Friday, 16 March 2018

Back to the Future - The Epic V10, 2018 Edition

When I first started paddling skis back in 2008, the holy grail in our neck of the woods was the Epic V10. There were a few others in that elite genre but we didn't know much about them, the V10 was pretty much the ski on the roof that made a bit of a statement.
I worked my way up to paddling a big black carbon one about two years later, & while it was a challenge, it was a beautiful ski, especially out in the ocean where it was so instinctive and had terrific acceleration.
Getting my head around the original V10, yeeew...
Just as I was getting my head around the original V10 and really starting to enjoy it, Epic redesigned and re-released it, promising more speed and more stability. 
It seemed at the time as though half the world promptly ordered one on the back of this claim, indeed even as a dealer my personal new V10 was three containers of skis down the list, such was the demand.

The new V10 arrived and it sure was more stable, easily the most stable elite ski there had ever been in fact, but over time we realised that the stability had come at the cost of the original boat's sea manners and feel on the waves.

The Gen 2 V10 (thanks to Alan Coker for the pic)
Those sea manners are a very hard thing to define in a written article, and I see reviews and comparisons around the web of ski designs with spreadsheets and times over courses, which I frankly find a bit irrelevant, because I reckon I can only go as fast as the wave I'm riding most of the time anyways..... Most of the elite skis are pretty quick, it just comes down to whether you're good enough to always apply full power.

Very quietly, almost stealthily actually, certainly in comparison to the huge hype around the V10  Gen2, Epic have been redesigning the V10 from the ground up, and this week our demo arrived.

Straight away you can see that this is not in any substantial way derived from the Gen 2 boat. The amount of rake at the bow, the rocker profile, the more organic lines of the hull and generally all over point towards a scratch design that owes much to the (also recently re-released) V12.

It carries it's volume aft a fair bit further than other elite skis, has a 45cm beam, and is shorter than predecessors at 6.25m, so the pure numbers and shape suggest a ski with the characteristics of the excellent new V12, but not requiring the extra skill set required to pilot such an uber-elite craft.

Yesterday we had 5 different paddlers in the boat, in a range of conditions from dead flat water in the hands of very fast local guy (where it was as quick as everything except the V14-type elites), to a 10km triangular across-downwind-headwind bay course in 19-25kn of southerly which I paddled, a current Gen2 V10 Sport paddler, and two other guys who also regularly paddle intermediate skis in rough water. 

All three of the intermediate paddlers instantly identified the tweaked seating position, slightly higher than the usual Epic set up, and remarked on how good it felt being right over the top of your stroke. The V10 Sport paddler felt that the lower stability was a good thing as it was very predictable on edge and that it only took him a minute in the chop to adjust, and then the benefits of the sleeker design then became obvious. The other two guys both enjoyed the looseness of the stern downwind, the very instinctive manouvreability, which is something I remember fondly from the original V10. 

My own run involved 1.5km across a fresh southerly buster in pure wind waves, during which time I had to manoeuvre to assist a paddler to remount. That's something I have to plan pretty carefully on the genuinely elite skis, but on the V10 I never had a second thought about my own stability.

Downwind in waves about a boat length apart, I was skipping and turning the boat towards each steeper section, scooting along at about 12-13kmh pretty easily, and had the acceleration to chase the occasional wave that needed chasing. The nimbleness of the hull is a joy, it responds to an edge like a much shorter ski, and I really did have a lot of fun.

Back upwind it was like most skis, I don't think I've ever read a detailed review of any surfski's upwind performance!

But, nowadays it's a crowded and quite confusing market, so who is going to get a kick out of this ski?

Well me for one, who has wished since the day it went away that I had kept the original V10. This is a nod to that first, great ski, no question. It feels the way the old one felt on waves, accelerates in a predictable and reassuring way, but without the 'rolliness' of the original. I think that's a reflection of the fact that skis in general have come a long way since then and most of us are no longer willing to put up with unnecessary instability as a sacrifice to performance.

V10 Sport owners have a very appealing and not-so-large step up to something that offers plenty more, in fact anyone out there paddling an intermediate ski well, should consider the new V10 as much smaller leap of faith towards elite skis, with a very real step up in performance.

We can't wait to get the boat out in a decent ocean downwind and see what is under the bonnet when it's bigger, faster & your decision time is substantially shorter, but initial impressions are that this new offering from Epic is a welcome nod to their illustrious past, and will put smiles on a lot of paddlers faces.

We have our demo here on hand, although it's pretty heavily booked over the coming week or so, and stock on the shelf. Get in touch to book a test paddle.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Video - The Bundeena Bar from the Clouds

Sydney had been battered the previous day by 'Big Tuesday', waves recorded up to 10m and winds over 40kn. The next day dawned bright & clear, and the swell had enough energy to pump into the shallow bar that guards Port Hacking.

Rob in the Tiderace Action, Andrew in the Tiderace Xtra, and Nick in the Valley Gemini all picked the perfect little craft for the steep, fast runs.

Hope you enjoy the video.

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Peak UK Explorer PFD - now High Vis.

It's been three years since we settled on a PFD for our sea kayaking, after traipsing around the world's biggest kayak expo for three days turning all of the big brands inside out. In the period we've been using and selling the Peak UK Explorer Zip PFD, not only has our experience been a very good one, but our customers have gone out of their way to let us know what a great quality product it is, both to wear, and for it's superb functionality.

That period has coincided with a veritable explosion of high visibility paddle gear, lead by the omnipotent Vaikobi Ocean PFD, a bright & minimalist design that has won over grumpy racers who were most perturbed by having to wear a life jacket in their training & racing.

For us, the shift away from the old dull colours in PFD's - 'so the ranger doesn't see us landing & putting up our tent' - has meant that weekly activities like Dolls Point Paddlers, a rough water paddle with anywhere from a dozen to twenty paddlers in high wind & twilight, have become infinitely easier to manage.

The Vaikobi brightness has shifted the goalposts, we now look very favourably upon ocean paddling mates who wear something high vis - a cap or a shirt if not a PFD - and the chances of losing someone, not seeing them wandering off have been greatly reduced.

Up to now the Explorer Zip has only been available in red or blue, both colours we now find unacceptably difficult to see on open water or in low light, so we asked Peak if they'd make us some higher visibility colours. The came up with a brilliant bright orange which they contrasted with lime green straps, and a lime green 'opposite'. 

The good news is they've landed, and are everything we had hoped for in colours & visibility, as well as having a few little tweaks improving what was already the best ocean paddling PFD we've ever used. We sincerely believe that in 10 years time, we'll all be in high visibility PFD's, and for that matter will wonder why we ever weren't!

They're available in our store, $235 including delivery nationally. You can order HERE.

There's a detailed review below:

Monday, 20 November 2017

Tiderace Sea Kayaks & Nelo Portugal

Tiderace Sea Kayaks made quite an impact when we first imported them to these shores back in 2012. Designed by Aled Williams, a chap we have the utmost respect for as a kayak oracle, shaping hulls that just do exactly what you want them to do, and built up to now at Cobra International in Thailand, one of the world's largest composite manufacturers.
They oozed simplicity, were built to a standard like nothing we'd seen before, and just looked damn cool. In the Pace 17 Tour Aled managed to bring the fast tourer to the average paddler, without compromising on performance, a genuine breakthrough in a market where plumb bow kayaks were being whispered about by some traditionalists as 'not real sea kayaks'.

Over the past 18 months it became harder & harder for us to get stock from Tiderace, as they became captive to a manufacturer for whom they were a very small fish in a very big pond, and we were wondering if they were ever going to grace our waterways again.
Last month we received news that manufacturing was being moved to the kayaking giants of Europe, Nelo.

With a state-of-the-art production facility in Portugal, we had grown used to seeing Nelo's unbelievably well made surf skis creeping into the ocean ski market here, so we were very excited at the idea of these guys pumping out the Tiderace kayaks we'd come to love for their performance.

The great news is that they're only a few weeks from finishing the moulding for familiar models such as the Pace 17 Tour, 17S and Pace 18, and well as the Evoke (now known more fittingly as the Action) and the Action S.

Because Nelo pride themselves on being able to customise every single kayak they build, we're no longer restricted to a very small set of standard colourways, instead being able to offer a huge range of colours & variables in deck & hull design (a few examples of which are illustrated in the graphic above).

Aled has also designed a new model to be the flagship of their skeg boat range, the Xceed, which looks to be a touring evolution of the Xcite, a kayak we consider to be the best skeg boat ever designed (we still have the last ever XciteS stock in this part of world, two remaining and then sadly gone forever).

With production based in Europe, we can now also import the rotomoulded Tiderace Vortex, a flat planing hull design that has redefined play in a sea kayak.

Pricing is still to be confirmed, but our best guess is that despite the manufacturing moving from Asia to Europe, it will be basically the same as it was when the boats were being made in Thailand.

If you'd like to test out a Tiderace kayak, or order one in your own colours, please get in touch, we're finalising numbers over the next 2-3 weeks, and will have plenty of stock here in April 2018.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

A Festval of Blue Water & Blue Sky

It's always a tough one packing for our annual migration south for the Victorian Sea Kayak Club's Blue Water Festival. We invariably leave Sydney in balmy spring weather, the cold weather gear having been dispensed with for another season, and never quite manage to get our heads around the fact that several degrees of latitude south does tend to cool things down!

Having mostly been blown to smithereens at the previous two years' events, we did our best to prepare for whatever may be, despite a forecast promising plenty of sunshine.
The club put the weekend on at Barwon Heads this year, a seaside village so idyllic it was used as the backdrop for the TV series Sea Change.

We drove down to Melbourne via the eastern edge of the city & caught the Sorrento to Queenscliff Ferry across to the surf coast. If you haven't done that before, it's a real treat, and they have a bar.

On the Friday we had coaching booked for more than thirty club members, a morning session on forward paddling, and an afternoon of very targeted rescue practice cloaked in the inevitable buffoonery of Rob's excellent rescue game.

Don't assume we're going to let you use your paddle, just because it's meant to be kayak coaching!

Geoff Murray had sailed across from his native Tassie on the Spirit to be the headline act for the weekend, and we caught up with him and enjoyed some local seafood & spring water at a beautiful little restaurant perched on a wharf. 

On the Saturday morning I accompanied Gerard, Tina & a big group on a paddle out along the surf coast between Barwon Heads & the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, a broad expanse of small rolling swell that traverses a sandy sea floor of at times wildly varying depths.

Scanning the water ahead provided the occasional highlight as a peak seemed to rise alarmingly & then dissipate as quickly as it had appeared. Every now & then there was a hint of white water, ranging from about 500m to about 800m behind the surf zone, but we clipped along the calm, windless sea profile without incident.

At about the point where we were due to turn, I looked south & saw a big green wall that was threatening to break, but as years of ocean paddling experience tell me, surely  won't. Regardless, as it began to turn transparent, I decided a desperate charge was my best form of defence, and busted over the lip into a lot of clear air as it did, in fact, start to tumble over. With a degree of hubris, I thought "Phew, I'm glad it missed me, but I bet there's some collateral damage on the other side!' as I glanced back at the hissing white wall that was heading for my new paddle mates. 
Then the hissing sound changed ears, and when I swung my head around there was a bigger one, and I wasn't going to get away this time! Charging regardless, I hit the wave almost vertical, was pushed straight up into the air by the pile of whitewater, driven backwards into a not-so-elegant reverse endo, which terminated, by my best guess, on the 'over-the-falls' part of the breaking wave, where I was window-shaded three times before managing to grab a handful of purchase with my roll & breathe again. The trace on my GPS shows a 12 second ride backwards, but I swear it was 6 minutes.... With my sinuses now remarkably clear and chiropractic work done, I then set about retrieving my very expensive sunnies (on a float), my $90 hat and my pump (also both floating). So a good tale, but not an expensive one!

Excitement over, Gerard & his able deputies then proceed to calmly put the group back together, retrieved the riderless horses; Ben deck-carried one of the swimmers (as we'd practiced the afternoon before), and within 5 minutes were were all sharing a laugh about the experience.

A wider course home was deemed appropriate, so we paddled out to the submerged wreck of the HMAS Canberra, before running back to Barwon Heads on some very cool little waves.

Back at the beach a few curious souls tested out my demo Audax, before we made our way back to the HQ for lunch.

In the arvo Rob told the tale of the Audax, from concept through to design & manufacture; a story that surprises most paddlers when they hear first hand just what's involved in bringing a new design to market. In a part of the world where a plumb bow sea kayak is often treated with suspicion if not bewilderment, we hope we managed to explode some of the myths peddled about this new style of boat.

On Saturday night our mate from Tassie, Geoff Murray, presented his gobsmacking trove of images & tales from years spent paddling in Greenland & Antarctica. 

Preceding that however, the club had decided to honour Mick MacRobb by naming their hotly contested photo competition in his memory, and had invited Mick's Mum & Dad, Graeme & Jenny, and his partner Lyn to speak & present the award. It was lovely moment, in a room full of warmth & good wishes, and well done to the Vics say we.

Ben Flora's winning photo - what a stunner!

The final day dawned with blue sky & warm sunshine yet again, so Rob took the opportunity to join in on the club's surf coaching session in the insanely fun Tiderace Action, where from all reports all he did was surf himself silly. He certainly had a grin from sunscreen-smeared ear to ear when he came back from the beach!

The weekend finished with a catered lunch & a farewell from President Richard, and this year everyone went away with a sunburnt nose & big smile. What a top weekend.

Thanks so much to Richard, Steve, and the committee of the VSKC for inviting us down & making us feel so welcome. You know you're coming to play with a healthy club when they welcome outsiders & their seditious ideas in good humour, with an open mind, and we had a ball.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Cruising in the Carbonology Cruze

We've had our demo Carbonology Cruz now for a couple of months, including it in our range of skis because of it's superbly reassuring stability for new paddlers, relatively light weight for value, and nimbleness in surf & little runners.

South African made skis seem to have an innate ability to surf, and although the sheer hydrostatics mean it's never going to be a straight-out flat water speedster, the Cruz is nonetheless an absolute hoot in the waves. On the run in the video above we had a gusty 20kn tailwind, waves shoulder high at times & were skipping along at 15kmh without breaking a sweat.

We have stock of the Cruze on hand, and a demo to try, in both the $3300 (14.5kg) and $3800 (12.5kg) layup. This surfski is a brilliant option for a newcomer to the sport, or anyone struggling with the anxiety of handling a ski in rough water. Even as a second ski, that rock solid one you can take anywhere, get out on really challenging paddles & enjoy the experience, rather than just hold on & hope it's all over soon, this great little boat is a winner.

Get in touch to book a test paddle.

Monday, 30 October 2017

A Classic Hawkesbury

Hawkesbury Classic number nine has been run & won, on one of those rare years where the hardy souls plodding down the river had to battle a pair of incoming tides.
On the upside, the moon shone bright for good portion of the night, and when it eventually disappeared over the escarpment it was replaced by a shining carpet of stars.
Combined with a warm & windless evening, this made it one of the classic nights out on the river, one to savour and enjoy.

Arriving a little late after a morning spent coaching Marley's under 10's cricket team, rego & scrutineering done, I relaxed & geared up for my 4.45pm start. Wandering through the boats lined up around the registration area is always fascinating, seeing how paddlers set themselves up for what in many cases is a paddle of 12-16 hours. Ocean skis with stuff all over them, goos taped to decks, bananas in footwells, drink bladders under bungees, bluetooth speakers, you name it.
Axe, Bob & Nick's chariots all set up. Axe would go on to invent his own 115km race, the 115km Central McDonald Classic, after he went left at Wiseman's instead of umm going right....
I hung out with my club mates from the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club, both paddlers & crew combining to erect a shaded campsite visible from space, where the excitement of the impending race start is tempered by the necessity to get your head down & rest through the intensity of what was a damn hot day out at Windsor.

The very relaxed atmosphere in the SSCC tent.
Jeff enjoying the large shaded erection.

My Mum Suzanne fronted up to crew for me in her 9th Classic. She's become a bit of an institution nowadays, a yearly throng of well wishers shouting out G'day & catching up with her year of adventures around the world. I'm not 100% convinced that Mum sees this event as anything other than a damn good night out actually!

The Brooklyn or Bust field is away first, a widely varied bunch of kayaks, canoes, SUP's, outriggers, even something that looked a lot like a polo bat, and it's always a treat to see this hugely optimistic group get away on the adventure that is the Hawkesbury Classic, many of them doing it for the first time. 

Nick & Bob awaiting the start of their first Classic.

My own turn to line up came around soon enough, and unlike previous years I waited until the last minute to get on the water & skipped straight to the front of the lineup. I figured this was 10 minutes I didn't need to be on my backside in the kayak!
Words of wisdom from Paul, about 30 years after he did his first Classic!
Off to the start line.
From the gun the pace was frenetic, with almost all 100+ competitive class paddlers going off together into the teeth of a flooding tide. I had budgeted 9kmh for the first 3 hours of contrary flow, but such was the wash effect of so many craft thundering down a river less than 150m wide, we managed to crack 10kmh for a good part of the first 90 minutes. As the field began to spread, the tide kicked a little harder but working in a great pack with paddlers going like the clappers meant I hit the 30km mark in a tick over 3 hours. 

Cheery at Pit Town (thanks to the LKRC guys for the pic)

From Sackville to Wiseman's Ferry, the leg that generally makes or breaks your race, we had a gentle ebb tide which meant we could stick to the middle of the river as darkness fell, & avoid the biffo of last year's race.

I hit Wiseman's (59km) in 5.50, and felt that with a quick pit stop I was half a chance of getting under 10 hours. Water bladder changed, a huge, noisy, and I have to say heart warming cheer from all of my club mates and I was away on the final 40km run to the finish.
Pulling in to Wiseman's
I tell anyone who wants to hear it that the Hawkesbury is really a 60km race, as after the pit stop at Wiseman's Ferry you're on your way, and of all the Classic's I've raced over the years that back end is mostly a blur. 

This year I rode the easing ebb to about 75km, then latched onto a two man canoe that was absolutely smokin' down the home stretch. This was one weird canoe, the stern paddler only about half a metre from the stern, leaving enough room for their compulsory cyalume night stick, so for 15km I was literally surfing these two mad buggers as the head tide built, being very careful not to over run into the kidneys of old mate in the back seat. I have been teasing my mate Steve & his wife Kate about their funny canoe thingy's for years, and here I was wash riding Casey Jones & Tonto along the final leg of the Classic, busting my arse to stay with them. I'm so glad there were no photographers handy.

Anyways, after they dropped me cold, I battled along the final 10km, at one stage looking like I was heading for a 9:50, but watching the tide drain my speed from 9 to 8.8 to 8.5 to 8.3, until I had 17 minutes left to go 3km for a sub 10 hour finish, which was about as likely as me publicly admitting I'd wash ridden a frigging canoe.

I crossed the finish in 10:04 (unofficial at time of publication), my best time by 10 minutes, in a year that had a much stronger opposing flow than a helpful one. I can't imagine paddling a better race, nor getting more breaks, with no ferry stops or unexpected pauses (like last year when I had to rescue Mercer)

Team Sundo 9.0
So a good time and a well executed race, but my memory of the event this year, is of the tremendous club effort from my Sutherland mates, their genuine good will & good wishes, and the shared joy of having everyone finish, and a couple of stellar performances from Ross & Robyn Bingle (a minute off a race record), Pete Faherty (9.45 on debut, 12 months after he first picked up a paddle) and Kate Dawson (first woman ever to complete the Classic solo in a stupid canoe). 

It's many years since I played a team sport, and at that level it was all about ruthlessly demolishing your opponent, before you shared a beer with them afterwards, but this was a proper community effort. The Lane Cove guys looked to be enjoying an atmosphere every bit as good, and it's something in kayaking that we all need to aspire towards, the shared joy of collective achievement. Where's the fun in a milestone if you haven't got mates to share it with?

Congratulations to everyone who took part, whether you finished, didn't finish, or like my mate Axeman took a left turn at Wiseman's and did your own private 115km 'Central McDonald Classic'.

The race raises vital funds for the Arrow Bone Marrow Foundation, and thank you so much to Jonno, Mike, Daniel, Cam, Rosey, Duncan, Michael, David R, Paul & David K for supporting my race with very generous donations.

It's on again next year, it can't possibly be any harder than it was this year, and it's something you've got to have a shot at if you're fair dinkum!