By L.J. Anderson
By day Eric Soares was, as he described it, a "mild-mannered marketing professor" teaching business communications at Cal State East Bay. But during his off-time, Soares was an ocean adventurer, crashing through coastline surf in his sea kayak, deftly maneuvering through ocean rock gardens and sea caves, night paddling in rough water, and inspiring his band of fellow seasoned and adventurous Tsunami Rangers.
Extreme ocean kayaker Soares co-founded the Tsunami Rangers (www.tsunamirangers.com), an ocean adventure kayaking team, in 1985. A pioneer in the sport, Soares is the author of "Confessions of a Wave Warrior," and also developed a system of hand signals and sea conditions ratings used by ocean kayakers worldwide. A former resident of Half Moon Bay, Soares taught at Cal State East Bay for 25 years, before retiring to southern Oregon, where he regularly paddles along the coastline.
Q: How strong a swimmer are you, and when did you learn to swim?
A: I grew up near Redding, and learned to swim when I was five. We used to go canoeing down the Sacramento River, and other local rivers. I moved to Half Moon Bay 28 years ago when I had a job at Cal State East Bay (then Hayward). I can easily swim a mile in rough seas using the crawl, breaststroke, sidestroke, and backstroke. I am 58 now, and have always been healthy, but at age 50, they discovered that I had a dissected aorta. I have since had three major aortic valve surgeries to repair my dissected aorta and defective valve. I used to think it was simply a matter of willpower not to get sick, but I have since changed my thinking. A lot of factors can cause illness, and fortunately, I lived through mine.
Q: What attracted you to sea kayaking?
A: I had kayaked the rivers of Northern California, but was first attracted to sea kayaking while I was a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara. I like being the skipper of my own boat, even if it's just a little kayak, and I enjoy the beauty and challenge of paddling on the northern California and southern Oregon coasts. I would say ocean kayaking takes a person who is not intimidated by danger, and who loves the sea in all its forms. We think of the Pacific as pacific, but it's not pacific very often. It's usually quite wild, and much worse than the Atlantic Ocean. In sea kayaking you're going into surf -- often big surf -- and there could be stormy seas. Conditions can change in five minutes, and there are many unknown factors that you have to adjust to.
Q: How do you keep physically fit, and what is required for the level at which you do this sport?
A: The type of sea kayaking I do involves paddling through surf zones and among ocean rock gardens, which is a fairly demanding physical activity that requires stamina and agility. I keep fit for kayaking by swimming three days a week, and doing jujitsu three times week for two hours at a time, which helps a lot with agility and stamina. I walk or hike the trails around our house two or three times a week, and my wife and I golf once a week. In the winter, when I'm not kayaking, we go downhill skiing instead. I believe the best way to stay fit is to do a variety of physical activities several times a week, and preferably outdoors.
Q: Have you had some close calls safety wise, and what were they?
A: Not counting my aorta operations -- I have a genetically defective aortic valve -- I have had no major health or safety close calls, including while kayaking. I have crashed my kayak into a cliff and bounced off rocks a few times, but I made it through each time and sustained no major injuries. I don't count cuts and bruises. The main hazards would be drowning, so anyone who is not an accomplished swimmer and can't swim in rough water for at least 500 yards, forget it. And that could reasonably happen if you lose your boat, and have to swim for 15 to 20 minutes. We wear a helmet, wetsuit and life jacket because the water is cold. These protect you, but you could hit a rock, have another boater (inadvertently) hit you, or have a paddle hit you in the face.
Q: What has being involved in sea kayaking done for your life?
A: I have been boating most of my life. Sea kayaking has made me a happier, healthier person. Part of it is the exercise, and the other part is being so close to nature. It's so beautiful with all the seabirds and sea lions. After my operations, I chose sea kayaking as the best way to regain my health and spirit. And I'd recommend sea kayaking to anyone who wants a good workout and to be up close and personal with the natural world.
Even if you go out to Half Moon Bay and rent a kayak -- which almost anyone who can swim and is reasonably fit can do -- turn around and look back at the San Mateo coastline. It's so gorgeous, and especially in the evening when the golden light is shining on it. It's really amazing. And if you go outside and play, you'll get fit.