An idyllic, romantic evening of kayaking in the Puget Sound turned out to be a strenuous workout on a windy evening.
I CHOSE WHAT seemed like a perfect day to kayak — warm temperatures for spring, blue skies and epic views of downtown Seattle from West Seattle with requisite ferries crossing the water.
The water, however, was the trouble. Instead of calm, blue tranquillity, it was rough, with whitecaps caused by a blustery east wind.
“We are taking these little plastic kayaks out there?” I thought as I walked to the beach where kayaks were lined up. I asked about taking out a double kayak instead, but was told the singles are more maneuverable. The Alki Kayak Tours employee helping us said if we felt at all unsafe, we should turn around right away.
Alki Kayak Tours
I contemplated briefly whether we should go, then decided it would be an adventure.
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I like being out on the water, and I have a decent amount of paddling experience, mainly with stand-up paddleboards and rowing. Kayaking with my fiancé, Chris, along with locals and tourists and a harbor seal or two on Elliott Bay, sounded like an idyllic Seattle evening.
But once we were pushed into the water, my romantic evening vanished into watery chop.
We didn’t get much instruction before heading out, so I relied on previous experience to figure it out. I knew paddling into the waves was the best way to avoid a cold dip into Puget Sound; I also knew it was better to keep moving than to let the waves push me around.
I turned the nose of my boat into the waves coming at us and paddled, hard. This was tough work.
I warmed up quickly despite the water splashing on my legs. We stayed close to the shore, heading toward the tip of Alki.
Sea kayaking requires a lot of upper-body work and core stability even when the water is calm, and I could feel both working hard. I was tense at first, and I reminded myself that relaxing would keep me more stable and less likely to flip.
On a serene day, I would have looked around to enjoy the view of the city and water. Instead, I kept my gaze on the waves to make sure I was heading straight into the swells.
Occasionally, we stopped. I still paddled, slowly, so the wind and waves wouldn’t push me backward.
In an ideal world, we would have kayaked toward the main Alki drag and done an hour or more. But my ambition disappeared into the waves. My goal was to return to the beach without flipping my boat.
I wasn’t tired, but after about 20 minutes of fighting headwinds and chop, I was ready to go back. I waited for the big swells to pass, then did some fast sweeps to quickly turn around.
I knew heading back would be speedy, and the return in general was more fun. The swells and wind carried our boats back to shore. I was damp, but not soaking. Sweet.
I later learned that the wind usually picks up in the evening, especially in the spring. Morning is the best time for a calm, smooth experience in a kayak.
Now that I’m back on land, I want to go back and spend some real time out on the Sound. I love being on water, and it’s a great activity to see the city, look for wildlife and get some exercise. But some days are better than others, I have learned. If you head down and spy someone out there, paddling away at sunrise, it might be me.