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Ocean kayaking; you should have lessons first. You can rent. You can join a tour.

Ocean kayaking

Cruising in sleek-bowed, shallow-draft ocean kayaks is a sport that's coming on strong in northern California's bays and coastal waters. Longer and more stable than whitewater kayaks, these molded fiberglass boats are designed to cover long stretches of salt water with minimal effort. They're great for paddling by the shore, poking around a harbor, and getting close to birds and other wildlife.

Fall is a fine time to try ocean kayaking: days are usually sunny and fog-free, and less windy than in summer.

Two ocean kayak centers offering instruction, rentals, tours, and sales have recently opened on Monterey Bay and San Francisco Bay. Other companies specialize in guided tours. And a few outdoor supply stores now have ocean kayak rentals (see page 50).

On a guided tour, you can cruise along San Francisco's waterfront, take an overnight paddle to Angel Island, or join an exhilarating 2-hour tour on the Mendocino coast.

First, learning how

You don't have to be a rafter or sailboat enthusiast to try kayaking--but experts insist that you shouldn't go out on your own without a lesson that covers basic skills and self-rescue techniques.

In the lesson, you'll most likely be teamed with another student in a double-cockpit kayak with rudder; or you may start in a single kayak. Prepare to get wet: you'll be shown how to capsize the boat and climb back in. You'll also learn how to judge waves, tides, currents, and wind.

A snug-fitting spray skirt keeps you dry during the class tour--typically a cruise around the local harbor, close to piers, fishing boats, and curious sea life. On a recent class tour in Monterey Bay, we cruised close to a Steller's sea lion basking on a rock and we paddled by sea otters, who playfully dove underneath our group to emerge only a few feet away.

Signing up for an ocean kayak class or tour

These operators will teach you the basics, often as part of an easy guided tour. Prices include kayak, paddle, and life jacket. Write or call for reservations.

Bluewaters Ocean Kayak Tours, 425 Cascade Dr., Fairfax 94930; (415) 457-9983 or 456-8956. No lessons as such, but first hour of tour includes basic instruction. Day tours ($25) to Angel Island, the San Francisco waterfront, and the south Bay. Overnight camping tours ($50, including two meals) to Angel Island. Or float in the moonlight on a full-moon tour on the Bay ($25). Call for hours and directions.

Force 10 Ocean White Water Tours, Box 167, Elk 95432; (707) 877-3505. Lesson fees: $30 for 1 hour, $25 each additional hour. Force 10 offers a guided 2-hour tour ($50) along the rugged Mendocino coast: clad in wet suits and helmets provided for warmth and protection, you and your guide paddle through massive rock arches to secluded beaches and the dark recesses of hidden caves. You'll get intimate views of bird life, seals, sea lions, and possibly sea otters. Elk is 17 miles south of Mendocino on State Highway 1.

Sea Trek, Schoonmaker Point, foot of Spring St., Sausalito 94965; (415) 332-4457. The only ocean kayak school on San Francisco Bay, Sea Trek holds 3-hour classes ($25) at 10 and 2 most Saturdays and Sundays. Paddling and self-rescue techniques are taught on the calm waters of Richardson Bay. Wet suits can be rented for $3. Hours: 10 to 6 Wednesdays through Sundays.

If you want to better your beginning skills, you can sign up for intermediate lessons ($150) this spring that include three days learning rough-water paddling and surfing techniques and a tour from Muir Beach to Sausalito. Evening sessions include advanced self-rescue techniques (including Eskimo rolling) in a pool and a lecture on navigation and safety.

An all-day tour to Angel Island ($40) will be offered on October 7, a full-moon paddle ($10) on October 9. On October 14, there's a day tour to Kirby Cove, just outside the Golden Gate ($40).

The Right Stuff, 231 17th St., Pacific Grove 93950; (408) 372-2772. Tours and lessons in Monterey Bay. Lessons ($25 for 3 hours) are given every second weekend; class structure is the same as for Sea Trek, an affiliate. Tours to Point Lobos, Carmel Bay, and the Big Sur coast are planned. Hours: 10 to 5:30 Tuesdays through Sundays.

Here's where you can rent or buy an ocean kayak

Most firms have both singles and doubles. Some provide a cartop carrier.

California Canoe and Kayak (formerly Canoe Trips West), 2170 Redwood Highway, Greenbrae 94904; (415) 461-1750. Sales ($500 to $1,700) and rentals. Local-use rental fees: single kayaks $4 for first hour, $2 each additional hour, $12 all day; doubles $6, $4, and $18. Take-away fees ($300 deposit): singles $15 one day, $10 second day, $5 each additional day; doubles $24, $16, and $8. Cartop carrier rental fee: $2 per day for first two days, $1 each additional day. Hours: 9 to 7 Mondays and Fridays, 9 to 6 other days (closed Tuesdays). Greenbrae is 10 miles north of San Francisco on U.S. 101.

California Rivers, 21712 Geyserville Ave. (Box 468), Geyserville 95441; (707) 857-3872. Sales ($355 to $435) and rentals. Rentals for tidewater and bay use only (not for open ocean): $20 per day; $100 refundable deposit required. No cartop carriers available. Hours: 9 to 5 Mondays through Fridays.

A two-week guided tour of San Francisco Bay starts November 1. You can take it in segments at $20 per day. Geyserville is 20 miles north of Santa Rosa on U.S. 101.

Recreational Equipment, Inc., 1338 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley 94702; (415) 527-4140. Sales only ($900 to $1,175). Demonstration boats available at Sea Trek ($25 fee includes 3-hour lesson, 1-hour rental period, and is applicable to purchase price). Hours: 10 to 6:30 Mondays and Tuesdays, 10 to 9 Wednesdays through Fridays, 9:30 to 6 Saturdays.

River Touring Equipment, 341 Visitacion Ave., Brisbane 94005; (415) 467-2800. Sales ($525 to $595) and rentals. Fee: $25 first day, $15 second day, $10 each additional day. Cartop carrier rental fee: $2 per day. Hours: noon to 8 Mondays and Fridays, noon to 6 Tuesdays through Thursdays. Brisbane is just south of San Francisco off U.S. 101.

Sea Trek (see listing on page 48). Sales ($530 to $1,500) and rentals. Midweek rentals: singles $5 per hour, $10 per day; doubles $10 and $20. Weekend rentals: singles $7.50 per hour, $23 per day; doubles $10 and $30. Cartop carriers are available free.

The Right Stuff (see listing above). Sales ($600 to $1,100) and rentals--same rates as Sea Trek. Cartop carriers free.

Photo: Paddling through this great rock arch near Cuffy Cove, 17 miles south of Medocino, is your first adventure on a guided tour out of the town of Elk

Photo: Practice on land (above) prepares group of first-timers for cruise on San Francisco Bay (below)

Photo: Cruising Richardson Bay off Sausalito, novice takes a class break to paddle calm waters past steel-hulled sailboat
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Date:Oct 1, 1984
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