddled down the coast of California to Baja, starting in Malibu and ending at Santa Rosaliita, about 580 miles. It was a self-supported trip. There is a woman who is paddling around North America, Freya Hoffmeister, who has already circumnavigated South America and Australia, as well as many smaller accomplishments. She likes to have paddling partners now, so I joined her for a stretch. She asked me to write a little for a book. Below is what I sent her, and below that are the posts I wrote while on the trip and a few photos:
Paddling with Freya was a trip I’ll always remember. I only knew of her through a mutual friend, who gave me a copy of her book about circumnavigating Australia. I followed her on Facebook and saw her posting, seeking partners to paddle with. I was working as a sea kayak guide at the time, but I hadn’t done anything remotely close to what paddling on the open coast would require. Still, I messaged her anyways, and she agreed to paddle with me. I spent the time leading up to the trip getting prepared: taking a few classes, practicing what I could, and getting my gear in order.
When we first met, I really liked her energy. She is slow to anger and takes everything in stride. For me, the trip was far outside my comfort zone, but I like to experience things that way. I had spent several months in Baja the year before, but to venture unsupported into the really remote areas was a whole different experience. Spending a month straight with a person can be challenging, but we got along well.
There is something pure about travelling that way. You’re able to focus on the day’s work; there is no need to worry about anything else. Your days are spent paddling, setting up camp, eating, with intermittent excitement. The repetitive motion is meditative and allows your mind to wander anywhere you want it to go. Feeling the muscle soreness, knowing your body is getting used to long hard days, is such a rewarding feeling.
I learned so much on this trip and got to experience places and see wildlife in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. It was a fantastic challenge, with so many great learning opportunities. I still use the tips and tricks that Freya taught me on other trips I take. I’m grateful I was able to do the trip, and I’d be happy to paddle with her any time.
I’m now two days and about 50 miles in to my kayak trip from Malibu, California to Baja with
Freya Hoffmeister. We spent the first day, when I was dropped, off shopping and preparing.
The best part of the day was getting to relax in a hot tub at the house we were staying at. Much more luxurious than expected!
Yesterday was a nice calm day for getting used to the boat and paddle, and learning Freya’s methods. She’s been great at helping me with my forward stroke and passing on tips for a long day in the boat. We saw the Santa Monica Boardwalk, some fancy LA houses and some incredibly expensive yachts, but not much in the way of natural scenery yet. I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the boat was for the full nine-hour day.
Today I woke up feeling less sore than expected, but that may change tomorrow! It feels great to challenge my body this way, and I’ll be used to it in no time. We had a nice foggy morning after leaving our campsite. The long stretches of beach weren’t too exciting to look at, but the paddling was relaxing and I felt more comfortable in the boat than yesterday. Also: dolphins! I’ve seen a few before from a distance, but these were almost touching our boats. We saw sea lions and plenty more dolphins throughout the day. Later on, we had some nice stretches of rocky bluffs topped with big houses to look at before finding a beautiful beach with an easy landing to camp at.
All in all, not bad!
I feel quite happy today, for several reasons! Last night we stayed at a house with a fellow kayaker from the Bay Area, Morris Ho. Freya took a tour of the Laguna Beach area and experienced an American Halloween, while I was more than happy to relax and catch up on some sleep.
The past few days I’ve had a strange elbow pain. Tired muscles and sore hands are expected, but the elbow felt different. I think I didn’t have great technique the first two days with the wing paddle I’ve been using. My stroke has improved (I hope!) but I still don’t always get it just right, leading to some uncomfortable and frustrating miles yesterday.
On a baseless suggestion from my dad, who has never even held a paddle, I switched to my Euro paddle today, not expecting any improvement. It seems like this paddle is more forgiving; my arm felt fine. I’ll use it again tomorrow and perhaps try again with the faster wing once everything has a chance to recover. This chance is much appreciated!
Today we had some great scenery too, and plenty of nice fun rocky areas. It was calm again which is fine with me, although Freya might have been happier with more interesting conditions. The water was clear enough that we could see fish below, and one close dolphin. I can’t wait to do some snorkeling!
Again tonight we have a cozy place to sleep. We came to a state beach campground and asked a woman if we could put our tents at the edge of her site. The friends she was waiting for couldn’t make it, so we were happy to eat the food meant for them and keep her company. It worked for everybody!
Made it to Mexico today!
We had a nice weekend off to let the muscles recover and make our Mexican paperwork official. Freya gave a talk in San Diego. The talk was about her circumnavigation of South America. It was interesting but hearing some of the stories made me second-hand nervous! Fortunately, Cape Horn is not on the planned route for this trip.
On Monday, we were back on the water for my longest day yet, 28.3 miles. This would have been fine with freshly well rested muscles, but we had an unpleasant headwind for the last several hours. Finding a place to stay was again difficult and time consuming. After two Uber rides, the help of a Good Samaritan, a three-block walk with a kayak trolley, and a flight of stairs, we were able to get some good rest in a kayak shop in La Jolla. Thanks Jen!
On Tuesday, a fellow sea kayaker, Gary, helped us get to the beach and paddled with us for a while. We passed some cool sea caves and I enjoyed talking to him and trying to get pictures of a sea lion family. We’ll see if any come out! We were promised another headwind, so I preferred to cut across the bays we passed to get as far as possible before it came. Fortunately it never really manifested.
Crossing the San Diego Bay entrance was pretty interesting. The tide and wind clashed creating some more dynamic water. It reminded me of the times I paddled in the San Francisco Bay. The paddling was the easiest part of the day; finding a campsite for our last night in the US was a long ordeal. We ended up doing three landings and two launches. The final landing was in the dark in the biggest surf out of the three. It was a little nerve-wracking but worked out fine. Now I can say I did a surf landing in the dark. I did have an embarrassing capsize on my first landing but the next two were good.
We did eventually get to our campsite, after another hour and a half or so of shenanigans.
Today, it was only a few miles to get to the border. We saw up to five US helicopters at a time, shameful! We had no trouble crossing to Mexico at all and enjoyed the nice tailwind and fresh scenery, especially the dolphins! My body has now adapted pretty well to the long paddling days and from here on it should be lots of easy beach camping (and tacos..?) It’s good to be in Baja!