Winter kayaking

Despite the recent tumultuous weather, fall and winter kayaking in the county is an excellent recreational prospect, with the right conditions. There are numerous mild days when Mother Nature calms down and takes a breather before returning to tumultuous storms. In between, think about grabbing a paddle and slipping into a kayak.

Julie Chick's life has revolved around kayaking: she's the former owner of Nehalem Bay Outdoor Company. She also previously worked as an Outdoor Education and Outreach Coordinator with Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP) and is still an avid Nehalem paddler. While she encourages kayakers to explore our waterways during the winter months, she stresses that safety is paramount to any trip no matter what date is on the calendar. First order of business is wearing a Personal Flotation Device, or PFD. “Find a good one and wear it,” Chick says. “If you don't want to wear it, then you don't have the right PFD, because you should love your PFD.”

Being safe also includes knowing what wind and tide can do on any given day, meaning paddlers should check local tide tables and weather conditions before setting out. “In our area, you need to pay attention to tide and wind,” she says. “You can have a November day with extremely high tides and gale force winds, or a November day with relatively typical tides, sunny, clear and perfectly 'kayakable.'” She adds that checking wind and conditions and familiarizing yourself with how those affect the waterway you are paddling is key to a safe and fun experience.

When discussing the differences between summer and winter paddling, Chick notes that conditions for each season on the Oregon Coast can often be very similar. This is especially true when it comes to water temperatures. You may have picked a warm, sunny day to paddle, but the water is usually bone-chilling. In that regard, Chick stresses that dressing with water temperature in mind is a top priority. Cotton shirts and denim jeans won't suffice.

“If you end up in the water and can't get back in your boat or back to shore, you better be dressed for forty-something degree water,” she says. “Hypothermia happens fast.” Chick adds that a good dry suit not only keeps kayakers warm and cozy, but gives them peace of mind knowing that it will buy them a lot of time if they end up in the water.

The November King Tides and flooding this year also highlight the need to be aware of debris and obstacles in the water after such storms have passed through. With safety in mind, kayakers have a multitude of reasons to enjoy winter paddling.

Aside from the recent rough weather, Chick says that most winter days offer fuller rivers with flat, glassy paddling surfaces. These conditions combine to give kayakers a sense of serenity and solitude that's hard to duplicate during the busy summer months. “It's a lot quieter and a lot less people,” Chick says. She adds that with salmon season over, there isn't the potential for kayaker versus fishing boat conflicts, which can be an issue in late summer and early fall. Photographers find plenty of reasons to point-and-shoot, and winter offers a chance for some excellent picture-taking.

“The light this time of year is at a lower angle, so you get crisper, cleaner pictures, especially if you get out there a little earlier,” Chick says.

There are many places to paddle year-round that offer a bevy of options. Overall, there are five estuaries in Tillamook County: Nehalem, Tillamook Bay, Nestucca, Sand Lake, and Netarts. They boast distinct characteristics and TEP has published “water trail” guides for each. With so many options for paddlers to consider, winter kayaking is the perfect way to get outside, shake off the winter blahs, and see coastal waterways from a different perspective.

To download Tillamook Estuaries Partnership’s water trail maps of the five estuaries in Tillamook County, visit https://www.tbnep.org/water-trails.php And check out https://tillamookcoast.com/recreation-map/ if you’re looking for other ways to enjoy outdoor recreation this winter.

For more local health and wellness information, visit www.tillamookcountywellness.org or follow Tillamook County Wellness on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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