I’ve been wanting to go kayaking down the LA River since about 2008. That was the year I stood on the shore of the river along the Sepulveda Basin and watched as kayaker George Wolfe emerged from upstream and the dense foliage and shore his craft just in front of me.
Later that year I watched from the bridges overhead and photographed George’s flotilla of kayaks and canoes as he led an expedition along all 52 miles of the river that soon after prompted the EPA to declare the river a navigable waterway and thus be eligible for protection under the clean water act.
Last year I shot a story for Sunset Magazine and scurried along the banks of the Elysian Valley as George once again led a tour of kayaks down the river, but this time it was with his LA River Expeditions company and part of the newly Implemented Recreational Zone Pilot Program that opens up certain stretches of the river for fishing and kayaking from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Last Sunday I finally got to get in one these oft-photographed kayaks and spend a leisurely two and a half hours paddling up and back down the river in the Sepulveda Basin. We were led by three guides from the aforementioned LA River Expeditions and also joined by George’s wife Thea who did a film of the 2008 River expedition called “Rock the Boat”.
It was an easy trip, certainly a great trip to take for a first time kayaker, but even for myself who has done a fair share of paddling, it was such a unique little journey to take, the experience was so well worth it.
Along the way our guides filled us in on the river’s history and the recent efforts to make the river more accessible to local communities and Angelinos in general. Great Blue Herons, Egrets and Stilts flew overhead or perched on branches above us, no doubt we were a serious interference to their lunchtime efforts. Shredded plastic bags left over from the high waters after Winter rains hung 20 or so feet up in the trees like Christmas tinsel.
My favorite spot was a little stretch call the Grand Canyon. Not really grand, and not much of a canyon, but an unusual landscape and a break from the overhanging foliage that lines the riverbank.
The tours get booked up very quickly, but there are several companies leading tours down the river and sometimes some spots get added later in the Summer. You are also free to bring your own kayak and go it alone. Either way will be a very different view of the river and a challenge to your typical perspective of life in LA.
Photo notes. I was basically told that everything I had with me on the kayak would get wet and that turned out to be true. I encased one of my less expensive digital cameras in a zip lock plastic bag with a hole punched out for the lens. It did keep a lot of the splashing from the paddles from soaking the camera. It also made taking pictures very awkward and in the end I was kind of disappointed with the results of my photo efforts for the day. A more than usual amount of out of focus images and getting creative was a challenge that didn’t really pay off. Guess I’ll have to try it again.