By Fitz Cahall, watch more Fringe Elements videos and get advice from the athletes
“Even the biggest tidal races can be caught when they are small,” says sea kayaker Paul Kuthe of the river-like currents, whirlpools, and rapids that tidal shifts can cause in the ocean. “Most can be paddled into when they are completely flat. Then the rapid slowly builds around you. You can scout it out this way.”
Paddling tidal races—the river-like currents, whirlpools, and rapids that tidal shifts can cause in the ocean—requires mastery of basic sea kayaking skills. Before you drop in, you should be confident with your ability to roll a kayak, know how to re-enter your boat in open water should you swim (fall out of your kayak), and formulate a basic understanding of all the entry and possible escape points inside a tidal race.
Where to Go
Deception Pass on Whidbey Island, located an hour and a half north of Seattle, and Yellow Bluffs in San Francisco Bay are the best entry points for sea kayakers looking to make the leap into tidal race paddling, says sea kayaker Paul Kuthe. They contain similar features—standing waves, chop, and whirlpools—to the tidal races seen in Fringe Elements, just on a smaller scale. A few sea kayaking outfitters offer guided trips to these zones where paddlers can develop the skills they will need for bigger races, such as British Columbia's Skookumchuck Narrows, under a guide’s watchful eye. “These are good places for people to cut their teeth and figure out how to paddle in tidal races,” says Kuthe.
With their proximity to major metropolitan areas, Deception Pass and Yellow Bluffs are also the easiest tidal races to get to. These are cold-water locals where water temperatures hover in the 50s, so come prepared. Even with a dry suit and insulation underneath, a kayaker who comes out of his or her boat only has 20 minutes before hypothermia sets in, warns Kuthe.