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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Kayaking Adventures in Fresno and Tulare-Kings Counties

Jun 24, 2016 05:44PM ● By Jordan Venema

Head Downstream

July 2016
By Jordan Venema
Photo: Cameron Fatica

Summer is here, and as anybody who has ever spent a minute in the Central Valley in June will tell you, it hasn’t even begun to get hot. While the 100-degree weather might seem to be the perfect reason to stay in, one summer activity could persuade almost anybody to get out and beat the heat: Kayaking.

In Fresno and Tulare-Kings counties, residents have seemingly endless water supplies within their reach. From lakes and rivers to reservoirs and the ocean, those who are willing to make the drive will always have a place to wet their toes – or dip their paddles.

Want to stay both cool and active this summer? Kayaking might be the ideal hobby. If the boat is floating in still waters, it’s at the kayaker’s discretion whether to casually coast or rapidly paddle, and if a sweat ever breaks, well, water will never be too far away. Kayaking is also affordable, accessible and relatively easy to learn, but mostly it’s an adventure waiting to happen, and a reason to get out and explore. 

With destinations like Avila Beach and Shaver Lake (and more in between), there’s not only a surplus of places to launch your ship, but affordable rentals at most locations. Single and double kayaks usually run between $15 and $20 an hour, with reduced rates for additional time, and if you consider the cost of a movie ticket these days, renting a kayak is like a drop in the bucket – or a river, or a lake.

But if you’re the type that prefers to dive right into a hobby, you could skip renting altogether and just buy a kayak. Or better yet you could make one, which is exactly what Rob Ojeda did.

The Visalia teacher, whose interest in kayaking began with sea kayaking, considered buying his own until he saw the cost. While researching boats online, Ojeda came across the skin-on-frame kayak – a wood frame covered with a durable canvas – which he says was relatively easy to build. “A kayak that would cost you 1,000 or 2,000 bucks will only cost 200 bucks in materials,” says Ojeda, “and I had the time and the tools.”

Building the boat required the right tools and a bit of woodworking skill, but Ojeda believes “if anyone is willing to take the time and has the patience to follow through with it, they could build their own.” It might be worth it: Ojeda’s describes the 18-foot kayak as “becoming an extension of your body. It’s almost like yoga.” 

Whether you build, buy or rent your kayak, this year will be an especially good season for kayaking, considering the healthy snowfall this past winter, as long as you know the right spots.

“We’re getting into a really good time for kayaking,” agrees Ojeda. “I love the upper portion of Kaweah Lake. We have nice runoff this year and the lake will fill up even more. It’s sort of a submerged forest at the head of the lake, and it’s awesome. You can’t beat the birds and the turtles and the frogs, and the water is crystal clear.

“Shaver Lake is also gorgeous,” continues Ojeda, “and if you get out early in the morning before the winds pick up, the lake is eerily crystal clear and you feel like you’re floating through the sky. You look down and you can see giant boulders. It throws you off.”

But maybe Ojeda’s favorite spot is Avila. When it comes to sea kayaking, “it has the nicest launch, and it’s fairly mellow water. And the wildlife, you can’t beat it.” 

For those new to kayaking, Ojeda recommends starting with a sit-on-top kayak on a calm lake. “It’s easy to flip and it’s not going to fill up with water. It’s like a bulletproof barge,” he says with a laugh. “You just can’t screw it up.”


Shaver Lake Watersports • (559) 841-8222 •

Avila Beach Paddlesports • (805) 704-6902 •

Fresno River Sport Center • (559) 289-8874 •

For additional suggestions and locations to kayak, check out Paddling California: