Kayaking The Newport Harbor Christmas Light Parade

  • Updated: December 18, 2014
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

What: Newport Christmas Light Parade
When: December 18th, 2014
Where: Newport Beach Harbor
Who: Matthew Hengst (kayak), Jen Blackie (kayak), Gracia Delavida (kayak), Kristen Lindbergh (kayak), Karyn Strong (SUP), Steve Kotzbauer (SUP), Paul Ludgate (boat), Alan Bennenbroek (boat)
Pictures: [Matt]

I kayak in Newport Harbor quite a bit after work.  It's been one of the perks of being back in Orange County full time after years spent working on the road.  It's a nice bit of exercise and the water is usually pleasantly glassy at night.  Not to mention we can paddle over to Pizza Nova, dock, and have pizza and beer!

This time of year the harbor gets decked out in some impressive Christmas displays and each night for a week there's a parade of decorated boats.  Viewing locations along the shore are all packed and restaurants and hotels with a view all charge a premium and fill up.

I've a few times riding through with a bike club during my cycling days or just walking through the houses on shore but since we've bought the kayaks I've been thinking it would be neat to see it close up from the water.

I sent out a blast email inviting anyone able to beg borrow or rent anything that could float and a group eventually shook out.

We planned to go Wednesday December 17th since it was the first night of the parade but the tail end of a weather system made us switch to Thursday to avoid a chance of rain.

Loading the kayaks
In addition to our three sea kayaks we had Gracia paddling Jen's old inflatable and Steve and Karyn along on their Stand Up Paddleboards.  A friend Paul would be on his boat with another friend Alan and we even had some spare inflatables if anyone had joined us last minute.

The plan was for everyone to meet at the beach at North Shore Aquatic at 6:30 and be in the water by 7 pm.  Heavy traffic around Newport delayed us a bit but it worked out.

Decorating on the beach
Mostly we had battery powered christmas lights we'd bought off Amazon.  Technically they aren't supposed to be used in the water but as long as you keep the battery boxes out of the water they do fine.  Jen had a light up penguin and Kristen had a light up tree on the front of their boats while I had snowflake lights which cycled colors.  The bright lights on the red and the green boat are the normal lights we use so people can see us when we paddle after dark.

We all put in and had a fair bit of paddling before reaching the main channel.  Things were fairly quiet until we passed under PCH and there were suddenly boats everywhere and we could hear christmas music floating in from multiple directions.

(There's less pictures than I'd like from this since I was trying to take them in the dark from a rocking kayak while trying to avoid driving into the shore or in front of yachts.  Oh, and not drop my hiking camera into the habor.)

We paddled into the main channel and started heading west along the north side of Lido aiming for where Paul and Alan were waiting in the boat.

As we paddled along we soon realized we were ahead of the parade.  This had a fun side effect since we were passing in front of a large amount of excited people all waiting to see the parade.  We ended up with all sorts of applause and only a few scattered comments along the lines of "That must be terrifying!"

It actually wasn't.  We got some chop from all of the boats around us but nothing problematic.  We were lit up fairly well and stuck along the shore so we had less worry about getting run over.

Karyn on her SUP.  Yea, that's a camp chair.
It turns out the parade travels at about our usual paddling speed so we kept right ahead of the parade until we were almost to Pizza Nova where we slowed down and started looking for Paul and Alan.

We followed the boats as they turned around the basin and after some frantic holding on to a dock while texting (slightly dangerous but quite entertaining in an oh-my-god-I-hope-I-don't-drop-my-new-iphone sort of way) we figured out where Paul's boat was.

Turns out he was on the far side of the bridge so we paddled over that way.  We found his boat just as the parade came across us for a second time this time head on with slightly less room between them and the docks.  And Paul was in the middle of the channel.

We found a suitable gap with a suitable lack of harbor patrol and dove across the parade.

Getting out of sea kayaks onto a catamaran proved to be somewhat interesting but we eventually managed to get everyone on board.

After ample wine, cheese, and socializing we all (carefully!) reboarded our boats and headed east along the south side of Lido.  There was still the occasional lit up boat or shore party going on but things had quieted down quite a bit.  Everyone had to work the next morning so we headed back for the cars rather than circle around Balboa.

All in all it was a successful outing!  Next year we'll likely leave work a little earlier to account for the traffic getting to newport and I have some bigger and better ideas for lighting up the boats.  And we're always open to new people coming along :)

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