WHAT I LEARNED: Paddling the California Coast

The following appeared originally in the June 2014 issue of Canoe & Kayak, available on newsstands now.

paddling the california coast
“In normal day-paddling it’s the points, the land features themselves that would be of interest. The only reason I’m this far offshore getting to see this—the broad, beautiful panorama, the perfect glass water—the only reason I’m out there is because I decided to go on this trip.” — Matt Krizan. Photo by JP Van Swae Getty Images


Ten-foot following waves at 13 seconds rolling across 20-knot onshore winds: Matt Krizan is cranking his rudder pedals to maintain a course south down California’s desolate far northern coastline. Four miles offshore, the zip-tie linking his left steering pedal to the rudder snaps. Krizan must act. He spots a channel through 8-foot faces breaking on what looks like beach, so he cautiously follows a wave in. Then he’s upside down. He rolls, but can’t reach shore before the next wave picks up his 18.5-foot Current Designs Nomad—60 pounds of reinforced fiberglass loaded with 140 pounds of gear, plus another 200 pounds draped over Krizan’s lean 6-foot-7 frame—and pitch-poles the full weight into the froth. Half an hour later, as the sun goes down, Krizan finally wrestles the flooded kayak to shore. He’s soaked and shivering, his hull is cracked, cockpit day-gear long gone, plus the deck compass and the maps on which he’d planned out his entire 840-mile transit of the California coast, the labor of eight months spent planning, cutting and laminating each chart with listed mileage and landings. Gone.

Welcome, Matt, to the first full day of your toughest expedition yet. You’re about to learn a few things.

paddling the california coast
Jen Kleck and Krizan mark the completion of his odyssey Nov. 19 at Imperial Beach, Calif., just north of the U.S.-Mexico border fence. Photo: Ali Morham

Know your gear. That left pedal had failed when Krizan launched his “Backyard Odyssey” at the mouth of Oregon’s Winchuck River on Oct. 2. He could have stopped to make a proper repair. Instead, he opted to bite off the first 21 miles to Crescent City, where he zip-tied the pedal back together, and launched the next day into the lumpiest conditions of his expedition. The result was the unexpected crash landing, where Krizan also had trouble piecing together the ferrule adjustment of his fancy foam-core spare paddle with white knuckles. From now on, he’ll only use an “aluminum cheapy shove-together.”

Don’t quit. The next morning, Krizan dried off and paddled his leaking boat to Trinidad. He spent a few days repairing the hull and rudder. Then another five days back home in Half Moon Bay waiting out swell and healing a lumbar rubbed raw by his backband. He decided to keep going. His body was now ready, he just needed his head synched with the daily rhythm of an extended trip. “I had to get back into it,” says Krizan, “if anything for the organization and efficiency of the routine.”

It’s going to suck. Get used to it. “You just have to put up with an amount of discomfort if your goal is to cover the distance.” You’re going to always be wet. Krizan got used to alternating his paddling baselayers and the less-wet ones he kept stowed in his boat. Earlier starts allowed earlier camps, and precious time to dry out gear, consume 3,000 calories to be burned the next day. He stretched his daily average to 30 miles, preparing for the massive challenge of the Channel Islands, where he would make the longest open-water crossings of his paddling career.

Shut down “Mr. Obvious.” Krizan works as a kayak instructor, always reminding his students that fear is good. The key: learning to deal with and still manage a situation as it’s happening. That often means turning off one’s logical, self-analyzing mind to keep going. Shutting off what he dubbed “Mr. Obvious” helped Krizan tackle the crux of his island-hopping route after just two hours of fitful sleep on the rocks of Santa Cruz Island, which he’d reached after an exhausting 27 nautical-mile crossing. “I learned to say, ‘So what? My stroke may not be perfect, but by God, it’s going to help me cover the miles,’” says Krizan, who woke at 1 a.m. to power through a trying 42-mile, 15-hour crossing by headlight and compass-heading to reach the sheer volcanic nub that is Santa Barbara Island.

Relax and revel. The fog in Bodega Bay, the rafts of napping otters in Big Sur, the dolphin pods between the islands, the bioluminescence, the final landing Nov. 19 under the shadow of the U.S.-Mexico border pylons: “To see the coast in this perspective, I wouldn’t have seen in any other circumstance; the only way is point-to-point navigation.”

Plan your next adventure. “The only way to get into the shape to do [an expedition], is by doing it,” says Krizan. “It certainly has opened up some internal doors—thoughts and energy of what I’m capable of and interested in doing. Expedition-wise, finding out I could do the day-to-day stuff and manage it okay, I’m going to be that much better at it in the future.”

paddling the california coast
Krizan’s Channel Island-hopping route around the Los Angeles megapolis. See his full route HERE.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Matt’s backyard odyssey.

CLICK HERE to read more about Krizan’s kayak rescue of a surfer at Mavericks.


The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!