Krista Houghton
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Tuning in to tides and wind

My love affair with stand up paddle boarding (SUP) began some years ago. From my very first SUP adventure at Sand Harbor on Lake Tahoe, I was hooked. I could see all the way to the bottom of the lake and moving over crystal blue water was like a dream.

To date, I have now been to numerous rivers, lakes and ocean adventures on an SUP, even a waterfall. I have been visited by dolphins, turtles, seals, rainbow trout and even a Hawaiian owl. 

So, when my sister and group of friends wanted to SUP Moss Landing, I was eager to join. Moss Landing is home to Elkhorn Slough, one of the top ten wildlife viewing destinations in North America. This slough is home to a variety of birds and seals, and happens to be one of the best places to view sea otters.

On a slightly chilly morning in May, we met up at The Kayak Connection where they outfitted some friends in boats. Great folks with a great launch. Within minutes of setting off, we were greeted by a friendly pack of harbor seals as a flock of pelicans soared overhead. The water was so clear I could see the sand dotted with seaweed on the bottom. 

Gently being pushed by a breeze from behind, we glided easily into the estuary. I knew the ease of paddling at the beginning can be deceptive. The tide was going low (a negative 1.0) that afternoon and the month of May usually ushers in the predictable afternoon winds.

At that same moment I also recalled a few of the not so easy adventures I have had on an SUP. One was a supposed “easy” paddle across Hanalei Bay in Kauai, which turned into a 30-mph headwind and 5-foot waves. Another was a family SUP paddle with my sister and her son at Donner Lake in the Sierra. The wind turned on like a switch during our return which forced us to sit down and paddle like hell to get home. This made for an eye-opening adventure with my nephew about water safety and always having a plan B in case Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. 

With these SUP misadventures in mind, I casually reminded the group that we should start our way back to the launch. As if on cue, right then the wind hit. Thank goodness we had an outgoing tide to help us! A few of us had to sit down and connect the SUP leash to a kayak for additional paddle power. All in all, we made it back. But it was a reminder that if you want to SUP Elkhorn Slough, check the tides and wind and always have a plan B. 

Dave Grigsby, co-owner of Kayak Connection puts it this way: “We’ve stopped renting SUPs on the Slough, because too many people were getting stuck trying to make it back against a headwind and the incoming tide. We also found that SUPs are more disturbing to wildlife, probably because how much taller a paddler appears on an SUP.  I’m not saying paddling an SUP at the Slough is always a bad idea, just that for us the problems outweighed the benefits and for that reason we encourage kayaking at the Slough instead of using SUPs.”

Even though I loved SUPing in Elkhorn Slough, this paddle was a good reminder to always check conditions with a local shop before heading out. Flat water paddling has a low barrier to entry for newbies, but be aware conditions can change on a dime.