Sunday, 27 December 2009

2009 - the best bits....

With some damn early mornings while up here in Noosa, thanks to the bizarre refusal of Queenslanders to go the daylight savings path, and the rooster genes of my kids, I've been reflecting back on my year on the water.
Our growing business has seen us travelling extensively through the year, instructing & putting on demo days around the country, and several highlights stand out.
First & foremost, there was nothing more bizarre than sitting in a car with 5 bearded men on a lonely Tasmanian country road, in earnest discussion about how long it had been since anyone had shaved. I was feeling pretty swarthy with my bristly 6 day growth - a desperate attempt for sea kayak credibility considering I had been instructing blokes who had been paddling for almost as long as I'd been alive - but of course my own George Michael try-hard wasn't worthy of comment. The tally's started to roll in like the scores from a Sunday arvo 'round the grounds' report, 14 years, 22 years, 13 years, 18 years & I believe the winner was a razor-saving 25 years. It was beard nirvana....
And the winner is.....
A close second was the feast the night after this hair-inspiring ride, when the locals snared a sackful of abalone & fried them up for us fresh with garlic, lemon & butter, washed down with a few glasses of local red. A paddling experience from the heavens....
I had an awesome weekend with the Hunter Klanners up at Umina, with another hliarious evening topped off with an All Blacks win in the Bledisloe Cup, and a great day messing around in boats on the Sunday. The famous Rjimlad attempted to give me the spectrum of philosophical answers to the question of why the chicken crossed the road, and my head is still spinning at the possibilities in that little chestnut.
I got a rare opportunity to go for a paddle for me, and spent a memorable couple of days getting to & from Broughton Island with my mates. The highlight of that little sojourn was Rob asking my mate Stacka if he'd like to go for a walk once we'd arrived at BI, maybe check some of the wildflowers & unique geography. Stacka had done his share of towing during the afternoon, always a hoot into a 15kn headwind, and was sitting prone on the grass at Esmeralda Cove. Without even turning his head to offer the excited Mercer a glance of contempt, he hissed 'why would I want to go for a walk? I can go for a walk at home.....'
Up at Currumbin for the Sea Kayak Symposium I had a great but all-too-brief paddle with Amanda Rankin, who basically sent me back to elementary school on my forward stroke. The rule of thumb, rotation doesn't stop when your blade exits the water! All that was mising was a polite pad on the head, and a 'on your way to do some more practice, little fella...'
I led a failed insurrection against the NSWSKC, gloriously failing to rename the draconian 'President' moniker to the more nautical 'Commodore'. Despite a unanimous vote in favour of the change at the club's AGM, the tyranny of incumbency was cruelly exposed as the motion was unceremoniously squashed by a bureaucratic maneuver straight from the despot's handbook for oppression. To quote Vincent Lingiari, 'If we fall, others are rising'. The quest for a Commodore will continue in 2010.
I've been lucky enough to have a paddle in 10 new & different boat designs, including my beloved Rapier, which has fundamentally transformed the way I paddle. Add to that the Anas Acuta, Nordkapp LV, three Big Dog whitewater boats, the North Shore Atlantic, the 'holy grail' Rockpool GT, the amazing TRAK folding kayak, the uber-cult Avocet, and just in the last week or so, a racing surf ski, the Epic V10 Sport. Just yesterday on the bar up here at Noosa I had yet another one of my highlights, paddling the ski in & out of the bar break, riding the incoming NE waves against the 3kn outgoing tide, with slop & mess in all directions. Without my Rapier training I think I would have been a ski swimmer, but it was a revelation about how stable the Sport is to paddle compared to the other hard core racing skis.
I also had a go with a Greenland paddle, the formerly 'only-for-old-codgers', now 'modern-accessory-for-the-sea kayaker-not-afraid-of-being-out-and-proud'. It was interesting the the UK's esteemed Ocean Paddler Magazine has seen fit to grace their pages with a review of three sticks, reflecting the revivial that continues apace.
So, a year to remember for sure for all the good reasons.
Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the blog, bought one of our boats or a piece of our gear, demo'd a kayak, or stopped for a chat at an event or by the water's edge.
Have a great 2010.
Mark.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Farewell Freya....

Freya Hoffmesiter (photo Andre Janecki - www.hybridaustralia.com - to see a full photo gallery of the night from Andre, click HERE)
A magic Sydney summer evening at Neilsen Park on the harbour played host to Freya Hoffmeister's final night in the country she has successfully circumnavigated by kayak.

An entranced audience of paddlers & admiriers listened in as Freya tried to convey the mindset & scope of her epic paddle. She showed us how she managed to sleep out on the Gulf of Carpentaria, laying back like an aquabound crucifix holding a double floated paddle, the big bite marks on the stern of her boat courtesy of a friendly Noah at Broome, her boat itself, the vessel that she propelled 13,000km clockwise around the country, in just on 11 months, and most of all she gave glimpses into her motivation.

The Epic 18X which took Freya from Broome to the finish.

Her decision to call the trip a race was a masterstroke, when you consider the mindset of the competitive athlete. A race gives you a goal, an opponent (even if the hologram of Paul Caffyn was tailing her through the pages of his book), a finishing line & the motivation to keep going. It's not the usual approach of the recreational sea kayaker, but Freya is sure not your usual paddler. The idea of competition & measurement don't tend to do it for most sea kayakers, but if there is one thing we can learn from Freya's paddle & her talk, it's that it doesn't hurt to push yourself and aspire.

Rob Mercer does the intro.

I was speaking to friends & paddlers present on the night, & we were talking about the biggest days we have ever done on the water. Many of us can claim a 60km or 70km day here & there, but the question is, 'what did you do the next day?' Not too many hopped up & did it again, or maybe punched out 80 or 90km, & then another 60km the next day & so on. Forget the uber paddling like the Gulf of Carpentaria & the cliffs, just the mental toughness to keep at it boggles the mind.

Before she left for her circumnavigation we had dinner & after meeting her I wrote:

"Starting with a 2500km stretch from Victoria up through the East Coast surf zone where just about every single day you will have a very serious surf landing & exit with a fully loaded boat. Factor in the afternoon Nor'easterlies that predominate through the 2 months of her journey north, & her goal of 60km + per day, & she will have very early starts & a very solid pace to beat the demoralising headwinds. Then the 'pleasure' of the protected reef zone, with the onset of the trade winds, 25-30 knot daily winds which produce technical, almost surfing following paddling conditions. Then the vast loneliness of the top end, with the crocs, huge tidal zones, heat & humidity, & the lack of regular re-stock. Consider that this stretches right across the top of the continent, eventually giving way to the rugged WA coast, with it's unbroken cliffs stretching as far as 130km at a time. Clear that & you hit probably the biggest surf zone in the country, down through Margaret River & Esperance, where 16 second wave periods create miles of unlandable surf, then turn the corner to the Great Australian Bight for the 'run home'."

Probably the only bullet she dodged on the way around was the benign conditions on 90 mile beach in the first 2 weeks of her paddle, otherwise Australia threw the lot at her!
An amazing feat & an amazing lady, happy travels Freya, enjoy Xmas back with your family, & we hope to see you again.


Freya farewells her newest fan, my little girl Kiri.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A night with the Hoff #2

Freya returns! Fresh from her circumnavigation of mainland Australia by kayak, Freya Hoffmeister will give a talk & Q&A on her amazing 11 month voyage on Saturday, December 19. The venue is the beautiful Neilsen Park Pavilion on Sydney Harbour. Chris James & his team from the Neilsen Park Venues will cater for the evening with food & drinks available for purchase. As notice for this event is short & Freya realises that many people will have prior social engagements, the evening will begin at 6pm, and wind up at about 7.30pm. The work Xmas party is no excuse to miss this substantial chapter of kayaking folklore from Freya herself!
Tickets for the event are $20 per person, with all proceeds going to Freya's very expensive repatriation to Germany. It's a great way to lend a hand to this amazing lady after a long & expensive expedition, while at the same time being there first hand to hear about one of history's great adventures. Freya will be available to answer all of the questions that you may have on a trip that has truly captured the imagination of the kayaking world. You can order tickets online through the our store (click the image above or browse through the left menu)but hurry, spaces are strictly limited. If you have any queries contact Mark Sundin on 0417924478, or mark@expeditionkayaks.com.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Rumblin in Currumbin #2

Rob & I have just returned from an indulgent long weekend at Currumbin on the Gold Coast, where we attended the National Sea Kayak Symposium, run by Queensland Canoeing.
The event was well supported, with well over 100 paddlers attending, guest speakers, on-land talks & seminars, and a full day of on-water instruction & workshops. We drove up on Thursday in order to run our own demo day at Currumbin on Friday. Unlike last year I managed to get to Queensland without running the trailer into a petrol bowser, running out of gas or crunching a low clearance hotel entrance, so all up a pleasingly professional performance behind the wheel.
The Friday saw over 30 paddlers come along & test paddle our boats & paddles. With our shipment of Tahe kayaks due in the New Year, several people took the opportunity to put the exceptional Greenland through its paces, kindly accommodated by the owner of the only one in the country, Bass Strait veteran Brian Towell.

video


Greg Schwarz rolling the Tahe Greenland
Feedback from Greenland rolling boffins like Greg & Moira Schwarz & Steve Simovic was that it was the world’s easiest kayak to roll, while Brian reports that it is a low-volume joy to paddle on day trips.
Steve Simovic relaxing in the Currumbin sun.
We met many of the high octane stars of the lively Sea Kayak Forum, with pseudonyms like Raider, Gray Raider, Gnarlydog, Karrazy among them putting faces & real names to the exponents of shameful opinion & online humour!

The Raider with a cross-bow draw....!

On the Sunday I took a willing bunch of guys, Rhys, Alex, Glenn & Gary (who also responds well when you call him Dave for an hour, sorry mate…) out to practice some raised edge surfing on the much touted Currumbin Bar. A 20 knot northerly had turned the gleaming glassy swells I’d been dreaming of in days prior into something that looked more like the river in Deliverance. With great gusto the guys slugged it out in an hour of bracing, buffeting & surviving, but I don’t think we were really any the wiser on technique at the end. At least it was almost fun…..

EK HQ at the Sunday on-water event.

Rob & I had the humbling experience of a half hour or so of informal forward stroke critique from Amanda Rankin, a great lady & K1 & K4 Olympian at the Athens games in 2004. Doing my best to hold form in the Rapier as Amanda cast her expert eye over my stroke, she concluded that a few things I really truly thought I was doing well need substantial amounts of work. Without boring you with the details, it was fantastic to be given something to again set my sights on to improve. Why on earth sea kayakers can believe that we have nothing to learn from other paddle disciplines is beyond me – Amanda’s forward stroke was a sight to behold at close quarters & has inspired me to get rotating. To those of you out there that I have barked at over the years for not rotating, well, I wasn’t even doing it properly myself, so there you go!

Silvio Testa back from a trip to the edge in the Rapier 20.

The single most pleasing aspect of the weekend was the ambition of the paddlers in attendance. At our demo day on the Friday just about everyone was rolling, performing tricks, drills, showing good form & modern technique. There is no hard-arsed intelligentsia who tell it like it is in Queensland, and the newest ideas get oxygen just as readily as the older lessons are absorbed. Friday was a bit of a skills extravaganza, with advanced strokes on display from some paddlers who have only been paddling for a few months. Martin are you out there? It was great to see. Over a bottle of wine on Friday night Rob & I pondered a guy like Nigel Dennis, certainly one of the modern fathers of sea kayak instruction, and how over the years he has managed to always have the newest ideas. At no stage has he hung up his skirt & decided there is nothing left to learn & everyone has to do it like they’ve always done it, and that in many ways exemplifies the skills revolution that is taking place in Queensland. In a sport with its fair share of crusty old buggers who refute anything counter to their time honoured rituals, always remember there is another, better way of doing things around the corner.

A broad church of ideas....

The kayak industry was also on show in its brightest incarnation, with a refreshing camaraderie among competing business, boats & personalities. Everything from Surf Kayaks to Surf Skis were on show for paddlers to try out, with a vast resource of information in the trades hall available to anyone with a question or query. Ten minutes talking to Ross Cook from Roscoe’s Canoes is like a mini history lesson in the way the paddling world has developed in this country, while it is always a pleasure to catch up with guys like Christian from Roscoe’s, top instructor & owner of Adventure Outlet, Craig McSween (despite all that stuff they say about him ;-)), & Bob ‘the legend’ from Rafta Kayaks.

The queue for the Tahe Greenland

All up a top weekend for sea paddlers. Thanks so much to everyone who made the effort to come along & see what we had on offer, it felt like a reunion most of the time. We’ll be back at this event next year, it was a ripper.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

National Sea Kayak Symposium, Queensland

It's hard to believe it's almost a year since we attended the inaugural National Sea Kayak Symposium at Currumbin on the Gold Coast, and now here we are in November '09 & it's come around again. We will be exhibiting & instructing at the Symposium, with our full range of TRAK, Valley, North Shore & Rockpool demos available for a paddle as well as bringing a display packed with all of our Reed, Kavu, Mitchell Blades, Greenland Paddles, and all of the other unique gear which set us apart from the rest of the market. We will have a great extended trailer for the Gordon Brown DVD showing on our stand, as well as the DVD & books for sale at a Symposium special price. Don't miss our demo on the amazing TRAK folder; the performance sea kayak that folds away into a golf bag.
We are also holding a demo day prior to the Symposium at Currumbin, from 10am - 3pm on Friday November 27. All of our demo boats will be there, and as usual we will sit along side you in the water offering instruction & advice on your paddling. If you'd like to come along please email me - mark@expeditionkayaks.com - for more info.
At the Symposium itself, Rob & I will also be leading a couple of advanced instruction sessions, however we're available over the whole weekend to answer your questions on or off the water about all things technical, boat choices, gear & more. Make sure you say G'day.
Click on the graphic above if you're interested in registering, there are still places left & it promises to be a terrific, informative & entertaining weekend.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Broughring Forties

“At 20 years of age the will reigns; at 30 the wit; at 40 the judgment.”
Benjamin Franklin
“Forty isn't old, if you're a tree”
Bob Hope

So it comes to pass, I’ve joined the demographic of my paddling mates in middle age. Luckily for me, one of my best mates, Glen Hastings, AKA Stacka the Attacka was born on the exact same day as me, November 7, 1969, and we have a tradition of co-hosting the big milestones in our lives. When we turned 30, we booked out the Icebergs at Bondi, had 250 people, some of whom we even knew, & enjoyed a raging party that went from midday to midnight, with two bands pumping out our favourite music, tanned & healthy people wall-to-wall, a boozy haze of good feelings & optimism & a very blurred recollection of the whole thing. Kind of like the Expedition Kayaks beer & pizza ‘Welcome to Rock & Roll’ party, except the only people over 40 were Mums, Dads & Aunties, and there was great music, and umm, it didn’t finish at 8 O’clock.
So, for our 40th, with that sort or roof-raising legacy to maintain, we thought it might be a good idea to paddle out to Broughton Island for a night & sulk. Stacka is a ski paddler who would find paddling a barge of a sea kayak a breeze, a former Bondi lifeguard who is pretty dark on the fact that the current bunch of imposters are now international household names and he’s just a suburban bloke with a bagful of very funny stories.
Stacka
We also wanted another one of our best mates, Adrian Janschek, AKA the Adonis, to come out & share in the gloom, as he will turn 40 in June. Adonis has absolutely no paddling experience, but is a super fit ex-rower, rugby player & a very determined dude (just how determined we were about to find out). Safe in the knowledge that he earns a crust as an investment banker, we figured if he came to grief among the big water around Broughton, a world with one less bonds analyst has got to be a better world.
The Adonis, looking VERY confident.
To round out the safety of a foursome (actually he was really the first bloke we figured HAD to come), we asked Rob Mercer along, to give us some grief counselling about what it’s like to be 50 (yes folks, despite all my treacherous rumour mongering, he is actually only 50).
With a forecast promising a 15kn headwind throwing up a metre & a half sea on top of a 2m swell for day one, and similar following conditions for the return trip, we decided to go from Shoal Beach inside Nelson Bay, and run past the beautiful offshore islands on our way out to Broughton Island, approximately 20km to the north east. We were all smiles as we skipped past Tomaree Head and across the Pt Stephens heads to Yaccaba.
The refraction & tidal movement started to produce a little bit of rebound as we neared the end of the headland, and then Adonis took a swim. He had a bit of a stunned look on his face as he popped up, and had given no prior hint of instability; just a misplaced paddle stroke that tripped him up & gave him a bath.
Quick as a wink we emptied his boat & had him back in, pointed towards Cabbage Tree Island and away. A minute or two later he was in again, back in again, on his way again, then in again, back in again, but this time we thought it pertinent to actually reassess the whole thing. At that point I was thinking a raging party at the Shoal Bay Fisho’s might be a better idea, but as Stacka is actually banned from the place after a previous brouhaha, that was quickly discounted. Adrian was adamant he felt fine, but just wished he didn’t keep falling in, so we let him continue in the slightly more unidirectional water between Yaccaba & Cabbage Tree.
One more capsize on the way there had us in earnest discussion in the lee of Cabbage Tree Island about the wisdom of continuing. We took into account the distance to go to BI – about 11km. The wind had eased to about 10 knots on the nose, and once clear of the islands we would be in open water with much less confusion in the sea & swell direction. Adrian was well kitted out, physically strong, warm despite the swims, well fuelled, in the company of two sea instructors (one of whom is actually very good) & another very solid paddler who typically was thinking the whole thing was a piece of p-ss (keep reading folks). We decided to push on.
With the distant silhouette of Broughton in his sights, the Adonis then sucked it up, gingerly driving his boat through the head-sea conditions, with a phalanx of attentive newly middle-aged blokes taking turns at watching his every twitch. Halfway across he had another unplanned bath, so we hooked up a V-Tow with support to give him a bit of a breather. Stacka thought it was clever to point out that my line was a bit less slack than 50 years old Mercer’s after about 30 minutes of load hauling. Never mind that the old bugger was in the Rockpool GT and is, well, bloody faster than me…! After the outburst, Rob & I figured we’d give Mr Frustrated Bondi Rescue a go on his own for a while.
He did so well (this time with the Adonis back swinging his paddle & looking as strong as ever), that we didn’t think it was necessary to relieve him until one last capsize near the infamous ‘Commodore’s Cleft’.
Rob hooked in & towed alongside the now chastened and pleasingly fatigued Stacka until it was calm enough to remove the towlines & allow Adonis to breeze past everyone & claim line honours at Esmeralda Cove. In all seriousness, think about the scope of what Adrian managed in the context of your own paddling. No prior experience, seven capsizes in what was a reasonably intimidating sea, with a island on the horizon that never really looks like it’s getting any closer until you get right to it’s front door mat, into a headwind. We were confident we could get him out there by any one of a number of assists, and could have V-towed him all the way there & back if it was called for. However to do it mostly on his own was entirely dependent on him holding his nerve. Falling in is pretty unnerving stuff in a big bad ocean, and I’ve seen lots of paddlers with heaps of experience understandably pack it in after a couple of swims. Adonis mate, if anyone ever tries to tell you you’re not tenacious, determined & brave, give them my number.
A typically ungenerous Hastings was unwilling to relinquish the towline saying something along the lines of ‘I’m not going to give the bastard the pleasure of landing under his own steam’, but wiser & more charitable heads prevailed.
The weather had cleared & the island revealed itself in all of its majesty; one hell of a destination for any paddlers out there with a good skill set in an experienced group, if you’re wondering…...
We made camp, went for a short walk to the south facing side of the island, a beautiful wind-swept island part Royal National Park, part Outer Hebrides.
We then adjourned to Rob’s tarp for a spectacular feed pre-prepared & snap frozen during the week by Rob’s saintly better half, Sharon Betteridge. You know what they say folks, behind every great man is a great woman, rolling her eyes. The sky was as black as a JP Morgan investment bankers heart and shooting stars & satellites began to reveal themselves, remarkably more frequently as we knocked back the third bottle of red.
Sundo & Stacka, looking a hundred dollars. Red anyone...?
It was great to sit out there, having well & truly earned our miles, with three of my great mates reliving the funniest moments of the times we’ve all had together. Especially so when we’d all worked so hard & closely to get Adrian out there (none harder then the Adonis himself, of course). The swooping Mutton birds kept things interesting too, with one managing to wing Adrian on a particularly brave sortee. Not that I heard, but the guys reckon the mutton birds were having a convention behind us during the night, showing each other wonderful new things and saying ‘ohhh’, ‘wow’, ‘ooohhhh’. You’ve got to have heard the Mutton birds to get the joke…..
The next day dawned bright with sunny skies & a noticeable easing of the sea state, highlighted by a Humpback doing a mighty breach at the mouth of Esmeralda Cove.
Learning the lessons of the previous day, we swapped Adrian over to the Aquanaut HV, a much bigger & more solid boat in the water than the North Shore Atlantic he’d paddled out. We then weighed it down with all of the heavy kit, paying special attention to trim, with a higher proportion of weight in the stern. This would serve to anchor the stern & keep the boat tracking straight in the following conditions. So we packed up, did a quick refresher with Adrian on low bracing & edges, and set off for the mainland.
What a difference a day makes. With the far more challenging following seas picking us up and scooting us along at a cracking pace, Adrian held it together across the entire passage to Cabbage Tree.
The rides on offer were marvellous big long surf runs on nicely paced following seas, the one truly exhilarating element of our sport. We turned at the eastern edge of Cabbage Tree Island & ran with the swell all the way back into Shoal Bay, making the return journey in just over two & a half hours.
With high fives all round we packed up the boats & gear & headed to the Marina for a monster feed and a couple of cold libations. My beer was so cold it hurt……
A fantastic way to cap off a trip with a top bunch of people to a spectacular & challenging destination, and a worthy celebration.
So, Stacka & I can safely say we’ve started our terminal decline with a memory we’ll cherish for years, as opposed to entering our thirties with a memory we’ve, ah, what did we do for out thirtieth again….?
(note, there is a comprehensive report with more photos on the Articles page of the website)

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Rocking & Rolling with the Tasweigans


Geoff & Lynn Murray, my mates from Tassie & the original globe-trotting sea kayakers were in town last week for a test paddle for Geoff of the new Rockpool GT. We launched from the protection of Watson's Bay & rounded South Head into some moderate Nor' Easterly breeze & a confused chop, remnants of a few days of southerly weather.Lynn was challenged by the steep & unpredictable wave action, but managed to negotiate the heads all the way across to North Head, where things had peaked up a little higher. Rather than head around the very committing stretch to Blue Fish Point we decided a coffee in little Manly was a more prudent goal, and then ran the following swell along the cliffline of North Head back into the shelter of Quarantine Bay. Lynn hadn't previously been exposed to steep following conditions before, and negotiated the unstable feeling lifting from astern like a trooper. She even managed to ride the last half dozen swells into the calm of Quarantine with a smile on her face!
After a good stiff coffee, we traversed the harbour to Grotto Point in search of a wave for Geoff, but couldn't find much on offer.
We then headed back across the shipping lanes to Watto Bay for a cold James Boags & a counter lunch at the pub. The paddle was a beauty, with the majesty of the harbour on show, enough lump & bump to make things interesting & some good food!
Lynn got the gold star for staying with it when she got past her comfort zone and eventually enjoying some bigger water then she's used to.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

John Anderson & Stability

John Anderson in his Nordkapp
Hunter paddler John Anderson has written a superb summary of the concept of stability on the excellent Hunter Klan website. A man of science, John has managed to capture in very simple terms the idea that some boats get more stable as they are loaded, that secondary stability is a measureable & important quality, and that this is a very important consideration when you're trying to decide what is best for you for your style of paddling. The article has been posted on our Articles page in the left menu, or you can see it by clicking the link HERE.
Thanks John for permission to reproduce....

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Chris Walker in the Rapier 20

Adventurer Chris Walker is the latest addition to the 'Rapier Club', having taken delivery of his shiny new boat last month. He's put together a great little video of a recent blast on the harbour in the Rapier, complete with a few rolls & some high octane speed! Click the image above for the vision.
Chris is an adventurer and motivational speaker who regularly travels the globe leading treks for private individuals & groups. You can see his website HERE.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Queensland's First GT

Queensland kayaker Graham Dredge has had his maiden paddle in the first Rockpool GT to head north of the Tweed. After a wild test paddle which included the charge of the Orca Brigade, Graham was sold on the terrific alround capabilities of this head turning new design from Rockpool.
Look our for the glitter & starfish on the waters of SE Queensland...!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Big Dog...woof!

Coming in November for demo paddling & custom orders, Britains newest & fastest growing whitewater brand, Big Dog.
Owners Peter Orton, Jason Buxton and Andy "Snakey" Whiting, from Valley fame, have all held down influential development and managerial roles within the paddlesport industry. As paddlers they have represented Great Britain on countless occasions. Many of the kayaks already accepted as benchmarks within white-water, sea, surf and squirt paddling were designed or developed by one or more of this team. Despite Big Dog being a new venture there really are few other companies, anywhere in the world, with this level of experience on their books.
Big Dog has only one focus, making the very best whitewater kayaks available!
We’ll have stock on hand of the Flux, Force & Kaos. Contact Mark or Rob to arrange a blast in the most radically designed playboats to hit the scene in years….

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Valley Aquanaut

It’s just over a year since I took delivery of my shiny Carbon Kevlar Valley Aquanaut, and I thought it an opportune time to reflect on the boat & what my impressions are now that I know it so well. The first thing that strikes you about the Aquanaut is the reassuring stability when things get rough. I find myself reaching for the camera to take a shot of someone engaging in the rebound or swells around Sydney while my paddling partners have their hands firmly glued to the paddle.
No question, the predictable secondary stability of the boat provides a superb platform. Of course, a stable boat is often hard work to edge turn or manouver, but the designers of the Aquanaut have overcome this with a medium rounded chine which allows you to drop off the keel line with a small edge or lean. The ease of hip control isn’t as pronounced as it is on a Nordkapp, where you can really control your boat with the tiniest of movements once you get the hang of it, but you definitely don’t need to be overly strong to steer the boat with your core.
As far as speed goes, on dead flat water I reckon it hits the wall at about 8.6kmh, based on a series of timed flat water paddles where the aim was to go fast. On the sea however, where the power of a wave releases the planning section of the hull, I’ve cruised the 22km Sydney coastline in just under 2 hours. This is due to the fantastic surf-ability of the Aquanaut. I’m yet to paddle a sea kayak that latches onto the power of a following wave, or glides better down the back end of an oncoming swell than my Aquanaut. In beach or bar-break surf, this boat is sitting on the royal podium with maybe only the Avocet (which I can’t fit into) and the North Shore Atlantic superior. The great surfing characteristics of the Atlantic & Avocet however are at the cost of a little boat speed, so there are always swings & roundabouts. Unless the surf has been big, it’s almost impossible to get the bow to dig in & endo, which most people would regard as a quality to be cast in platinum. I personally quite enjoy a good endo when I’ve planned it…!
Despite some big impacts & a torturous regime of boat punishment, there are no signs of cracking or structural damamge, and I've never had as much as a drop of water in any of the hatches. My clear hull, despite the howls of protest from local boffins about how fragile it would be, remains as shiny & strong as the day I took the boat out of the wrapper. Clearly the critics of clear carbon kevlar hulled kayaks in Australia haven't seen the way the Valley guys make them....Where I’m lacking any real experience is in packing & paddling the boat for an extended trip, however Brian Towell came back full of praise for the boat after paddling his Aquanaut across Bass Strait in February. Rob Mercer took his Aquanaut on a 150km paddle in November last year & commented on the loss of real sportiness in the boat when packed, but that with care in weight distribution the trim of the boat could be adjusted to make the most of the day’s conditions. Not every boat can do everything, & I can safely say if I was heading off for a month I’d be in a Nordkapp, rather than my trusty Aquanaut, for the extra waterline length & carrying capacity.
My paddling is confined for now to day & overnight trips, short blasts in the surf or around the caves & cliffs of Sydney, and the Aquanaut is a boat I am well & truly smitten with, for it’s ability to provide a superb platform & feedback in the water in which I like to paddle. I’ve paddled other designs which are faster on dead flat water, others which can carry more gear or are ‘easier’ to paddle, but none which react so beautifully to the motion of the sea

Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown DVD

We've just placed an order for the first bunch off the presses, of Gordon Brown's excellent new instructional DVD, Sea Kayak. Those who have read his excellent book of the same name will appreciate the straightforward & insightful style in Gordon's instruction, and this film has been made with Simon Willis, a sea kayaker & film maker with years of experience. I like to do my instructing as part of a trip, where you can stop at various features & sea states & work on a new skill or stroke, & that's exactly the format Gordon follows on this terrific high definition offering. Viewers can return to study the coaching sessions, which use freeze frame and slow-motion, to analyze techniques. Once described as ‘Sea kayaking’s ObI-Wan Kenobi’, Gordon Brown owns and runs Skyak Adventures with his wife Morag on the Isle of Skye. As well as introducing novices to the sport in one of the most beautiful yet challenging parts of the world, Gordon trains and assesses to the highest level within the British Canoe Union. Click the image above to see a preview of the DVD.

Reviews have been glowing:
“fantastic...less like a textbook and more like a documentary”
PaddlingInstructor.com
“a DVD to watch time and again...for both education and inspiration”
SeaPaddler.co.uk
"Dynamic coaching in inspiring scenery. Gordon shows strokes in calm conditions followed by 'oh my god' conditions, displaying the same techniques in both."
Justine Curgenven / This Is The Sea

Friday, 2 October 2009

Orca off Sydney Heads

Orca or Killer Whale (artist unknown)
On a paddle yesterday out through Sydney Heads with Rob Mercer & Graham Dredge, I had one of the most amazing wildlife experiences of my life. It began when we noticed a huge amount of splashing & water disturbance on our way back across from North Head.
Rob & Graham before the cetaceans stampede
We saw a very big pod of dolphins about 300m across heading our way like freight trains, blasting through the water, breaching & diving, with the occasional very big splash that seemed to come from below. Rob was looking one way & Graham & I another as the mayhem got closer, and he said, rather loudly 'that's a very big fin for a dolphin....' We all scanned the water for further proof of 'something unusual' & saw a couple of very large, black pointy fins powering towards us obviously in pursuit of either the dolphins or whatever the dolphins were chasing. I caught a flash of black & white just as Graham said 'Killer Whale's eat great whites, don't they..?'
Graham Dredge picking his way through a North Head rock garden in the Rockpool GT
Sure enough, there were two, maybe three orca chasing down the dolphin pod at almighty speed. I can't say I've ever seen a dolphin looking sh-t scared, but I can go to my grave safe in the knowledge that I now have. A bit of research on the web last night indicates that Killer Whales will have a munch on 'Flipper', and the whale watch skippers that operate off Sydney have been reporting sightings of these majestic hunters. A little penguin that we'd seen on the way out was looking decidedly nervous as the cetaceans stampede bustled past. I wondered aloud if the little dude had seen Happy Feet. As always when something as fast as this strikes you dumb, none of us managed to squeeze off a photo. Maybe next time....
Memphis looking twitchy.....

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Kayakers T-Shirts - Addressing the lack thereof....

We've been told many times over the past couple of years that there is a serious dearth of paddling t-shirts out there for sea kayakers. Sure, you can wander around in your whitewater T, looking like a teenager trapped in an old dude's body, but there is not much out there for us sea kayakers to wear to proclaim our moral position to the world. So, we've had a crack at addressing this poor state of affairs, with a couple of designs to allow you, the fashion repressed sea kayaker to finally wear something that reflects your sport of choice.
We've even stuck our toes in the water to see how keen the closet Greenland paddlers are to 'out' themselves to the world, with an unmistakable statement about your quirky pastime, with a Greenland Paddler T. We're waiting with a sense of fear & excitement at EK HQ, & now we know how the staff at the sales day at DJ's feel waiting for the hordes to attack!
Both shirts are premium quality Hanes Beefy T's; they're available in men's & women's cuts, all for the throwaway price of $39, including delivery nationally. What the hell folks, our motto is, if you don't have a go, you'll never know....

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Arctic Paddling, with Ola Løftingsmo

I've been in contact with Ola Løftingsmo, a sea kayaker from the frigid coast of Norway, where he is an active member of the Harstad Paddle Club. He describes the paddling in his home country:
"We only have about 6-8C air temp right now, and its still early autumn. Last days have been quite windy with much rain so winter is coming soon with minus degrees and snow. But - being out at sea during the winter is also beautiful. You just have to put on enough clothes. We have 6 months with winter, about 1.5 months without the sun. We used to say that the rest of the year we have no winter, only bad ski conditions. Just joking, we also have summer, although a short one. Sending you a few shots from my part of the world. As you can see on one of the pictures the salt water has frozen to ice on my tuiliq.I have several boats but mostly I use my Greenland, and the SOF. My SOF is named Freya after Freya H, and she really liked the design and finish when she did rolling classes up here last year.Coldest trip I had last winter in my new Tahe Greenland was minus 19 degrees celcius and 10 m/s wind. In conditions like that I use either a Tuiliq (Brooks neoprene) or a drysuit (Typhoon) to keep the heat. On that trip the body was 100% OK but I hade some small frost injures in my face on the parts where the Tuiliq didn`t give any protection.
I had a layer of frozen seawater on my chest and arms, but it is actually not a problem to paddle on days like that. The big challange is to keep the feet warm. Body and hands are no problem. Imagine what they had to struggle with on Greenland to survive......"
Hand up all the Aussies out there who feel like sooks for not paddling over our terrible winters!