Monday 22 December 2008

Merry Xmas & thank you....

As the year draws to a close I'd like to take the opportunity to say thanks to everyone out there in paddling world who has taken the time to read my dipsarate blog offerings, and also to those of you who have given us your valuable custom in 2008. For something that was supposed to be a bit of a hobby for Rob & I, & also maybe a chance for a couple of kayak junkies to get our hands on some new designs, Expedition Kayaks has pretty quickly turned into a rather serious enterprise. Of course, none of that is possible without the kayakers who have been prepared to listen to our sermons on rudderless kayaking, & commit themselves to learning how to use our boats, the way they were meant to be used. It's very satisfying to see kayakers in our boats who have made noticeable improvements in their paddling since beginning to paddle their EK kayak.
To you & yours, a safe & happy Xmas, & may there be many hours on the water in 2009.

Thursday 18 December 2008

Thursday Morning Fitness Paddle

We've been doing our Thursday morning fitness paddle now for about 4 months, & more & more people are starting to tag along as regulars. The route is a flat water 12.5km along the shoreline of Botany Bay in Sydney, which we aim to do in our sea kayaks in about 80 minutes, averaging about 8.5-9km/h. This is pretty good workout pace for most sea kayak designs, & improves accelaration, as well as fitness, and also allows a paddler to get an idea of how fast they actually go over an extended time, rather than simply guessing. This is an important peice of safety knowledge for sea kayakers, as it greatly assists navigation if you have a decent idea of how quickly you can cover ground, especially when you need to....
Here are a few scenes from today's paddle, the last one before Xmas, 2008.

As always it was a beautiful Sydney morning. We're lucky to live in such a great paddling city.

Sunday 14 December 2008

The Rapier 20 - First Impressions

Roger Boardman putting the Rapier 20 through it's paces.
Rob brought his shiny Rapier 20 down to our demo day at Ramsgate Beach yesterday, so I took the opportunity to take it for a bit of a spin, seeing as I've got my own one arriving in a couple of weeks. It's is definitely something out of the box, 20 feet long, 42cm wide, very aptly named considering it looks as close to a deadly weapon as you could imagine a kayak looking, and fast. The initial stability was a concern for me, with no background whatsoever in surf ski paddling, and everyone considering the Rapier 20 to be akin to a surf ski with a deck. Where it differs greatly from a surf ski however, is in the chine profile, which offers a reasonable amount of secondary stability. We're not talking eat your sandwich while taking a photo & sending a text message secondary stability here, but for something capable of the speed the Rapier 20 manages, it's pretty good. The close catch is something a sea kayaker would need a bit of time & adjustment to get used to, as you really do feel like you're planting your blade on top of your feet, but the response when you get your stroke right is something else. This thing absolutely flies........
I realise now that I am going to have to be a bit more dedicated to this kayak than just about anything else I've paddled, but what's life without a challenge. The idea of riding some big ocean swells out at sea in the Rapier is the gold at the end of the rainbow.........

Monday 8 December 2008

Sydney Demo Day, Saturday, December 13

Following the great success of our demo day at Currumbin prior to the Queensland Sea Kayak Symposium, we're offerring an opportunity for Sydney paddlers to come along & try out our range of kayaks & Mitchell Blades. We will have available on the beach the NDK Explorer, the Valley Nordkapp, Nordkapp LV, Aquanaut, Aquanaut LV & Aquanaut HV, as well as the Rapier 20, and from the Impex range the Assateague, Montauk & Force 5.
We'll be on the beach from 7.30am, this coming Saturday, December 13, and will be offering instruction on rudderless paddling, as well as individual forward paddling tips for those on the water in the demo boats. The venue is Ramsgate beach on Botany Bay, entrance to the beach via the car park opposite Florence St (GPS Ref. 33°, 58’, 56.82S; 151°, 08’, 53.95E). If you’re travelling south along Grand Pde from the city, the car park is 4.1km from the Cooks River bridge, on the left. If you’re travelling north along Grand Pde, the car park is 1.25 from the beginning of the Grand Pde at Dolls Pt. For a more detailed overview click HERE. It's a great opportunity to pick up a well deserved Xmas pressie......! If you intend on coming along along, please register your interest with me on 0417-924-478, or at

Friday 5 December 2008

Tasmania Sea Kayaking Weekend

The Tasmanian Sea Canoeing Club have announced a new annual symposium style event for February next year, the inaugural White Bay Weekend. With the success of the long established New South Wales Sea Kayak Club's Rock & Roll Weekend, and the well received National Sea Kayak Symposium held in November this year in Queensland, it is a terrific addition to the calendar. I think it's another step towards establishing an annual event calendar for sea kayakers such as those which keep everyone busy in the US & Europe. Those great symposium weekends are something of which I've always been pretty jealous, considering the introverted nature of sea kayaking in Australia. Listening to Nigel Dennis describe his famous Anglesea symposium was rivetting, especially when you consider that attendees are lucky enough to be able to rock hop, surf a tidal race, do a cruisy cliffline paddle & some flat water coaching all on the one day within about 5 miles!
Sunset off White Beach, Nubeena
Rob Mercer & I are heading down to the White Beach weekend do three days of instruction, & hoping to pick up some different perspectives on paddling from the Tasmanians, who are mostly paddling in very challenging & cold water, compared to what we on the mainland are used to. Organiser Greg Simson has organised a great venue, the White Beach Tourist Park at Nubeena, just south of Hobart, where there is a good variety of water & excellent facilities. I reckon it's a great opportunity for people who have always wanted to do some paddling in Tassie, but weren't sure of where to go or who to talk to, to make some contacts, enjoy the company of our southern cousins, & have a fun weekend to boot.
The fee for the event is $30, including all on water activities, instruction & entertainment, some guest speakers on the Saturday night & dinner. Value straight from the 1950's if you ask me....!
If you're interested in attending you can contact Greg on (03 62353534) or

Thursday 27 November 2008

Rumblin' in Currumbin

I've just returned from the terrific Australian Sea Kayak Symposium in Currumbin, on Queensland's Gold Coast. The event was a great start towards establishing an event that will hopefully become a part of the kayaking calendar for years to come. The weekend began for Rob & I with a 13 hour drive up from Sydney on the Thursday, so we were set up for the demo day we held on the Friday morning.
The demo day was an unqualified success, with Brian & Deb McCarthy ordering a shiny new Aquanaut each, & Brooke & Eddie paddling & then buying the awesome little Avocet. Several other paddlers turned up to try out our designs & attempt to get their heads aorund rudderless paddling. With a great new customised boat trailer, we will be doing plenty more of these demo days around the place, so keep an eye on our website for dates. Of course, we'll also take you out to demo paddle any of our boats, at a time to suit.
The venue for the show was the Currumbin State High School, where the opening honours were done by Christine Smith, ALP member for Burleigh.
Proving that everyone has one, MP for Burleigh Christine Smith, gives her opinion on the Nordkapp.....
We set up our stand & showed off our shiny boats & Mitchell Blades, along with the other unique gear from our previously only online store.
The Saturday had a pretty solid lineup of speakers & workshops and a short paddle in the afternoon, while the Sunday involved a full day on the water for the 100+ participants. While skills instruction was pretty basic in comparison to something like the iconic NSWSKC Rock & Roll Weekend, it was understandable given the lack of a generic grading system, and the fact that this was the first event of it's kind in the state. I'm sure everyone came away with a new tool in the skills armoury regardless of their level of competence.
After the instruction morning, paddlers were free to demo paddle the range of boats from the many retailers in attendance.
Queensland sea kayaking is definitely defined by the paddling opportunities available around the South East of the state. The open ocean is rarely accessible other than through a breaking river bar or tidal narrow, or of course through the teeth of a long beach break, and the sort of big water we get used to in the southern states around headlands, & with long period southern swell is generally absent in all but the biggest weather days. So, like all things in Queensland, people tend to take it a bit easy - all very admirable! If you want to see a paddling community smelling the roses, enjoying the true relaxation our sport can offer, go no further than the litany of 'pods' who paddle together up & down the Gold Coast, Brisbane & Moreton Bay, & the Sunshine Coast. To boot, there are awesome moving water stretches, without the 'consequences' of getting it wrong in the surf trying to surf your kayak at a beach break around Sydney. All in all, I was very jealous of the weather, water temperature & bar breaks available to Queensland paddlers. The folks at Queensland Canoeing are to be commended for having a go & pulling off such a successful event. If you can make it along next year, it's well worth the effort.

Leading Queensland instructor Craig McSween taking his little boy for a paddle in his brand new Outasea design.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Australian Sea Kayak Symposium

We're pretty excited about next week's inaugural Australian Sea Kayak Symposium, organised & run by Queensland Canoeing on the Sunshine Coast. Head honcho Mark Thurgood has done a terrific job pulling together an event that promises much, as an annual get-together of salty sea paddlers.
They have a good range of speakers & workshops, some basic instruction for all participants on both the Saturday & Sunday, and from all reports a good pre-registered roster. Rob & I will be there from Friday morning, and will run a demo paddling session on the Currmbin Creek from 10am to 3pm, in order to allow our loyal Queensland customers a chance to get out in some of our newer designs. We'll be in the water with the demo paddlers, offering our customary tips & tricks on how to handle rudderless kayaks, as well as having our Reed gear, This is the Sea DVD's & other store goodies for purchase.
Sunday at the Symposium offers much the same experience, with a bunch or retailers & importers offering their demo boats for all to try. It is a rare opportunity to try, compare & contrast different craft head to head.
To register your attendance, click HERE

Monday 10 November 2008

Paddling with a Paddy

I had the great pleasure of paddling on Saturday with the NSWSKC, on a trip led by Peter Osman, with a guest from Ireland, David Carraher.
David Carraher, Irish Sea Instructor & all round good fella.....Photo Dee Ratcliffe

We had a good mix in the group, with two sea instructors, Peter aiming to re-register as a Sea Leader, a couple of Sea Skills qualified paddlers & a reasonably new kayaker. Our trip was intended to run from the protected waterway of Middle Harbour, through the outer harbour between Sydney Heads, & around the long stretch of cliffs between North Head & Manly. The forecast swung around like the Aussie dollar in the days prior, & even as late as Friday it looked like conditions might be too demanding for the group, but a settled Saturday morning outlook saw us depart for our original trip on schedule. This pre-match process highlighted to me the importance of paddling with a club or experienced group when you're intending to paddle on the sea. There was much emailed correspondence in the days prior to the paddle, as several experienced kayakers analysed the meaning of the forecast, in relation to the stretch of water to be covered. I've heard much denigration over the years of the concept of risk management, but this to me was a terrific example of a group of experienced paddlers figuring out a weather forecast, along a route, keeping in mind the abilities of the group, & then deciding the risks would be worth the experience. Top marks to trip leader Peter Osman for co-ordinating the preliminaries!
Paddling with our guest paddy, Dave, was a real pleasure. He is one of the leading instructors in Ireland, & has a resume as long as your Mitchell Blade of great expeditions, ranging from West Greenland to direct crossings from Ireland to The Isle of Man, to the tide races of Northern Ireland & Wales. One of the great differences between the way true sea kayaking is taught in Ireland & here in Australia is due to the hazards which predominate. Paddling around Ireland, you need to know your tides, navigation in limited visibility & have good moving water (ie tidal) skills, whereas here our emphasis is much more heavily on surf & it's associated risks. What I wouldn't give to have a crack at one of those awesome tide races that figure so prominently in the This is the Sea & Pacific Horizons DVD's!

David Carraher cracks a wave on Fairy Bower Photo Dee Ratcliffe

The paddle progressed out & around North Head & down the cliff line to Manly, with a moderate nor' westerly cutting up the top of the water & making things reasonably challenging along this notoriously bouncy stretch. There were a couple of good small waves which provided some entertainment at Fairy Bower , followed by a cup of coffee on the sand at Shelley Beach. We met up with Mark Schroeder & Matt Bezzina - author of the world famous "Matt's Blog" & they joined in for the trip back to the heads. New paddler Wendy Stevenson - the lady who blitzed me in the Montauk if you read back in the blog to my 'Speed' entry, was in her new Avocet LV & gradually got a feel for this awesome little boat. For small framed paddlers, this little beauty is a god-send, keeping things in proportion for the larger-than-you-think percentage of the paddling community who can rarely find a sea kayak which fits.

Wendy Stevenson showing picture-perfect poise in her Avocet LV

The trip back was assisted greatly by the current which runs south along the cliff line, & we were then entertained by Mark & Matt slowly delaminating their hulls on the Cungewoi reefs around North Head.

Mark Schroeder getting a bit of a splash from the North Head sandstone.

Back at Clontarf there was a bit of rolling practice & some demo paddling for Peter O & Dee Ratcliffe, before the last paddlers standing adjourned to Skiffies for a couple of beers & some tall tales.

Peter Osman dropping his skirt in the soup.

All up, an awesome day out with mixed conditions, good company & some proper sea kayaking. Thanks to Peter O, Dee, Wendy, Bruce, John, Matt, Mark & David for making it such a great day out.

Thursday 30 October 2008

Mitchell Blades - New Sea Kayak Paddles for EK

We've just landed our stock of the brightest new paddle designs around, Mitchell Blades from the UK. Made by a terrific young bloke, Lance Mitchell from Chester, England, they are a true breath of fresh air with their stunning appearance & finish, construction & design.
When our demo paddles arrived in the last container of Valley boats, Rob & I wanted them to be good, because they looked so bloody good! We have had the Explorer, Poseidon & Voyager paddles out now for almost 2 months, testing them extensively to gauge their strength & to find out where we think they will fit in a market dominated by a couple of well known US brands.
Suffice to say they are definitely something different, made to much higher construction standards than most of what we have seen in the past few years, and with distinctive design characteristics that haven't previously been explored in a sea kayak specific blade.
In a nutshell, there is a traditional touring blade (the Explorer) a versatile all-rounder (the Voyager), and a real performance blade for those who want serious support in their strokes (the Poseidon). The split shafts feature Mitchell's unique Vario-S Lock - a locking system that has an integrated Allen key tightener, so hard-to-shift thread reliant locks are consigned to history. They also have an amazing 10cm length variant, so you could shift your paddle from 215cm for a long stretch at sea where you want to put on some miles, all the way back to 205cm for the extra torque & control required for a surf landing. This also means that as your paddling improves you can adjust & tweak the feather & shaft length without having to buy a new paddle, with a locking system that won't fail when you most need it (like when you're upside down, 10m from rocks, in a breaking 2m wave - ask me about it one day.....)
We have demo's for testing & more than 50 paddles in stock - let us know if you'd like to take a Mitchell Blade for a spin.

LV.......what's it all about?

I've had a few people expressing puzzlement lately about the term LV (low volume) being used in the name of a kayak design. Valley have recently released the Aquanaut LV, the Avocet LV & the Nordkapp LV, and they're causing a bit of confusion in our market, where the concept is a fairly new one.
The Avocet LV doing what it does best.....

Basically, the idea derives from the indelible fact that a sea kayak behaves very differently when loaded & heavier, to what it does with just the weight of the paddler. Generally, although not a universal rule, a laden kayak will sit lower in the water, extending the waterline, improving the initial stability and 'solidity' for the paddler. For most of us, this is a good thing, taking away any semblance of tippiness & instability, while also increasing the boat speed due to the increased water line length.
The problem with most expedition boat designs is that they are hardly ever paddled on expeditions, with 98% of any kayakers trips being day paddles, where the oversized gear hauling capabilities of these boats is unnecessary. In a pure kayaking sense, they're not much fun when it comes to doing what most paddlers do, which is head out for a morning or a day, to play around, do some harbour or coastal touring, or mess around in the surf.
So, in the case of a manufacturer like Valley, they have re-worked their designs to remove the volume in some of their kayaks, so that the LV versions paddle like a loaded version of the  standard boat. The Nordkapp with a load full of gear is a pure joy to paddle, deserving of it's reputation as one of the world's premier expedition kayaks, however if it was your only boat you'd only get to experience that performance if you were prepared to load it up with 30kg worth of gear every time you went for a paddle (or like me are in the 90kg+ range). The Nordkapp LV is designed with a good swathe of the volume removed, while preserving the feel of a fully laden Nordkapp. For someone like me, who can realistically only afford short breaks from a busy business & young family for day paddles & surfing, the Nordkapp LV is a much better proposition than the full sized Nordkapp. It's big enough for me to pack up for a week long trip, but responsive enough unladen to be a pure joy when paddled on the moving water of the sea.
There isn't much point taking a bus to the racetrack, when you can have a Ferrari instead......

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Sea Kayaking Forum

There is a new forum for Australian Sea Kayakers up & running, which shows great promise:
It's not captive to any one club or commercial entity, & has a broad range of topics for people to discuss. Check it out at

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Sea Speed vs Flat Water Speed

Rob Mercer has captured very succinctly the differences between sea paddling & flat water paddling on his terrific blog on the Balanced Boater website. He is basically describing the reason that many paddlers who can really motor on the flat suddenly have their speed curtailed by a bit of moving water.
Check out 'The Catch' on his blog (go to - one of the best short paddling articles I've read for some time.....

Monday 20 October 2008

Test Paddle - Aquanaut & Nordkapp LV

I had the pleasure early Saturday morning of taking a fellow paddler, Matt Prenter from Hobart, Tasmania, out for a test paddle. Matt had been in contact with Geoff Murray down in Tassie through his club, & Geoff had offered him a crack in his Rockpool. While not the boat for him, Matt was still keen on the idea of a skeg boat, and got in contact last week to arrange a test paddle while up in Sydney on a short trip.
Sizing him up for our range, I figured either the Nordkapp LV or the Aquanaut would be best, so we met early Saturday morning for a sea trial. A highlight of the trip to collect him from his digs in King Cross was bearing witness to McLeay St at 6am - it's many years since I've staggered out of one of the bars in the Cross but I reckon I could have got a hangover from just watching the boozers chasing their pizza's home!
Conditions were pretty friendly for our paddle, but nonetheless the shape of the coast around Sydney's South Head always make for a variety of sea states, and provide a good environment for a paddler trying to assess the merits of any particular boat design.
Matt jumped in the Nordkapp LV - essentially a boat derived from the new Nordkapp design, but with much of the volume taken out, so it behaves like a standard Nordkapp with an expedition load. We headed out of the calm in Camp Cove, around the coast past the reef of South Head, then along the cliff lines under Sydney's infamous 'Gap'. The deep water & tall cliffs always produce some form of rebound & this allowed us to get into some bouncy water & test out the LV's stability. We then turned east & headed out into the nor’ easterly swell for couple of kilometres, before turning & running back with the sea to the safety of the harbour. Most of the bad press about rudderless kayaks centres on their inability to handle a following sea, so I always welcome the opportunity to get a paddler into a Valley & allow them to run with a sea. They quickly discover that the myths are just that, myths, & what follows is a pretty swift surf-laced run with these awesome designs carving along in the following conditions.
Back into Camp Cove we messed around with a few rolls & some instruction on handling a rudderless kayak, then swapped over. Now, I had figured that I would be too big for the Nordkapp LV, and was dreading squeezing myself into it even for a short test paddle. What a surprise I got when I slid in like a glove, and immediately felt the responsiveness of this extremely responsive & playful kayak. The LV has been universally well reviewed overseas, so I looked forward to giving it a good workout while Matt took my Aquanaut for a spin. I wasn't disappointed. While the initial stability is a little lighter than the Aquanaut, the secondary is rock solid, & allowed me to do things in the LV that I would struggle to do in my Aquanaut. It is also very, very quick. Riding a few small wind waves back from the centre of the heads I was clocking 15km/h without trying, and the boat loved the following chop (just like the Aquanaut). Back inside the harbour for a second time Matt & I rode the small wind waves without any effort at 11km/h plus, in a beaut run back to the beach.
In summary, we managed to get out in a couple of great boat designs, test them in the sea (which after all is where you would hope to be paddling your sea kayak), & had a good time into the bargain.
Matt decided the Aquanaut's more solid initial stability suited his paddling needs, & will soon be showing his shiny new Valley boat in the clear waters of his native Tassie.

Friday 5 September 2008

Sean Morley & the Valley Rapier Take on Vancouver Island

Sean Morley Dealing with the rough stuff....
In September 2008 British sea kayaker Sean Morley will be attempting to break the record for the fastest circumnavigation of Canada’s Vancouver Island. The records currently stand at 23 days 10 hours for a single kayak set by Joe O’Blenis and 19 and a half days for a double kayak set by Kieron Tastagh and Jeff Norville, both in 2007. Sean will paddle in a single kayak, a Rapier 20 manufactured by Valley Sea Kayaks.

Ian Tordoff in the Valley Rapier
He aims to complete the 700mile journey in under 18 days. Vancouver Island can present some of the most challenging conditions a kayaker can face including fierce winds and huge waves off the notorious headlands of Cape Scott and the Brooks Peninsular, high surf and treacherous reefs guarding the remote beaches of the west coast and raging tidal rapids reaching speeds of 15knots in the myriad of channels separating the Vancouver Island from the mainland.
Sean lives in California where he runs River and Ocean, the US importer and distributor for UK Valley Sea Kayaks. He is the current World Masters Surf Kayak Champion in the High Performance category.

Sea Morley on his way to winning the World Surf Kayak Crown in the Valley Rush

In 2004 Sean completed the first solo circumnavigation of the UK and Ireland and all the inhabited islands; a six month, 4500mile expedition and the longest journey ever undertaken by kayak in British waters. I had the pleasure of metting Sean at a show in the US last year & have long been an admirer of his paddling. He has done it all, from high performance racing, to slalom, to some of the most audacious sea kayaking trips undertaken, & even suurf kayaking. If ever there was boat in which to break a record, the Valley Rapier is it - my money is on him to pull off this feat.You can follow his progress from September 22 onwards HERE.

Postscript: Sean completed his epic paddle in just over 17 days, beating the previous record set in a double by almost 2 days. He ended up paddling the standard Nordkapp due to the forecast seas & conditions, judging the Rapier to be a bit too twitchy for such a trip.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Spray Skirt Loops

This is an article I posted on the NSWSKC chatline a few months back - it's an important safety lesson & bears repeating....
"I had an interesting experience surfing yesterday up here at Noosa Point. With not too many chances to get in my surf kayak nowadays I have managed four awesome mornings over an extended weekend holiday to get out on the famed Noosa point & ride a few perfect waves. For an idea of how good this spot is, check the photo below.

Yesterday, with another great lineup & a session from heaven beckoning, I allowed a bit of complacency to get the better of me & came off second best....
In a nutshell, I failed to make absolutely sure my skirt release loop was on the outside of the deck. After a couple of hours riding some of the best waves I've ever surfed, I decided a particularly good one would be my last, & rode it all the way in to the beach (a good 200m). I took on the shore break, which I had avoided so far on this day & the whole trip, bounced down a dumper, braced, then hit a rock which I hadn't seen. The boat flipped, which was fine, & my paddle caught on the sand & was taken out of my hands. No problems with any of this, as I was only in about 2 feet of whitewater, except that as I reached forward to pop my skirt the loop was not where it should have been. So I spent about 3 minutes in the washing machine, mostly upside down, head (with helmet fixed) banging on sand & the occasional rock while I fought to release the skirt or use a wave to try to roll up without the paddle. In the end one of the wrinkled old long-boarders with whom I'd been enjoying the waves paddled past & offered a paw so I could bring myself upright. Now, in 2 feet of water I wasn't going t drown straight away, but I can tell you it wasn't much fun & was peeing & snotting salt water for a good few hours afterwards. If it had happened in another metre of water I may have been in very serious trouble, but then I probably wouldn't have lost my paddle & would have rolled. I'm an experienced paddler & shouldn't have made this elementary mistake, especially when it's the first thing I teach people when we're making them do their wet exits & rescues. Why did I allow it to occur? Probably a little bit of excitement clouding my usual auto-pilot safety checks - Noosa is a great place to surf a surf kayak - & also the fact that I trust my roll & don't ever consider a wet exit. I can see that this is potentially disastrous combination which I won't be replicating. The lesson, check your set up every time you go on the ocean. My surf kayak is a very tight fit - necessary if you want to get as much out of it as it can offer - but only a little bit tighter than my sea kayak cockpit. The spray skirt was realistically a little tight for the boat, making it impossible to release without the loop, especially with the pressure of breaking waves sucking it on to the coaming. Check this on your own boat & make sure it will release with a good tumble turn (don't try this on your own...!). If you're going to be launching or landing in surf - even if as a worst case scenario on a leisurely day trip - wear a helmet. If I hadn't been wearing mine, which I do religiously, all of the scratches & bangs on my Gath would be permanently etched into my scalp. Lastly, while it's the most exhilarating & fun part of our sport, remember that the surf will sort you out one day when you least expect it. Make sure you've had good controlled experiences in the break zone before you take it on. If anyone wants to come for a surf with me, let me know...!"

Friday 11 July 2008

Reed Chillcheater Gear - Welcome to the future....

I'm very excited about the shipment of Reed Chillcheater gear we're about to land! After a few weeks of testing in the filed, we're so impressed that I think this stuff deserves a few lines, just because it's so good. And hey, of course we'd like to sell a few! My original impressions of the Reed Aquatherm fabric, from DVD's like This is the Sea & Pacific Horizons, was that it looked like one of those old rubber wetsuits that Sean Connery used to wear in James Bond films from the '60's. Great for the cold water of the UK (and a few Oxford St Nightclubs) but surely too heavy for our warmer climes; & the visuals didn't exactly engender a garment likely to breathe too well. Fast forward to Rock & Roll this year, & Nigel Dennis' appearance in his Reed kit, & all of my preconceptions were exploded. Nigel was wearing a vest with a spray skirt attached, & had a spray deck separate along with the Reed PFD & Cag. The design of the stuff was a marvel, obviously designed by elite paddlers, taking into considerations the gear-related lessons learned over years of expeditioning.

The Aquatherm fabric itself does look rubbery, but is about the same thickness as a rashie, with the advantages of being windproof & ultra-breathable. Rob & I immediately ordered samples to test & we have both been blown away by the performance of these garments. Without going into the serious details of each item in the range, the overriding features are fit (no rubbing caused by wearing a top that was designed for a surfer), design (how would you like a set of hand warmer pockets & a designated VHF sleeve in your next PFD?), and material (Aquatherm is awesome stuff, breathable, comfortable, incredibly light & pretty groovy....) We've got good stock on all of the Reed range on our online store, available at the same prices you would be paying if you bought direct from Reed in the UK, without the expensive international freight charge. We've even designed a spray deck for the Mirage paddlers out there, looking for a good quality expedition spray skirt for their sea adventures.
Chillcheater - once you've had black, you'll never go back......

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Surf Kayaking

The author riding a glassy 3-footer, Surf Beach, Bateman's Bay (photo John Piotrowski)
What of this new sport, surf kayaking? It’s been around a long time in the UK where it was pioneered in the early ‘70’s, but has only recently surfaced as a viable activity in made-for-the-surf kayaks (rather than playboats) in Australia since Ross Boardman started importing the Mega range from the UK.
My journey into this spectacular sport began about 5 years ago with a whitewater creek boat, a Wavesport Score, which has very similar handling characteristics to a modern surf kayak, minus the fins. As a paddler who learnt the skills of surfing a kayak in a cumbersome sea kayak, this boat seemed to me to be about as good as things could get, with it’s maneuverability & speed on a wave face. Along came the first of Ross’ surf kayaks & I quickly realised just how much more was possible using a craft explicitly designed for the surf. In my old playboat, I would ride the initial face, then inevitably get caught in the break & bump along bracing, surfing backwards, generally out of control. Make no mistake, this is great fun, however it is really only replicating whitewater paddling in the surf zone. Whitewater paddlers will argue that this in itself is terrific fun, but it’s not what turned me on. As John Lennon said, whatever gets you through the night, it’s alright…..
A true surf kayak with fins allows the paddler to carve like a board rider, whilst also getting the most out of every wave.

The Valley Storm in action at Cornwall, UK (photo Maurice Leyland)

So, for a sea kayaker wanting to make the jump to surf kayaking, how do you get started?
Firstly, you’ll need a reasonably good skills base. You’re obviously going to do a lot of swimming I you haven’t yet managed to crack a decent roll. Rolling a kayak isn’t the black art many make it out to be. I’ve often instructed paddlers through their first ever roll, & their normal comment is ‘is that all there is to it..?” Get yourself some good instruction ( and depending on how flexible you are, you will find you’re cranking out a decent roll within a few weeks.
Secondly, undertake a careful study of the etiquette of surfing. There is an excellent guide
HERE. Watch how surfers treat each other (maybe don’t do this at Maroubra), get to know the rules of the break & when you do finally get out there, OBSERVE them.
Finally, get out in a controlled environment with either an instructor or a competent paddler & have a go. Start small – even playing in the broken whitewater is a good learning experience for a novice – and build slowly. Check the weather & surf forecasts & pick the days when you’re going to be inside your limits, and get out among the waves. Wear a helmet – if you don’t need a head, you don’t need a helmet.
Where is the sport headed? With the rivers in this dry continent slowly evaporating, it’s a good bet that surf kayaking will develop into at least as mainstream a sport as whitewater kayaking in the years to come. In Australia we’re blessed with a wealth of surf beaches free of crowds, so there is no limit to the development of the sport.
At Expedition Kayaks we have just begun to import the Storm surf kayak from the UK, and it is a real performer. Check it out on the Surf Kayaks page of our website.

The Mega boats at Jervis Bay Kayaks are also worth a look - their range is much wider & includes composites. Above all, don't for a minute think that surf kayaking is a high-performance sport for the young & reckless. With a minimum of instruction & experience, you can develop your sea kayaking skills to a level you couldn't have imagined possible, with the help of a well-designed surf kayak.

Monday 16 June 2008


With a very solid southerly blowing yesterday afternoon, I thought I'd head out on my normal 12.5km training paddle to see how far I would get. Paddling up the Cooks River, protected by the breakwall, I didn't feel that things were too blowy, but once out onto the expanse of Botany Bay the headwind was immediately noticeable. Observations from the time I was out paddling show a steady 26-28 knots, with gusts up to 38 knots. My normal 8.7km/h exercise pace on the flat, windless bay was reduced to 2.5-3km/h, with the bigger gusts reducing me to zero (as read on my GPS), or actually pushing me backwards. It's rather unnerving to be paddling at your normal tempo & actually heading back to where you started.... I can only image what Stu, Andrew & Laurie must have experienced when they were hit with the katabatic winds in Antarctica.
The other thing a headwind like that does is whip up a relentless sea. I reckon there were consistent waves of up to 1m, about 3 seconds apart, constantly bashing into my bow, further hampering forward progress. All of this action does to tend to focus your concentration however, & when I checked my watch expecting 20 minutes to have elapsed, it was actually near enough to an hour. I figured I would paddle a further 10 minutes (to a grand total of 3km in total), then turn around. The 3km or so that had taken me 85 minutes to cover into the headwind, took a total of 13 minutes on the way back, as I flew along surfing the short-sharp wind waves which had so hampered my forward progress.
The lesson for me was one about forward progress once things get towards 30knots. Basically forget it.

Thursday 12 June 2008

Speed - the great furphy for sea kayakers

I have heard my fair share of stories over the years about paddlers lusting for a faster boat, so they can keep up with hubby/paddling mates/ferries etc etc. I have never had a desire to go fast in a sea kayak (as opposed to a racing kayak), so it's always been a source of amusement, if not bemusement to hear people talking about our rather benign sport in the context of having to 'keep up' or 'go faster'. With a warehouse full of demo boats, each making various claims about being a cruiser or a speed machine, I'm at a bit of an advantage at judging the speed credentials of each.

So, over the last month or so, I've been doing a 12.5km Monday morning paddle from the Cooks River boat ramp in Kyeemagh, to Dolls Point in Botany Bay, & back. My aim has been to push a little bit harder than usual, in an effort to get a bit fitter, and also to see if I can discern any speed difference in the various kayaks we at Expedition Kayaks are selling. I cruise 'plus 10%' at about 8.5km/h, which is faster than I would have paddled on any club or instruction trip for the past 3 years. In fact, if I was to head off on a club paddle at this pace I reckon I'd probably exhaust at least half of my fellow paddlers within half an hour.
Conditions have been pretty much flat & windless, so I haven't had to contend with anything skewing the results of my test times, and the conclusions are really interesting. The Force 5, which really & truly is an amazingly fast boat in sea conditions, is actually only about 300m per hour faster than the Norkapp when paddled on the flat. The Norkapp is not designed for flat water racing - it's a dyed in the wool sea kayak. The Assateague, which I love paddling in anything remotely challenging, but which I would have considered to be a reasonably slow boat on flat water, is only about 100m/hour slower than the Nordkapp on flat water. The Aquanaut, which is blowing away many 5.8m sea kayaks in sea conditions, is only fractionally faster than the Nordkapp, on the flat. Think about those results - effectively it means after 12.5km of paddling at a rate above that which you would find on just about any club or social paddle, these kayaks are all going to arrive at the same destination within about 4 minutes of each other. I have deliberately italicsed the pertinent parts of my analysis, to attempt to show the absolute codswallop that is behind the idea that boat A is fast, & boat B is slow. The simple fact is, if you can get some sea skills through a good commercial instructor like Rob, or in a club environment, you will a) have a more efficient forward stroke and therefore be able to paddle more efficiently (& therefore faster); and b) better be able to take full advantage of the environment around you in the sea, to propel your kayak faster.

A classic example of my speed furphy theory is the Montauk, a boat we sell for smaller paddlers, which is just 16ft long. It is a lovely design, with a Swede form giving it excellent hull speed for it's overall waterline length, but I would again have considered it to be a reasonably slow boat. I took a ski paddler out for a test paddle in the Montauk a few weeks ago - she was small in stature but big on power & technique - and in a 4km return paddle on the sea she had me going well above my comfort level just to keep up (I was in the Currituck, which is another boat that performs beautifully in the sea, but is a bit sluggish on flat water). Anyway, she proved once & for all that the Montauk is definitely not slow in the hands of someone with a good forward paddle technique.

So, think twice about the boat if you're worried about keeping up, or going faster - look instead at your own technique, and think hard about whether you're in the sport to race (in which case, go buy a racing ski, or if you really want to go fast, a Rapier 20), or to smell the roses......

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Circumnavigating Erakor Island - almost....

Just back from a nice break with the family on the stunning Erakor Island in Vanuatu. One of my aims over 12 days spent building sandcastles & chasing hermit crabs with my daughters was to take on the significant challenge of rounding the island - a feat not before successfully acheived by an Australian sea kayaker. My vehicle of choice was the sturdy Ocean kayak sit on top (below) - a well rockered 13ft demon of a machine with few redeeming qualities, barring limpet-like stability.I had three attempt to do the circumnavigation, paddling out past local fishermen on their bark canoes inside the lagoon.

Each attempt was thwarted by a particularly irresistable reef break sitting 40m off the eastern edge of the island, which just had to be given a go. So, after riding the break for an hour at a time on each of my first three attempts, I had to forego the odyssey & hopefully return another day to tick this milestone of a paddlers career.For those of you hoping to train for such a feat, the stats are below:
Erakor Island, Vanuatu
Circumnavigation distance - 1.8km
Dangers - Relaxation induced apathy, dodgy sit on tops, paddles with one blade on backwards, sunburn.
First acheived - 704AD by Midou Tiki in timber, coconut hulled Valley Native Canoe (VNC)

Thursday 17 April 2008

Keith Oakford in the Aquanaut RM

NSWSKC Sea Instructor Keith Oakford recently graced the institution of the Tuesday Night Sydney Harbour & Beyond paddle with his prescence in his new Valley Aquanaut RM. In typical Keith style, he waited for a night when there was a 25 knot plus southerly blowing a confused 3m+ sea around to join in, & in doing so find out what his new boat was capable of, in some difficult conditions.

The slideshow above shows a small slice of the action, on a night where most of the group were wide eyed. Keith had a hell of good time in his boat, as evidenced by his play in the mess, & is stoked with the Aquanaut.
Keith is a Bass Strait veteran, & a very active sea instructor with the NSWSKC.

Monday 14 April 2008

Valley Composites

Chris James showing picture-perfect forward-paddle poise in the Aquanaut RM, off Sydney, April 2008.
We are finalising our order of the next shipment of Valley kayaks, after a phenomenal response to this brand again being available in Australia. If you’re interested in custom-ordering a colour or layup for delivery in late August, please let either Rob or I know. We’re aiming to cut-off on Friday, April 18. Browse through the links page in the left menu to the Valley UK site for options. I'm personally ordering an Aquanaut in ultra kevlar (all kevlar, hull & deck), with a clear hull (like the Rapier those of you lucky enough to be at Rock & Roll would have noticed) & some sort of funky deck colourway. I can't wait........

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Rock & Roll 2008

View from the Norkapp
Another Rock & Roll weekend has been & gone, my 6th all up, & what a great event. For me it began on the Thursday driving our 3 Valley RM boats down to set up the Expedition Kayaks display, & finished on the Monday arvo with Bob from Rafta Kayaks towing me around the campground trying to jump start my car! Hopefully that's the last time a Rafta has to tow an EK! Thanks Bob, you're a legend....
Ian Fletcher heading for Black Rock
With special guests Nigel Dennis from the UK & John Kirk Anderson from NZ, there was enough good advice being passed around to make everyone stop & think about how we do things. Nigel in particular was a revelation. I've heard things about his boats, often not too complimentary, but having met the the guy I can't imagine that they're anything other than terrific. The number of good paddlers around the world that paddle them has to bear testimony to that. It was interesting to hear that he & his group of 4 circumnavigated South Georgia in 5.4m boats - considered long in the world context yet too short in the general philosophy of Australian kayakers. Nigel's advice on forward stroke & rescues have made me a more thoughtful, less dogmatic sea instructor. One thing in particular stands out - if you're having trouble with your paddle stroke, be sure to have a good hard look at the length of your paddle! Chances are it's way too long.

Ian Fletcher & Alan Hale playing off the southern reef of Black Rock.
John Kirk Anderson drew a direct relationship between the general lack of skills in NZ Sea Kayaking with the absolute preponderance of rudders, which served to remind me of the virtues to be gained from developing proper sea skills, independent of an overbearing tracking aid.
As for trips, I led a group including our 2 Queenslanders, Silvio Testa & Damiano Visocnik, as well as WA visitor Alan Hale out to Black Rock, an 18km return trip which featured dolphins & millpond seas. We were able to get a couple of people out on the sea who had never ventured past a headland - well done Lauren & Kaye! Day two began with a superb trip out to the Tollgates, with a large group of 14, again including some real novices. The forecast of benign weather allowed us to get these guys out to a tricky destination safely, with just a small taste of the joys of paddling on a heaving sea. We were lucky enough to spend 15 minutes with a sleeping 2.5m fur seal, as well as spotting dolphins & a few fairy penguins. I checked a sea cave on the southern edge of the Tollgates to see if we might be able to guide a few people in for a go at this up-close thrill, but a sudden 6 foot wave made me think twice about taking a risk like that! Having Paul Loker out there helping to lead the trip was a real pleasure, Paul being one of the most experienced kayakers in the country, blessed with great judgement in moving water.
From the perspective of our business, Expedition Kayaks, Rob & I were thrilled that so many people took the chance to test paddle our Valley & Impex kayaks. Even if they're not intending to buy one, it can only help our sport if people can begin to believe that it is possible to competently handle a kayak without the need for a rudder. All up, the best weekend you could imagine for someone new to the sport, or looking for some like minded souls with whom to share knowledge & experience, while having a hell of a lot of fun. Congratulations to the NSWSKC, especially Stephan Meyn & Rob Richmond on such a great event.

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Gary Forrest Endo...!

Queensland sea instructor Gary Forrest has been putting his Force 5 K-Lite through it's paces on the famous Mooloolooba Beach break, with dramatic effect.
He's managed to turn the endo into an artform, with practiced landings & a technique which allows him to actually have fun with this most unsettling of kayak manouvres. Click on the video link of Gary carving up a 6 footer on the bar, to see the slideshow of this awesome endo sequence. Superb stuff.

Sunday 23 March 2008

Instruction Paddle to Little Bay

Alan Thurman shows off his todger
Easter Sunday, 2008, Rob Mercer led a terrific NSWSKC club trip from La Perouse on Sydney's southern tip, to Little Bay & back. The group was a reasonably experienced one (John Pitrowski, Sharon Betteridge, Rod Cutting, Alan Thurman, Terry Walsh, Stuart Morgan, Sally Jacobs, Rob & I), with very mild conditions (10 knot breeze, 2m of south swell on a small sea), & the weather was nothing short of spectacular. We concentrated on a few advanced drills, including a great V-tow exercise where four paddlers rotate from tower to support paddler to victim to tower, & some rescues involving deck carries from both the bow & rear deck. At Little Bay Rob & I caught a few little waves of the reef, & then had a shot at the assisted rescue technique suggested by renowned British paddler Gordon Brown. The best of these was a 'capsize' assisted boat empty, whereby the rescuer grabs the bow toggle of the victim's boat & brings it over the gunwale to empty the cockpit, partially capsizing in the process, then simply rotates the boat back into position once it's drained. Very fast, very simple, & with a little practice a most valuable skill for any paddlers' rescue armoury.
On the return to La Perouse we practiced some rolling, with virtually all of the group managing a roll of sorts, & those yet to crack the skill at least giving it a shot.
Coffee & cakes at the Boat Shed cafe rounded off a beaut day on the water. John Piotrowski has shot a nice photo record of the day - you can see it HERE.
The author punching out a few K's

View from the Assateague

Rob Mercer entering Botany Bay

The Velocimiser Sea Kayak Foil Rudder

After two solid years of R&D, we can finally announce a series of successful sea trials of our new foiling sea kayak rudder, The Velocim...