Half Moon Bay Kayak Co.'s fleet of colorful plastic shells slices through the glimmering waters of Pillar Point Harbor, carrying crews of paddlers past playful harbor seals and chattering pelicans. Co-owners Doug Connor—who has conquered rushing rapids as a member of the United States Wildwater team—and Chris Manchester—who has kayaked along thousands of miles of coastline, including the world's second-largest barrier reef—channel their passion for paddling into a range of kayak and standup-paddleboard rentals, lessons, and tours. With expeditions to locales as far-flung as Honduras and Mexico, Half Moon provides sea explorers with exotic open-water explorations as well as local excursions to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, San Gregorio State Beach, and next-door neighbors' unattended kiddie pools.
Richard Bothwell has hiked Mount Kilimanjaro, scaled Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, and surfed the waves of four continents. But perhaps his greatest feat was establishing the Outdoor Adventure Club in 1996, where he leads others in conquering nature's challenges. He and a staff of seasoned outdoors enthusiasts escort visitors of all fitness and experience levels in local excursions and international vacations, all centered on exploring the great outdoors. On the local level, the guides lead rock-climbing classes at Castle Rock State Park in addition to hiking, backpacking, whitewater-rafting, kayaking, and skydiving excursions. International adventure vacations expose folks to surfing in Costa Rica, rafting in Patagonia, and mountaineering in Peru. The expeditions marry the camaraderie of a social club with the expertise of professional guides, who are each trained in emergency wilderness care in case of squirrel attacks.
Point Reyes Outdoors leads hiking, biking, and kayaking expeditions through the unsown hills of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the tranquil waters of the California coast. During kayak tours, explorers jaunt through the tidal waterways of Drakes Estero and sunset forays into Tomales Bay. Guided nature hikes explore the local bounty of flora and fauna such as marine mammals, wildflowers, or migratory lawn gnomes.
Nature specialists, such as biologists, nurses, and certified kayak instructors, lead all tours and provide insight into the landscape and its inhabitants. Point Reyes Outdoors also rents out mountain bikes, which guests can use to pedal through a circuit of nearby trails that climb Fir Top mountain or stretch out to Wildcat Beach.
The folks at Kayak Connection outfit visitors with sea kayaks and standup paddleboards before leading them on guided tours or sending them out to explore Santa Cruz Harbor and Elkhorn Slough on their own. Tours vary from romantic sunset paddles to trips designed for families and include one tailored to getting glimpses of local birds. Intermediate and advanced paddlers can head out onto open waters to paddle past the Golden Gate Bridge, Point Lobos State Marine Reserve, and Monterey Bay Crossing.
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Venture Quest Kayaking's owner and head guide Dave Johnston leads paddling excursions across Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, from the shimmering interiors of seaside caves to the open water where whales and other wildlife frequent. He sets the standard for a team of experienced paddlers that lead the company's many tours. These nature tours, moonlight paddles, and trips to other ports send paddlers through waves and estuaries as guides encourage participants to hone their paddling technique and give the right-of-way to any ghost ships. Kayaking camps and classes teach skills such as riding into curling waves and safe ways to launch or do self-rescue in the surf. Their shop on the Wharf also outfits customers with a variety of rentals, including open- or closed-top single and double ocean kayaks.
At San Mateo and Alameda beaches, a look over the watery horizon often shows dotted figures atop surfboards taming the wind and waves. Boardsports' team of certified instructors schools these adventurous participants in kiteboarding, windsurfing, and standup paddleboarding during lessons that leave both beginner and intermediate participants ready for relays with dolphins. Its fully stocked retail shop also provides gear, equipment, and rentals of surfboards, wetsuits, and other supplies to make watertop experiences fun, safe, and stylish.