What to Expect - Kayaking in the San Juan Islands

Updated May 2017

I’m not exactly what you call a “water person” and to tell you the truth, the thought of sea kayaking in the Pacific Ocean, even with my experienced friend in the same kayak and an even more experienced guide in the next, frightened me some. But this is what life and adventure are all about: find your boundaries and gently push, or paddle as the case may be.

Sea Kayaking on San Juan Island

We made our three hour kayak tour reservation through the Earthbox Inn & Spa staff with the San Juan Outfitters out of Roche Harbor. We were instructed to park close to the marina, walk towards the water and look to our right for finger slips with colorful kayaks & paddle boards. It was a sunny May day, T-shirt & shorts weather, the marina was pulsing with life. There was a fisherman cleaning Dungeness crab, Roche Harbor staff preparing a tent on the docks for a wedding, enormous yachts coming and going, border patrol granting dinghies access, dogs with life vests, kids with ice cream. My last minute fears included, but were not limited to: thoughts on whether I’m fit enough, falling into the water, loosing my purse, camera, phone, embarrassing my friend by paddling too slow, having our entire group turn around because I just couldn’t do it, and other such things.

What to Wear

Layers & a hat. It is always colder on the water than on shore and you can always take clothes off. I wore swim shorts, easy drying cargo pants (cotton gets heavy & cold when wet), river sandals, sports bra, t-shirt, sweat-shirt, wind breaker, baseball hat & sunglasses. What I didn’t wear, and wished I did, was light gloves. My hands were wet a lot, more to that later.

What to Bring

Very important: Sunscreen. Even on cloudy days, which ours was not, the water’s reflection is intense. Drinking water in a metal or plastic bottle, granola bars, fresh fruit and trail mix. A zip lock bag with your camera and/or phone. Band aids if you have tender princess hands like me. A small back pack you can leave at the dock with a change of clothes, for when you have your celebratory cocktail, so people don’t look at you funny for having a wet bottom.

Sea Kayaking in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island

The staff at San Juan Outfitter’s booth on the docks was fantastic, funny, efficient, and super friendly. They had us sign release forms and stowed the things we didn’t need or want to bring.  We got fitted for a sort of skirt with suspenders, which was fastened to the kayak so no water could come in (except for the tiniest bit) and life vests. We introduced us to the rest of our group. There was a family with kids from Seattle, an older couple from the South and two other women our age from Europe. Our guide Tim gave us a short introduction on safety and sticking together when crossing high boat traffic areas and off we went.

Getting into the kayaks, something I had pondered nervously the night before, was too easy, thanks to the finger slips. We fastened our skirts to the boat, got our things situated (water out, sweater stowed below, camera in zip lock bag out) took our paddles and got a gentle push. All my nervousness vanished. The kayak was stable, gently rocking back and forth, I felt absolutely safe.