It is a scenario that plays itself out in the minds of thousands of people both living and visiting San Diego on a year-round basis. Do I want to simply go to the beach and look at the ocean, save a quick splash or two, or do I want to go farther out and into the water or even on top of the water?
The menu of activities available does not make the selection process any easier. There are sailboats, scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing, fishing, and surfing — on and on it goes. Yet one of the most popular is kayaking.
“It is a great family and healthy activity,” noted John Metzger, owner of OEX Dive & Kayak, which has seven locations from San Diego to Oceanside. “It is also eco-friendly (no motor oil or fuel, engine noise) and a safe sport.”
Combine that with relative ease of operation and it becomes easy to understand why the activity is in high demand.
“You can learn how to maneuver a kayak in five to 10 minutes, even if it is your first time in one,” explained Angela Harrell, co-owner (along with her husband, David Teafatiller) of Hike Bike Kayak, Inc., with locations in La Jolla and Mission Bay. “All you need to do is learn how to paddle, stop and turn and you are ready to go. It is very simple.”
A sentiment echoed by Metzger.
“You do not hear about people needing lessons when they rent a bike,” he stated. “They just get on the bike and go. It is very similar with a kayak.”
The kayaks themselves can also alleviate perhaps one of the most common fears people might have from watching kayaking on television at the Olympics: the thought of rolling over with your head pointed toward the bottom of the ocean and not being able to get back upright or execute what is known as an “Eskimo roll” to get your head out of the water.
“All our recreational-use kayaks are the sit-on-top version and made of a very strong plastic,” Harrell explained. “They are not the enclosed type you might see in a competitive event. Therefore, with the sit-on-top style, if you fall overboard all you need to do is climb back on top. It is very safe.”
Yet for some, the thought of being in the open ocean can be intimidating, even though life vests are required to be worn.
“Kayaks are our most popular rental by far,” said Kevin Straw, instructional manager for the Mission Bay Aquatic Center. “Mission Bay is an easier place to paddle, plus there are no waves. It is a nice area to learn the basics while still experiencing the fun of being on the water.”
As might be expected, the La Jolla Shores area continues to be the top attraction and destination for people wanting to kayak, with its natural beauty and protected areas.
“I have out of town visitors tell me all the time kayaking at La Jolla Shores has been the best thing they have done while in San Diego,” Metzger exclaimed. “Better than going to the zoo or SeaWorld. La Jolla is insanely amazing for kayaking.”
Two general choices also can help on what type of kayak experience will work best for an individual, family or group, individual rentals versus group tours.
Even with the ability to learn how to use the kayak quickly and the overall safety of doing so, many people want more to their experience.
“My business in La Jolla is about 90 percent with the tours,” Harrell explained. “There are 10 kayaks and two guides, each in their own kayak. All our guides are highly trained both in general tour information and more importantly with safety issues — essentially the same training as a beach lifeguard would receive.”
So not only do people have the opportunity to kayak in the ocean, they also receive an education about the geology around them and what is living and growing in the water.
Another benefit to kayaking is the opportunity to learn at a young age, or really any age, for that matter.
“We provide instruction to kids as young as 6 years old, and recently rented a kayak to someone who is 85 years old,” Straw noted. “Our little kids camps are extremely popular, as they learn to kayak every morning from Monday through Friday and then each afternoon try a different sport like surfing or water skiing.”
What you can do from a kayak has begun to expand. According to Metzger, kayak fishing is surging in popularity with many people having better luck than the guided fishing boats.
Regardless, whether being the most popular rental or an exciting tour or a wonderful time with the family, kayaking also has a huge revenue impact on those companies providing such services.
“Back in the mid-90s it was scuba diving which drove our general business,” Metzger said. “Now it’s kayaking. It varies somewhat depending which one of our locations we are talking about, but it is safe to say 50 percent of our revenue is directly related to kayaking, whether rentals, tours or sales.”
One important issue to remember, particularly if you are thinking about kayaking on the weekends at La Jolla Shores, is crowding. Due to concerns of traffic congestion and safety in the water, the City of San Diego has placed restrictions on those companies that provide both tours and rentals in terms of how many of their kayaks can be in the water at any one time and the number of tours they can offer. These restrictions are in place through the Labor Day weekend. Summer months also bring in a large number of out of town visitors who add to the already high demand and usage by local residents.
For more information on pricing and information about kayaking, in addition to other services provided, visit the websites www.oexcali
kayak.com and www.miss