A lot of water over the dam
by Brett Hanavan
Published - 08/31/06 - 03:35 PM | 2509 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
La Jolla Kayak is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this summer, and owner Michael Luscomb is excited.

La Jolla Kayak rents kayaks so that adventurers can explore the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of San Diego.

Luscomb's operation began in 1995 and is still a family-owned, locally based business rooted in La Jolla. Luscomb, who is a Jolla native, owns and operates the business with his wife Sharon, also a La Jolla native.

Luscomb and a friend had the idea to start a kayaking tour company after they went on a Zodiac boat tour in Kauai, Hawaii. From it they were inspired to create a similar business concept back in La Jolla based on ocean-faring kayaks.

"I first discovered the Zodiac boat tours while traveling to the Na Pali Coast of Kauai," Luscomb said. "The boat is basically an inflatable motorboat like ones the Navy SEALs use. They took us out on this boat to explore the sea caves and waters native to that area. I instantly fell in love and thought it would work great back here in La Jolla. But without a boat dock at the Shores, it made it virtually impossible. So, we changed to kayaks."

In Kauai, Luscomb said he was exposed to an amazing underwater world and marine life "” something that he also marvels at here in California.

"I knew we had the underwater canyon at La Jolla Shores and the spectacular caves and thought it would be great to allow residents and visitors to experience that same thing," he said.

When La Jolla Kayak first began, it operated with just eight kayaks.

"It started as an idea one evening with my friend," Luscomb said. "We wanted to do something water-related. We literally started out of a garage. It went over so well and we saw that there was a definite niche for it "” we decided to give it a shot."

By the end of the summer of 1996, the business had grown to include a 900-square-foot shop space at La Jolla Shores.

Today La Jolla Kayak counts 50 single and double kayaks and operates out of a 2,000-square-foot space that includes lockers, dressing/changing rooms and retail space. It currently employs at least 15 full and part-time employees.

La Jolla Kayak offers guided tours but also allows for customers who want to explore on their own.

"It is pretty easy and basic, so just about anyone can do it," Luscomb said of paddling a kayak. "There are a lot of people out there who don't really need or want a guide. The tours are fun and educational, but it's nice to go out and explore on your own, too."

La Jolla Kayak also rents snorkel and fin sets, wetsuits, boogie-boards and surfboards, beach chairs and beach umbrellas.

Luscomb said he gets satisfaction from seeing the reaction of his customers after a few hours out in the ocean.

"Let's face it, many people visiting San Diego, especially during the summer, come from places like Arizona where they don't have the ocean. When they have the opportunity to go out on a kayak and get up-close and personal with leopard sharks and dolphins, they're completely blown away," he said. "They may have just gone to SeaWorld the day before and seen similar marine life. But out here, they're right there, face-to-face. It's kind of like walking through the jungle. They get so jazzed and that just makes it all worthwhile."

Most people who take kayaking trips off the La Jolla coast come back with a whole new perspective of the Southern California shoreline.

"What is awesome is to hear them say, "˜That was the greatest thing I've ever done in my entire life,'" Luscomb said. "It is fun to give customers a taste of our local waters."

Ocean kayaking has changed in the last 10 years. Luscomb says it has completely skyrocketed.

"I would have thought at some point business would peak, but it hasn't," he said. "We continue to experience tremendous growth each year. I think the entire sport has also had some great recognition nationally over the past several years. People are starting to recognize how easy it is to do and that you don't necessarily need any training or agility. It's fun, safe and such a simple way to explore the ocean."

Tourism changes through the years have affected the business as well.

"I think the growth of tourism in San Diego is in part a result of the great job our Convention & Visitors bureaus have done and continue to do," Luscomb said. "San Diego has always been on the map as a great place to visit. And La Jolla Shores by itself has become a tourist destination."

In the end, Luscomb and La Jolla Kayak want to send out a thank-you.

"We really just want to thank the local community for all the support they have given us these past 10 years," he said. "We will continue to give back as much as we can by supporting local charities and schools. It has been a fantastic ride this past decade and we absolutely are looking forward to another 10 years here in La Jolla."

Luscomb is the son of the late Rodney Luscomb, a former San Diego lifeguard who had the "Luscomb's Point" surf break dedicated to him and named after him at Sunset Cliffs.

La Jolla Kayak recommends paddling or snorkeling to discover the edge of the Eastern Pacific Ocean that includes La Jolla's magnificent sea cliffs, the Seven Caves and La Jolla Underwater Park that are each famous to the region.

La Jolla Kayak, 2199 Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores, is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to sunset. For information, call (858) 459-1114 or visit www.lajollakayak.com.
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