Los Angeles Times

Reporter's Notebook: Bitten by a water bug

I've never had a good relationship with the sea, or really any large body of water where I could drown.

But then I heard about the Moonlight Kayaking tours offered at the Newport Aquatic Center in Newport Beach.

I can't tread water, but at 23 I figured I'd give water activities one more shot. What could possibly go wrong with kayaking in the Back Bay on Memorial Day weekend? At least I'll have a lifejacket on, right?

By day, Danny Hough is a kayak instructor at Orange Coast College, but at night he moonlights as a tour guide, leading paddlers around the bay and residential areas.

It all started in 2005 when he needed to schedule make-up classes for his students. The only time he had was at night.

"UC Irvine then asked me to do one of their moonlight paddles and I told myself, 'Why am I not doing this on my own?'" Hough said. "From that point on, I started scheduling them on my own."

Hough began arranging classes in the Back Bay independently and eventually formed an agreement with the Newport Aquatic Center, he said.

He has seen shooting stars, dolphins and bobcats during his nighttime trips. During one winter, a resident decorated their house with lavish Christmas lights and brought out a snow machine.

Back to the Saturday before Memorial Day, Hough assured the 43 guests — including me — that we would be fine and that the paddle wouldn't be too demanding.

After his brief rundown on the do's and don'ts — do keep your body straight, don't tilt your head from side to side — he told us to grab a kayak and set off.

This is when I started to get nervous.

I needed to take my mind off the stress that was slowly building. I needed to find someone else who was new at kayaking.

I chatted with a couple from San Bernardino County who were staying at the Newport Dunes. They were looking for a weekend activity and stumbled upon Moonlight Kayaking.

Anne Robb and Chris Rutt had gone kayaking before, but this was their first time cruising at night.

"My parents had sailboats and that's fun and all, but they're constantly messing with the rigging," Robb said. "It's nice to just get out on the water and relax a little bit."

Talking to them didn't aid my miniature dilemma. I proceeded to talk to a few more folks — but they were of course seasoned kayakers, much to my chagrin.

I gave up on looking for another novice and started to tell myself, "Nothing bad is going to happen."

As a safety precaution, Hough made the group count off to ensure we were together when we stopped along the trip.

I was graced with 13. Was this a sign that I shouldn't be on this tour?

I wasn't deterred. I climbed into a bright yellow kayak, ready to paddle through the marina.

We set off about 7:30 p.m., as the sun slowly set. It took about 10 minutes for me to get the hang of things and before I knew it, I was paddling next to multimillion-dollar yachts and enjoying the sea breeze.

We headed toward Harbor Island, pausing underneath the East Coast Highway bridge and a low-laying pass at Aloha Drive.

By the time we reached Harbor Island, Hough decided it was a little too late to paddle to Balboa Island and directed us to head back to the Aquatic Center.

The GoPro video camera on my head caught a good amount of the scenery before it got dark. Very dark.

If not for the glow sticks on our vests, the lit homes and yachts, it would've been pitch black. It was supposed to be a moonlit paddle, but the clouds covered the moon and most of the stars.

Regardless if I could see or that I was the 13th kayaker, I loved every moment of the tour. The way my vessel glided through the water and the mere fact that I was trying something out of my comfort zone excited me.

I navigated through the Back Bay, developed a new relationship with water and got a decent workout, all for $35.

I've been itching to go kayaking again since that day. It's like I've been bit by a bug, a water bug. And the only cure is more kayaking.


If You Go

What: Moonlight Kayaking

Where: Newport Aquatic Center, 1 Whitecliffs Drive, Newport Beach

When: Visit Newport Aquatic Center website for the full schedule.

Cost: $35

Reservations: (949) 646-7725

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