On the Southern Oregon Coast, a jagged coastline of capes, coves and craggy islands forms a labyrinth of protected waters perfectly suited for kayaking. South Coast Tours can get you out there. Two- to four-hour paddling trips depart right from the commercial-fishing harbor in Port Orford, where Grant Hogan and other guides send kayaks down a handcrafted wooden slide onto the beach 40 feet below and into a hidden world of jade-green waters brimming with marine life. Hogan is an expert on the water; he grew up in California and lived in Hawaii and Florida as a dive master, competitive freediver and freediving instructor. We chatted with Hogan to learn more about how he helps visitors appreciate the ocean and its incredibly rich ecosystem.
How much experience is necessary to join one of your tours?
Going out on the ocean sounds pretty intense, but our tours aren’t designed to be an outrageous, scary adventure. They’re more of a relaxing, sightseeing adventure. We take people of all ages and abilities, including those who have never kayaked before. As guides, we’ll gauge the trip appropriately; it’s often just a matter of pace. For someone who’s never kayaked before, July and August are probably the best months. The wind switches to the north in summer, so the places we paddle are more protected. Mornings tend to be calmer, too.
What’s it like on the Southern Oregon Coast?
There aren’t many places where you can be down on a beach or up in the mountains with no one around, surrounded by all this nature. One time hiking near Humbug Mountain, there was a herd of elk behind me and whales swimming by in front of me. It’s just so wild. People are blown away by the amount of wildlife here.
What kind of marine life can you see from a kayak?
The coves we explore on the Port Orford Ocean Wildlife Kayaking Tour are kind of like being in a tide pool, on a much bigger scale. You can paddle right up to sea stars, mussels and anemones clinging to the rocks. There are tons of birds — oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots, brown pelicans, osprey, cormorants — especially out around the islands. We see plenty of seals and sea lions. This area is a resting stop for gray whales as they’re migrating north, so we have close encounters with them. An upwelling pushes in the krill, so the whales come in near shore to get some food and take a break out of the current.
What are some of the other trips South Coast Tours offers?
Out of Port Orford, we also have a Kayak Fishing Tour and an Orford Heads Snorkeling and Kayak Tour, which is pretty unique. There’s so much going on underwater. We have a spot called “Aquarium Arch” that’s usually filled with fish. All the rocks provide great habitat. There are schools of lingcod and rockfish, and all kinds of interesting creatures like spiky sea cucumbers that not everyone gets to see.
You can also do similar trips by boat instead of kayak, like the Whales & Wildlife Boat Tour and a Snorkeling by Boat Tour. South Coast runs lots of other kayak trips beyond Port Orford, too — in Gold Beach, Brookings, on the Rogue River and up in the South Slough near Coos Bay.
When you’re not kayaking, what else do you like to do in the area?
My wife and I have a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, so we spend a lot of time exploring tide pools. Battle Rock Wayside Park and Arizona Beach State Recreation Site are really good spots. And if I get the chance to freedive and spearfish, that’s pretty much where I am. I’m also involved with the Oregon Kelp Alliance, doing some field studies on how we can restore the kelp forests that have been thinning dramatically in the last decade. When I lead kayak tours, I try to share information about the kelp and what’s going on out there.