Our kayaks were swaying from side to side along the Cambria coastline when we saw the silhouette of another kayaker slicing through the morning mist.
The three of us were still half asleep after our 22-mile adventure a day earlier, but it didn’t take long to realize this paddler was our friend Steve Hennigh, who owns Good Clean Fun water sports in Cayucos and knows the North Coast’s nooks and crannies better than anyone.
Steve was the first human to join us during our six-day trek down San Luis Obispo County’s coast. Up to then, a handful of sea lions had been our companions.
As we paddled south from the San Simeon- Cambria coastline to Estero Bay, Steve relayed legendary stories about the incredible fishing, kayaking and surfing that could be found along the remote strip north of Estero Point.
Some of his stories smelled like tall fishing tales until he tossed in a line and hooked a feisty rockfish on his first cast. That was all the proof we needed, as we spent the next four hours fishing for rockcod and exploring the dozens of coves and surf breaks in the secluded stretch.
We paddled past White Rock, a miniature version of Piedras Blancas that we’d gone around the previous day. Like Piedras Blancas, White Rock was popular with sea lions. We also came across an old fisherman’s shack near China Point.
Aside from the isolated cabin and a private residence to the north, there was almost no trace of civilization until we reached the
abalone farm near Cayucos Point.
“That coastline probably looks the same as it did a hundred years ago,” Joe said that evening. “It was great to hear all those old stories about that pristine stretch of coastline.”
As we made our way to Point Estero, Steve spoke of the seaweed farmers who used to harvest “sea lettuce” there from the late 1800s until the end of World War II. The seaweed was sun-dried and shipped to San Francisco and as far as China.
While the seaweed farmers are long gone, the massive beds of kelp remain. We worked our way through at least two miles of it before paddling across Estero Bay to Morro Strand State Beach.
Steve was dead set on hooking a halibut on this day, so he remained at China Harbor near the point where I’m sure he fished for less than a half hour before he caught a giant keeper.
As we inched closer to the campground in Morro Bay, we began wishing we were still fishing the protected coves outside of Cayucos.
By the time we reached Morro Strand State Beach, the afternoon winds had conjured up a hairy beach break that had us flashing back to Sunday’s nerve-wracking surf launch at San Carpoforo Creek. Only this time we were landing and would have to try our hand at kayak surfing, which, as we would soon find out, was something we needed to work on.
Joe was the first one to go down, blindsided by a sleeper wave that sent our trusty photographer and his gear crashing into the surf. The force of the wave snapped his paddle in two and damaged some camera equipment in the process.
Beau and I attempted to ride the surf in but were quickly thrown from our kayaks, both of which flipped upside down and tumbled toward the beach.
Thanks to some helpful beach-goers, we were able to recover the gear that scattered about. And no one was badly hurt. But the triple wipeout at the stretch known as Atascadero Beach certainly dampened everyone’s mood —along with our sleeping bags.
It looked like it was going to be another soggy night and an even wetter launch in the morning.