For centuries, Point Conception has marked the most dangerous passage on the West coast. Countless ships have been lost off in those waters. Back in 1834 after a harrowing passage in gale force winds, Richard Henry Dana Jr. called Point Conception “the Cape Horn of California… where it begins to blow the first of January and blows until the last of December.”
In planning the trip, we prepared ourselves for the possibility of skipping Point Conception completely. Some stretches of coast are just not meant to be crossed, especially in plastic kayaks. Regardless, we camped out at Jalama Beach for a few days, Point Conception looming in the distance, waiting to see if the winds would lay off.
For three days we bided our time contently exploring the coast and surfing in the company of friends old and new. On Monday around midday the wind totally died off. We talked with both the lifeguard and Lompoc local Dave, who both agreed that since the winds hadn’t yet picked up, conditions that afternoon would be about as good as they ever would be. Both added that as soon as we were around Point Conception, things would be downhill to San Diego. They turned out to be right, we just didn’t expect that we still had so far uphill to go.
With the winds light and skies clear, Michael and I said our goodbyes at Jalama Beach. Lane wished us well from ashore, waiting with the SPOT GPS satellite messenger and VHF radio if need be. After punching through the meaty Jalama shorebreak, Michael and I elected to stay inside the shelter of the kelp beds for as long as possible.
Point Conception juts out eerily into the Pacific, its pale granite face out of place in the sandstone cliffs. There two currents converge; the cool waters of northern California meet the warm waters of southern California, kicking up some formidable winds.
As Conception grew closer and closer, glassy seas gave way to more textured seas. About a mile out from the point, small tar cakes started lapping against the hull of our kayaks. Michael picked one up to “investigate” later, but the tar quickly melted under the sun, giving one of our boats a little cosmetic boost.
As the point neared, the winds and swell continued to grow. The winds were up to 18 knots, causing swell to break in open ocean. Michael and I bobbed in and out of view in the growing swell, although we were no more than 25 feet from one another. Waves broke into our laps, filling the kayaks up with water. As the swell and wind combined to push us into the point, we were forced to balance burst of sprinting sideways through the swell and backpaddling through walls of breaking water.
There was one particular moment that stands out, a large swell capsized my kayak and filled Michael’s entire cockpit with water. After righting the boat, we both looked at each other and thought “Lets get the hell out of here”. 4 ft of swell and 20+ knots winds were pushing us into the rocks. It was a GO moment if there ever was one. Our bodies pumped with adrenaline for the next half hour as we navigated through the mayhem.
Just as abruptly as the winds picked up, they once again laid off. Michael turned to me with a dazed grin and let out the understatement of the trip “Well I can definitely see why a lot of ships sink off that Point.” Me too man, me too.
Around Government Point, half a mile south of Conception, the winds turned, the sun shone through and Southern California greeted us with open arms. We beached the boats, embraced, and sat down in the paradise-like Hollister Ranch. Two shipwrecked sailboats on the beach next to us reminded us of the intense conditions just offshore, but for the moment we were in the safe cradle of Southern California.
The next 12 miles through The Ranch felt dreamlike, and a pod curious of dolphins followed us for three of four miles. We landed in Gaviota to glassy seas just as the sun was setting.
“Where did you guys come from?” a few curious locals asked us.
“Jalama, just around Conception”
“That’s a long way from here”
The memory of Point Conception flashed through my mind and the distance didn’t even begin to describe that journey.
“Yeah, sure is,” was all I could say.
At this Point in our trip, we enter Southern California and leave the Central Coast behind. Lane, Michael, and I all agreed that the natural beauty of Central California was incredible, but the experiences that stand out to us the most come from the immense open hearted kindness of the central coast locals. From Monterey down to Jalama, we have shared some pretty incredible memories with people we have come across. Thank you specifically to Larry and Chris at Bottcher’s Gap, our European friends and the Bakersfield boys in Big Sur, Don at Cambria, Dan at the Guadalupe Dunes Center, Dave and Veronica at Jalama, Matt, Clayton, and my family for sharing the experience with us.
Peace, Love, and Happy to Be in Socal
Ian, Michael, and Lane