Paddling It Forward: SLO Coast Kayaks & Stand Up Paddling Gives Back

Vincent Shay and Emily Stern of SLO Coast Kayaks & Stand Up Paddling in Avila Beach believe in giving back to the Central Coast, the community where they have lived for over twenty-five years.  They have hit upon a novel way of accomplishing this while still being able to run a successful kayak and SUP rental and touring company.  
“We developed a program through SLO Coast Kayaks & SUP called the Pay-It-Forward Paddling Project, so that underprivileged and at-risk kids could have the experience of getting on the water,” Vincent says. This is an educational project that allows children to safely explore Avila’s calm waters in a kayak or SUP with knowledgeable guides. “Some of these kids have never even seen the ocean,” Emily comments.
To fund the Pay-It-Forward Paddling Project, SLO Coast Kayaks & SUP donates ten dollars from every regular kayak and SUP tour booked into a special fund. “This way, young people can come out and have this valuable and educational experience at no cost to them,” Vincent says. Anyone can volunteer to help out with this project, and donations and sponsorships are also welcome. 
“The goal is to introduce young people to the ocean and what better way to do that than paddling in a kayak or on a stand up paddleboard? A lot of these kids would never have the opportunity to experience the water like this without this program,” Vincent says.
“We are very passionate about this because Emily and I are both lifelong water people. We’ve always surfed, paddled, scuba dived, swam--anything and everything to be in the water, and we feel that being in the ocean has saved our lives,” Vincent comments. “That is where the idea of paying-it-forward comes from. We both feel that this is our obligation to the community. It just feels like the right thing to do.”
Showing young people the importance of respecting and protecting the coastal marine environment is also at the heart of the Pay-It-Forward Padding Project. “If we can teach a kid to understand that it is more exciting to observe a sea star thriving in its natural habitat, rather than plucking it from the rocks as a souvenir, we’ve achieved our goal. People protect what they love, so if we can share what we love with kids from our community and beyond, everyone wins,” Emily says. 
In the past 25 years, kayaking has become one of the most popular activities on the Central Coast. Stand up paddling, commonly called “SUP,” has quickly gained popularity over the last few years as well. Avila Beach and Port San Luis Harbor have long been favorite destinations for paddlers because of its rich marine life and calm, protected waters, but the area lacked its own kayak and SUP company. In 2010 SLO Coast Kayaks & SUP opened its first office in Port San Luis Harbor and in June of 2012, they opened a second shop in downtown Avila Beach. “We’re super excited to be able to grow to meet Avila’s needs, but we still want to keep the mom-and-pop feel that makes our company special,” Vincent says.
First-time paddlers do not necessarily need to book a tour or lesson to hit the water. SLO Coast Kayaks & SUP designed their rental operation to be beginner friendly. Rentals are available at their Port San Luis Harbor location and from their booth on the main beach in Avila. Entering the water at either of these locations is very easy. “We don’t just hand you a paddle and send you on your way,” Vincent says. “We always give clear instructions before launching customers, especially inexperienced paddlers. We watch everyone and have a really great safety record and close working relationship with the Harbor Patrol.  People have more fun when they feel safe,” he adds.
SLO Coast Kayaks & SUP offers a variety of tours and classes for not only kayakers, but stand up paddlers as well. Vincent, Emily, and their staff know how to match customers with the perfect tour for their interests and abilities. “We have something for everyone, but getting beginners on the water is our specialty,” says Emily.  Vincent adds, “We love getting people on the water, especially people who never thought they could do it.”
There are three different tours to choose from, but their signature tour is the The Fossil Point Cave Adventure. The Fossil Point area of Avila Beach is undeveloped and rarely explored. “My parents used to drop me off in Avila when I was kid, and I would paddle my surfboard around the point, exploring every little cave and cove. It still feels wild and uncrowded there--we hardly ever see other kayakers. To this day, I still discover new caves and features that I never knew existed,” says Vincent. 
SLO Coast Kayaks & SUP also offers the Port San Luis Adventure Tour. This tour is great for the beginning paddler who wants to improve their ocean kayaking or SUP skills. There is just enough rugged coastline and swell to make this the perfect place to practice safely navigating around rocks and reefs. This tour is not physically strenuous and is perfect for families with younger children (ages 7+). 
Port San Luis is a safe haven for marine life, so within a very small area, it is not uncommon to see California Sea Lions, sea otters, harbor seals, dolphin, and whales. Thousands of birds flock to the area, including Cormorants, Oyster Catchers, Egrets, Brown Pelicans, Pigeon Guillemots, and Great Blue Herons. The Port San Luis Adventure Tour also provides an opportunity to explore tide pools and view the historic Point San Luis Lighthouse. It has something for everyone.
The Shell Beach Adventure Tour is also offered at SLO Coast Kayaks & SUP.  It is an exciting tour that will allow you to explore the dense kelp forests, the Dinosaur Cave area, and see a variety of marine mammals.
“All of our tours are safe, fun, and more importantly, educational. We love to rip around in kayaks and SUPs, go over waterfalls and get the adrenaline going, but it is equally important to learn how to do this safely and responsibly,” Vincent comments. 
“And the best part is that when people book a tour with their friends and family, $10 per person automatically goes to the Pay-It-Forward Paddling Project, so you become a part of the giving. Your adventure allows kids that are less fortunate to experience the same joy. How cool is that?” says Emily.
SLO Coast Kayaks & SUP is located in two locations: the Port San Luis Harbor area at 3915 Avila Beach Drive and the Avila Beach downtown area at 80 San Francisco Street (corner of 1st St. and San Francisco).  To learn more about SLO Coast Kayaks & SUP and the Pay-It-Forward Paddling Project please visit their websites at and Find them on Facebook at
By Ruth Ann Angus