The gate to Spring Bay Kayak Tours has two jumping orcas and one red kayak. I open the gate and as I close it behind me and drive through fifty-seven secluded and wooded acres I feel like I’ve entered the wilds of Orcas Island. At the end of this road I’ll meet my kayak tour guide Sandy Playa, a retired park ranger and long-time resident at Spring Bay.
The setting is idyllic with a house and rental cabin next to a curved beach with island views and long-limbed trees. Playa is tiny and spry with a bob that floats around her chin. When I ask her how long she’s been kayaking she says, “I tell people I was kayaking when it wasn’t cool.” Her love for the sport started in Maui, in the seventies, when she and a roommate spent their days off giving guided kayak tours. Now, over forty years later she spends mornings and afternoons suited up and out on the water. For four or more the cost is $35 per person and for singles it is $45; making it the most economical on the island.
No matter the group size Playa takes the time to understand the skill and comfort level of each participant. Routes depend on currents and might go around Obstruction Island or Doe Bay, or aim for seasonal wildlife activity, like grey whale feedings. She also gives private skill lessons and will customize a longer day out on the water. Today, I’m here for a single tour and we’ll paddle into Buck Bay.
All kayakers suit up with skirts, pants, PFD’s and wet shoes in a small cottage with a warm fire. After I’m geared up we head down to the beach. Along the way she gives me a brief tour of their rental cabin, which is ideally nestled at the head of the beach with unobstructed southern views. It rents for $250 a night and I’m told books up quickly.
Carl Burger, Playa’s husband, helps us put the double kayak in the water. Right next to it Playa notices a bright orange starfish. The sight makes her giddy and she explains that before the sea star wasting disease they covered the rocks at Spring Bay. I snap a few pictures and then she gives me some pointers on how to wrap my skirt around the opening. Seconds later, she’s in and we’re off.
Playa is a strong and confident kayaker and I’m comforted knowing she is with me. Before we left she showed me the tide charts and how to read them. It’s almost slack tide, which means paddling should be fairly easy, but further out we can see tidal currents converging. We paddle to the right, along the edge of Obstruction Pass State Park, which abuts their property. The park is part of the marine highway and offers campsites for kayakers.
We pass rocks clustered with sea stars. Blub kelp floats by. The water is almost glossy. Playa gives me some stroke pointers and I try them out. At first it feels awkward, but the longer I paddle the more natural it feels. We turn into Buck Bay and the kayak cruises along easily. Playa tells me about Buck Bay Shellfish Farm, a local favorite that sells live Pacific Oysters, clams, Dungeness Crab and locally harvested fish. We kayak toward their flow-through saltwater tanks and then turn around when it gets shallow.
On our way back the wind is stronger. Playa lets me practice my improved stroke techniques and tells me about Turtleback Mountain, which is covered in clouds to our right. In 2006, the community rallied together and rose over 18.5 million dollars to save it from being developed and created a 1,576 acre preserve with hiking trails.
Being out here I can’t help but think about the weddings Playa officiates. She tells me that one year she presided over seventy-five weddings. In her “On the Water” package couples say “I do” in side-by-side kayaks. It sounds like an adventurous way to tie the knot.
Every so often we stop paddling and take in the view. Lopez Island is off in the distance, and closer is Blakely and Obstruction Island. On a clear day the Olympic Mountains line the horizon. We paddle a little more and then rest. Light shimmers on the water. Waves curl. With each stroke we are part of the action.
Other kayak tours on Orcas Island: Shearwater Adventures, Outer Island Adventures and Orcas Island Kayaks.