Monday, November 21, 2005

Kodiak Island Sea Kayaking

Sea Kayaking Kodiak, Alaska - Exploring an Island Paradise

by Andy Schroeder

Thousands of miles of awe-inspiring coastline have enticed a small, but growing, number of adventurers to discover the wonders of sea kayaking Southwest Alaska. At the forefront of destinations in this remote region is Kodiak. The island is the second largest island in the United States, yet, owing to it’s numerous fjords, no point of land on Kodiak Island is more than 15 miles from the sea. Don’t be deceived by Kodiak’s listing as the fourth-largest community in Alaska; it is still small enough to get by with it’s one traffic light turned off.

Locals have long known of Kodiak’s natural bounty; native Koniag hunters used the qayaq or baidarka for thousands of years for hunting, transportation and recreation. Today, the community boasts more than 100 resident paddlers, young and old, and experience levels vary from recreational to expedition-ready. Despite its reputation as a fishing community, on the streets of this town more watercraft are carried on roof racks than trailers. From their lofty perch atop vehicles, Kodiak’s kayaks pivot through the city’s bustle between evening and weekend paddling outings, making their way to the rocky islets and protected bays unique to the island.

The geophysical relief of Kodiak Island is phenomenal. Rocky coasts at sea level quickly rise to 3,000-foot peaks in the space of a few miles. Ice fields still dominate the interior of the island, and snow is visible on the major peaks though midsummer. At sea level, coasts with easterly exposure consist of jagged rock cliffs and towering spires, while more protected shores may enjoy gentle coastline and broad beaches, either white from volcanic ash or black from volcanic shale. With a long look east toward continental North America some 500 miles away, Kodiak is one of the few places on the west coast where one can watch the sun rise over the Pacific.

Within a day’s paddle from the city, kayakers can visit any of a dozen uninhabited islands. These waters are also home to five species of whale, which come to Kodiak to feed continuously during the long summer days. Whale sightings just offshore are relatively common to local paddlers. Though Kodiak can be exposed to the ferocity of the North Pacific, during the summer months calm winds and seas prevail, and open-ocean crossings of one to three miles are commonplace. A series of these crossings intermixed with coastal exploration suggest possibilities for roundtrip expeditions from simple overnights to weeks-long trips of several hundred miles.

On windier days, a short drive from the City of Kodiak to Anton Larsen Bay provides paddlers an escape from the easterly seas, and is home to an abundance of seabirds and aquatic wildlife who seem to take a similar interest in the refuge provided there. Sea otters in this bay, once hunted by paddlers in baidarkas, watch curiously from a safe distance. When heavy surf is on the menu, drive to the nearby Pasagshak beaches to find surf kayakers, surfers and harbor seals riding waves alongside one another, and put in to ride some of the island’s wildest waves.

Kodiak is proud of its kayaking heritage and newfound status as an adventurer’s destination. Several local shops and outfitters provide kayak sales, equipment and guided tours and rentals. Paddlers wave to one another, passing in cars or out in the channel. Whether it’s for the recreational or expedition paddler, Kodiak is a world-class sea kayaking destination.

About the Author: Andy Schroeder is a sea kayaking guide, boat captain and adventure writer. He is the owner of Orcas Unlimited, an Alaska-based eco-tourism outfitter.

Resources: Kodiak Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau;

Orcas Unlimited Charters of Kodiak;