“People protect what they love.”
— Jacques Yves Cousteau
On a bright, breezy day at San Simeon Cove, there was kayak concessionaire Cubby Cashen, the quintessential conservationist/naturalist, with his two small dogs, a welcoming smile and a wealth of wisdom about the ocean’s wildlife that he enthusiastically shares at a moment’s notice.
If the possibility of seeing humpback whales is on your agenda, or kayaking into spookily magnificent ocean caves, or witnessing sea otters and harbor seals, then Cubby’s $50, daily three-hour kayak tour is a tantalizing prospect.
He won’t guarantee you’ll see whales, but be assured you’ll be in the company of a knowledgeable guide whose objective entails more than renting kayaks and paddle boards at $10 an hour and offering tours.
Indeed, beyond the commercial and sporting aspects of helping facilitate folks who wish to paddle the cove — witnessing wildlife and escaping the daily routine on terra firma — Cubby’s passion focuses on protecting the natural world.
“If I find an injured bird, I’ll take care of it first rather than take care of my customers. I’ll call my guides in to help rescue an injured bird. I don’t want this place to be destroyed by human hands. And I’ll (rent kayaks) as long as this place isn’t being destroyed.”
What activities could cause harm to the cove?
“Not giving wildlife their space, for one. I don’t want people chasing the whales. It’s OK to try and get a better angle, but to go sit (in a kayak) where a whale just came up — that’s not safe for them and not safe for us.”
Once people step away from any of the existing trails around the cove, those footsteps, unfortunately, launch a new trail. His motto, “Enjoy Don’t Destroy,” is printed on a bumper sticker posted to the wall of his storage building.
He doesn’t like what he sees on “the wall” (the breakwater) at the western end of the cove. “People don’t respect the western gulls that nest along the wall.” In a normal year, four pairs of gulls nest there; but this year not one of the pairs produced offspring.
“People are jumping off the wall, swimming and diving,” and disturbing the gulls, he explains, adding that there are just as many locals as visitors doing unkind things to wildlife. While conducting a tour earlier in the day, a renter in one of his kayaks “scared every bird off the wall.”
“If they’re flying away,” he advised, “you’re getting too close.”
They looked at him as if he “was some mean guy,” Cubby recalled.
Cubby has seen people do “crazy stuff to animals” that goes beyond just scaring birds — such as hitting elephant seals and trying to “jump onto a harbor seal.”
Cubby’s closest encounter with a gray whale and its calf occurred out of the blue while his kayak sat motionless in a kelp bed. He was watching an otter and its baby east of the pier when two giant mammals cruised by.
“They came 10 feet in front of us. It was great.” He also recalls a dolphin that “jumped over my kayak. That’s not the norm, but I’m out there enough, I see things.”
This summer, the cove’s surface waters have been boiling with “bait fish” (smelt and anchovies), creating a feeding frenzy involving hundreds, even thousands of cormorants and other birds. The bait fish also attract dolphins, harbor seals and others — much to the delight of kayakers and folks walking out on the long pier.
Cubby is in his 11th year renting kayaks and in his fourth year of owning the business, “Sea for Yourself Kayak Outfitters.” Over the past three years, he’s given more than a thousand tours.
Before his gig at the cove, Cubby taught science to young people attending outdoor schools in California, Hawaii, New York and Ohio. He has also trained cross country runners and cross country mountain bikers.
Clearly, Cubby’s seamanship and stewardship at the cove is appreciated. “He’s a great guide it was more than just kayaking it was a learning experience about the area, the animals, and kayaking all in one,” Jessica P. from Lakewood commented online on Yelp in June.
Patrick C. from San Francisco also penned a critique on Yelp: “He is super friendly and passionate about nature and the cove we learned a ton about wildlife and whaling history he even loaned us a waterproof camera and then sent us the pictures a few days later.”