PADDLING THROUGH THE PAST: SAN FRANCISCO
Jordan Curet heads back to San Francisco with her Red Paddle Co 12’0 Touring Compact and discovers how exploring this amazing city by water opens up so many different perspectives of her old stomping grounds.
Words: Jordan Curet // Photos: Brandon Huttenlocher
I do not think I ever even dipped a toe into the waters of the Bay while growing up there. To me, water was a blank space, a space between places on land. I certainly went swimming in the ocean, but that required at least a 2-hour drive in any direction from my home. Now as an adult, I yearn to find bodies of water to paddle on. From the high alpine tributary lakes and the whitewater arteries of the Colorado River, I do my best to paddle anywhere and everywhere (and just hope it is not frozen when I get there). So, to head back to my old stomping ground with a Red Paddle Co 12’0 touring Compact in tow, this time I saw the Bay Area in a completely different light.
Instead of seeing water as the space between places, it was suddenly the medium that connected everything. First things first, I headed out to the middle of the San Francisco Bay, to Treasure Island, to see what paddling on the open water of the bay was all about. Tucked into a cove beneath the Bay Bridge I paddled out from a small marina there. And not one for a solo adventure, I brought my middle-aged dad along. Like me in my formative years, he is a “city guy.” Despite having been in the Bay for over 60 years, it was his first time paddling on it.
The cove of Treasure Island is a perfect beginner’s playground, protected from the wind and the waves. I can’t say my dad will go paddling every day now, but I was impressed to watch him put together all the pieces and get more confident with every paddle stroke. In a moment of relaxation, he was taken down by a rogue ripple, landing his butt squarely on the board.
The next morning, I made my way from the East Bay into the City, with my Red Paddle Co Compact slung over my shoulder to see where the locals paddled. The first stop was Crane Cove in Dogpatch. Dogpatch is an industrial area that has seen the rise of beautiful bay-side lofts growing. From Dogpatch Paddle it is less than a block to a park with a sprawling lawn and pebbly shores. From there lessons and tours head out into the shielded waters of the cove, even on a cool January morning. And in the summer Dogpatch Paddle hosts community paddles, getting paddlers of all ages and abilities out on the water.
San Francisco is a massively sprawling city with water on three sides, so I went north, past the Embarcadero to Aquatic Park. This cove is a protected cove inside the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. On the shore, a bike path wraps around the park, with a steady stream of walkers, bikers and the occasional roller-blader. Large concrete stairs lead down to the sandy beach, where we inflated our boards and put them onto the water with no problem.
The pier here provides a barrier to rougher currents, tides, and vessel traffic, leaving the water on the inside calm. With hardly any wake this is a great spot to teach a beginner. You can float around the moored sailboats and even paddle to the mouth of the cove to look straight across at Alcatraz. Or if you are looking for some fitness, you can put some laps on your board by working your way around the pier, just like you would on a track. The only safety note here is to beware of your surroundings while you paddle, as you are as likely to encounter a seal as an open water swimmer.
From here I continued around the contour of the peninsula until I found myself under the towering structure of the Golden Gate Bridge. Crissy field runs parallel to this section of water with a bike path (the same that stretches back to Aquatic Park and even the Embarcadero). There are multiple beaches to launch from, but this is not beginner-friendly terrain. The water is choppy from wind and waves from passing ships and there can be currents this close to the Pacific Ocean. Be sure to have all the proper safety gear and stay close to shore, even from there the views of the bridge and back toward the city are stunning.
Now I can’t help but look at all the cities surrounding the Bay as potential paddling spots, from the canals of Alameda to the boatyards of Sausalito, and beyond. There are multiple places to take lessons and join paddling groups on every waterfront of the Bay if you have not paddled before. And once you have gotten on the water you will be hooked. There are local races in San Rafael at Surf 101 every month that welcome paddlers of all types. As I watch the high school paddlers race by me, I am a little jealous. I can’t believe the opportunities I missed growing up here. At least I am out here now paddling, changing my perspective on everything around me as I mash up my memories on land with new experiences on the water.