LODI, Calif. — Norm Bechtold may be the Lodi Paddle Club’s elder statesman, but the way he tells it, he’s the baby of the bunch.
Bechtold, 72, is a retired sheet metal worker. He was not a kayaking enthusiast until six months ago.
“And now I’m just hooked on it,” he said. “I’m the least experienced here, but I’m having a great time.”
The Lodi Paddle Club, led by Headwaters Kayak Shop owner Dan Arbuckle, launches from Lodi Lake into the Mokelumne River every Wednesday by 6 p.m. for a roughly two-hour paddle.
“Kayaking and other paddle sports are really taking off here,” Arbuckle said, noting the club brings somewhere around 50 people into the water every Wednesday.
With the growing popularity of the water sport, however, other concerns are beginning to arise for Arbuckle and those he paddles with. The group would like to see two things occur in Lodi: more patrol of personal watercraft users who ride too fast, and more access points to the river.
“We have a good relationship with most of the Jet Skiers out here, but there’s some groups that will zoom past us 10 feet away in a 5 mph zone, or they’ll just sit there and spin doughnuts and make big wakes,” Arbuckle said. “They are causing some problems. I just want to see some more regulations. Maybe get some signs posted.”
A short distance away, Ray Ghuane, 19, and two friends demonstrated some of Arbuckle’s concerns. One of the personal watercraft sped through the water where nonmotorized boats were coming through, and another spun in circles a few yards from the river’s embankment.
The teenagers said they are just having fun on the river they have as much right as kayakers to be on.
“Maybe they should stay on the lake side,” Ghuane said. “Jet Skis aren’t allowed on the lake. This is the river. I personally try to be respectful. I don’t go fast around the kayaks, but this is where we’re allowed to ride.”
San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Les Garcia said the boating and safety enforcement department has not received any formal complaints about personal watercraft on the Mokelumne. He said deputies patrol the waterway as much as possible.
“They should call us to be there at those peak hours and provide documentation,” Garcia said. “If they make a formal request, boating and safety will go out and evaluate it. If the right criterion are met, some signs could be posted.”
As far as additional access is concerned, Lodi is working on it, spokesman Jeff Hood said.
Hood said the city is looking at the possibility of creating more access points for nonmotorized boats like kayaks and canoes on Lodi Lake. The city also will research possibly creating an access point at Awani Drive, on the east side of town.
“We have some ideas. We don’t have any grant money yet,” Hood said, also noting that the city has some interest in tempering personal watercraft wakes, which engineers have identified as one of the ways the riverbanks have eroded.
As the issues get ironed out, the paddle club members maintain that they love their sport.
“It’s fun, and it’s good exercise,” said Elsperth Morgan, a paddler who lives in Lodi. “You can go at your own pace, stop if you’re tired or hot. It’s really just an enjoyable way to spend an evening.”