"Twenty-six miles across the sea / Santa Catalina is waiting for me..."
There are plenty of ways to get to Catalina Island. You can catch a ferry from Marina del Rey or San Pedro. A helicopter, airplane, seaplane, power yacht, or sailboat will get you there, too.
Or, you can paddle.
If you happen to be on Cabrillo Beach early in the morning of October 1st, you'll see ten kayakers from UCLA's Marina Aquatic Center setting out to do just that. A series of articles this week will look at their training, their reasons for taking on this challenge, and the sport of kayaking.
On the charts, it's a long trip -- just like The Four Preps' 1958 hit, "26 Miles (Santa Catalina)" says. But that doesn't take into consideration factors like currents, wind and weather conditions, marine traffic -- all the things that tack on extra miles, especially when you're paddling in something as small as a kayak. That's one reason why these kayakers have been training all summer.
Leading this special UCLA MAC class is kayaking instructor Brendan Nelson, a 47-year-old production coordinator at CBS. He's been kayaking at the MAC for about six years and teaching there for four. Brendan has also led kayak trips to Black Canyon on the Colorado River, Anacapa Island, the Channel Islands, and Bahia de Los Angeles. Even on the L.A. River. He's quiet, methodical, organized -- just the type of person you'd want in charge.
Tall, sandy-haired, and quick with a smile, looking at him, you'd never think Brendan has experienced a heart attack and mild stroke. Fortunately, those health issues are behind him now. He gives a lot of credit for that to the support he received from his many friends at the MAC.
Other MAC instructors and teaching assistants have also helped with this special class, including Bob Gurfield, Tchie Tao, Anthea Raymond (coincidentally, the editor of the Echo Park "Patch"), Steve Goldman, Sung Byun, and Louis Brinker. All of them are important members of the MAC's kayaking program. It's been a summer of serious training. But paddling across the busy waters of the San Pedro Channel is serious business.
People have paddled between the mainland and Catalina for millenia. Archaeological digs have found human settlements on the island that date back about 9,000 years. Recorded history tells us that southern California's Tongva Indians -- later lumped together with other local indigenous peoples as "Mission Indians" or Gabrielinos -- were among the few "New World" peoples who risked going out on the open sea.
The Tongva took to the ocean in canoes called ti'ats. Constructed of planks that were sewn together, edge to edge, the boats were then caulked and coated with either pine pitch or, more commonly, tar from the La Brea Tar Pits or asphaltum that washed onto the beaches from offshore oil seeps. These seaworthy vessels could hold as many as 12 people, their gear, and the goods they carried to trade. Their size and quality impressed the first Europeans who encountered them. But they're a far cry from the boats the MAC expedition will be using.
The uninitiated might be surprised by the many styles and types of modern kayaks. There are sit-on top kayaks (which are very popular, particularly at the MAC), sea kayaks, touring kayaks, whitewater and surf kayaks, racing kayaks. And many of these have their own variations. Kayak water polo anyone?
The earliest kayaks were built and used by the ancient hunters of northeastern Asia, North America, and Greenland. Using animal skins stretched over frames constructed of wood and, more commonly, whale and seal bone, the Aleuts, Ainu, and Eskimos created sturdy boats for hunting, trade, and travel in a hostile environment. A lot has changed since then.
In the 1950's, fiberglass construction pretty much replaced traditional wooden kayaks and those built with fabric-over-wood frames. In turn, stronger, lighter, and more rugged rotomolded plastic kayaks took the stage in the early 1970s. Now there are also kevlar kayaks -- fast, light, and expensive. You can still find fiberglass and beautifully crafted wooden kayaks, but plastic kayaks can take a beating the others can't.
There are many reasons a person takes on a challenge like a twenty-six mile kayak voyage on the open ocean. In the next installment, we'll meet some of the participants and learn about the training that they and all kayakers receive at UCLA's Marina Aquatic Center.