Paddle Sports of Santa Barbara
This story goes back to the early 1990s when the eastern portion of Santa Cruz Island was still owned privately by the Gherini family. In these days pigs and sheep occupied the lands and the sea caves of the Northern coast of the islands were mysterious and seldom explored. In the 1980s, a small expedition of explorers chartered the sea caves and wrote two books, Sea Caves of Santa Cruz Island and Sea Caves of Anacapa Island. These explorers swam and dove the 200+ volcanic sea caves of the two islands charting and naming each crack, some large enough to drive a boat into, and some barely small enough to squeeze an inflatable tube through the narrow entrance ways. The mystery of the sea caves of the Channel Islands had been revealed… and with it came a new era of visitors to this ancient island chain.
First it was Paddle Sports of Santa Barbara, a company founded by the Mark Olson in 1991 on lower State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. Mark started running the first kayak trips at Scorpion Ranch on East Santa Cruz Island using the newly designed sit-on-top kayaks as the exploration vessels into the sea caves of Cavern Point and Scorpion Rock. In 1999 Mark and Luisa Hyatt took the reigns of the Paddle Sports company on lower State keeping the business alive by moving operations to the SB Harbor just before the infamous “Libby” project closed most of the buildings in what is now called the “Funk Zone” in preparation for a project that didn’t become realized until a decade later. The Hyatts, having just recently traded their dancing bears for a family, took over the shop at the peak of the boom of sit-on-top kayak, a “technology” that brought ocean exploration on a self powered craft to the masses. This boom came quick, and the Hyatts had to expand both a retail business AND a guiding operation in the course of a summer.
At first Paddle Sports of Santa Barbara had been a hub for a small handful of river kayakers that found a coastal home, but desired the mountain flow of whitewater. This group would take their whitewater kayaks to the ocean and surf in the waves at Mondos and C Street waiting for the spring melt to come bring the torrent of fast moving joy in the Kern River valley. By the late 90s however, the popularity of the sea caves at Santa Cruz Island was building, and the group of ‘dirtbag’ river guides was becoming a group of ‘dirtbag’ ocean guides. One of these river guides turned ocean guides to join the scene was Josh Lewis, just recently leaving his post as a raft guide on the Arkansas River in Colorado.
It was at this time that a young traveler name Garrett Kababik, on a cross country road trip handed off a resume with “river guide” as the title to Josh late on a Friday afternoon in June 2001. Josh knew that finding a river guide meant that he could rely on a strong team and work ethic (despite what may be thought of ‘dirtbag’ guides, they are a hard working team of good people). Before the sun had set that night, Josh had hired Garrett to work that coming weekend on Refugio Beach, launching kayaks over Fathers’ day weekend through head-high waves… the fun was only just getting started! By the end of the summer Garrett had gotten a taste of the Channel Islands, and he knew that he would be back the following summer to do it all over again!
Upon returning to New Hampshire that Fall, Garrett had shared his summer stories with college friend Casey Desharnais. Casey heard all he needed to hear, and by mid Winter, he packed us his Cutlas Sierra (International) and headed west… bound for Paddle Sports of Santa Barbara. When he arrived he met the new shop manager, Joel Mulder.
Joel Mulder got his proverbial feet wet by building a wood frame sea kayak in his college apartment in Colorado while getting a degree in Biology from CU Boulder. Joel finished his sea kayak and his degree and moved to Santa Barbara to put at least one of those accomplishments to work, it just so happened to be the sea kayak that landed him his first post undergraduate position as manager of the rapidly growing and changing Paddle Sports shop.
The transition from kayaking in closed-deck sea kayaks to sit-on-top splash decks was great for business, but it left many traditionalists pining for the era where kayaking required deft and experience.
Joel was one of those “poetics” wanting to keep the traditions alive, and he did this by maintaining a program of stocking the traditional gear and providing skill training to those who shared that nostalgia. He kelp it alive by teaching a monthly eskimo roll class in the pool at the Anacapa Dive shop (now Municipal Winery).
In 2004 Garrett returned to Santa Barbara to complete his undergraduate degree from the University of New Hampshire in recreational management by interning at Paddle Sports of Santa Barbara for the summer. As part of his internship, Garrett built a plan to diversify the adventure programing at Paddle Sports to include more of the islands an position these offerings to companies as team building experiences.
Joel left Paddle Sports in late 2005 to pursue his biology degree and passion for managing fisheries. Garrett continued at Paddle Sports until 2009 when he left to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail to escape the recession that was coming to California and the rest of the US.
Channel Islands Outfitters
It was mid summer 2010 when the struggle that Paddle Sports was experiencing became serious enough for the Hyatts to consider parting with the business that had been their ‘baby’ for the past decade. But in October of 2010 three Paddle Sports guides partnered up and formed the next chapter in this story, Channel Islands Outfitters (CIO).
The three founders, Fraser Kersey, Johnny Dresser, and Garrett Kababik had all become friends working together at the Channel Islands in the 2000s. During that time the guiding business was more and more popular every year and the competition at Santa Cruz Island was fierce. New operators had shown up who didn’t have an apparent concern for the environment or safety. The CIO founders recognized this and wanted to make sure that this new company was driven by it’s mission and worked to improve the community.
In 2013 CIO institutionalized it’s mission by become a Certified Benefit Corporation, the first service based B Corp in the world, and one of the first 800 companies to be certified by B Labs.
It was at this time that CIO launched the “Ultimate Island Adventure” through a partnership with Truth Aquatics and REI Adventures. This offering was the first of its kind; an all island expedition with kayaking, hiking, diving, and learning in the Channel Islands National Park. CIO co-founder Garrett Kababik had created this adventure after being hired as a private guide for a dive group in the last 2000s to take them on kayak paddles at some of the destinations they were diving at. Combining all activities into one trip meant that the guests were able to see and experience the Channel Islands in a way that deepened appreciation for the diversity of this island chain. Moving from west to east along the islands was the perfect route and the destinations were breathtaking…everytime!
In 2017 the Channel Islands National Park finalized their General Management Plan which only allowed for one operator to remain at East Santa Cruz Island. This operator was selected through a competitive bid process, and Channel Islands Outfitters, with their 30 years of experience and broad network of community partnerships was not selected, thus began the unwinding of CIO.
Paddle Sports Center
What remained after all of the island equipment was liquidated and the 20 or so guides were laid off, was the Paddle Sports Center in the Santa Barbara Harbor. Unfortunately, this had always been one third of the revenue of the company, and so only 1 of the three partners could remain in a full time position. Garrett and wife Kaia left for Hawaii and Johnny moved stayed in Ojai. Fraser remained at Paddle Sports until selling his interest in 2020.
Sunfish – Wild Blue
After a few years in Hawaii, Kaia and Garrett returned to California (part time) to take over the Sunfish and operate kayaking trips at Anacapa Island. Owning and operating a passenger vessel was a new challenge for the Kababiks, but it was one they were ready to take on, as it offered more flexibility in the types of tours they could offer, and it provided more security from having to compete for a permit with the National Park.
It was also a lot of fun! Anacapa had always been a favorite island of Garrett’s and an Ultimate Adventure that Garrett had taken Kaia on during their courtship, they enjoyed free diving the warmer waters and deep arche ways so much, they
Channel Islands Expeditions
This is where this story takes a new turn. By the Fall of 2020, the Fritzlers had expressed their interest to sell the Truth and the Vision to the Kababiks. Garrett and Kaia had always dreamed of running these