Friday, 25 February 2011

Getting to know the Epic V12

I've spent the last two months getting my head around the Epic V12 ski, a boat that I never really had any intention of graduating to when I started paddling the intermediate V10S last January.
I'd read that it is a reasonably stable boat for bigger guys like me, but not so for lighter paddlers. So far so good, the initial & secondary stability feels very much like the V10S did when I first started paddling it, but boy does it fly in comparison. It shows you how quickly you can become accustomed to lower stability if you have a bit of a go. These tiny little waves are at Dolls Pt in Sydney, perfect runners for getting a feel for the boat at speed. 
I shot this short video using my new toy, an Oregon Scientific ATC9K Point of View HD camera. I was wanting a GoPro, but the results I saw around from a kayak-eye perspective with the GoPro weren't so impressive. The wide angle lens tended to flatten things out & not really represent the action as it happened live. This camera was recommended as having a less wide lens, & I think the video bears that out. I'm pretty happy with the way it looks in comparison to how it really looked. As you can see it wasn't exactly Waimea Bay, although I swear one of those waves was at least 8ft - the camera must have switched to 'flatten out' mode at just the wrong time! Yeah sure....
It's an excellent compact waterproof unit & it has a remote control, allowing you to turn it on & off at sea without any fiddling. It's like the manufacturers have put all the features of the current genre of these types of cameras together & come up with the perfect package. Time will tell how durable it is, but I was pretty happy with the first run.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Expedition Kayaks at Paddlefest, March 6

Paddle events are springing up all over the country as the various disciplines seem to grow in popularity. The fifth annual Lake Macquarie Paddlefest is on Sunday week, March 6, at Speers Point Park, Warners Bay. Over the previous four years the event has raised more than $50000 for it's worthy selection of local charities, & this year the beneficiaries are the homeless folks in the area.
It's a massive event, with more than 500 people expected to attend, with everything from a ski race to Dragon boats, Outrigger boats, stand up paddling & of course sea kayaking.
We'll be on hand with our full demo range, as well as Rob Mercer, myself & Chris James running sea kayak instruction sessions throughout the day. If you've got a question about your own paddling, Paddlefest is a good opportunity to come & say G'day & spend some time on the water ironing out the puzzling thing in your technique that has been bugging you! It's also the perfect chance to get in the Nordkapp you've read about in books, take the Rockpool Taran for a blast, or roll around in a Tahe Marine Greenlander.
You can get all of the details of the event on their excellent website (click HERE).

Monday, 14 February 2011

Time for a change…..

It's time for a change. I've put my trusty Aquanaut on the market for $2500. It has a few cosmetic scratches & bumps as you would expect from a boat that has been used in all sorts of sea conditions over the past 3 years. It's a full carbon kevlar layup, complete with a foot pump, which would have been a $5500 kayak had it been for sale new to the general public. Valley built it for me, to my specs, it weighs about 22kg & is one strong unit. It's the first Valley boat I've owned & even as late as last Wednesday out paddling with Rob & Axel I was having sellers remorse as I bounced around in the brilliant rough water off Blue Fish Point!
You can read my thoughts on the Aquanaut HERE.
Not quite sure what I'll be paddling next, but with some very exciting new designs due in between now & Autumn I'll be joining the ranks of demo paddlers looking for the perfect boat. At this stage I'm thinking Etain, Zegul 520 or Taran, but they're all so different it's a bit bewildering. Now I know how our customers feel!
Drop me a line if you're interested in buying the Aquanaut from me - note it's a personal sale & not associated with EK in any way.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Mixing it up with Axel

People familiar with Justine Curgenven's This is the Sea series will have seen Dutch sea instructor Axel Shoevers doing his thang in a couple of the magazine style installments which showcase her paddling mates. Axel has been in the country for three weeks with the lovely Ginni Callahan, running a series of instruction events in Tassie, Victoria & now Sydney. He was keen to get out & see what the cliffs around Sydney had to offer, & was also very interested in finding some decent surf for a play, so Rob & I took him out yesterday for a spin around a couple of our favourite play spots.
Axel's Head disappearing over a swell
It's always a good thing to understand the subtleties of your local weather and what a given sea state forecast means on the ground. Yesterday was very calm in the air, with a gentle 10kn nor’easter, and the swell was pulsing to 2m from the south. Southerly swells are mostly very powerful, and the hidden message in the forecast was the wavelength of up to 12 seconds. Mix the odd 2m plus set with a long wave period and around Sydney that often means very strong wave energy around our high cliffs, and so it proved yesterday. 
Rob rounding North Head
Axel disappearing over the rebound
We enjoyed big bouncy rebound between north head and blue fish point, with the confused water mostly overhead and plenty of dynamic movement. With the exception of fast following seas, this sort of clapotis is in my opinion the most challenging and enjoyable water you can paddle. You're engaged, concentrating, using all of your blended strokes & skills without thinking about them, and watching, watching for the subtle signals of a free ride. 
Axel in among the bounce
 
Rob Mercer
Rob & Axel looking for a way in close
Kerbooom….Blue Fish Point in good form
 Even though rebound sometimes feels like a stagnant vertical force, there is always enough steepness in the movement to offer brilliant linked surf rides. It's not easy to tune in to, but once you get the hang of things it's brilliant fun.
Axel, in an unfamiliar boat and in conditions that by his own admission are very rare in his home waters, very quickly looked at home. When a paddler reaches for the camera in this kind of rough water, you know they're well within their limits!
We paddled alongside the tall cliffs, and headed east into Shelley Beach and the famous Fairy Bower break.
Axel up on edge running off a wave
The wave that almost cost our tourist his hat & sunnies
We couldn't believe our luck when there was just a single board rider on the break, and spent the next hour riding wave after wave across the shallow boulder reef. When its not something you do all the time, surfing these waves and getting your timing right isn't an automatic skill. Once again Axel settled in very quickly and was soon carving around like a pro.
I caught a wave inside the reef and turned with my camera as Axel lined one up that looked a bit bigger, maybe one of the 'high sig' waves that the buoy data was showing.
 Rob running down the face at the Bower
Edge control on a great Bower runner
Rob on the wrong side of the right hander, about to lose his hat
I got a great view as he dropped down the face, shot off on the steep re-form, and then broached just as the wave peaked up on a little shallow, dropping him hard on his face. The boat stalled upside down & I figured he'd basically stop dead, but as I turned expecting to see Axel resurface, there was only whitewater with the odd flash of red.
Finally he rolled up about 100m further on, triumphant to have saved his hat & sunnies! I've gotta tell you, it would have been a service to kayaking fashion had this particular hat and sunnies gone to the bottom, think Cool Hand Luke meets Gilligan…..
The day's play over, heading back to base at Watson's Bay.
With time running short, we padded into Shelley and had a burger, swapped a few tall stories then ran the gentle following wind waves 9km back into the harbour.
This really was one of the most varied, engaging and challenging paddles you could squeeze into 4 hours, real smile on the dial stuff. Although we were paddling past some amazing natural scenery, it was the sea that provided the highlights.

Friday, 4 February 2011

NRS - The EK Range Grows….

We have just added in another 13 products from our friends at NRS in the US. We've tested out tow systems, paddle leashes, night lights, their brilliant HydroSkins, phones cases, deck bags & a very cool pair of boardies & they have all passed muster.
You can see the new range on our online store, available at prices as close as possible to the equivalent US prices, with freight nationally thrown in.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Sydney Downwind, with free bluebottles….

Yesterday's forecast was once again for a big sea breeze, building to 30 knots & bringing steep 3m seas, so Rob diverted his Tuesday crew from their normal jaunt to a 30km car-shuffle downwind paddle from the harbour to Botany Bay.
It was a stinker of a day, 43 degrees in the inner west of Sydney when I jumped in my car to head off, and the stiff northerly breeze did little to cool the air. 
Even though the winds didn't come up as strong expected, and in fact barely breached 20 knots through the duration of the trip, the group of nine paddlers still got some nice little following rides all the way down the eastern seaboard of the city, on our well travelled route to La Perouse.
My fun was interrupted by several Bluebottle stings. In the nastiest incident, the little bugger wrapped around my paddle & flicked up onto my neck & face, mid-ride. I'm allergic to these devilish jelly fish so when I couldn't release the tentacles with my paddle or hands, I rolled to try to float the bluey's air bubble away, thrashed around upside down to try to get everything off, rolled up to find they'd moved perfectly across the exposed skin on my neck, rolled again without dislodging them, then dropped in one last time to see if they'd float off. In the end, stinging like buggery & not shifting the bastard of a thing, I jumped into the cool sea to get everything cleaned up in the water. To say I was p*ssed off would have been kind…. Rob put me in my place a few minutes later, 'ahh, Mark, why didn't you just ask someone to help….?' 
Matty Bezzina helped me sort myself out, & I carried on down the coast in my own little dark mood for about 10 minutes, before I came to my senses & realised that a perfect downwind run doesn't happen every day, & I should just get on with it & stop being such a big sook!
The group sped along the cliff lines to finish at La Perouse in the dark, after a testing paddle in very hot conditions, that was still an almighty amount of fun. It was interesting to see how knackered everyone was at the end. It wasn't an overly long paddle, just under 30km with all the forces of nature lined right up our collective hooters, but almost to a person we were all relieved to finally make it into Frenchman's Bay. I don't think any of us arrived with any water left, and the aerobic workout of the first 3-4km where we all excitedly took off on the fantastic following seas, definitely took it's toll later in the paddle.
A short video of the day's action & images are below.
Bluebottles are also known as the Portuguese Man'o'War, and have a particularly persistent stinger, which keeps on injecting toxin until you remove the long tentacles from your skin. As a young bloke I remember the beach inspectors pouring vinegar on the stings, which at the time was the de-riguer treatment, but nowadays it's only hot water that really is considered to give any relief. My hot shower last night was very welcoming, so I second that finding! When I woke up this morning I looked like I'd gone a few rounds with Joe Frazier……
Around Sydney they predominate in summer when there is any east in the wind, & are to be avoided at all costs. I can't see any redeemable quality that these little creeps could possibly add to the ecosystem, except for creating misery among all who come into contact with them. Someone out there please tell me there is a jolly little fish who lives off them, cutting a swathe through their ranks every time they come across a school?