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An urban getaway: Kayaking the Oakland Estuary

on July 6, 2011

At first glance, the Oakland Estuary, a water channel bordered by the cities of Alameda and Oakland, may not seem like the best place to get a taste of nature. The puttering of motorboats and sight of people eating in the restaurants suspended over the water isn’t exactly a scenic getaway. Instead, it’s urban kayaking at it’s finest.

But ten minutes south toward San Leandro, there are calm, clean waters and songbirds on the shore serenade paddlers. Seals, leopard sharks and bat rays can be spotted with some patience. With practice and willingness to get wet, fuel-free forms of water sports like paddle boarding, rowing and kayaking can provide surprisingly breathtaking ways to travel, explore and exercise in Oakland’s own backyard.

California Canoe and Kayaking Company (CCK) at Jack London Square offers affordable classes and rentals for discovering the Oakland Estuary and beyond. A sea kayaking class for beginners can make paddling more enjoyable and prepare students for kayaking in rougher waters. During this $100 all-day class, CCK provides students with all the proper equipment and instruction on paddling basics and rescue techniques. The small class size of six students makes it a personable and tailored experience.

The regularly-offered beginning sea kayaking class starts mid-morning. The traditional sea kayaks used in this class have closed decks and are designed for straight line, peaceful and long water travel. From the waist down, paddlers are seated beneath the bow of the sea kayak. It becomes an extension of one’s body, turning paddlers into a half boat, half human creature that can seamlessly glide through the water.

But it takes practice, explained Ben Caroll, one of the handful of CCK instructors, to his class last Sunday. “Kayaking is so much more about technique than power,” Carroll said. “Women usually do better then men because they don’t muscle through a paddle.”

It’s easy to get tired quickly and feel sore the next day if not using proper paddling technique. Efficient paddling should come from twisting the torso rather than depending on the shoulders and arms Carroll explained.

It’s a skill first-time kayaker and student Danny Serano says he would like to keep practicing. “My whole body hurts, but I had fun,” Serrano said at the end of the day after taking a class on the Fourth of July weekend. Coming from Orinda, he decided to take the sea kayaking class with his wife who’s already an avid kayaker but who also took the course to improve her technique.

Students also learn about how to read tide charts and locate currents in the San Francisco Bay and Oakland Estuary. But the most important component taught in this class, Carroll said, is learning how to exit and re-enter the kayak using assisted and self-rescue techniques. Carroll stressed the importance of knowing how to recover from capsizing, even in the calmest conditions. Once learned, students are able to paddle at other outfits that require knowledge of these rescue skills.

Even without a sea kayaking class, beginner paddlers can rent recreational kayaks that are easy to maneuver in the water. From Jack London Square, paddlers can circumvent Coast Guard Island and take a break and picnic at Union Point Park or dock and enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants bordering the water.

Affordable rental rates make it easy to turn paddling into a regular routine. At CCK, a 3-month equipment rental pass is $150 dollars, or $15 an hour. Kayaks can also be taken out and paddled to other locations for $50 a day, then at a reduced rate for each additional day.

CCK also offers a weekly Wednesday evening social paddle, where participants paddle 3 to 5 miles at a leisurely pace, and a Sunday morning fitness class for more advanced paddlers looking to burn calories. Once a month, CCK hosts moonlight kayaking with stunning night views of the San Francisco and Oakland city skyline.

There are plenty of other places to enjoy paddling sports in the East Bay, from Lake Chabot in Contra Costa to Alameda’s Crown Beach. Check out this listing from the East Bay Parks District for more information.


  1. Benton Carroll on July 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Just a couple of corrections. The sharks mentioned are not Tiger but Leopard sharks and the Wednesday Social Paddle occurs in the evening. Thanks.

    • Oakland North Staff on July 6, 2011 at 2:47 pm

      Thanks Benton, we’ll make the corrections!

  2. John Bryne - Kayak Reviews on September 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    I remember when I learned – the twisting from the torso was a killer. A days of sore middles and you soon learn! Inflatable Kayak Reviews

  3. The estuary kingsbridge on March 29, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Investigate that old Jesuit quest, also called Parroquia San José, or perhaps go to the Estero, an estuary featuring a plethora involving ancient birdlife and also pet existence, together with neighborhood stores …the estuary condo

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