Get to Know Kayak Guide Dallas Smith

The GuideAdvisor crew had the pleasure of meeting Dallas Smith while on a tour down the California coast in 2013. He immediately impressed us with his knowledge, laid back attitude and his excellent story-telling skills. He’s been an outdoor guide since 2005, “working” all over the country leading mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, and rafting tours but his main love is kayaking. These days he works as the Operations Manager, Lead Guide and Instructor with Blue Waters Kayaking in the beautiful Tomales Bay region near Point Reyes National Park, which is about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. (Tomales Bay is just one of the beautiful kayaking areas we recommended visiting in California. Click here for the others.) He’s a Level 4 Coastal Kayak Instructor and a Level 2 Stand Up Paddle Board Instructor, who was certified through the American Canoe Association and he’s also a Wilderness First Responder is Swift Water Rescue certified. Like all kayak guides, Dallas lives to be in the water and in this interview he shares with us a few of his adventures.

It’s great connecting with you again, Dallas. Tell us, how did you become a kayak guide?

My family owned a campground growing up so I was always leading people around and showing them my backyard – which is why guiding was such an easy decision for me. I’ve always been an avid kayaker and my first kayak job was in Key Largo (I applied online). I loved it! In 2005 I got my Level 1 American Canoe Association certification for kayak instructor and have never looked back.

What does a typical day look like for you?

At 7am the guides and I meet at the marshall site and get all the gear ready. Then the customers arrive around 9:30 and we help them get familiar with the gear, etc. From there we’ll launch from one of 8 different sites and go out for a tour, keeping an  eye out for wildlife, sharing stories of the area’s past, that sort of thing. Eventually we all return to the site and I’ll take break for a few hours before starting to prepare our night kayak tours. They start at 6:30 so we’ll do a guide meeting an hour beforehand and then prep the boats with waterproof glow lights. The night tours are a lot of fun because we go searching for bioluminescence for a few hours. After that we’ll put the gear away by 11:30pm. We do those night tours Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the season so it’s Go, Go, Go from April to November.

What’s bioluminescence and why are these tours so popular?

Bioluminescence is caused by tiny plankton organisms called dinoflagellates, which are unique in that they’re part plant-like and part animal-like. They get their energy from the sun through photosynthesis, similar to plants, but they have a tiny tail-like appendage that they use to move around with. Here in Tomales Bay we get high concentrations of these dinoflagellates and what’s really cool about them is when they’re disturbed, they emit this blue-green light, or bioluminescence. So when you paddle through them, they light up. On our tours, especially on really dark nights they’re amazing: every little drip from your paddle will light up and sometimes it’s so bright, you can see your neighbour’s face. It’s like paddling through a kind of dancing, glowing glitter.

Have you got a certain style of guiding, or do you just run with it on the day?

I have a few different styles. It depends on the customers. But in all my styles I tend to talk a lot. (Laughs) But sometimes we have these amazingly tranquil tours as well where we just listen to the sound of the water and watch the sunset. For all my tours, though, I try to be enthusiastic and share my love of sea kayaking with others.

What is the best part of your job?

I work with such great and unique people and then meet wonderful people from all around the world. Just the other night we did a tour with employees from a local business, most of whom had never been kayaking before. And then they brought some friends who live in Mexico. It was super fun.

What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had on a guided tour?

We were on a bioluminescence tour last year and around that time there were lots of herring in the bay, which of course attract larger fish and animals. At one point there must have been about 12 sea lions following us, splashing around, breaching and barking. The clients loved it because it was such a unique experience (especially because it was dark out) but sea lions are massive creatures and they were so close that I was a bit nervous. But it all worked out and we now have a great story to tell.

Ever had any odd requests from clients?

Definitely. The first one that comes time mind is a group of 60-year-old women who wanted to reenact a bachelorette party. They wanted to fill the kayaks with ice, champagne and oysters. But they didn’t tell us until the last second before we were heading out so we had to wing it. They had a fun time.

Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job that you don’t like or aren’t that keen on?

In the high season the long hours can be tough but we’re outside the whole time so I can’t complain that much.

As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?

i discuss this a lot with people because we also do rentals here so people can go out by themselves if they want. But what I say to them is that our guides are out there seven days a week and know where all the cool, secret spots are and they can explain things. They also have local knowledge and can tell you about things outside of the tour like where to eat, etc.

Tell us something about your area/activity that only a guide would know.

We can tell you where the bat rays are, where the strongest bioluminescence has been seen and where they best hiking trails are (because they’re not marked in the Tomales Bay area).

In your view, what makes a good tour guide?

Personality and knowledge. Those are the two things i look for when I hire guides.

And finally, have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?

Contact the company beforehand and let them know what you’re hoping to experience. If you give them the most info possible, you’re guaranteed an excellent time.

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