Paddlers welcome

Whidbey Island Kayaking acquaints new paddlers with the training needed to get on the sea safely.

There’s a saying in the boating world that there is no better tool or equipment on board than a well-trained crew.

Every year, Whidbey Island Kayaking in Langley acquaints new paddlers with the training needed to get out on the Salish Sea safely.

Owner Krista Loercher said people are often surprised by the breadth of instruction the business provides. Besides offering rentals and specialized tours, there are a variety of classes geared towards beginners or those who simply need a refresher.

“When you are going out paddling, you are putting yourself in a dynamic environment,” Loercher said. “What we strive to do is to give people tools in being able to understand more about that dynamic environment but then also tools because we can’t control that.”

Even paddlers who are just renting equipment will be asked about their trip plans and safety precautions. Instructor Ryan D’Jay said having a foundational knowledge of tides and currents in the area can be helpful in avoiding a bad situation. He pointed to the number of kayakers who are rescued around the island every summer and how some basic safety and preparation training could easily prevent that.

Whidbey Island Kayaking recently opened for the year and has a number of upcoming classes to help people prepare for paddle season, including “Intro to Kayaking” on May 10 and May 28 and “Sea Kayak Jump Start” on May 11 and May 29. An online clinic May 25 addresses the topic of weather, tides and currents.

Other classes cover paddleboarding, trip planning, paddle gear and perhaps most immersive of all, kayak rescues. This class allows kayakers to practice capsizing and rescuing themselves and others in a safe environment. A drysuit or wetsuit is highly recommended and can be rented.

Online clinics are a relatively new part of Whidbey Island Kayaking, one that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s a huge explosion in the paddle sport industry,” Loercher said. “There was also more people who needed that information. Switching to an online clinic helped us to address that need, that surge in interest.”

And for in-person classes, D’Jay said maintaining a six-foot distance on a kayak has been an easy accomplishment and has allowed people to escape the stress of life for a couple of hours.

“Once we’re on the water, it’s like there’s no pandemic,” he said.

A lesser known aspect of the business are “Sea Life Safaris,” which have become popular among homeschooled students, grandparents and their grandkids. No boats are needed, since participants are led out on a walking tour of one of the island’s beaches during low tide.

“It’s a way to get people curious, to lift up that rock on the beach and see what’s underneath it. Pick up a shore crab and learn the difference between your green and purple shore crabs. Pick up a sea star and learn all about sea star anatomy,” said D’Jay, who has a degree in oceanography and marine biology.

Speciality kayaking tours involve birdwatching or nighttime bioluminescence, the latter of which has become so popular that booking a spot isn’t possible until one week before the tour.

Other kayaking tours vary in length and location. Tours with kids can be shorter, for example. Langley, Penn Cove and Possession Point are all destinations for the guided tours.

Carter Webb, another instructor, said he likes to bring up the interconnectivity of it all when he leads tours.

“That’s what I personally like to bring up most, is showing people that are visiting the island and people that live on the island that they are part of the environment as much as they are visiting the environment while they’re out on the water,” he said.

D’Jay agreed.

“We have to take care of it if we want to keep paddling in this pristine environment,” he said. “And when we get to see the orcas every once in a while, it really helps to bring that home.”

Guides have addressed environmental concerns on recent tours and spoke to the importance of being stewards of the local environment. And the participants seem to be taking note.

“It’s always impressive to see how many people on tours pick up trash without even the guides knowing, or even instructing,” Webb said.

Beyond the selection of tours available, Whidbey Island Kayaking is also open to private tours, which are popular among larger groups such as family reunions and bachelor or bachelorette parties.

A few weeks ago, a customer arranged a private tour with his girlfriend and their friends that ended in a proposal on the beach.

“That was a very beautiful tour,” D’Jay said. “We can do some special events like that and work with people to make a memory that will last a long time.”

For renters, equipment can also be delivered around South Whidbey in the business’s van, which is named Vanna White.

This summer, Whidbey Island Kayaking is hoping to add stand-up paddleboard yoga to the lineup of classes.

“We want to create paddlers for life, wherever they may be,” Loercher said, “whether it’s here, or a different part of the country or a different part of the world.”

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Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Whidbey Island Kayaking Instructor Carter Webb readies a kayak for paddling.

Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record Whidbey Island Kayaking Instructor Carter Webb readies a kayak for paddling.