Kayaking’s popularity puts many in the water
Scott Schroepfer’s kayak cuts placidly through the 40-foot deep water past sandy beaches and buoy fields of boats as he takes his one-hour early morning workout “just to be on the lake – it’s so quiet and peaceful.”
The only decision he has to make is whether to look up at the snow-capped peaks or to look down and peer through the crystal clear water at the boulder strewn lake bottom as it passes below him.
An Agate Bay resident, Schroepfer is a cross country skier and mountain bike rider who bought a sea kayak about a year and a half ago.
“It’s easy to learn. Flat water is a more calm experience,” he said. “Wind and rough water require constant paddling, there’s no down time – you have to pay attention more. With bigger waves you can’t even stop to scratch your nose,” he said. He recommends the morning because it’s the flattest water.
“The absolutely calmest day I’ve seen is in the dead of winter, January. The water was so still and there were no other boats,” Schroepfer said.
Schroepfer has discovered what many visiting the Tahoe Basin have – a quick, fun, easy way to experience the basin’s waterways up close is to paddle out in a kayak.
“What draws people to kayaking is the simplicity of it all … and you can get away from the crowds and go places you can’t normally get to,” Harry King of Enviro-Rents in Tahoe Vista said.
The sport of kayaking was virtually unknown 10 years ago when he began his sports rental business, now it’s one the fastest growing sports.
“I started with a couple of kayaks and now we have 40 for tours, rentals and lessons. We’ve done group tours of up to 25 people,” King said.
His shop is across the street from the Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort where he operates his kayak rental fleet.
What makes the sport simple is you just have the boat, a life jacket and a paddle. Boaters can paddle as fast or as slow as they want.
There are river kayaks, sea kayaks and sit-on-top kayaks of different lengths, for one person or two people. The paddler sits inside the sea kayak, close to the water, with the legs extended into the covered bow of the boat. A skirt around the waist encloses the boater and keeps water out of the boat.
The sit-on-tops have a closed hull, on top of which the boater sits while paddling. By not sitting inside the hull it is easier to get on and off the boat than with the longer, faster sea kayak.
The sit-on-top kayaks are 12- to 14-feet long, a little more comfortable, slower and easier to handle for first-timers or recreational users, said Maureen O’Keefe of Tahoe City Kayak Shop (behind Joby’s Records in Tahoe City). They work with Mike Miltner’s Tahoe Whitewater Tours at Commons Beach, offering kayak rentals, lessons and tours.
Anyone off the street can “hop in and go” with a sit-on-top, said Tahoe City Kayaks owner John Rogers. “If they fall off a sit-on-top, it acts like a flotation device, it won’t fill up with water, it’s easier to climb back on.”
Kayaks are more popular than canoes because they are more stable, easier to maneuver and faster.
“Canoes have more windage (amount of the boat above the water line) and can get blown around. Kayaks can handle rougher weather and water,” Rogers said.
“We have the newest innovation in kayaks, which makes it even easier for people to enjoy the lake,” O’Keefe said.
One such innovation is a sturdy, lightweight pedaling mechanism attached to hard rubber fins.
The fins drop through the hull of the kayak, enabling the paddler to also become a pedaler.
“It drives the boat through the waves, it’s really fast on flat water, up to 7 knots with two people,” she said.
“For the less athletic, or someone not used to paddling a lot, they can make it somewhere. It’s like pedaling a bike,” Rogers added.
River kayaks are almost another world. The standard river kayaks are more nimble, designed for quick turning and driving through the boiling rapids and require a greater degree of skill than flatwater lake cruising. The river kayaks are as short as 6 foot, 5 inches in length but the standard average length is about eight feet, Rogers said. They have a curved bottom requiring considerable balance skills by the paddler as the boat doesn’t have a keel and won’t track in a straight line, Rogers said.
Tahoe Whitewater has river kayak tours with standard or inflatable kayaks. The inflatables are used “only on calmer water, not the fast moving rough stuff,” Miltner said. According to Rogers the best white water in the world for kayaking is all within a two-hour radius of Tahoe. “There are at least 200 runs in the northern California Sierra” for accomplished kayaks to choose from, he said.
For heavy-duty whitewater kayaking close by, there is the Truckee River flowing out of Lake Tahoe and running from Tahoe City to Reno. Another popular spot is the Carson River. One of Roger’s favorites is just west of Donner Summit – running Fordyce Creek to Lake Spaulding.
For lake cruising (a calmer, more scenic experience), Tahoe City Kayak recommends a two-mile shoreline cruise to Sunnyside from the Commons Beach. King enjoys paddling from his Tahoe Vista shop past Brockway to Crystal Bay Point. Phil Segal of the Kayak Cafe in Carnelian Bay said a lot of people like to paddle to Dollar Point, but the best is from the Beach Center east to Brockway where there are fields of huge granite boulders in and out the lake and natural hot springs. Other favorite trips involve “car-topping” the kayaks with racks (available from the shops), such as out to Sand Harbor and the East Shore, D. L. Bliss State Park, Cave Rock or Emerald Bay.
The boats can be launched easily from any beach, as long as the kayaker has the right to use the beach. There are numerous public beaches around Lake Tahoe. The kayak shops can recommend a beach or boaters may find a list of 35 public beaches, parks and picnic areas at the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association’s visitors centers in Tahoe City near the wye or in Kings Beach on Highway 28 at the Kings Beach State Recreation Area beach. The list gives the location and describes amenities of the facilities all around the lake.
Kayakers, however, should be prepared for the high altitude sun and the cold water of Lake Tahoe.
“The current water temperature is 46 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s definitely cold,” U. S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Patrick Ryan said. With such cold water, hypothermia, a life threatening condition in which the body’s core temperature drops below normal, can occur quickly.
“You lose muscle reaction and control, it’s hard to swim and move around in the cold water,” he said.
“Anything to afford the best protection against the environment is what we recommend, if that’s a wet suit that’s fine. We recommend wearing life jackets at all times of course, to be aware of the weather (the wind can come up fast, creating choppy conditions) and to go with a buddy, so you can keep an eye on each other,” Ryan said.
Another safety concern is to be familiar with the area in which you’re boating.
“It’s easy to go out a long way, get disoriented and forget where you started, ” Ryan said. Kayakers can go anywhere on the lake, but Ryan suggested to be especially aware of other boats.
The Tahoe City Kayak shop recommends sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses and a wet suit, if conditions warrant. “
We don’t rent our boats in bad conditions, but we have wet suits, long sleeve paddling jackets and sweaters for rent if needed,” Rogers said.
Enviro-Rents, Kayak Cafe in Carnelian Bay and Tahoe Paddle and Oar in Kings Beach all offer kayak lessons, rentals and sales. Kayak and other water sport rentals are also offered at Kings Beach State Beach, The North Tahoe Beach Center and at the Hyatt Beach in Incline Village.
Rogers said the cost of a basic kayak set-up for entry level cruising with all the gear is about $700. An expedition plastic sea kayak is priced about $1,300.
“It’s inexpensive compared to other sports where you spend more to get outfitted and then spend more and more for maintenance,” King of Enviro-Rents said.
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