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Group Kayaking in Santa Cruz, CA: How to Plan an Unforgettable Adventure

Last Updated on January 12, 2024 by Jess Grigsby

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group kayaking santa cruz

If you’re looking for an unforgettable, unique experience that brings people together, group kayaking in Santa Cruz, CA, is the perfect fit.

At Kayak Connection, we help both small and large groups plan kayaking trips year-round in Santa Cruz and the Elkhorn Slough, so we know what it takes to organize a smooth outing that everyone will enjoy.

In this blog, we’ll share a few of our top tips for planning your next group kayaking adventure.

Let’s dive in.

Why Kayaking is the Perfect Group Activity

Some activities are hard to do as a group. Kayaking is not one of them.

Here are a few reasons kayaking is the perfect group activity:

  • Group kayaking creates lasting memories. Sitting in a kayak on the water under the warm sun is unforgettable. Renting kayaks as a group or going on a guided tour will be a fun, unique experience that everyone will remember for years to come.
  • It’s COVID-safe. Because kayaking takes place outdoors on the open water, it’s a safer way to spend a memorable day together.
  • You get to practice teamwork. When kayaking, everyone paddles and moves together. This makes it a great team-building exercise and the perfect way to strengthen leadership roles and positive group dynamics.
  • Kayaking is perfect for people of all ages and abilities. Kayaking doesn’t require any prior experience. People of most abilities and ages can enjoy kayaking — including kids, which is why it’s one of the most fun activities to do with kids in Santa Cruz. Timid paddlers can stay in the protected waters of the slough, while more experienced or ambitious paddlers can venture out into the ocean.

Group Kayaking 101: 7 Tips for Planning the Perfect Adventure in Santa Cruz, CA

planning group kayaking trip

Ready to plan your group kayaking adventure? By following these steps, it’s easy to plan a memorable kayaking trip:

1. Determine Your Group Size

First things first: count how many people will be in your kayaking group.

Some locations and tour types are better suited to small groups over large groups and vice versa. Some tours are ideal for adult paddlers, while others are more kid-friendly.

Here at Kayak Connection, we can accommodate groups of up to 100 kayakers for our Elkhorn Slough tours, so you’ve got plenty of room to bring your family, friends, or colleagues along.

Here are a few things to think about as you determine your group size:

  • Are you going with adults? Families? A corporate group?
  • What are the age ranges of your paddlers?
  • What are the skill levels and physical abilities of everyone in the group?

If you’re still trying to find someone to paddle with, there are kayaking groups and clubs you can join to meet like-minded paddlers.

We recommend checking out the American Canoe Association club finder or looking for a Meetup group in your area.

We also run a Sea Kayaking Club. The club runs for four weeks and meets each weekend for 3 hours. It’s a great place to meet other kayakers, explore the sport, and get some basic instruction at the same time.

Call the shop today to book your spot: (831) 479-1121

2. Understand the Skill Level of the Group

kayaking skill group

What’s the skill level of your group? Are they novice paddlers or experienced ones?

Understanding the group’s skill level will help you determine the ideal length of the trip and what setting would be best for everyone.

Kids, for example, might enjoy the calm waters of the slough, where they can splash around and play without worrying about waves or open water.

On the other hand, skilled adults might want a longer or more physically challenging route.

3. Determine the Type of Activity

Next, you’ll need to decide what type of kayak adventure you want to go on as a group. Will you rent kayaks and go out on your own or book a guided tour?

While renting kayaks provides you with a little more flexibility about when, where, and how far you kayak, booking a tour promises you’ll get more from the experience. A tour also takes the guesswork out of your kayak adventure.

Here at Kayak Connection, we offer tours for every interest, age group, and skill level. Our tours take place in the open ocean at the Santa Cruz Harbor or the calm waters of the Elkhorn Slough.

We handle everything from the kayak fitting to the route planning, which means you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience.

4. Determine the Location of Outing

group kayak location

Choose your location based on how accessible it will be. If you’re booking a tour, you should know that some tours require no kayaking experience, while others are better suited for more experienced boaters.

Additionally, some locations have a minimum participant age.

The location of your tour will also determine what kind of experiences you have. Our Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Tour, for example, offers the opportunity to see harbor seals and sea otters.

On the other hand, our Monterey Bay Wildlife Tours offer frequent dolphin sightings and views of Steamer Lane and the Santa Cruz Wharf.

If you’re renting kayaks and going out on your own, make sure the location matches the group’s skill level. Our rental pros will be happy to share their favorite kayaking spots and help you come up with the perfect setting for your outing.

During any self-guided tour, it’s important to know the local rules and guidelines regarding beach launching, since there are many protected locations along the California coast.

Before you head out, check with the California State Parks Department to learn about red flag warnings, beach swells, and other factors that could impact your trip. 

5. Find the Right Kayak Rental & Tour Company

santa cruz kayak tour company

If you’re going to go kayaking, it’s essential to work with a skilled and knowledgeable company that can handle the unique needs of a large group.

Here are a few non-negotiables to consider as you look for a kayak rental and tour company:

  • A commitment to safety. Kayaking is generally safe, but it’s still a good idea to hit the water with someone who understands what to do in a crisis. Here at Kayak Connection, our team prioritizes safety. Our guides are very comfortable with the open water and have training in incident management and rescue practice. We’re all CPR certified, and some of our guides hold advanced Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certifications.
  • Knowledge and expertise. A kayak tour should be an educational experience. At Kayak Connection, our guides are dedicated to exploring and conserving the natural marine environment of Monterey Bay. Many of our guides have degrees in biology, ecology, or marine conservation. When you book a tour with us, you get more than just a crash course on proper kayaking techniques: you also get a guide with a deep knowledge of and love for the local marine environment.
  • Fun and engaging guides. You should expect to have a great time on the water! The guides you choose to work with should be outgoing, personable, and dedicated to helping everyone enjoy the tour.
  • A commitment to customer service. Above all else, the guides you choose should deliver fantastic customer service. Your trip should be unforgettable, and your guides should work with you to make it so. From outfitting your group with the proper rental gear to creating a truly memorable tour experience – your guides should go above and beyond to cater to you. Your tour should also be customized. Nobody wants a scripted tour delivered on autopilot. Instead, your guide should tailor the information they share to your group’s particular interests and needs.

6. Check the Weather

Before you head out on your adventure, check the weather. We recommend bookmarking the NOAA weather condition report for Monterey Bay and referring to it early and often. No matter what, you should NEVER paddle in the open ocean during a small craft advisory.

That said, it is possible to kayak safely when it’s overcast or cloudy, but you might want to wear an extra layer or bring a change of clothes for after the trip.

If you’ve booked a tour through Kayak Connection, call us if you have any questions about the weather or what to wear.

We’ll provide recommendations on how to dress for the day of the trip and help you understand what kind of weather might impact your kayak tour.

7. Get ready

Now that you’ve put the details in place, it’s time to prepare for the big day!

Be sure to check with your tour guides ahead of time to learn if you should bring anything additional (some tours encourage bringing a camera for photography, for example) and what the guides will cover on tour day – like lunch and snacks.

If you’re renting kayaks, make a list of all the supplies you’ll need, and double-check that you have everything before hitting the water.

4 Helpful Tips for Kayaking with a Group

group kayaking tips

Kayaking with a group is a great way to experience the beautiful landscapes around Santa Cruz and the Elkhorn Slough.

Once you’re out on the water, follow these tips to make your group tour fun and seamless:

  1. Determine a group leader. If you’ve booked a professional tour, your guide will be the group leader. If you’re renting kayaks and going out on your own, decide who will be the group leader before you hit the water. The group leader handles setting the pace for the tour, safety considerations, timekeeping, taking a headcount, and managing extra gear and supplies.
  2. Use the buddy system. If you’re going out with a big group, use the buddy system to ensure nobody falls behind or feels uncomfortable. The buddy system pairs people together to watch out for each other and lend a hand if needed. This is especially important if you’re kayaking with kids.
  3. Double-check all gear. If you rent kayaks, the rental company will check all your equipment for safety before hitting the water. The same goes if you’ve booked a professional tour. Still, it never hurts to give everything a once-over before you set sail. If you notice that your gear isn’t working the way it should or does not feel comfortable, say something before you start paddling.
  4. Have fun! Last but not least, have fun! Kayaking is an enjoyable group adventure. Being on the water is also soothing and relaxing, so don’t forget to take a deep breath, take it all in, and enjoy the setting.

Plan Your Next Group Kayaking Trip with Kayak Connection

If you’re planning a group kayaking adventure in Santa Cruz, our team is here to help.

Whether you’re booking a tour for a large group, a corporate retreat, or a team-building exercise, we’re here to create a memorable, enjoyable kayak tour you’ll enjoy from start to finish. If you’d rather rent kayaks and go out on your own, our team can set you up with the gear you need.

Contact us to book your kayaking group tour today!

Author: Jess Grigsby

Since 2012, Jess has co-owned and operated Kayak Connection together with her husband Dave. She is a lawyer, coach, avid kayak enthusiast and mother of two teenage girls. At Kayak Connection, Jess oversees a team of experienced kayak guides who are all CPR certified, with many holding advanced Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certifications. Our team is composed of environmental educators, naturalists and classroom teachers with experience working with all kinds of visitors, from school groups to large corporate teams.