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Paddle Fever: A guide to kayaking in and around Lodi

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Posted: Friday, July 25, 2008 10:00 pm

There's nothing quite like kayaking. Any paddler will tell you.

It doesn't matter if it's in the calm flow of the Mokelumne or the rushing American River, the water becomes an instant addiction. There's something about the quietness, the way the rest of the world seems so distant and nature so close.

Families of red ear slider turtles sun bathe on fallen tree limbs. Dairy cows slurp water on muddy banks. Flocks of ducks trail behind, hoping you'll throw them pieces of trail mix.

The way the sun reflects in the depths of the water. The way the blades cut into the water, pushing you faster and farther away from technology and cars and responsibility.

Lodians are getting on board. Taking advantage of the gem in their backyard.

They are getting up early and staying on the water all day. They are buying hully rollers and saddles to transport kayaks on top of their Suburbans and Outbacks. They are becoming experts on tides, saying "yak" (kayak) and "Moke" (Mokelumne) and flexing their newly formed biceps.

Lodi's kayaking hub, Sierra Adventure Outfitters (SAO), says kayaking is catching on.

"It's absolutely more popular," said manager Dan Arbuckle. He too has been lured by the world of kayaks and canoes. His digital camera is evidence of kayaking on windy afternoons at Big Bear Reservoir, lily-pad coves on the Mokelumne and kayak surfing in the ocean.

(Marc Lutz/News-Sentinel)

Nancy Beckman, executive director of the Visit Lodi! says kayaking in Lodi's backyard is a big draw for all levels of kayakers.

"People come from all over the Central Valley and Bay area," she said. "They're always looking for new places to check out."

Many people bring their own kayaks and spend the day on the water; others use rentals.

At SAO, all of the kayaks are selling. Short white water kayaks. Oversized sit-on-top kayaks. The ever-popular recreational sit inside kayaks. And the shiny, sleek touring kayaks that glisten under the afternoon sun. The Monday night paddles, demos and full moon paddles fill up fast. Each weekend, people wearing layers of clothing and smelling of sunblock drive away with rentals strapped to the top of their cars.

There's no question why the sport is catching on - especially on the perfect waters of the Mokelumne River.

"With gas prices up, people are wanting to stay more local," Arbuckle said. "It's the only outdoors we have to offer in the local area."

Once you conquer the "Moke," try these other local paddles

Cosumnes River Preserve

Park at the Visitor's Center, 13501 Franklin Blvd. in Galt. You can tour a slough or paddle up the Cosumnes River. It's a 1/4 mile hike to the water, but the center provides free kayak carts. It's one of the only free-flowing (no dam) rivers left in California, so you have to follow the tides. Early morning and evening are usually best, though the preserve and parking area is only open from sunrise to sunset.

Delta Meadows State Park in Locke

The Delta Meadows boat launch is on the river in Locke. There is a nice slough in a marsh area. You can also paddle in the big river, where large boats have a 5 mph speed limit (which is great for kayakers).

Or drive to these rivers:

American River, out of Sacramento (for white water kayaking)

New Hogan Reservoir
Near Valley Springs, 772-1343

New Melones Reservoir
Near Angels Camp, 785-3300

Bear River Reservoir (lower)
Along Highway 88, 40 miles eat of Jackson. 925-4251 (Silver Lake and Caples are just a short drive up Highway 88).

Using a kayak to explore the river in your backyard

Finding the kayak to fit you and your paddle goals
Recreational sit-inside

Price range: $350-$1,500

Lodi loves the versatility, sleekness and ease of recreational sit inside kayaks. This summer, Sierra Adventure Outfitters manager Dan Arbuckle said their Lodi store is selling recreation sit-inside kayaks like crazy.

Sit-inside kayaks are a medium between the hard-core touring kayaks and the playful sit-on-top kayaks.

Unlike sit-on-top kayaks that drip water on your lap as you paddle, sit inside kayaks keep water from dripping or splashing over (though you'll always have a little dampness inside the cockpit).

Storage is limited in most sit-inside kayaks. Personal-sized ice chests and other gear can be stuffed behind the seat. They are usually shorter than 15 feet.

Recreational sit-on-top

Price range: $300-$1,200

Sit-on-top kayaks are the ultimate play kayaks.

Stability is not an issue with most sit-on-tops because of their width, shape and design. Many sit-on-top owners quickly learn to get in and out of the kayak in middle of a lake or river. Knowing how to do this allows you to jump out for a swim without getting stranded in deep water.

Most sit-on-top kayaks have fewer storage hatches because storage spaces are out in the open (uncovered). A perk of sit-on-tops is there is usually room for gear at the front and back of the kayak. Most sit-on-tops allow space for a small cooler, sleeping bag (in a dry bag) or even your water-loving dog.

Sea or touring

Price range: $1,100 and up

Sea, or touring, kayaks are for paddling far - really far. They are the kayaks professionals use to circle countries and even some continents. They are longer, allowing for more speed. Because they are often used for long trips and in rough conditions, they usually have more storage hatches and are safer on the sea than a regular recreational kayak.

Touring kayaks can be used like recreational kayaks. Arbuckle prefers using a touring kayak when he paddles in places like the Mokelumne River.

For beginning paddles or recreational paddlers, it's more cost effective to buy a perfectly functional $350 recreational kayak than the touring kayak. Touring kayaks are almost always at least 15 feet in length.

White water

Price range: $800-$1,500

White water kayaks are definitely for experienced kayakers. "I absolutely recommend taking a class to do white water kayaking," Arbuckle said.

They are not a kayak you would want to use in the calm waters of the Mokelumne. With a white water kayak, you can venture to the rivers that most kayaks can't handle, such as parts of the American River that runs thorugh the Sacramento area.

It's hard to go straight in white water kayaks, but they're built to dodge boulders and fly over rapids.

The shortness of white water kayaks makes them extremely tippable. Some are barely long enough to hold the paddler, others can be up to 12 feet long.


Price range: $170-$1,000

Inflatable kayaks are the choice for those who want to paddle, but don't have a lot of storage space or room in their budget. There is not a huge demand for inflatable kayaks, so Sierra Adventure Outfitters doesn't carry them. REI in Stockton carries them, and they can also be ordered online from Target and Wal-Mart. Arbuckle says inflatable kayaks tend to be slower on the water and can be difficult to steer. Some older models are known for losing their shape after extensive use, but newer models have hard bottoms that make them hold their shape for many years. Many kayakers would say it's better to have an inflatable kayak than no kayak at all.

Paddling essentials

Never forget the necessities: Drinking water, sunblock and a cap. Here are some more essentials:
PFD (Personal Flotation Device)

Kayaking PFDs aren't your typical boating PFDs.

For one, they are cut much shorter than traditional PFDs. "When you're sitting down, you don't want it to ride up around your neck," said Dan Arbuckle, manager of Lodi's Sierra Adventure Outfitters.

Also, kayaking PFDs have larger cut-outs around the arm to allow more room for all the shoulder work that happens with each stroke.

Price range: $59-$500.

Paddles (they're not oars)

"Your paddle is more important than your boat," Arbuckle said.

It's what propels the weight of you and your boat through moving waters. Paddles come with square and contoured blades. Contoured blades are more popular because they allow for a cleaner, smoother exit from the water.

A bent shaft - that's the part you grip - is available on some models. The bending cuts down on fatigue of the wrists, elbows and shoulders.

Price: $69-$175

Bilge pump

It's safe to have one of these pumps on your kayak at all times, especially if you're using a sit-inside.

If you're kayak starts to fill with water, this hand-held pump will pump out 50-to-60 gallons a minute.

Price: $25 and up.

Paddle leash or cord

Though most paddles float, you don't want them to float away from your kayak if you accidentally let them loose.

Price: $30

Just get in the water

Want to learn about kayaking? Here's how you can get started:

Rent a kayak in Lodi

Sierra Adventure Outfitters has many choices for rentals. You can go on an evening after work or keep the kayak for the weekend. The rental fee includes everything you need, including a PFD, paddle and foam rack for your car.

Lodi Lake has kayaks to rent hourly. You must kayak in the lake and can't go too far up the Mokelumne.

Take a class

Both Sierra Adventure Outfitters and R.E.I in Stockton offer kayaking demos and classes. Call for more information.

Sierra Adventure Outfitters

5757 Pacific Ave. in Stockton

Lodi Paddle Club

Lodi's new paddle club has at least 150 active members, from beginning kayakers to experts. All ages are welcome, though most members are retired. The club does everything from kayak outings to classes. For more information, call Sierra Adventure Outfitters at 368-3461.

Keep rivers beautiful - follow outdoor ethics

The 7 "Leave No Trace" principles:

1. Plan ahead and prepare

Education yourself on the area and its concerns. Plan for you group and schedule your trip in advance. Know where your campsites are get all necessary permits.

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces

Durable surfaces are minimally affected by camping and hiking, including rock outcrops, sand, gravel, trails, dry grasses, snow or water. Stay on established trails, and away from area with wildlife and vegetation. Do not step or camp on vegetation, this can cause erosion.

3. Dispose of waste properly

If you pack it in, pack it out. Practice good sanitation. Always use facilities and outhouses when available.

4. Leave what you find

Preserve the past, leave natural features undisturbed.

5. Respect wildlife

Avoid sensitive habitats. Never feed animals. Control your own pets and children.

6. Be considerate of other visitors

Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.

7. Minimize campfire impacts

Use a stove and know the law. If you must, built a pit fire (in a shallow pit with no vegetation) or a mound fire (built on a pedestal about six inches tall).




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