One man’s paddle journey around Point Reyes

07/05/2012

Each time Inverness resident Josh Berry looks out from his backyard, he sees the splendor of California’s wild coast embodied in Tomales Bay. He is also reminded of the countdown to his next adventure — a paddle around Point Reyes, from Drakes Bay to Bolinas.

“Everyone says I’m crazy and it’s dangerous and [asks] ‘Aren’t you afraid of sharks?’ but I’ve been training for this kind of thing for years, so it’s not as bad as people think,” Mr. Berry, who grew up in Olema and is an avid surfer, said. The challenge is part of his latest project, The Ocean Inside, a short film documenting his 25-mile paddle board journey and the imagery — and aquatic delicacies — he finds along the way.  Weather permitting, his journey will begin as early as the first week of August.

Equipped with a wet suit, paddle, waterproof bag filled with emergency rations, drinking water, and a few other handy items, Mr. Berry will take to the ocean. “If all goes well I’ll come out at the Bolinas Lagoon,” he said. “If I have to abort it, I’ll come out at some barren stretch of Point Reyes National Seashore and hike out — hopefully that won’t happen.”

Whether paddling prone or standing, Mr. Berry knows the constant exercise will wear him out, so he plans to keep an eye out for one of his favorite snacks: seaweed. “It’s probably like the healthiest thing you can eat period,” he said. “[Some seaweed] tastes like a hardy, salty, fishy kale... and then there’s others more like an ocean flavored broccoli.”

An experienced cook who’s worked at Cowgirl Creamery, the Olema Inn, and San Francisco’s prestigious Foreign Cinema, Mr. Berry has been experimenting with food for years, and nothing has been more satisfying than what he’s foraged from the ocean. “I love to forage,” he said. Among the tools that he will bring for his paddle trip are a knife, which he’ll tie around his neck, and a fishing line, which he’ll tie to the back of his board. “Maybe I’ll make some fresh sushi,” he said. He also plans to forage for shellfish and sea urchin.

After the first six hours of his course, if all goes well, Mr. Berry plans to stop for the night at Wildcat Beach, before heading out for the remaining two to three hours of his voyage. Though the plan sounds simple enough, executing it could be a different story. “The ocean here is rough... the winds get really strong, and it can get super foggy without any warning,” he said. “In general, on the ocean, things can go wrong pretty quickly.”

Mr. Berry is no stranger to adversity on the ocean. A few years ago, he sailed to Kauai from San Francisco Bay. “By the end of the trip we had a ripped main sail, the engine was barely running, we were almost out of food... it was a chain of events,” he recalled. In the face of possible exhaustion, dehydration, hypothermia, and other threats, Mr. Berry feels the odds are in his favor. “I’ve been training for this for at least six months, and I have at least 20 years of experience on this coastline.”

He also has the heart. In February 2010, after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile, Mr. Berry returned to Curanipe, a coastal town where he had lived for five years while working for Save the Waves, an international nonprofit dedicated to protecting the surf zone. “It was an area the size of Marin that was completely leveled to the ground. I spent two years trying to help get it back,” said Mr. Berry, who initiated a program to repair water filters and provide micro grants for relief efforts.

For Mr. Berry, one of the best parts of being at sea is the solitude. “I think the ocean in particular and the color blue have always been a major source of inspiration for humans,” he said.

Of course, there will be other life forms, from snowy plovers to eagles, seals and even humpback whales. “I’ve never, ever, ever — knock on wood — seen a shark out here,” he said as he rapped his fist on a picnic table, aware that the area is the notorious stomping grounds for great white sharks. But even if he does see a great white, Mr. Berry knows what to do. “I’d stand my ground, and try not to move,” he said. “You just kind of watch them and make sure they don’t bite you.”

Before he can embark on his journey, which he hopes will inspire not only a film but an art exhibit, short stories and spoken word performances, Mr. Berry needs to raise money. His kickstarter project is posted at kickstarter.com/projects/joshberry/the-ocean-inside, along with an informational video.