Sunday 27 December 2009

2009 - the best bits....

With some damn early mornings while up here in Noosa, thanks to the bizarre refusal of Queenslanders to go the daylight savings path, and the rooster genes of my kids, I've been reflecting back on my year on the water.
Our growing business has seen us travelling extensively through the year, instructing & putting on demo days around the country, and several highlights stand out.
First & foremost, there was nothing more bizarre than sitting in a car with 5 bearded men on a lonely Tasmanian country road, in earnest discussion about how long it had been since anyone had shaved. I was feeling pretty swarthy with my bristly 6 day growth - a desperate attempt for sea kayak credibility considering I had been instructing blokes who had been paddling for almost as long as I'd been alive - but of course my own George Michael try-hard wasn't worthy of comment. The tally's started to roll in like the scores from a Sunday arvo 'round the grounds' report, 14 years, 22 years, 13 years, 18 years & I believe the winner was a razor-saving 25 years. It was beard nirvana....
And the winner is.....
A close second was the feast the night after this hair-inspiring ride, when the locals snared a sackful of abalone & fried them up for us fresh with garlic, lemon & butter, washed down with a few glasses of local red. A paddling experience from the heavens....
I had an awesome weekend with the Hunter Klanners up at Umina, with another hliarious evening topped off with an All Blacks win in the Bledisloe Cup, and a great day messing around in boats on the Sunday. The famous Rjimlad attempted to give me the spectrum of philosophical answers to the question of why the chicken crossed the road, and my head is still spinning at the possibilities in that little chestnut.
I got a rare opportunity to go for a paddle for me, and spent a memorable couple of days getting to & from Broughton Island with my mates. The highlight of that little sojourn was Rob asking my mate Stacka if he'd like to go for a walk once we'd arrived at BI, maybe check some of the wildflowers & unique geography. Stacka had done his share of towing during the afternoon, always a hoot into a 15kn headwind, and was sitting prone on the grass at Esmeralda Cove. Without even turning his head to offer the excited Mercer a glance of contempt, he hissed 'why would I want to go for a walk? I can go for a walk at home.....'
Up at Currumbin for the Sea Kayak Symposium I had a great but all-too-brief paddle with Amanda Rankin, who basically sent me back to elementary school on my forward stroke. The rule of thumb, rotation doesn't stop when your blade exits the water! All that was mising was a polite pad on the head, and a 'on your way to do some more practice, little fella...'
I led a failed insurrection against the NSWSKC, gloriously failing to rename the draconian 'President' moniker to the more nautical 'Commodore'. Despite a unanimous vote in favour of the change at the club's AGM, the tyranny of incumbency was cruelly exposed as the motion was unceremoniously squashed by a bureaucratic maneuver straight from the despot's handbook for oppression. To quote Vincent Lingiari, 'If we fall, others are rising'. The quest for a Commodore will continue in 2010.
I've been lucky enough to have a paddle in 10 new & different boat designs, including my beloved Rapier, which has fundamentally transformed the way I paddle. Add to that the Anas Acuta, Nordkapp LV, three Big Dog whitewater boats, the North Shore Atlantic, the 'holy grail' Rockpool GT, the amazing TRAK folding kayak, the uber-cult Avocet, and just in the last week or so, a racing surf ski, the Epic V10 Sport. Just yesterday on the bar up here at Noosa I had yet another one of my highlights, paddling the ski in & out of the bar break, riding the incoming NE waves against the 3kn outgoing tide, with slop & mess in all directions. Without my Rapier training I think I would have been a ski swimmer, but it was a revelation about how stable the Sport is to paddle compared to the other hard core racing skis.
I also had a go with a Greenland paddle, the formerly 'only-for-old-codgers', now 'modern-accessory-for-the-sea kayaker-not-afraid-of-being-out-and-proud'. It was interesting the the UK's esteemed Ocean Paddler Magazine has seen fit to grace their pages with a review of three sticks, reflecting the revivial that continues apace.
So, a year to remember for sure for all the good reasons.
Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the blog, bought one of our boats or a piece of our gear, demo'd a kayak, or stopped for a chat at an event or by the water's edge.
Have a great 2010.

Monday 21 December 2009

Farewell Freya....

Freya Hoffmesiter (photo Andre Janecki - - to see a full photo gallery of the night from Andre, click HERE)
A magic Sydney summer evening at Neilsen Park on the harbour played host to Freya Hoffmeister's final night in the country she has successfully circumnavigated by kayak.

An entranced audience of paddlers & admiriers listened in as Freya tried to convey the mindset & scope of her epic paddle. She showed us how she managed to sleep out on the Gulf of Carpentaria, laying back like an aquabound crucifix holding a double floated paddle, the big bite marks on the stern of her boat courtesy of a friendly Noah at Broome, her boat itself, the vessel that she propelled 13,000km clockwise around the country, in just on 11 months, and most of all she gave glimpses into her motivation.

The Epic 18X which took Freya from Broome to the finish.

Her decision to call the trip a race was a masterstroke, when you consider the mindset of the competitive athlete. A race gives you a goal, an opponent (even if the hologram of Paul Caffyn was tailing her through the pages of his book), a finishing line & the motivation to keep going. It's not the usual approach of the recreational sea kayaker, but Freya is sure not your usual paddler. The idea of competition & measurement don't tend to do it for most sea kayakers, but if there is one thing we can learn from Freya's paddle & her talk, it's that it doesn't hurt to push yourself and aspire.

Rob Mercer does the intro.

I was speaking to friends & paddlers present on the night, & we were talking about the biggest days we have ever done on the water. Many of us can claim a 60km or 70km day here & there, but the question is, 'what did you do the next day?' Not too many hopped up & did it again, or maybe punched out 80 or 90km, & then another 60km the next day & so on. Forget the uber paddling like the Gulf of Carpentaria & the cliffs, just the mental toughness to keep at it boggles the mind.

Before she left for her circumnavigation we had dinner & after meeting her I wrote:

"Starting with a 2500km stretch from Victoria up through the East Coast surf zone where just about every single day you will have a very serious surf landing & exit with a fully loaded boat. Factor in the afternoon Nor'easterlies that predominate through the 2 months of her journey north, & her goal of 60km + per day, & she will have very early starts & a very solid pace to beat the demoralising headwinds. Then the 'pleasure' of the protected reef zone, with the onset of the trade winds, 25-30 knot daily winds which produce technical, almost surfing following paddling conditions. Then the vast loneliness of the top end, with the crocs, huge tidal zones, heat & humidity, & the lack of regular re-stock. Consider that this stretches right across the top of the continent, eventually giving way to the rugged WA coast, with it's unbroken cliffs stretching as far as 130km at a time. Clear that & you hit probably the biggest surf zone in the country, down through Margaret River & Esperance, where 16 second wave periods create miles of unlandable surf, then turn the corner to the Great Australian Bight for the 'run home'."

Probably the only bullet she dodged on the way around was the benign conditions on 90 mile beach in the first 2 weeks of her paddle, otherwise Australia threw the lot at her!
An amazing feat & an amazing lady, happy travels Freya, enjoy Xmas back with your family, & we hope to see you again.

Freya farewells her newest fan, my little girl Kiri.

Saturday 12 December 2009

A night with the Hoff #2

Freya returns! Fresh from her circumnavigation of mainland Australia by kayak, Freya Hoffmeister will give a talk & Q&A on her amazing 11 month voyage on Saturday, December 19. The venue is the beautiful Neilsen Park Pavilion on Sydney Harbour. Chris James & his team from the Neilsen Park Venues will cater for the evening with food & drinks available for purchase. As notice for this event is short & Freya realises that many people will have prior social engagements, the evening will begin at 6pm, and wind up at about 7.30pm. The work Xmas party is no excuse to miss this substantial chapter of kayaking folklore from Freya herself!
Tickets for the event are $20 per person, with all proceeds going to Freya's very expensive repatriation to Germany. It's a great way to lend a hand to this amazing lady after a long & expensive expedition, while at the same time being there first hand to hear about one of history's great adventures. Freya will be available to answer all of the questions that you may have on a trip that has truly captured the imagination of the kayaking world. You can order tickets online through the our store (click the image above or browse through the left menu)but hurry, spaces are strictly limited. If you have any queries contact Mark Sundin on 0417924478, or

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Rumblin in Currumbin #2

Rob & I have just returned from an indulgent long weekend at Currumbin on the Gold Coast, where we attended the National Sea Kayak Symposium, run by Queensland Canoeing.
The event was well supported, with well over 100 paddlers attending, guest speakers, on-land talks & seminars, and a full day of on-water instruction & workshops. We drove up on Thursday in order to run our own demo day at Currumbin on Friday. Unlike last year I managed to get to Queensland without running the trailer into a petrol bowser, running out of gas or crunching a low clearance hotel entrance, so all up a pleasingly professional performance behind the wheel.
The Friday saw over 30 paddlers come along & test paddle our boats & paddles. With our shipment of Tahe kayaks due in the New Year, several people took the opportunity to put the exceptional Greenland through its paces, kindly accommodated by the owner of the only one in the country, Bass Strait veteran Brian Towell.

Greg Schwarz rolling the Tahe Greenland
Feedback from Greenland rolling boffins like Greg & Moira Schwarz & Steve Simovic was that it was the world’s easiest kayak to roll, while Brian reports that it is a low-volume joy to paddle on day trips.
Steve Simovic relaxing in the Currumbin sun.
We met many of the high octane stars of the lively Sea Kayak Forum, with pseudonyms like Raider, Gray Raider, Gnarlydog, Karrazy among them putting faces & real names to the exponents of shameful opinion & online humour!

The Raider with a cross-bow draw....!

On the Sunday I took a willing bunch of guys, Rhys, Alex, Glenn & Gary (who also responds well when you call him Dave for an hour, sorry mate…) out to practice some raised edge surfing on the much touted Currumbin Bar. A 20 knot northerly had turned the gleaming glassy swells I’d been dreaming of in days prior into something that looked more like the river in Deliverance. With great gusto the guys slugged it out in an hour of bracing, buffeting & surviving, but I don’t think we were really any the wiser on technique at the end. At least it was almost fun…..

EK HQ at the Sunday on-water event.

Rob & I had the humbling experience of a half hour or so of informal forward stroke critique from Amanda Rankin, a great lady & K1 & K4 Olympian at the Athens games in 2004. Doing my best to hold form in the Rapier as Amanda cast her expert eye over my stroke, she concluded that a few things I really truly thought I was doing well need substantial amounts of work. Without boring you with the details, it was fantastic to be given something to again set my sights on to improve. Why on earth sea kayakers can believe that we have nothing to learn from other paddle disciplines is beyond me – Amanda’s forward stroke was a sight to behold at close quarters & has inspired me to get rotating. To those of you out there that I have barked at over the years for not rotating, well, I wasn’t even doing it properly myself, so there you go!

Silvio Testa back from a trip to the edge in the Rapier 20.

The single most pleasing aspect of the weekend was the ambition of the paddlers in attendance. At our demo day on the Friday just about everyone was rolling, performing tricks, drills, showing good form & modern technique. There is no hard-arsed intelligentsia who tell it like it is in Queensland, and the newest ideas get oxygen just as readily as the older lessons are absorbed. Friday was a bit of a skills extravaganza, with advanced strokes on display from some paddlers who have only been paddling for a few months. Martin are you out there? It was great to see. Over a bottle of wine on Friday night Rob & I pondered a guy like Nigel Dennis, certainly one of the modern fathers of sea kayak instruction, and how over the years he has managed to always have the newest ideas. At no stage has he hung up his skirt & decided there is nothing left to learn & everyone has to do it like they’ve always done it, and that in many ways exemplifies the skills revolution that is taking place in Queensland. In a sport with its fair share of crusty old buggers who refute anything counter to their time honoured rituals, always remember there is another, better way of doing things around the corner.

A broad church of ideas....

The kayak industry was also on show in its brightest incarnation, with a refreshing camaraderie among competing business, boats & personalities. Everything from Surf Kayaks to Surf Skis were on show for paddlers to try out, with a vast resource of information in the trades hall available to anyone with a question or query. Ten minutes talking to Ross Cook from Roscoe’s Canoes is like a mini history lesson in the way the paddling world has developed in this country, while it is always a pleasure to catch up with guys like Christian from Roscoe’s, top instructor & owner of Adventure Outlet, Craig McSween (despite all that stuff they say about him ;-)), & Bob ‘the legend’ from Rafta Kayaks.

The queue for the Tahe Greenland

All up a top weekend for sea paddlers. Thanks so much to everyone who made the effort to come along & see what we had on offer, it felt like a reunion most of the time. We’ll be back at this event next year, it was a ripper.

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...