The idea was simple. Create an intimate venue where a small group of paddlers from all paddling disciplines could come together for a weekend of fellowship united by the core principles of what it means to be a Cali Paddler: Community, Conservation, and Connection. Smiling people wearing colorful apparel is often times the most visible component of the Cali tribe, but based on my observations and first hand experience at the Cali Paddler Retreat 1.0, I found the heart of the identity driving the brand is most strongly found in the third tenant – Connection.
Group Photo and drone launching ceremony! Photo: OnIt Pro
Roughly 50 participants, including registered attendees, presenters, vendors, musicians and more, came together at the iconic Refugio St. Beach a few miles outside of Santa Barbara for what proved to be an amazing gathering to celebrate and embrace paddling in all its forms. They arrived from near and far. Some, such as Maylanie Guerra of Sacramento, came in part for the opportunity to trade her home waterway on the Sacramento River for chance to paddle in the ocean. Others traveled from out-of-state, including a couple of enthusiastic paddlers who dropped in from next door (Arizona) and even from a distant Back East location (Pennsylvania). The rest was an eclectic composition of paddlers from familiar Golden State locales, to include: Santa Cruz, Orange County, San Diego, Larkspur, Ventura, Los Angeles, Rancho Cucamonga, Pismo Beach, and beyond.
It was not long before the designated paddle craft parking area at our group campsite high upon a bluff overlooking the Pacific began to resemble a veritable United Nations of paddle craft as OC-1s, SUPs, surfskis, and prone paddleboards were lined up in the soft tall grass, which was growing with abundance as a result of the frequent rain storms which passed through California this winter.
The majority of participants arrived on site by Friday evening and were welcomed with a bonfire, SWAG bags, and introductions to the rest of the crew. Saturday kicked off with a hot breakfast and the opportunity to take part in a sunrise yoga session overlooking the ocean before rolling into the main program for the day. Danny Ching opened with a keynote address on how paddling has been an part of his life from his days as a toddler riding along in an OC-6 with his parents, through his days as a sprint kayaker in the national training program, to stand up paddling and more.
Following Danny’s keynote address, participants broke off in two groups: “Epic’ and “Awesome”, for presentations on paddling technique, maintaining your paddle craft, sustainable board manufacturing, and the foundation of maintaining a fit body.
Paddlers were treated with an epic sunset on Saturday evening. Photo: Matt Chebatoris
Everyone then had the opportunity to meet with a select group of vendors assembled to represent four paddling disciplines: OC-1 (Kamanu Composites), SUP (404/Hippostick), surfski (Epic Kayaks), and prone paddleboarding (Bark Paddleboards) before breaking for lunch.
After lunch participants began to migrate down to the beach for an afternoon long open demo session on the four types of paddle craft. Few attendees had experience with all four prior to the retreat and the demo session provided an amazing opportunity in a non-intimidating environment to try out the various craft while learning the basics from some of the top paddlers across the disciplines.
Back at the campsite, two massage therapists and live music greeted weary paddlers after an afternoon spent on the water with Joe Bark, Danny Ching, Chris and Sammie Barlow, Corey Simpson, Cyril Derreumaux, and members of the Cali Paddler tribe.
I spoke with many of the participants gathered at the epic retreat and opened with the question of what they enjoyed the most about the weekend. Without hesitation, connecting with a fun group of like-minded paddlers was the #1 highlight for everyone. Proof that it isn’t what you paddle or how fast you paddle, but simply that you paddle, which matters.