Sardinia’s White Coast
Kayaking Underneath the Dolomite Cliffs of Orosei
“Is dangerous coast,” says Francesco. He points north across turquoise sea toward the shadowy coastal mountains we will reach tomorrow. “Cinque-cento meters.” He sets down his paddle and lifts his palms. “Up. From the sea.”
Floating next to him, I convert Castilian-influenced Italiano into Español, then English, then from metric to feet. “Fifteen-hundred foot cliffs?”
“Exactly.” Francesco’s a compact man with midnight-black hair emerging from a white bandana and reddish-brown Mediterranean skin that turns each sunny afternoon from deep tan to piercing crimson.
For now, we turn south along granite headlands cooked to a crisp orange by relentless sun. Francesco paddles through a narrow passageway between granite outcroppings. He scrapes his fingertips against wave-smoothed rock.
I let the others pass while considering Francesco’s warning. I swivel my hips side-to-side, testing a boat I’m still adjusting to. Today is a warm-up tour of the granite coast south of Cardedu before I head north for two days into Gulf of Orosei and Gennargentu National Park. I requested an easy first day to bring my girlfriend Ina, but secretly I want this day for myself. I’ve whitewater kayaked for years, but only paddled a few times in the sea. When Ina’s German cousin planned her wedding for Sardinia, I read about the rugged, dolomite cliffs of Orosei. I wanted to see them for myself. Up close. From a kayak. I found the Cardedu Kayak Club, which Francesco started twenty years ago to offer paddling trips and classes for locals and foreigners alike. His website listed Orosei as experts-only, so in my inquiry I didn’t specify my usual type of kayaking. Instead I hoped I wouldn’t screw up.
I nudge through the passage on a foot-tall wave, nosing into a small cove. Away from the wave action, the granite is crumbly and rough, like a stone face blistered from a sunburn. I turn and follow Ada, a fit female club member with short, brown hair under a floppy hat. As she navigates though a rock garden, I mimic her boat angle and stroke cadence over barely submerged rocks.
Beyond a squat, bulbous cape spreads a hundred yards of golden sand backed by thick brush. After landing, I ask Francesco about some paint-peeling cabanas with sagging shutters.
“No more allowed here. A…preserve. Other places in Sardinia, the coast has many. Here it is…nature.”
Ina and I wade into clear water. It’s warm but still cools our hot skin. The wind spreads ripples across the surface. Ina shivers from goosebumps, so we return to our boats. By the time we depart, sand skips across the beach and the waves have risen to two foot rollers.
We paddle a kilometer toward a hundred-foot promontory, aiming for a steep, black beach below. I notice nervousness from Ina at this wavy, abrupt landing zone. I try to pretend I’m not nervous myself.
Francesco lifts a hand. “Slowly.” He surfs forward, ruddering his boat in sinuous curves toward shore. I know the technique from whitewater, so I let my boat surge on a wave. Approaching the beach, I realize it’s not sand but cobbles. Despite my back strokes, I have too much speed. My boat slides onto baseball-sized rocks with several thuds. I hop out sheepishly.
After helping each other land, a few of us scramble up the promontory through macchia—the prickly Mediterranean brush of oak and juniper that blankets the island to head height. Sharp branches claw at my arms and legs, but stems of jasmine exude a calming floral aroma.
Up top, we examine our final traverse. A skinny granite gap, almost too narrow for a boat, cutting between a mainland cliff and cubic rock island. Francesco eyes the rising waves. Time to go.
As Ada pushes off, a three-foot wave crashes into her cockpit, swamping her boat. Francesco helps her drain it. One by one, we launch in the brief lulls between sets. I seal my spray skirt as seawater crashes onto my legs. I paddle hard, cresting a wave and slapping down the backside. My nervousness is gone. It’s like whitewater in the ocean, and I feel exhilarated.
After rounding the whitecaps of the promontory, we enter the rocky cove, which pours undulating water into the five-foot slot. Ada calmly turns her paddle like a jousting spear and enters. One by one, kayaks surge atop dampened wave pulses through the crevasse. Embedded in the orange feldspar of the walls, little specks of translucent quartz catch rays from the setting sun and glimmer like the surface of the sea. Emerging on the other side, we turn toward our coastal camp. North. The direction I’ve been waiting for.
“This. Very nice. For anyone,” says Francesco. “Tomorrow is difficult.”
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