Paddling with critters: kayaking offers an immersive, natural experience on South Whidbey

Whibey Island Kayaking tour guide Kevin Murphy (left) shows tour guest Erin Masterson around Langley Marina. Tours also depart from Possession Point and Penn Cove.

The water is tranquil in the Langley Marina at 8 a.m. The morning haze is still burning off and the air is crowded with the songs of a number of bird species. With each stroke of the paddle, the kayak distances itself from the shore as the senses are overloaded with the sounds and smells of Puget Sound. An eagle soars above, and sea lions pop their heads out of the water nearby. Life could be worse.

This is what late spring and summer is like off Whidbey’s shoreline. One way to enjoy the picturesque nature of Whidbey Island is via kayak, and Whidbey Island Kayaking offers rentals and tours.

The company is entering its 15th season from their rental truck that operates out of the Langley Marina, and offers guided tours and rentals for both kayaks and stand up paddle boards. They are open for operation from January to the end of October, and take reservations through their website and by phone throughout their operating season. A rental shop will be open 7 days a week from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend as well.

“What we’re doing here is providing safe, self-powered and active engagement so that people can fully experience Whidbey’s unique scenic environment,” said Krista Loercher, owner of Whidbey Island Kayaking.

A plethora of varied kayaking experiences are available through Whidbey Island Kayaking, departing from multiple locations at various times of day to offer a taste of Whidbey’s natural beauty as it continuously changes. Loercher’s company offers early morning excursions, bird watching kayak tours from Penn Cove with local birding experts, half day excursions out of Possession Point, bioluminescent tours that depart in the middle of the night, full moon tours and sunset excursions out of the West end of Whidbey, which will be offered later in the summer. More trips are in the planning process, according to Loercher.

“We are working on developing some weekend-long excursions with kayaking and camping,” Loercher said. “It’s very much in the development process as we speak, but we will be offering that later into the summer.”

The vibrant glow emitting from the water during the nighttime bioluminescence tour is the sort of experience that reminds Puget Sound residents how lucky they are to live in the region. Loercher described the tour as Fourth of July in the water, as marine dinoflagellates emit lights that are reminiscent of a sparkler one could see on the holiday. The tour leaves the Langley Marina late at night, coincidentally starting Fourth of July weekend. Guests are asked to bring headlamps, as Whidbey Island Kayaking has a limited supply of rentals.

“Kayaking is a great workout, you can see all kinds of wildlife and it’s visually stunning pretty much every hour of the day, from early in the morning to the middle of the night,” said Kevin Murphy, tour guide at Whidbey Island Kayaking. “Every once in a while you’ll walk away with a really interesting story.”

Animal interactions often tend to be a part of the unique experiences people come away with. According to Loercher, she has seen orcas, sea lions, Dall’s porpoise, and regularly sees teeming marine life such as a variety of crabs, fish, starfish, sea urchins and kelp beds. On the Whidbey Island Kayaking website, a video of a sea lion jumping onto the rear of a kayak can be found. They are like curious puppies, Loercher said.

“Just two weeks ago, there was a couple out on the early morning light tour and they were able to paddle along with two gray whales for about a half hour,” Loercher said. “Of course they kept their distance because of the whale regulations, but it was just an incredible experience they will never forget.”

Tour guides have extensive kayaking experience, but are also knowledgable about Puget Sound’s ecology, geography and history, giving it an educational touch. According to Loercher, they don’t just paddle with you, they teach you by sharing their knowledge about what is out there. As tour guides such as Murphy can attest to, it’s a lifestyle worth quitting a desk job for.

“I think it’s great to have them here on the island, particularly since they are locals who know the island and community so well,” said Erin Masterson, an early morning tour participant. “They are in a  nice position to introduce visitors and even locals to the beauty of these waters. We even saw an eagle carrying sticks for a nest this morning.”

The Pacific Northwest is considered one of the best places to kayak in the world, according to Loercher. The mix of natural beauty and teeming wildlife make it assured to be a unique experience for locals as well as world travelers.

“We’re on this jewel, the Salish Sea,” Loercher said. “We have interesting currents and beautiful coastline, and we are lucky to have all this sea life. We’re lucky if we see a whale from the shore, but to see them up close and personal while on the water is such a special experience.”