By Dave Costello
Mavericks is breaking at well over 20 feet, crashing violently into the reef that barely protects the cove we’re about to paddle into. I look at the chest-high beach break, pounding the sand at our feet, and glance briefly at the small fleet of tippy-looking, homemade, 'glass sit-on-top kayaks sitting behind us. I contemplate launching into what I'm fairly certain is going to be--at best--an uncomfortable beatdown.
"This is great!" I hear Michael Powers, a member of the (in)famous sea kayaking adventure group known as the Tsunami Rangers, yell over the wind and surf; his thick gray beard unable to cover the broad grin spread across his weather-worn face. "Eric would've loved this!" His enthusiasm makes me reciprocate his smile, even though the prospect of getting into my boat doesn't.
"So this is your guys idea of a memorial, eh?" I ask, half-yelling over the sound of the waves.
There are 12 of us on this cold March morning, standing on the beach at Half Moon Bay, Calif., looking out at Northern California’s premier big-wave break during a small craft advisory. The others are mostly members of the Tsunami Rangers, or just good friends of Eric Soares, the man whose life we're here to celebrate by paddling out into this thrash-fest.
"These are the sort of conditions Eric loved," Powers assures me, patting me on the back. "This is perfect."
I never had the opportunity to meet Soares, who passed away on Feb. 1 due to complications from a skiing accident. He was 58. But his legend as a sea kayaking pioneer and teacher preceded him. Literally the author of the Ten Commandments of Sea Kayaking, I knew he had also co-founded the Tsunami Rangers, a hard-charging, surfing, rock-gardening, sea kayaking club with his friend Jim Kakuk in 1985, and that his quirky, daring paddling antics had landed him and the Rangers on multiple television networks like National Geographic Explorer, The Discovery Channel, The Outdoor Life Network, and MTV, numerous times.
I was more than a little curious to see what sort of paddle-out a man who had done so much to change the world of high-adrenaline sea kayaking would have. And Powers and the rest of the Rangers had been welcoming enough to invite me along as a curious observer.
Giving me one more solid slap on the back, Powers shouts to the others, "Now let's give Eric a salute!" I follow the Ranger's lead, raising my paddle above my head and screaming--nothing in particular--as loud as I can across the ocean. A lone gull flies overhead, battling against the wind. "That's Eric!" I hear one of the Rangers yell. "I knew he'd be here," Powers responds, beaming. Then, a moment of silence.
"Now let's surf!" Powers yells.
I snap on my sprayskirt and sit in my boat on the sand, waiting for an opening to paddle out. A few of the Rangers don't wait, and immediately get redeposited on the beach. I notice they're all still smiling as they scrabble back to land, clinging to their boats. But then a brief lull appears and I make a dash for it. One solid wave hits me in the chest, but I make it to the outside relatively unscathed.
I'm out of breath, and still have to throw the occasional low-brace to stay upright in the tumultuous swell, but when I look back I can see that all of the Rangers have made it past the meat of the break, and are grinning from ear to ear, laughing and joking with one another.
This is normal for them, I figure.
We spend a few minutes catching some of the bigger sets, breaking farther out from the beach in deeper water. I see Powers raise his paddle, calling us to raft up. We pose for a picture, raising our own paddles above our heads, the group yelling intelligibly this time, "We love you, Eric!" as loud as they can across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. "We'll miss you!" And even though I've never met Eric Soares in my life, I find myself involuntarily screaming "We'll miss you!" too.
After catching a few more waves with the rest of the Rangers, I approach Powers to thank him for having me along for the adventure as we start our paddle back to shore. "No problem," he says serenely, the wind whipping in our faces, his voice barely audible over the waves. "This was perfect. Eric was always up for adventure. And I think that his spirit will live on in all of us who were lucky enough to know him."
Now that's a legacy worth remembering, I think. Even if you didn’t know Eric Soares.
Whether you’re familiar with Eric or not, it’s worth taking a minute to check out the short video tribute his friends put together for him below: