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Cali Paddler Explorations - 3 Days 100 Miles Revisted

April 24, 2016 Clarke Graves

This week marks the 2 year anniversary when some paddling friends got together to go on a little trip. To fulfill a dream of exploring some beautiful coastline. Along the way they were joined by another paddler who prior to the event, they barely knew, but as is often the case with Cali Paddlers, it doesn't take long to become great friends. All of this was for a great cause, to raise money and awareness for three cancer focused non-profit groups through the donations of amazingly generous folks. The concepts of Cali Paddler, community, bonding, appreciation of our water and sport was still far from being talked about. But the groundwork was unknowingly being laid.

Do you like exploration and a little bit of crazy? Join us on this fun and meaningful adventure. To paddle 100 miles in 3 days. From Santa Barbara to Malibu!

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The concept was simple (and admittedly selfish) to start. I love the coastlines along Malibu, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. And I wanted to paddle them. Having gotten an OC1 a 10 months prior, I was hooked on my newfound method to explore and experience the water. I had done several point-to-point paddles along my home waters in San Diego. I was hungry for more. But it took the help of two very good friends to actually make it happen. And for that I will always be grateful. You see, these selfless friends, Greg and Roger, didn't flinch when I called and said, "hey, wanna do something kinda crazy? Help me fulfill a paddling dream of mine? And do it for a good cause?" From the time they said "yes", the trip's awesomeness grew exponentially with their help and ideas. And so a plan was set in motion.

Roger and Greggy - Best Support Crew Ever!

Roger and Greggy - Best Support Crew Ever!

These days, everyone is affected in various ways by the horrible impact of cancer. So on this trip, we would be raising money and awareness for three cancer fighting organizations. Each day of the journey would be dedicated to one of them. And each paddle, I would be dedicating sections to specific people in memory, as requested by those who supported the adventure.

Epic Adventures for a Cause

Many maps and extensive planning ensued. Reaching out to local water gurus to learn about conditions, places to beach, remote areas and hazards. The adventure was going to be epic. And it was for a cause. Hence, the phrase Epic Adventures for a Cause was coined. Stand Up 2 Cancer, the Rell Sunn Educational Fund, and Ocean of Hope were chosen as our designated groups. Donations were coming in and support for this adventure was amazing! The cumulative energy was special. Greg, Roger and I were going to embark on something that suddenly included a community of people. It was no longer just me paddling. It was no longer just us going on the trip.

One of the people I reached out to was Cody Silvester. A fantastic paddler, and even better person, Cody was familiar with the waters. As we got talking, he asked if he could join for part of the journey. 'What a crazy but awesome cat' I thought. He explained that he was training for the Molokai Solo crossing and wanted some miles. But as we spoke, he admitted his real motivation..."I just love to paddle". Finer words have never been spoken. Cody gets it! And at that moment I knew the quality companion I would be getting. I would be very grateful for the company, as paddling solo for 6-8 hours a day can really make you a little crazy. :)

Chris, Greg and Cody Silvester

The Silvester Family joined us and I am grateful to this day. (Chris, Greg and Cody shown above before we launched at Bakara Resort Park in Northern Santa Barabra, Day 1.)

As I reflect back on this adventure, overwhelming nostalgia kicks in. In fact, I am fighting the desire to pick up and do something equally fun and amazing in our great state right at this moment. But whatever I write about the trip today, will fail to be as genuine as what I wrote once it all concluded. So rather than try and recreate the emotions years later, I share with you my recap the day after our adventure...time warp to 2014 commence!

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Aloha! Hi everyone, Clarke here. Safe. Rested. Stoked. Surprisingly not as tired and sore as I expected. Just chaffed. (Thanks Red for the chamois butt'r)


I wanted to take a few minutes to let you know about the conclusion of the trip and specifically the final day, and some closing thoughts.

The first two days, as you may have seen in the EPIC pictures Chris Silvester took, were sunny, clean, and despite LONG days, very awesome. A tailwind to surf would have made it better to get some bumps to ride, but Cody (my water companion and a stud paddler who never left my side, despite my speed sometimes dipping into a crawl) and I managed to sneak into more than a few surf spots and hop onto waves to surf so we were pretty stoked. In fact, the first 2 days were perfect in my book despite hallucinations of turtles alongside us and landmarks that never got closer. Plus we coined a new phrase “dude, yer crazy, that’s mile 30 talking right there”.

Day 1 - Kicking out of a wave. Took this one a liiiiitle too far in

Kicking out of a wave along the 101. Took this one a liiiiitle too far in, I blame Cody! :)

Day 3, I was to go it alone. My wingmen Greggy and Roger and I woke up early to fog. A STRONG southerly headwind. Big swell and very ominous clouds. While the previous two paddles were sunny and inviting, this morning had me nervous. After changing our landing spot the previous day, due to dangerous shore break, I wasn't sure how launching would go today with the bigger swell on tap. The remote and rocky stretches along northern Malibu coastline had me planning for different landing spots should the head wind suddenly pick up and become dangerous. Weather reports had some big northwest swell which could help me along the way and counter the headwinds though. The unknown was getting in my head a bit. The fact that we couldn’t see more than a mile away due to the fog only added to the ambiance.

7am ...waking up to find that the winds have shifted...a lot.

As we were wrapping up some breakfast and heading to the launch spot, we got a message from a friend. Her friend Dorrie had taken a turn for the worse in the last 24 hours after battling cancer for 14 years. She asked me to please keep her friend in my thoughts as I paddled. “Wow. Things just got real.” I said out loud. My sunglasses steamed from the power of her request and the headwind cancer throws at us. I was smacked into game-mode at that moment. We didn’t talk much for the rest of the drive. Each of us in our own world of reflection. I sat in the back seat, driving into the fog of the coastline, emotions of the hardest, loneliest and last day of the journey started to build. This last leg was going to be very difficult, on many levels. It wasn't just going out for a paddle. This adventure never was just about going for a paddle. It was about taking some wacky dream of mine and giving it purpose. And it was about including as many of you along with me for the journey. So we could make a difference.

Day 3 had a different vibe. The ocean did not have a smile. The sand was swept clean by the wind, no footsteps on the beach, making it seem like it was even more remote. As we rigged the gear, we watched the shore break, timed sets, and sought out the cleanest rip current to go out at. I exchanged 'ha' (Hawaiian for breath) with my friends. This sharing-of-breath is a very special Polynesian tradition which is believed to allow the mana, or energy, to flow between each other. I then shared with them the significance of the tea leaf lei I was putting on my canoe and had been carrying with me on the trip. It was in our freezer for the last 6 years, preserved from the day of my dad's memorial service that my wife made him. I planned to place it in the ocean towards the end of this journey. We tied it to the back of the canoe. After waiting a numbingly long time in waist deep water for a lull between sets, my canoe, Manawale'a (special gift), and I punched through the shore break and were on our way. I turned left, into the wind, into the fog, and in the direction of home.

Day 3 - Greggy helping guide me out as I time my launch on final day through the shore break.

Day 3 - Greggy helping guide me out as I time my launch on final day through the shore break.

Day 3 - Starting the journey, right into the headwind I go.

Day 3 - Starting the journey, right into the headwind I go.

Right away, my speed was noticeably slower. The previous two days with neutral conditions I would average 5.5-6mph, and hit top speeds of 7mph. Today after a few very hard sides, I managed to get to 4.8mph. "ugh". At least I wasn't drifting backwards though like the birds flying above me. That irrational, but admitted, fear was alleviated. I began to thread the line of 'not-too-close-to-shore' where the swells were breaking and 'not-too-far-out' where I would be out of visual contact from the land in the fog and where the wind was stronger.

The first 3 miles were spent getting used to the waves hitting the cliffs and bouncing back to my ama/outrigger. I did my best to zig zag and capture the energy of the waves as their direction changed. Around mile five my lower back was having some serious issues. For a mile or so, I was having to stop every 5 or 6 minutes to stretch it out as it was starting to spasm a little bit. In my concentration of the morning to make sure all my gear was secure and all precautions taken, I had forgotten to properly stretch. I was paying for it now. The wind was starting to mellow out and the texture of the ocean was smoothing slightly. I took one of my stretch breaks to check on the tea leaf lei...it was gone. I felt completely deflated. I am not sure at what point it was lost. Maybe the first few seconds, or maybe just a moment before I checked on it. The neatest thing happened though. About 15 seconds between the time I noticed it was gone and was about to start paddling again, 2 gray whales, an adult and one calf surfaced one after the other next to me about 5 yards away. Over the last few years I have had some special interactions with gray whales. Their timing here gave me chicken skin. I felt the lei was in its rightful place. I sat and watched them, listened to them come up several times for air, then continued on my way. I saw 3 more within a few minutes. I was not alone.

Day 3 - In the company of Kohola (grey whales)

Day 3 - In the company of Kohola (grey whales)

For miles 5-10 the remoteness of the coastline gave way to more signs of civilization. State beaches started to appear, surfers dropping in to some overhead bombs shared the water. Buildings began to dot the coastline. The wind was subsiding. I was feeling much more welcome out there. My back was still tight, but better. Discomfort in the rest of my body, after being in the canoe for so many hours and miles, was jockeying for my attention now. Rear-end bruised. Chaffing. Sunburns. Chapped lips. Each thing taking a little bit of my focus as I grinded on. But this is the normal stuff you think about when mileage adds up. My speed was better but not great at this point. To give a little perspective, at the 2 hour mark on days 1 and 2, Cody and I hit the 11 mile mark on the dot with a short break thrown in here or there. Today, the 2 hour mark netted me 8.75 miles. Between the conditions and all the breaks to stretch my back, I had really been sloggin. I still made a point to take a lunch break though and for 15 minutes I ate, hydrated, sun-screened, shared my coordinates with the land crew, and stretched some more. Up in the distance and fog I was starting to see the landmark I was seeking. Point Dume. Great name huh?

Day 3 - The mood of the first 10 miles.

Day 3 - The mood of the first 10 miles.

Point Dume and the far end of Zuma Beach was the last big landmark I would have before turning from south to east and be on course for the home stretch. It was also a big unknown since the winds and swell around the point could be really awesome or really gnarly. It loomed ahead with a huge bay to the left. Rather than hug the coast, I took a tangent line and went from half mile off shore to probably 3 miles offshore since the visibility was improving. Whatever was around the corner, I was eager to find out. With about two miles to the point, I start singing out loud. One of the funky things I do on long solo paddles. Songs and Hawaiian chants like 'e ho mai' and the 'Doxology' led to 'Yellow Bird' and 'Waimanalo blues'. Pretty soon I was belting out Billy Idol 'Mony Mony' at the top of my lungs. A 13 minute mile became a 10:30 mile became a 9:41 minute mile. The sun was out. I was cranking. At about mile 15, I arrived at the Point and rested. Ready to round the huge cliffs and wave crashing rocks with barking seals, turn the corner and see what fate the journey had in store for me.

Day 3 - Turning the corner of Point Dume. Leaving the dreary fog, and entering into the sunshine

Day 3 - Turning the corner of Point Dume. Leaving the dreary fog, and entering into the sunshine

Sometimes on a paddle, you disconnect with everything on the land. You are in your own little world (as my singing would show) and forget that there are cars driving, people walking and the world continues to do its own thing. As I rounded the corner, lost in my own little world, I was awoken to reality by a high pitch shout up on the cliff. Some young kids were seeing some paddler down below of the cliff lookout they were standing at and trying to get his attention. I for a moment wondered if I knew them. Did they hear about some kook trying to do a long battle and raise money to fight cancer? My pang of potential fame quickly vanished though, and I realized they were just kids being kids, yelling at whatever to get a reaction. So I waved my paddle at them, heard them cheer and then they ran up the trail to their parents and I was off their radar. Suddenly realizing I was smiling at the encounter, I looked down and saw the water was super green and clear. The nearby seals barked at me, teetering on the edge of scattering from their rock as I paddled precariously close for their comfort. I angled away so they could continue their sun-bathing, on my new bearing, and I surveyed the path in front of me. The home stretch. No more turns or course-changing landmarks. Just another 8-9 miles or so into a bright blue sky, clean water, with the sound of a building tailwind hitting the back of my ears.

As I made my way to the finish, I took a few breaks. Picking up a stray balloon or piece of trash. Playfully dodging the kelp as I tick-tacked along some surfable spots. The wind and the swell were perfectly lined up to give me lots of help. Unfortunately despite the stoke of almost being home, my body was not giving me the ‘oomph’ to power up and properly surf all the bumps and wind chop I was being offered. But that’s ok, I am not that great at riding those yet as most anyways. My GPS/speed/mileage tracker battery died somewhere along this stretch. No biggie. It wasn’t about numbers anymore. I went down my list and completed the people I was dedicating paddle sides to. Most I had already done, so I did them again. Each stroke as thoughtful, meaningful and technically sound as I could muster. Then I started doing sides of those paddlers, watermen and waterwomen who have done so much on the ocean. Duke, Eddie, Rell, Whitey, Tom Blake, Hobie, Mouse, Buffalo, Uncle Nappy, Uncle Bullie, Velzy, Bob Simmons, Margo Pellegrino, Will Schmidt and so on. To them, our little adventure would be just a blip on their resume. And to be honest there are probably a hundred or so studs/studettes in SoCal alone who could rip off a chunk of mileage like I just did and not break a sweat. I am not under the illusion that this ranks up there with some of the truly TRULY epic accomplishments many have done, like paddle the entire pacific coast, or connecting Hawaiian islands and atolls. Those will still be the accomplishments I consider truly remarkable…and something to inspire me for future adventures. This challenge was just me-pushing-me, and finding my own threshold of can’t-be-done. Then doing it.

As I surveyed the coastline ahead of me in the last 2 miles, I was surprised how the Malibu pier area suddenly snuck up on me. My speed was never blistering fast, but I actually made the effort to slow it down more at this point. This was never a race. I wanted to see the amazing SoCal coastline from the ‘other’ vantage point. The last mile, I made sure I saw it. As I came around the famous Malibu point, where Gidget was coined, surfer Miki ‘da cat’ Dora pounced, and perfect right hand point break waves peel, I made a point to look at every surfer there. Many of them smiled at me, not feeling the need to exude an ego since I was not on a surfboard. I even had a couple of folks to throw shakas at me. Guess a bright orange canoe can be pretty disarming. Plus I was pretty stoked to be there at the end of this journey and I think they picked up on that. Funny how a smile on one’s face can change everything. I was smiling now.

I came in to the last hundred yards off the shore and stopped. Had a conversation with some people no longer on this earth but who I knew could hear me. Caught a fun little wave. Beached the canoe. And said to all you who have supported me… “Aloha Everybody”.


My final moments.

Greeted by the greatest support team ever...

  • Total Donations: $1700.00!
  • Total Miles: 90-100 (GPS battery died can’t be sure)
  • Total Time on the Water: ~20 hours.
  • Total Time paddling: ~17 hours.
  • Total paddle strokes: 61200 (60stroke/min * 60 min * 17 hours)
  • Total vessel/person assists: 1 (we rescued a kayaker).
  • Total pieces of debris/trash collected: 23.

Garmin Data (thank you Tony for lending me your watch):


Huge shout outs to:
Cody Silvester for accompanying me on the first long legs, and your awesome family for their photography, local knowledge, and overall great support and aloha. What a treat to paddle with such a great paddler, as he trains for the Molokai solo race coming up, and a great person on top of that. If any of you are ever in San Diego, e komo mai.

My wingmen, Greggy and Roger, who kept you all entertained while I paddled, and helped me accomplish a dream I wanted to do for many years. From the time I proposed this idea to its conclusion: this was never “my” effort, it was always “our” effort. We made this happen.

My wife Stefanie, who not only ‘lets’ me leave to do crazy things, but supports and encourages it.

And finally, my daughter Ashlyn. May you undertake epic adventures and challenges someday and only read about Cancer in the history books after we have defeated it.

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CP: We hope this encourages you to create your own adventure...and then make it happen! Let's explore this amazing state - together!

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Cali Paddler Team Writer Clarke Graves

Team Writer Clarke Graves - If there is water, he will paddle it (regardless of craft). Clarke is a surfer turned paddler who grew up in San Diego but has traveled every corner of California enjoying its beauty and appeal. He has had the privilege of racing SUP, OC6, OC2, OC1, Prone and can't wait to hop into a dragon boat and surf-ski for an extended length of time.

One of Clarke's goals is to paddle as much shoreline in California as he can, with as many paddling friends who are willing to join him. If you have an idea for Clarke to write about or any questions, send it our way and we will pass it along!


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