Monday, 28 April 2014

From the River to the Sea

A few weeks back we offered to take some members from Sydney's famous old River Canoe Club out on Botany Bay for a morning of basic sea kayaking skills instruction.
We ran through the gamut of biomechanics & technique required to paddle & close-quarter safely on the sea, on a bright, warm & sunny Sydney morning.

The session was a success in both directions. We had the learning experience of instructing recreational & whitewater river paddlers, and they got some tips on adjusting their existing skills to an open water environment.

It was a terrific morning, and we offered to follow it up later in the year with a genuine open water day to allow participants to get out onto the sea & put the theory into practise.
We pencilled in yesterday as the date, but a big southerly system which developed on Saturday evening (as predicted), had Rob & I doing some very careful planning Saturday night to ensure an incident-free paddle.

The spot we'd picked is a long, mostly enclosed bay, adjacent to Sydney's infamous Long Bay Gaol. It has a sheltered launch spot on the sand at Malabar Beach, but a swift transition from lee to full-on open ocean conditions at the southern headland, only 1.5km from the beach.
Rob's briefing.
The southerly had abated somewhat from peaks in the early hours of Sunday morning over 20 knots, but the remnant sea state was peaky, short, and in places very steep. Had the wind stayed up we would have moved to a more protected location.
Rob gave his briefing out of the wind, so everyone could be sure to hear all of the details, & emphasised the forces at play on the sea overnight, and what we could expect to see & feel once out in the relentless moving water. I reminded everyone that the sea will take control of you, if you let it, and aggressive & positive paddling is rewarded with control, once things start to move around. Personally I hate the big briefing, mostly I reckon they overload groups with information, when in the simplest terms all you're trying to do is identify risks & make sure everyone is in on the plan. This one was short, succinct & most importantly, left everyone in no doubt as to what to expect.
My group leave the safety of Long Bay
We split our groups into two, me with 6 paddlers & Rob & Sharon with 8. In amongst them we asked Mick Taylor, the club's training officer, to distribute the more experienced members with the less experienced, so we had a mix of steady hands to help out in the event of a problem.
Sharon & Angie (on her first sea paddle) head back into the bay.
The stated objective was a paddle from Malabar around & into Little Bay, a return trip of just under 6km, but laced with everything from industrial strength rebound to the flat calm of the beach, to a tricky navigation through breaking reefs into Little Bay itself.

Crucially, we identified the northern cliffs of both Long & Little Bay as the dangers, with a breeze likely to very quickly minimise any sea-way should an incident occur that took some time to sort out.
The trace of Sunday morning's paddle
As such, we kept our groups as close as possible to the protected southern cliffs, and went very wide on the way around to Little Bay to avoid the steepest, most multidirectional sections of sea. These were most likely to produce a capsize, and we wanted as much distance between us & the cliffs should something go awry.

The approach to Little Bay can be intimidating, with reefs breaking on both sides of a narrow entrance, but experience has shown us a clear line in through the break, and a left turn behind the most prominent reef to the sand. It's one of those 'surely we're not going in there' sights from the sea, which is actually pretty smooth as long as you hold a disciplined line.
Sharon working with her group inside Long Bay
Not everyone made it out of the bay, with some novice sea paddlers rightly deciding they'd had enough as we approached the start of the steep stuff. We escorted them all back to the calm water as a team, where Sharon put together an excellent session guiding her impromptu group in less demanding water, & worked on some moving water skills.

Andrew having a short breather at Little Bay
I headed back out after this with Andrew, Dee, Deb & George, and we made it all the way around, landed at Little Bay, then rode a tighter line to the cliffs home as the wind abated. For a group with mostly little or no big water sea experience, they did incredibly well in some proper ocean conditions.
Dee (on her first sea paddle) & George heading out to sea after leaving Little Bay
Rob's prudence paid dividends, with several capsizes & rescues out in the middle of the biggest seas in his group, but nothing more serious than a bit of blue language!

We were so impressed with the ticker on display from the River Canoe guys, both from those willing to say enough, and those who took on the challenge with such relish. Like our mates at the Sutherland Canoe Club, this is clearly a place where a supportive environment encourages people to do their best, with a sense of humour underpinning everything.

For us it's no easy task to get a group of paddlers we know little about, except that they have very limited or even no sea experience, out into such intimidating conditions, without unforeseen problems. A lot of planning goes into the exercise, and in this instance the club you're banking on to have done the prerequisite basic rescue & group work has to have done their bit too.

Thanks to the River Canoe Club for allowing us to show them the sort of paddling we love, and for fulfilling their end of the bargain with a well prepared & enthusiastic bunch of members.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Benji Factor

I read with interest this morning about a local legend in Rugby League, Benji Marshall, deciding after a six month switch to the alternative rugby code, that it was time to head back to the game he knows best.

He said he realised that he probably wan't the outstanding rugby union player he had hoped he might be, but wasn't disappointed with having made the switch. The crucial thing for him was that the change in discipline had reinvigorated his desire to be a top sportsman. He's deliberately made the journey back to being a learner for the sheer challenge of it, & enjoyed the experience, even though he hadn't succeeded to the extent that he'd hoped. He's said he'll now return to rugby league a lot hungrier, & with a greater appreciation of how hard he needs to work to maintain his standards.

I personally think it's important to keep on having a crack at new & different stuff, for much the same reasons as Benji.

I think the 'gaining of a reputation' in a sport like sea kayaking can sometimes be an albatross around the neck of the esteemed 'paddler of note'. I cheered loudly when I saw a Facebook post from top UK paddler Jeff Allen late last year of him emerging from the surf on foot, having previously been swimming through the wash after getting a trashing good enough to see him perform a humble wet exit.

It was a far cry from the 'what goes on the expedition stays on the expedition' rule that often shrouds the 'swim that Herby had on this landing' or the 'tow that Stevo needed around this rough headland', etc.
Mercer performs the 'Arsovertit' manoeuvre. 
It's also the reason we always put in the capsizes & mess ups on our surf & ocean paddling video adventures, because we're forever getting knocked over & knocked off in the process of having a decent go. There is no greater truth than the fact that you won't fall in unles you're giving it a decent crack!
A typical Epic fail.
I'm grateful for an upbringing that saw several severe & very public humiliations on the sporting field. Dropping a bomb in the last minute of the game that leads to the winning try, or getting out ducking a slower ball that you thought was going to hit you in the head, but instead hits your middle stump, and the following howls of delight from your opponents & spectators, make the self esteem consequences of falling out of a kayak in the surf seem pretty tame by comparison.

At a recent paddling event I asked one mate why a local paddler-of-note wasn't in attendance. He shrugged his shoulders & said, 'I think he's worried about being exposed as a bit of a talker, but not much of a doer'. I thought that was a pretty sad state of affairs from someone who clearly loves his paddling.

Looking a lot better than I'm feeling on my new K1
My latest attempt to keep fresh has centred around the purchase of an old racing K1. For a couple of hundred bucks spent through eBay, I now have something capable of inflicting all sorts of core-torture. It began with a loud boast to Steve & Joel that I'd easily be able to paddle one of their silly flat water boats, knowing full well that they'd both had their own moments in them when starting out. Steve & Kate then took me down to the local river & set up several cameras to capture my demise, only to be disappointed with a performance laced with subtle bracing strokes & a well thought out strategy on keeping the bloody thing upright by using speed. A picture of sprint paddling beauty it was not....

I heard the joy of paddling a K1 described as 'sitting on a floating water melon, whilst doing pilates'. Sounds like fun right?

There is no commercial reason to take up this challenge, we won't be rushing into the world of sprint & marathon racing anytime soon. Instead it brings a purity of form & shape that allows no scope for poor technique. Like the GPS, the K1 is brutally honest about how good you are - one slightly slipped arse cheek & you'll spend half a dozen strokes keeping yourself upright, let alone paddling with any efficiency. It's revived that feeling you get as a beginner where you're forever anxious about a mis-timed stroke, which has got to be a good thing for someone often in charge of beginners.

The reward comes from an amazing feeling of glide when you get it right, and extrapolates to my ocean racing ski. When I hop back onto my V10 for a run in the ocean it suddenly feels like an ocean liner.

Good on Benji for setting the example, it doesn't mater how good you think you are, it never hurts to go back & hang out with the beginners, & you should never be afraid to fail publicly in pursuit of the thing you love doing.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Tiderace Xtra vs Valley Gemini SP RM - Surf Session


Rob & I headed to our favourite sea kayak surf spot, the Bundeena Bar, on the strength of yesterday's forecast 2-4m SE swell & 10-12 second wave period.

An intense east coast low had obliterated Sydney's beaches for all but the biggest wave adrenaline junkies, but a fast run-out tide mid-morning delivered us as good a set of fat waves as you could hope to find.
Mark goes the aerial route in the Xtra.
We spent about 90 minutes putting the Tiderace Xtra & Valley Gemini SP RM through their respective paces. I was getting my head around the Xtra, having only previously paddled it briefly & only on some very gentle surf at Bateman's Bay, whilst Rob went for it in the Gemini, pushing the hull as far as he could.
Rob about to 'go dark' in the Gemini RM
The results are on the short video above, some acrobatics, some fast & controlled rides in these neat little play sea kayaks, some biffo, and thankfully some un-airable language censored from a family website. Suffice to say there is a reckless Rescue Board paddler somwhere in Sydney who will be having nightmares about mild mannered snow haired men who go bad.

My impressions of the Xtra in some surf that presented a few more challenges? The super flat hull planes like you can't believe as long as you can get it into the sweet spot. The best course of action is to keep it simple, don't over edge, just make small adjustments. Like the Xcite it adjusts direction one way or the other with tiniest amount of edge & a well time stern rudder or draw, and for a beginner surfer it would provide the most sympathetic route possible into the fraught world of sea kayak surfing.

Enjoy the fruits of our hard work, making absolutely sure these boats we're selling you good folks are as good as the manufacturers say, and don't feel too sorry for us having to put in such toil.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The North Shore Atlantic Returns...!

There was a welcome inclusion in our latest shipment from the UK, which landed yesterday, in the form of new stock of the North Shore Atlantic.

I was asked recently why we had brought this much-loved, stable & sympathetic skeg design back into the country after selling our last one a few years ago, and before I could answer, the guy who asked the question said, 'latent demand, right?'

I nodded & smiled, it's as simple as that really.

Back when we decided to cut the boat from our stock range we felt we had surrounded it with boats that we more extreme at the play end like the Gemini & Xtra, faster at the Tour end like the old Aquanaut & new fast tourers, and figured people may not be interested in the rough water all rounder, that at it's essence looks after less skilled or new paddlers.

We then had a tremendous resurgence in interest in this genre of boat with the arrival of the Tiderace Xcite, and people have been asking ever since, will be you bringing the Atlantic back into the country any time soon?'

So, by popular demand, they are now here, in a range of colours, priced very keenly in an era when our dollar is slowly slouching, at $3790 for North Shore's light, stiff & strong standard Diolen layup. You can see the colours on our Kayak Prices & Stock page.

We have a demo on hand for anyone wanting to either re-acquaint, or test out this little gem of a boat.

Ocean Paddler Magazine in the UK wrote an excellent article which I feel nicely summarises the virtues of the North Shore Atlantic, which you can read HERE.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Eden to Bondi, Without Landing


Now that they're all set, I can release the news that Rob Mercer, Johnny Lee & Mick MacRobb are about push out through the surf at Eden, on the far south coast, aiming to touch the sand next, non-stop, 450km to the north on Bondi Beach in Sydney.
Mick & John enjoying a last brew this morning in Eden 'both in tip-top shape'
They have been training secretly for months, ironing out bugs in a sleeping system involving a three boat raft, developed for them by Thermosleep in Sweden.

All three have been training intensely, monitoring heart rates, comparing performance notes & getting into tip top shape for a paddle of over 450km that they're aiming to finish inside 7 days.

Mick packing his new Pace 17 in preparation for 'The Everest of Kayaking'
Rob was upbeat about their chances last night, here's his thoughts:

"I've never seen Mick in such great shape, & John has been a machine lately in his resistance training & downwind efforts. Unfortunately the first couple of days out of Eden have headwinds forecast, so I'm at a distinct disadvantage, with my routine nowadays involving downwind paddling only. Hopefully the other two guys can give me some advice on headwind technique, or it's going to be a slow start. The sleeping system is now sorted, although John is something of a 'loud' sleeper. We're planning on a maximum 4 hours per night in the Thermosleep set up, which should get us there in reasonable shape"

Join me in wishing the guys well, and tune in to our Facebook page for a daily update of their progress, for this challenge, a new 'Everest of Kayaking'.