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Water Boys 

Paddling prodigies Cory Soll and Nate Ferguson

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We launched from the beach in Trinidad in a motley assortment of watercrafts. Twelve-year-old Nate Ferguson was paddling his sit-on-top fishing kayak and 14-year-old Cory Soll was in a touring kayak. Leading the group was Jason Self, the boys' coach and surrogate uncle, who owns Kayak Trinidad. He paddled a white-water kayak and my friend Tim Clohessy and I rounded out the party in a tandem canoe.

Gentle swells raised and lowered our boats and, while we watched for whales, Cory and Nate played. Cory did an easy roll, then nudged his boat into Nate's, laughingly saying, "I wonder if Nate wants to be pushed off his boat." Soon they were both in the water, then clamboring back onto and into their boats, calling for whales. Looking at them, you might not guess they're sponsored by a number of national sporting equipment companies.

Kayaking is relatively new to both boys, and while there's a lot of laughter, they take it seriously, practicing up to four days a week before a competition. Both of them initially got interested in kayaks as a way to get to their favorite fishing spots. Then one day last October, Cory got a taste of kayak surfing when high winds quashed a fishing trip he and Jason had planned. Since they were already on the water, Self suggested they play in the waves. By the time they got off the water, Cory was hooked.

Self had been coaching Cory in kayak angling, then a neighbor gave the boy a 20-year-old Perception Whiplash kayak and the focus of the coaching sessions shifted to surfing. "Within two months, Cory was a better kayaker than I am," says Self. Cory denies this, but does acknowledge his skill. In March he took part in the Santa Cruz Paddlefest, surfing both a kayak and a SUP (stand up paddle board), placing third with his kayak in his first heat. Both the boys' budding skills have earned sponsorships from several companies, including Werner Paddles, Stohlquist Waterwear, Pyranha Kayaks and Feel Free Kayaks, not to mention Mad River Tackle and, of course, Self's own Kayak Trinidad.

We all headed for Trinidad Head, and while Tim and I gave the big rock a respectful berth, Nate, Cory and Self nudged their boats in close where they found a place to play in the waves sloshing off the big rock. I was amazed at their skill, agility and boldness.

Cory said he was 7 when he fell in love with surfing. That year his parents volunteered for Outward Bound in Costa Rica and while they worked, he and his older brother "spent our time surfing and boogie boarding." Nate's father introduced him to surfing at the age of 3 by letting him ride on the front of his long board. Nate caught his first solo wave at 4, and has no plans to stop.

The conversation drifted to the previous weekend's abalone expedition. Nate had gone to Mendocino with family friends to dive for abalone and collected his limit. I was surprised when Nate and Cory told me they hope to get out to a local abalone spot soon. "They're harder to find here and harder to get, so when you do get them, they're a lot bigger than the ones in Mendocino," Nate says.

The boys' parents do not share their sons' passion for fishing, but support them in their efforts. Nate has spent many days fishing off the Trinidad pier, getting to know charter, commercial and recreational fishermen in the process. This has led to opportunities to help on boats, and he quickly picked up skills. When Cory expressed an interest in fishing, his father, who knew Nate's parents, introduced the boys and a new friendship was born.

The boys have also dipped their toes into the commercial aspect of fishing. Cory sometimes works as a deckhand on the Jumping Jack during the summer and Nate turned his skill at cleaning fish into a summer job. Last summer, when Nate was saving for a sit-on-top kayak for fishing, the young entrepreneur set up a fish filleting station to serve sport fishermen. Self, who was working for Pacific Outfitters, was impressed by the 11-year-old boy working diligently on the beach every day. When Pacific Outfitters hosted the annual Rockfish Wars in 2015, Self invited Nate to fish with the team. He also introduced Nate to the rep for Ocean Kayak, who immediately agreed to sponsor the young sportsman. Nate's quest for a sit-on-top fishing kayak was answered.

Summer is coming and school will be out. If you're already paddle-ready, you'll likely see these guys on the water. If you're interested in learning, check out the Sports, Athletics and Adventure section on page 27 for places to pick up skills and hit the surf.

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Susan Penn

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