By Gena Bentall and Hannah Walker
Thirty-one years ago Jeff and Cass Schrock had a vision to share their passion for the marine life of Monterey Bay with the world. Back when Del Monte Beach was lined with decrepit automotive and railroad buildings, Jeff and Cass started taking kayaking lessons to immerse themselves in the bay’s scenic views.
In the mid-80s when natural history tours of coastal Monterey Bay were uncommon and kayaking as a form of marine recreation was in its infancy, the Schrocks purchased their first fleet and Monterey Bay Kayaks was born.
Pioneers of their time, Jeff and Cass worked alongside fellow eco-tourism pioneers, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, to foster a renewed awareness of the unique natural treasures of Monterey Bay and welcomed an influx of visitors ready to explore.
Cass describes how their focus was of helping people discover the bay’s unique wildlife from the very beginning, “Jeff was a ‘home-grown’ naturalist. When we first started kayaking, he already knew about all the wildlife. He’d pick up kelp blade and show me little snail eggs – perfect concentric circles – and he would know what kind of snails they were. We knew that people would get hooked the same way we did.”
As Monterey Bay Kayaks continues to grow, so does the marine recreation industry. With an ever-increasing demand to get on the water, Monterey Bay Kayaks are at the forefront of efforts to educate customers and protect the waters they tour.
For their guided natural history tours, staff pair customers with well-trained guides who explain and model responsible behavior. The greatest challenges facing Monterey Bay Kayaks are international visitors and kayakers who opt to embark without a guide. Cass, who has continued to run the shops after Jeff’s passing in 2004, is continuously evolving their approach toward instilling these independent paddlers with a responsible ethic towards wildlife as they paddle unsupervised from the shop. In a multi-layered approach, paddlers will receive an initial orientation illustrated by innovative graphic signage, and be given a final reminder about wildlife etiquette by staff on the beach as they launch.
When asked what strategy she feels would be most helpful in reaching the independent paddler, Cass said “they have to have a certain attitude before they even come to us. That’s something that’s totally out of our control. Our biggest success is when somebody already has the attitude: the ocean’s a dangerous place, I have to be respectful, marine mammals are protected and we shouldn’t disturb them.”
In 2016, Monterey Bay Kayaks was the first to test and apply Sea Otter Savvy’s waterproof decals to their entire fleet, to provide a final reminder to respect sea otters while paddling. The success of this interface with customers is dependent on the high caliber of Monterey Bay Kayaks’ staff, all of whom are carefully selected, trained and provided with continued education by Cass and biologists at their "sea otter sessions".
Of all her accomplishments, Cass is most proud of her staff, “they are going to be our ambassadors. No matter what we tell customers, or what I put on the website or the sign, it’s people’s interaction with the staff, the guides, the person on the beach, that people are really going to remember.”
Hopefully Sea Otter Savvy can make a difference in the awareness people already have about sea otters when they arrive at the doors of Monterey Bay Kayaks, but we are confident that Cass and the dedicated staff of Monterey Bay Kayaks will take it from there.