When you really think about it, Suki Waters has the perfect name for the career she’s created.
The 61-year-old Jenner resident is the founder and owner of Watertreks Ecotours, a kayak outfitter that specializes in guided trips and boat rentals to facilitate exploration of the area where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean.
Though the company has stuck mostly to rentals during the COVID-19 pandemic, Waters said guests are still seeing wildlife and learning about the river and the ecosystem it supports.
“Just getting out and about on the water gives you such a wonderful immersion into the area and the ecosystem and the animals that call it home,” she said. “I’ve always thought that the best way to experience this part of California is from the water, and that’s the type of experience I’m trying to help create.”
Currently, Watertreks is open for half- and full-day rentals on weekends only. As spring turns to summer, Waters plans to resume guided tours and expand the company’s hours and days accordingly.
The way she sees it, Watertreks Ecotours provides a critical service to those who are willing to open their minds: A curated introduction to the natural wonder and beauty that makes Sonoma County a special place to be.
“This is a responsibility I don’t take lightly,” she said.
History through generational knowledge
Waters’ love for the Russian River and the Sonoma County coastline goes back generations. Her grandmother was a historical docent with the California State Parks. Her great-great grandma was a member of the Kashia Pomo, the Native American group who’s tribal land includes Cazadero, West County and the mouth of the Russian River.
Waters herself started working outdoors back in 1987, when she volunteered to lead seal walks for a local nonprofit.
By 1999 she was guiding in the area for the Sierra Club. In 2000, she did tours for the state parks.
As time went on, Waters thought it would be great to develop some community education programs that educated locals and visitors about the water and the local ecosystem and the critters that call it home. Finally, in 2005, Watertreks Ecotours was born.
The company was just rentals then; gradually Waters added guided tours and other programs to educate people about the region.
There certainly was a lot to share.
There’s her family’s generational knowledge from their ties to the Pomo Indians, since they had been in and around Jenner for so long. For example, her family members had connections to Penny Island, a tiny island near the mouth of the river that members of the Pomo tribe used to farm. More specifically, Waters’ cousins spent time there as kids.
Waters also has stories about staying in a village near Goat Rock State Beach, life in Jenner, and more.
“Water and wildlife is part of who I am. The area is rich in history, not just for me and my family but also for all the families that came before us and spent time calling it home,” she said. “This is why education is so important to me. This is why I try with every tour and guest interaction to leave them with a fact or tidbit about the area that they never had before.”
Sharing her passion with everyone
In this vein, Waters has structured all her tours around this teaching model. Consider it her attempt to spread the love and raise awareness and appreciation of how unique the coast in our county really is.
Rentals start at $50 for two hours. Every rental includes a tutorial behind the Sonoma Coast Visitor Center on the west side of Highway 1 in Jenner, just north of Café Aquatica. During these sessions, Waters gives guests a lesson in how to paddle, informs them about wind and water conditions and reminds them of the rules governing marine mammal interactions (boats can’t get closer than 150 feet).
There on the patio, guests get even more of a download — including information about Penny Island and the cultural significance of the region, as well as the inside scoop on why seals like to give birth in the region, and what goes on in a rookery anyway.
“We try to set them up for fun,” she said.
All told, the suggested route for rentals comprises a two-hour loop paddle, which includes time to poke around the coastline, ogle the seal rookery north of Goat Rock State Beach, and watch pelagic birds.
Waters added that guided tours, which start at $120 per person, work in similar data over the course of four hours as guests paddle around the mouth of the river. These tours also include a top for a picnic lunch.
Waters is committed to educating locals and visitors off the water, too. She has established Watertreks Ecotours as an education partner of several local and regional nonprofits, including the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods and California State Parks.