Monday, 30 May 2011

Struan Lamont Race Report - Great Barrier Reef Ocean Challenge

We sold a Taran recently to a dude up in Cairns named Struan Lamont. Not that he told us, but a little web search revealed that he is a champion downriver & all round racer. Last weekend he raced his new boat in the Hekili Great Barrier Reef Ocean Race & sent us a couple of pics, one from the local newspaper & one of him at the start. It's a great read:
G’day Rob, Mark,

The Hekili Great Barrier Reef Ocean Challenge was a huge success for the organisers and competitors alike. The weather turned on a few clouds and a steady 10-12knotts for the 40 clicks from Palm Cove near Cairns to Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas. The one foot closely spaced wind swell not allowing too much ‘relax’ time!
The field was capped at 50 craft for the inaugural event (expected 100 next year) and comprised OC 6’s, OC 2’s, OC singles and a ski category – not surprising that amongst the ocean and surf skis the only sea kayak was my Taran!
I had to laugh at the start line scene with the ski paddlers all standing three feet deep in the water while I steadied myself on the beach – lucky the water went deep quickly so just a few ‘seal flopping’ hand strokes and I was in the water and away thorough the shorey managing not to take anyone out!
I reckon we added a k or two to the total distance by first heading into the wind for the rounding of ‘Scouts Hat’ Island before putting the breeze behind us and ‘B’ lining for Port Douglas. After some cramps and fatigue in my last 50km down river white-water race I decided, for the first two hours, to happily cruise along with the blade set at 218cm, checking out a few sharks, turtles, stingrays and fish! I had the nearby company of a few ocean and surf skis. This changed at the 2 hour mark. I was well warmed up, the shoulder pain I had in previous races wasn’t and issue, hydration and food were good…it was time. I caught a nice runner and took the chance to lengthen my blade to 220cm and put the hammer down.
Wow, did the Taran respond! That little extra oompff and every runner became a rideable wave! The boats I was around couldn’t keep up! I was putting in yes, but the boat, oh the boat!!! I was astounded. It is some feeling when you are hooting to yourself out at sea while passing OC 6’s, doubles and singles, not to mention dropping ocean skis, while in a sea kayak!!! And I have the advantage of being able to drag lures whenever I want!
The day wrapped up for me in 3hrs25m. Pretty much spot on 12km/hr average. I used the standard rudder and carried mandatory equipment weighing roughly 5kg. My paddle was an ORKA Inner, medium blade. In relation to the other skis the Rockpool and I placed in the top third from a field of roughly 20 (official results not out yet). I was spent, super happy, and looking forward to lots more time in the Taran.
Plenty of interest in the boat. Massive interest in the event. Hopefully the next pics will be of hauling in a big fish and cooking it up on a remote island somewhere sometime.

Catcha, Struan

Thursday, 26 May 2011

New - Sea Kayak Essentials DVD


Nick Cunliffe & Matt Giblin have just sent us out stock of their latest offering in the growing library of rough water sea kayak instruction DVD's that are gaining a following.
These guys can paddle, possessing elegant rough water skills & showing them off in a well presented instructional style that should inspire paddlers to get out & mix it up among the whitewater.
It features the tide race footage we've all come to enjoy from the This is the Sea series, & enough dynamic water to keep everyone happy, mixed happily with tips aimed at paddlers with a decent grip on their skills, looking for that extra expert advice on how to put it all together.
We have stock on the shelf for $39.95 including delivery nationally, through our online store.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Expedition Fitness for the time poor….

How to meet challenge of preparing for a very committing expedition, with basically nowhere to hide once it's underway, based on historical weather data that shows extremely demanding conditions to be the stock standard daily fare, when you have very small windows of time to devote to training? My family commitments mean weekends, early mornings & evenings are out, so I have had to work out a routine of meaningful fitness preparation around lunch hours & the odd gap where I've got an hour or two during the day.
This has been the problem for me to solve over the past couple of months since agreeing to take part in a trip with Rob & Chris James which kicks off in July, and something I've gone far & wide in search of expert advice to try to overcome.
Chris & his mate Chris Walker, who won the sea kayaking division in the recently completed Harbour Series, suggested an approach favoured by a guy named Tim Ferris in his book 'The Four Hour Body', which despite sounding like some horrendous Anthony Robbins self help bible, gives some very simple & sound advice.
Essentially, the message is to measure. Measure your weight, your times on fitness paddles, your routines, heart rate output, you name it. Measuring gives you a start point, a line of progress & a goal, which any good navigator will tell you is the key to getting from A to B in one piece.
So what to do when you're basically limited to 60 to 90 minute sessions, for a trip that will have several legs where we'll spend upwards of 12 hours on the water?
Asking around a bevvy of fitness experts with performance paddling experience, there is universal agreement that interval training is king. That means spending intervals of time on a fitness paddle changing up a gear & pushing yourself above the general pace that you're aiming for. I've developed a 60 minute paddle where I will go hard for 3 minutes, every 10 minutes, & each time focus on something different, such as form, speed, cadence, leg drive etc. I'm rigged up with a heart rate monitor & have a GPS perched in my eye line, which records my speed & output, as well as telling me how fast I'm recovering. Improving fitness is all about improving recovery, so measuring these things in a palpable way tells me if I'm making progress. My aim is to get this up to 6 minutes on overdrive, with two minutes rest in between, for an hour. It's a goal Max set me which seems pretty hard core!
Here's a readout of my heart rate on a 60 minute paddle where I covered 11.3km, showing the spikes in effort around the intervals, and my recovery rate.
Ideally, those 150-160bpm spikes should be back around 145bpm, and the recovery rates in between back to 125-130bpm by the time of the trip.
I bought one of Dean Gardner's Kayak Pro Ergo machines, which is a phenomenal piece of kit for tuning your stroke & power, and have been spending an hour every other day working on the highest resistance setting trying to improve my resistance strength. That saves me oodles of time, as a one hour training paddle is realistically a three hour absence from the office by the time I get to & from the water.
Chris has one as well & we're comparing notes on how we're both progressing, which is a gentle competition to keep us both motivated.
I'm also doing a lot of swimming, which has been recommended to me by guys with elite athlete training backgrounds like Rob Walker, as being the closest thing to replicating paddling that you can do. I'm now punching out 2km a few times a week, constantly aiming to beat my previous times, and finding the improvement is accelerating as I keep up the effort. Swimming is one of those things you don't have to persevere with for long before it becomes way easier.
I've continued my quest to get my forward stroke in good order, with one-on-one lessons from experts in ski racing picking out the small flaws & giving me something to aim at.
I've used these past couple of months to build a base of fitness that will soon allow me to start working on the other aspects of expedition paddling. At the core of this is obviously getting out & doing a few days in loaded boats, in demanding conditions & working against weight resistance. Going against general sea kayaking lore, this is the sort of paddling that contemporary training wisdom says is really the icing on the cake for an expedition, the stuff you should get your head around, but not necessarily the paddling that will make your body any stronger. This is due to the big toll it takes if repeated over & over. That was advice I was pleased to hear, but nonetheless I'm intending to tune up with some long open water paddles prior to leaving.
I was lucky enough to spend loads of time with Les Allen & Ian Pexton talking about the sorts of preparation they did mentally for their multitude of big committing trips. Of course in Rob I have a guy who's paddled the majority of the East Coast, & in Chris a brilliant all round paddler with heaps of experience in & around Bass Strait. It's not a bad situation for me, not having done any multi day expeditions since before my eldest daughter was born in 2004, & one I'm fortunate to be in.
It's been an interesting couple of months & has opened my eyes to just how much performance you can achieve if you commit to an organised training regime, not to mention awakening the competitive instincts that I thought I'd left on Coogee Oval with my boots & expert phrasebook of sledges. 
I'm acutely aware that I'm paddling with two guys who are real athletes & want to make sure I leave nothing in my preparation that could see my performance suffer when we're inevitably under the hammer. And you know what, all this hard work is also a lot of fun.
Time will tell if it all works; I might end up in a screaming heap after my first hard day on the trip, but I'll only know that for sure once I'm there. It's been terrific so far to be working towards a goal.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Geigerrig - the best Hydration System Ever

Rob & attended a trade show over the weekend & found a hydration system that boggles the mind. It's called the Geigerrig, named after Bob Geiger, the energetic founder & inventor of the system. Bob ran us through the way it works, & we did our best to throw a spanner into his works with the sorts of left field questions that only a sea kayaker with years of experience with dodgy hydration systems can ask.
The system revolves around a super-strong bladder that you infate with small hand pump through one outlet, and drink through a second outlet, which obviously jets presurised water. For a trip we have coming up a concern for us was access to adequate levels of water & the time honoured frustration of having to locate the bite valve & then, under duress, suck on the bugger.
It gets better, the bladder can be fully inverted & run trough a dishwasher, the clips are a closed system so it can't leak, and it's tough. Bob has taken great delight in vidoeing several attempts to either nuke or velocity stress his creation with little success in making an impact.
We have stock on the shelf from this week, offering the 3 litre bladder for $59.95, through our online store. It's so good we think it will soon be the biggest single hydration system in the market, as people quickly see the advantages over the standard offerrings.
Backpacker magazine have reviewed it as the best hydration system they've ever seen - you can read the full article HERE.

Thunderball Revival - the NRS HydroSkin Paddle Jacket

Remember the Bond flick Thunderball, where the greatest Bond of them all, Sean Connery, spear-gunned the bad dudes in his full zipper wetsuit, with Claudine Auger hanging off his left hip?
That was a seriously cool piece of kit, the well fitted, full zippered water jacket, so you can understand our excitment when we spotted a contender for this classic relic in the NRS range.
I secretly ordered one in with a shipment last month to test out, but Mercer, clearly another Connery fan & old enough to have watched Thunderball when it came out, beat me to it & has been flouncing round the Eastern Suburbs seaways wearing it ever since.
Finally we landed our stock this week, so I've had my very own one on pretty much ever since, and I've gotta say, I'm feeling pretty damn Connery wearing it around, with our without my kayak.
It's made from HydroSkin, the laminated Terraprene fabric that seems to be winning fans in a very short space of time, features the Titanium fleck in the weave which radiates body heat back at you, and has a full length zipper to allow you to regulate your temperature. That might sound a bit like some clever marketer's angle, but the reality is that when I'm going for a blast, the extra airflow the lowered zip allows is genuinely refreshing, while the sort of downtime we sea kayakers generally build into our paddles make the 'zipped up' position a great heat retainer.
It has all of the clever design features of the Hydroskin top, including a spandex underarm gusset to remove the possibility of a hot spot for chaffing. For last Friday's paddle (video below) which was as much in the water as on top of it, with a stiff breeze chilling anything exposed, I layered a thin Merino wool t-shirt underneath & felt toasty, without once overheating on the downwind leg, when I was mostly firing along with a lot of effort. For me it's the winter ski paddling top I've been looking for to prevent me from overheating, without sacrificing the first principle of cold water paddling which is 'dress for the water, not the air temperature'.
The NRS Hydroskin Jacket in action, from my best angle….
Best of all, if you're not quite built like Bond in his heyday, the jacket comes in two cuts, a close fit, in which sizes M & L will suit most women in the 10-14 range, and the larger sizes fitter blokes under 90kg, and a more generous cut designed for barrel chests & blokey proportions.
Stock is good, and you can order them through our online store for $109.00, including delivery nationally.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Chilling in the Capital

We held our annual demo day in Canberra on Sunday, in temperatures that I last struck out the front of the Tahe factory in Estonia! The suns rays had the mercury rising above zero by the time we hit the water, but it was a reminder to us soft temperate climate dwellers that there are waaay tougher paddlers around than us!
As is normally the case at this event, things were pretty laid back on the lakeside, with about 25 visitors over the course of the morning & plenty of time to mess around & reaquaint ourselves with some of the elegance of kayaking on the mirror smooth water of Lake Burley Griffin. And no, there wasn't any rolling -  the wettest part of my anatomy was my hands, & I'd lost all feeling in them until the sun started to radiate in the early afternoon.
It was a great opportunity for people to have a go in the Taran, the new Valley Etain & the Zegul Baidarka & 520, all designs that arouse a special curiosity, & tend to put a smile on the dial of the test paddlers.
Thanks to everyone who made it along, we'll see you again next year at a time of the year far more suited to some immersion paddling, we've sacked May as a venue date!

Jeff & Harry Blitz Ireland



Jeff Allen & Harry Whelan landed back at Ardmore last night, after circumnavigating Ireland in 25 days. That knocked an incredible 8 days off the previous record, and if you've followed their progress via their blog you'd know that they did it TOUGH with the wind & seas.
By all accounts they're enjoying a few well earned pints of Black Gold & resting easy, after punching out some massive mileage over the past 48 hours.
Their Taran's performed as expected, fast, superb in rough water & unaffected by the loads the guys were carrying. Our view that this style of boat is the expedition kayak of the future is gathering more & more hard evidence as each day passes.
Well done guys, you're a tough duo, that's for sure...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Getting down with the Gray Raider

One of the more unique tourists we seem to have engendered is the 'Kayak Demo Jetsetter'. These are a rare breed of paddler who will jump on a plane or take a long drive to meet us on our turf to get out amongst it & test out the range of boats we offer. It's reached the stage now where we entertain upwards of a new regional or interstate guest every week, travelling in for the day or weekend in pursuit of certainty about the expensive boat they've had their eye on. 
Rob has even sorted a timetable whereby you can fly into Sydney Airport, catch the airport train to the Quay, hop on the Watson's Bay ferry & be in the cockpit of the boat of your desire within an hour or so of landing, about to head into the challenge of the Sydney cliffs.
A recent visitor was the almost mythical Gray Raider, AKA Gavin Cook, a legend in the shearing shed…I mean the Queensland paddling scene where he has a great reputation as a skilful & strong sea kayaker.
Gav has been curious about the Taran, and so did the right thing in bringing his lovely wife Kath down for the weekend, with the proviso that the Friday arvo was dedicated to some paddling.
As is often the case to seaward of La Perouse, the view from the car wasn't too intimidating, but conditions on the water were a little more vertical.
Wave riders buoys were recording a steady 2m swell, with occasional 3-4m bombs, there was an easing 20 knot breeze & enough wind generated sea on top of all of that to make the odd fast moving swell catchable, if you got it right.

We headed out into the conditions at a good clip, the GPS registering 8kmh & over for 5km into the wind which was probably down around 12-15kn on the nose. The lumpy conditions were raised up by the recorded bigger sets every now & then & kept the three of us on our toes. Gav recalled an alarming moment when Rob swung straight across his bow for no apparent reason, and decided to alter course accordingly in case there was some hidden bombie that Rob had spotted. There was, he just didn't bother to tell Gav….
On the screaming run back home I spotted a large black fin sticking out of the water, & headed across to investigate. Rather than a pod of Orca or a basking Bull shark, I found to my delight a large male Fur Seal just lolling around in the messy seas as if he was sleeping on a Love Sack. He must have been a NZ Fur seal becuse as I got closer he let go a fishy tirade & all I could make out in the wind was the word 'Bro'.
The little video above captures a bit of the action & my close encounter with Flipper.
This was one of those days that challenge, exhilarate & leave you wanting more, bigger waves, faster rides, and in awe of the sort of show the sea is capable of putting on.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Canberra Demo Day - this Sunday May 15

We'll be down in the nation's capital again this weekend, holding our annual demo day on the lake at Blue Gum Point.
We'll have a great range on hand, including the Rockpool Taran, the new Valley Etain, the Zegul Baidarka, Zegul 520 & 520LV, the Nordkapp & Nordkapp LV as well as the Tahe boats.
Please let us know if you're planning on coming down to say G'day, we'll be on the lakeside from 10am until 2pm.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Sandy Robson - Germany to Australia Paddle

Paddler & adventurer Sandy Robson has begun her journey to retrace the remarkable Oskar Speck, who paddled solo from Germany to Australia just prior to WWII.
She has set up a website to document her travels which you can visit HERE.
Her first stage from Germany to Cyprus is underway & her site will be updated as she progresses.
Best of luck Sandy, we wish you well.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Next UK Shipment


Our latest shipment from Valley & Rockpool has all but sold out within days of landing. We are finalising our next order, due in late August, early September.
If you'd like a Valley Etain, Etain LV, Nordkapp or Nordkapp LV, Rockpool Taran, GT or Alaw Bach, or any of the myriad designs in the Valley or Rockpool stable customised to your exact specs, here in time for the next paddling season, please get in touch before May 15.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Valley Etain - It's here…..

Rob has been out testing the new Valley Etain since they arrived last week. Based on previous big hype designs I can tell how good the thing is by how long it is until he lets me have a go. I think I'm booked in for a 20 minute paddle in early July.
Short of doing our own review after such a short time, we've instead got the comprehensive one done by Britain's Ocean Paddler Magazine. It pretty much says it all based on what Rob has found out so far, probably the most comprehensive sea kayak design for all round paddling that we have ever landed. Maybe the GT would shade it for out-&-out manouvreability & gear carrying capacity, but the Etain is so well designed it manages to capture all of the hull design features we think are mandatory for ocean paddling, minus some of the bulk, with the peerless Valley build quality. This means the weight range for paddlers is far wider, and in our next shipment we will have the LV version, as well as the RM boat.
For now we have stock in both the Carbon Kevlar & GRP layups, but the interest in them is very high, considerign this the first time we've even mentioned them in our own marketing.
Our own review will be coming shortly, as always once we've given our demo a good hiding, but for now enjoy this OP version - click HERE or the image above to read it.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Surf Ski Paddling in Hong Kong - Updated

My business takes me away several times a year, as much as 40 nights in a year out of the country. My calendar is so crowded & my responsibilities to my young family obviously compelling, so I tend to make my trips a whirlwind of meetings & fairs to minimise the time away from home. 
A particularly busy period is just finishing thankfully, with 3 days in Bangkok prior to Easter, then back to Sydney for some time with the kids, then off on Easter Monday to Hong Kong & Canton for another 5 days. I'm sitting at the airport at HK now feeling a bit knackered, with just the red eye flight to negotiate.
The one thing I miss of course in my travels is a chance to go for a paddle. I have taken the TRAK away with me a few times when I've been anywhere for an extended time, but it's not suited to these sorts of frenetic three & five dayers. So, for this latest trip to HK I looked up Rene Appel, the Epic dealer in the territory, to see if he had a spare morning to go for a paddle around his home waters.
Rene Appel
Rene is quite a guy, a Dutch born Hong Kong resident of more than 20 years, with a seriously beautiful home in the quiet bay area of Sai Kung, about half an hour's drive from the frenetic bustle of Kowloon. He has been the HK Sailboarding head coach for the best part of the past two decades, and has guided the team to five world championships, and their first ever Olympic gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta games. That is some over achievement when you consider the sporting prowess of the local Hong Kong teams in most other disciplines.
The view from Rene's front porch
He took up ski paddling a few years ago & has completed multiple Molokai races, as well as establishing the Dragon Run race in HK, and a race series similar to our own Ocean series.
We met & had a coffee, then stepped off his back lawn with a ski each & went for a paddle along the seaward coast of the territory. I have been coming to HK for many years, & this was a side of the place I hadn't seen. Rugged coastline with vertical islands rising straight out of the sea, volcanic geography, waterfalls dropping off the clifflines in the steady rain, the odd cluster of high rise development perched impossibly on a precipitous, doubtless very expensive piece of lofty waterfront rock, tiny leaping fish escorting us along as we cruised the coast.
Right on cue as we reached the outer islands, the wind kicked up & started to produce some nice little runners, so we turned tail just short of the northern entrance to HK Harbour & ran home. I was in the ultra V10 Sport, a very light, stiff, and expensive layup in the Epic stable. Despite being a bit skeptical about the real performance advantages of these elite skis to a mug like me, I could definitely feel the extra glide that the boat had over my own standard layup V10S. Either I'm getting good enough to notice subtlety in surf skis or it's a palpable difference, most likely the latter!
We shot home finishing off with a dodgem course through the expensive Gin Palaces that line the bay near Rene's home, including a smaller 30 foot yacht with a sole population of cats. Figure that one out....
I was feeling very spoilt when he offered to take me down to the local yacht club for lunch, then topped that off with a ride back into Wan Chai where I had to shake off the salt water & return to my patrol of the Hong Kong Gift Fair. 
There are some mighty differences the residents of HK face with their paddling. For starters, the sort of space you need to store a ski or kayak is usually worth a bloody lot of money! Almost everyone is in an apartment, and the storage options are limited to the chain of yacht & dragon boat clubs that line the waterways. Then there is HK harbour. Despite watching the traffic from the safety of the Star Ferry each day & plotting a wild line through the turbulence of the junks, pilot boats, dredges & San Pans that ply the harbour, Rene informed me that the Marine Police would be quickly onto an idiot like me attempting to run the gauntlet. Pity.... Here's hoping the suits don't try on the same access restrictions in our own harbour & waterways, but you get the feeling it's only a matter of time.
Presented with the opportunity to knock around with a genuine high performance coach I managed to do my usual trick of asking him 1000 questions about building fitness, muscle memory etc for paddling, how it related to his expertise area of sailboarding etc. His advice on diet & fuelling yourself for tough expedition or race paddling was worth the airfare alone, I just wish I had a tape recorder!
I've had a few people raising eyebrows about my recent curiosity for maximising performance in a more scientific way, with a couple saying it has no place in a 'fun' sport like sea kayaking. I guess I wonder how anyone could try to put a definition on 'fun'; for me the fitter, stronger & more skilful I get, the more I enjoy what I'm doing. The rare chance to speak to a guy like Rene just reinforces to me that there is no shame in attempting to be as good as you possibly can be, even in a sport with a hobby culture as strong as that which exists around recreational paddle sports. So many of our customers come to us with raised expectations of what is now possible at the pointy end of our sport, and I figure emphasising the attainment of skills & fitness as a precursor to getting out into some challenging water is a bit of a no-brainer. The problems start when paddlers head into that stuff without the skills & fitness. Bloody hell that's what airport lounges do to you, tangental blogging....!
Thanks to Rene if you're reading this mate, it was really an awesome way to spend a morning in a place that I know so well, & now know from a completely different perspective. Your reciprocal paddle & lunch in Sydney is already arranged.....
There is truth in the adage that you haven't seen a joint 'til you've seen it from a kayak.