Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Valley Gemini ST Arrives

Here's a lovely mini review done by our friends at Ocean Paddler Magazine in the UK, of the 'almost here' Valley Gemini ST.
Our stock arrives on Wednesday next week, a much anticipated little tourer, on which we have been fielding a lot of interest since the model was announced late last year.
You can see colours and pricing on our website.
We'll have a demo available from next week for anyone keen to try a Gemini ST.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Speical Offer + High Vis Paddle Cap


New to the EK Store our own high-vis Paddling Cap.
Sunrise is getting later, and the late arvo paddle inevitably ends in the dark, so we've developed a high vis paddling cap in bright orange, with reflective panels on the peak , side panels and backstrap to keep you noticeable on the water. These caps are full polyester, light & breathable. They also work much better in a group, it's hard to miss a bunch of paddlers in bright orange headwear! They're available now on our online store for just $12, a steal & a great addition to your winter safety kit.

We've also got a great new special offer while stocks last, a premium 500ml stainless steel waterbottle valued at $24.95, with all orders through our online store over $50.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Six Months in the Tiderace Xcite

We landed our first Tiderace shipment in late September, and six months down the line can offer a few pearls on the performance of the Tiderace Xcite.
Our initial thoughts on the boat were 'not another allrounder', in a market where niche designs are starting to target very specific zones of appeal, be it surf, fast open water touring, fitness or more specialised areas like Greenland rolling.
 The 'all rounder' tag implies either a lack of top end ocean speed, something that can be the death knell for the occasional multi day tourer who does all the rest of their paddling as day trips, or a lack of responsiveness in the fun stuff.
It also conjures images of being OK at this, this & this, but not brilliant at any of them, a one-boat solution that always has you looking at your mates Taran, or your other mates Gemini, and wishing you could do the stuff they're doing, in the conditions in which they thrive.
Happily, the Xcite has broken the mould in several ways, a design which has all the playfulness even the most motivated close-quartering junkie could wish for, combined with that magical property that is beginning to emerge in recent higher performance sea kayak designs, acceleration.
Why is acceleration such a breakthrough? If you think about the dynamics of a hull, a shape that 'sticks' to the water through the length of your forward stroke is going to be a lot harder to cruise along in than a design which lifts, or planes much earlier. Some boats feel heavy all the way through your stroke, the Xcite seems to lift very early on in the power phase and the back end of your stroke is much lighter on. It makes it much easier to paddle, certainly at that 7-8kmh speed where the majority of coastal touring & play takes place.
The Xcite hull is so flat along a substantial portion of the boat that a decent bit of power down produces a higher than proportional push, as the boat lifts up & begins to plane.
Where this is most noticeable is in a sea with any shape to it. Running down the back of an oncoming wave, or shifting the boat along in a nice following sea, you notice how much the boat accelerates as soon as you get it pointing downhill. It very quickly influences the way you paddle as you tune in to this lovely feature of the Xcite, your cadence varies, you start watching the wave shapes in front of you and you skip away, grabbing a hold of all the free stuff the sea is offering. The flatness & hard rails also translate to high initial & secondary stability, which importantly is also very predictable.
In the surf this flat planing section engages instantly, and the hard chines and deep rails make the big edge an unnecessary waste of energy. It took me a little while to get me head around this, being used to throwing in a big edge in to execute a hard turn in the surf. The Xcite responds much better to a small edge and a short, sharp & early stern rudder on a wave, to achieve a very predictable and instant direction change.
For paddlers new to kayak surfing, this is a seriously reassuring hull property, giving you a flat, steady planing ride with far more control over when & where you will head, and also much more influence over where you end up once the inevitable broach gets you.
The Xcite is the all rounder with a light, nimble feel on the water, and plenty of hull speed for light touring, with rough water performance in the very highest echelons of sea kayak designs. It's certainly put a smile on my dial these past few months.
You can see the range of Tiderace kayaks, including the Xcite, as well as the current stock colours, on the Kayak Prices & Stock page, and all model details on the Tiderace page on our EK Website.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

New Epic Toys….

Rob & Mark in their new Epic V10's
We have been a dealer for Epic Kayaks now for nearly three years, doing our bit to bridge the gap between sea kayakers and ski paddlers. We think we've had reasonable success at uniting these 'ne'er the twain shall meet' cultures, if you gauge the number of surf skis now among the quivers of our salty paddling mates, and the growing number of ski paddlers now getting very interested in the fast touring sea kayaks.
Epic have recently re-released the V10, their elite ocean racing ski, tweaking the design to create a ski that is considerably more stable than it's previous incarnation, and also slightly faster. It's not hype either, this ski is one of the most exciting watercraft I've paddled, a brilliant rough water design.
I have been in my new V10 now for a couple of months, getting used to the way it performs in a whole range of different conditions, and I'm rapt.
Unable to resist my tales of long effortless ocean runners, Rob has also relented & yesterday took delivery of his own brand new V10 in the light Ultra layup.
We took it straight out off the Spit for a test run, and I don't think it will be long before Rob is as proficient on this elite ski as he is on most everything else.
It wasn't the only nice surprise from the innovators at Epic through, with the re-designed V8 now back in stock, to partner the intermediate V10 Sport which up to now has been my craft of choice.

Epic have also released a very tidy set of kayak cradles, designed in concert with Rhino to make transporting kayaks & skis safer & simpler to set up. The Cradles come with four Epic tie-downs and fit to most railed cross bars. They're excellent value at $169, available freight-free through our online store.

We now have stock of the V10, nicknamed the "Hen's Teeth" up to now, as well as the new V8 and the V10 Sport.
We also continue to promote and sell the Epic 18X, the boat I used on last year's 117km One Degree South paddle and a an excellent expedition and fitness hybrid design, which to some extent was the trailblazer to the range of fast touring boats that are now becoming so popular.
If you'd like to test paddle any of the kayaks & skis in the Epic range please give us a shout, we're always happy for an excuse to get out on the sea in these brilliant designs.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Mind the Gap - Preparing for open ocean crossings.

Here's an article I posted in the lastest NSW Sea Kayaker's club magazine, Salt.

I have made something of a transition lately from being a notoriously short attention span, park & play coastal pilot, to embracing & getting a bit addicted to the committing open sea crossing.
I wrote after completing my first big one, a 95km journey from the top of Fraser Island out to the tiny Lady Elliot Island:
You'd be forgiven for thinking that crossings of this nature are boring. There is nothing to look at, the horizon is endless & the miles are there to be made, no other option. The truth is that constantly surfing, trying to link runners, watching the troughs as they appear in front of you, watching your heading, having a quick drink plus another dozen multi tasks becomes all encompassing.”
Put the idea of a thirteen hour paddle with nuttin’ to see but the horizon to me three years ago & I would have rolled my eyes, just prior to them glazing over.
However like most things that aren’t easy, the feeling of commitment, that lovely sense of being very small that only oceans & mountains can provide, and the satisfaction of preparing for and then pulling off an open sea crossing, is quite compelling.

I think there are three elements of preparing for a crossing that need to be considered.

First of all you have to be fit. I know most of us aren’t in this sea kayaking caper for the chiseled abs and VO2 ratios, but thorough & targeted conditioning is the most important element in successfully completing big days on the sea. I’m particularly time poor, so in preparation for trips involving big distances I use short, sharp sessions with extensive interval training, cross training like running, swimming & biking, & I never train for more than about an hour. I have a plan, and I stick to it as well as I can, with the bad little fairy in my conscience chirping away reminding me that I don’t want to be the guy that lets his mates down by tanking.

When I asked more experienced paddlers about the best way to prepare for big miles the majority view seemed to be ‘miles & miles & more miles’. Unfortunately my life doesn’t allow that sort of time commitment so I prefer a more intensive alternative. Now that I’ve used my model for a few different trips & events, I can honestly say even if I had the time to ‘do the miles’ I wouldn't change anything. The reason is simple, the big mileage days carry with them a hangover of extended recovery, and if you’re doing them once or twice a week you’re bound to develop some form of over-training injury.
I save the longer training days to the end of my preparation, and they’re all about making sure my arse isn’t going to hurt after four hours in the boat, and tending to other issues that can occur on the sea (such as changing a water bladder or putting on another layer, anything that might present a challenge in rough water).
In practice, my aim is be able to operate at a much higher level of intensity than anything I’d be doing on a day’s sea paddling, and the result is that mostly the going feels well within my limits.

Secondly you have to have your technique ironed out. Trip reports are littered with episodes of a slow burning swollen wrist, incapacitating shoulder soreness etc. These things are entirely avoidable if you spend some time making sure your forward stroke isn’t putting any power down on an overextended joint. If you’re not sure you’re capable of sorting these technical aspects of your stroke out by yourself, get some good coaching.
Remember also the extra torque required to propel a loaded boat, and factor that into your preparation. You can do this very easily by extending your paddle shaft a couple of centimetres past your normal length, using a larger paddle blade, putting a bungee around your hull, or deliberately seeking out headwinds. Any of these adds a surprising amount of resistance.

Thirdly, you need to know how fast you go. I know it’s basic navigation, but you shouldn’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of overestimating your ability to make ground. There are plenty of optimists who have stared at a little island failing to get any bigger, wondering if maybe an uncharted current has got them, while their realist buddy sits alongside knowing exactly how much longer there is to go. Only one of them is enduring self inflicted head messin’…

Again I prefer to measure my ability with something more scientific that ‘Geez, I felt good today’. I systematically record my training speeds & my output, via a heart rate monitor, on each training paddle.
Why? Here’s a scenario. 20km from your destination having covered 30km in 4 hours, a headwind that was predicted, freshens beyond the forecast wind speed. Your speed through the day has been good, over 7kmh, but the headwind threatens to slow you down to 4kmh, and that last 20km suddenly looms as a 5-hour epic.

With my preparation, I know that running along at 7kmh thereabouts I’m well within the threshold of effort that will fatigue me. I’ve done this first 30km without going near any reserves. So, considering I’m well fuelled, I know that I can lift my effort from a rate where I’m cruising at say, 125 heartbeats per minute, to one substantially more demanding at 135 beats per minute (and still be able to comfortably maintain that output for a few hours). I don’t need the electronics in front of me to tell me where that next level is, my training tells me where it is. Lifting the tempo should increase my speed to somewhere around 6kmh into the headwind, & I’ll drop two whole hours off that final exhausting stretch to safety.
 And therein lies the key to it all. On a crossing of any kind, speed equals safety.

Now that you’re well prepared, know your capabilities, and have every confidence that you’ll be able to sort out any problems you might have by yourself (if you have to), you sit in your little kayak on the sand and stare out at the expanse you’re about to commit yourself to.
It’s a daunting feeling, but at the same time it’s liberating. That moment where the preparation is done, and now you’ve just got that big stretch of water to get stuck into.

My advice for people having a go at a decent crossing for the first time is to embrace the challenge, understand & manage the risks, and accept that if your preparation is piss poor then so too will be your performance. The flowery term ‘embrace the challenge’ means ‘make sure you want to be there’. I know from my time playing sport that you could always spot the guys who stepped up a level but didn’t really want to be there, and they rarely succeeded.

I remember vividly the first time I looked around & couldn’t see anything except water.

Wow.

There aren’t that many moments in our cocooned modern lives where there are very real consequences for stuffing something up. To me this realization that ‘there are consequences here’ is the essence of adventure.

And don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you it’s boring…!