Wednesday 18 December 2013

Tuesday Night Xmas Paddle

I tagged along on Rob's final Tuesday Night paddle for the year, the traditional Xmas picnic paddle. There have been years (over the last 14 years that Rob has run this challenging weekly sea paddle), where this has been a very short paddle & a very long picnic/party. This year it was a long paddle and a 

We headed out to North Head into a building Nor 'Easter, fired back to Obelisk Beach where we paused on the cliff top to remember our mate & Tuesday night stalwart Chris James, then back to Watson's Bay to grab the food & drinks, then on to X&%^!!@$ Island (location censored to prevent prosecution) to watch the sun set over the city, bridge & Opera House with cold beers & a smorgasbord to beat all smorgasbords.

The 10pm return to Watto's into a still howling Nor Easter was a proper way to end a proper paddle, with a proper party. 

I'll let the pics tell the story.

Anne at South Head
Rae & Chris
Bart & The Old Man's Hat
John & Bart
President Campbell
Chris at North Head
Heading North
North Head
Our honorary flypast
Gav & Shaan
Is Brisbane that way...?
The Sea Princess, and an ocean liner
Arty farty Sydney sea scape
John, Shaan, Chris & Mark at Obelisk....
Sadly no takers...
Rob & Mark H at Obelisk.
Remembering Chris, what a vista.
Bart heads for the party
Campbell & the Emerald City
$#@&%%^!! Island Picnic 
About a third of the spread - the lens wasn't wide enough to fit it all in.
Just because he bounces off rocks all the time, doesn't necessarily mean he's a little bit strange, right?
A tense John, scanning the ridge for one last beer.
New paddling cult - 'The Orange Paddlers'. Left to right, Campbell, Shaan, Alan, Rae, Neil, Megan, Fer, Gav, Rob, Bart, Mark H, Bon & John.
Rob, Neil & Rae
Party's over, time for the headwind home in the dark.
An 18km party paddle for the Tuesday Crew, some action, some fun, some fond memories, bucket loads of good food & cold beverage, & always great company.

Monday 16 December 2013

The Twenty Beaches Ocean Classic - Tailwinds & Free Beer!

When I first got my surf ski in early 2010 I'll admit to having been inspired by the skill & athleticism of the guys & gals paddling the series of Ocean races around Sydney over the summer. The brilliant video coverage from Rambo's Locker showed tremendous skill on the open water in these demanding but exhilarating craft, in the downwind conditions that I loved paddling more than anything else.
Rambo at the start - his videos were my original inspiration for wanting a ski.
It probably took me a good couple of years to build up the competence to be able to confidently paddle open water on my old V10S, and once I thought I was going to be able to paddle one of these big races without being hauled out by an RIB, I was keen to enter.
But, late Spring is always a ridiculously busy time with family & business, and rather lamely, I've never managed to get my stuff in one pile to set aside some time to give this great race a crack.
SUP Start at Freshwater Beach
This year I decided I was going to put it in the calendar & have a go. 
My mate Stacka volunteered to do the car shuffling, so I was sorted.
A flaky forecast for days in advance meant we were unsure of whether this downwind race would go from Palm Beach or Freshwater, but the early arrival of a strong southerly system settled the debate on Friday evening, & Freshie it was.
We turned up at midday to find the whole area around Harbord SLSC buzzing, hundreds of skis, SUPs & Outriggers running through preparations on the grass behind the dunes.
At 1pm we moved onto the beach where the organisers announced a beach start, in knee deep water. The southerly was wrapping around Blue Fish point & giving the false impression of an easterly breeze, so the first wave of SUP & Outriggers went off into a decent headwind & choppy wind waves.
Our start was scheduled for 1:30pm, and as a group of probably 200 skis we made our way into the shore break to await the hooter. It was a damn impressive field, with pretty much every contemporary Aussie ski champ on the line, along with superstars like Grant Kenny, Oscar & Dean Gardner, all very humbling.
The (unintentional) staggered start
I'm not quite sure what the starter said (if anything) to make the 80 paddlers at the northern end of the start line think it was time to start, but it must have sounded convincing. As one, they mounted & charged off into the breakers, as those of us possibly with a better grip on the megaphone instructions stood and watched. 15, 30, 45 seconds ticked by, and I turned to Matt Blundell who was next to me & asked him what we should do. We both figured they'd recall the false start but nothing happened for another 30 seconds, so I figured Matt didn't need a head start from me & decided to cheat as well.
The start was frantic, punching out through the small surf & stiff breeze to the first turning can, then a left turn & away.
The 6km section to Long Reef was dominated by rear quartering conditions, still great fun but reasonably technical. Once wide enough on Long Reef I turned and lined up Bangalley Head and away I went. There were occasional small sections where the headlands threw back some bumps but mostly it was just runner after runner after runner, probably as good a set of conditions for a ski as you could hope to have.
Some fun & games in the beach break at the finish
All too soon the lighthouse at Baranjoey came into view, I rounded the southern headland of Palm Beach, and then scooted around the final can before catching a neat little wave into the beach & the finish.
My last wave....
There was a surf life saving dude on hand to grab my (upside down) ski, and I jogged up the beach to the line, smiling from ear to ear.
The way the pro's finish....
It even got better, the presentation ceremony was like a big BBQ for people shaped like Sonny Bill Williams, with sausage sangers (big bloody snags of course), and free beer. Yep, you heard it right.
Presentation ceremony at Palm Beach Surf Club
Stacka & I spread out on the grass & enjoyed the trophy presentations & lucky draw, chatting to fellow paddlers about what a top day it had been on the sea.
The race was jointly won by Jeremy Cotter & Tim Jacobs. Cotter was first across the line, but TJ had stopped not long after the start, whilst leading, to render assistance to a struggling fellow competitor & set off a flare to alert a rescue craft. So, without any formal redress for lost time (he was still only marginally off the leaders at the finish), the organisers decided that the spirit of ski paddling was more important than a scientific result, and made the concession to Tim for effecting a rescue. Great stuff I thought, kudos to all involved in the decision.
Just to top off a perfect arvo on the sea....
My own impressions of the race? What a ball tearer, unimaginable fun, a test of both my endurance & technical skills & a great participant event. Speaking to Jeppo, a mate who did a great time, 20 minutes faster than my 2hrs 2minutes, he has been training really hard for months in advance of the Ocean Series, is a fit bugger to begin with, and considered his time a good reward for lots & lots of hard work. So, it's not something to just roll up & do, no question. Rightly it's a premier ocean racing event & should be treated as such, but what an event to aspire to, if you're someone like me who has come into this surfski thing over the past few years.
The video above hopefully captures some of the magic of the Twenty Beaches, from my perspective watching most of it from some ways back in the field. On a sobering note, if I look like I'm working hard & getting a few decent runs, remember that my top speed over the 25km, was only marginally higher that the average speed of the winners!
Congrats to the organisers & all paddlers involved, and thanks to Stacka the Attacka for the ride & the advice. Next year we should both be on the water.
Haven't quite managed to lose this smile....

Friday 13 December 2013

The Peak UK Explorer Zip PFD - Innovation & Comfort

The guys at Peak UK are a very thoughtful bunch. We came across them during our visit to the Paddle Expo in Germany in October, and spent a couple of very productive hours with the owner of the company, Pete. Their background has been the competitive whitewater & downriver disciplines so popular in the UK & Europe, & their commitment to innovation is what ultimately won them the gig to design & manufacture the entire set of paddle kit for the very successful British Olympic Team at the most recent London Olympics. 
When an opportunity like that comes up for a manufacturer, you can bet that a lifetime of ideas & designs that previously may have been unviable will suddenly start to become a reality, and looking through the range of all-new PeaK gear it becomes obvious that there has been a design explosion. Trust me, there were a lot of PFD's to look at when you wander around a paddle show for 3 days, but the range Peak have just released were a clear standout.
The Peak UK Explorer Zip, arriving late next week, personifies this innovative flair & we believe represents the next generation of expedition PFD. The same design philosophy of minimalist high performance that went into the designs they developed for the British Olympic Team, have been applied to this ground breaking design.
As with all touring PFDs, the location & functionality of pockets & tether points is what sets a good design apart. In this instance, Peak UK have integrated two long pockets designed for flares, VHF radio, PLB, cameras etc, along with two large front zip pockets for more storage for essential items, importantly, not at the expense of excess bulk. The volume distribution has been so well thought out, and even a considerable swag of safety kit won't unduly bulk up the wearer.
The side straps are hidden entirely from the exterior by a soft neoprene panel, the adjustable straps work on a closed loop system, so once set there are no loose straps around your shoulders or torso. The shoulder harness is protected by an adjustable pad. The rear pocket houses a hydration system with a clever double ended zip for flexibility in positioning the drinking tube. 
Best of all, the feel of this jacket is surprisingly compact, with a streamline cut that betrays it's practical functionality, & capacity to carry a fully kitted up range of gear for expeditioning. It feels like the absolute minimalist PFDs that have sprung up everywhere to satiate the legions of paddlers now forced to wear PFDs, who basically don't like wearing them, but has the carrying capacity of the old clunkers that 'got the job done' but added a lot of top heavy weight to your day on the water.
The jacket is completely compliant with the current ISO requirements for races like the Hawkesbury Classic, and is also certified by the International Canoe Federation. 
It's a little bit weird to be getting so excited about a PFD, but this one is a cracker. Our stock lands just before Xmas, & is available in sizes S/M & L/XL through our ONLINE STORE.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

An Afternoon with the Big O

We had a rare treat yesterday afternoon, in the form of a paddle clinic from 12-time Molokai world surfski champion Oscar Chalupsky.
A crew of 16 paddlers, all except one of whom were essentially sea kayakers who have gotten into surfski in the past couple of years, took part in the three hour session where Oscar covered the basics of forward stroke for surkski, remounts, and a broad history of the evolution of the wing paddle. In essence, he gave us a pointed, simple lesson on biomechanics, and their application to maximising your forward paddling efficiency & balance, for paddling surfski in the environment for which they were designed, the ocean.

Everyone had a great go, with plenty of capsizes - facilitating remount practice, of course - and equal measures of shared laughs & grim determination to master the series of drills Oscar challenged us to complete.
From my own perspective, a few vital points of Oscar's teaching have made me think hard about the bits of my own forward stroke that are effective, and the bits that might look good but not be adding too much to the equation. In many ways it was confronting to be presented with a biomechanically sound alternative to something I've drilled into myself, which done properly should add to my ocean paddling, with the prerequisite hard work to change old muscle memory & habits. It's great to be challenged, there isn't any point to this paddling caper if we're not continually learning.

Afterwards we adjourned to the newly renovated Watson's Bay Hotel & enjoyed a great meal, some ice cold beers & a two hour Q&A with Oscar on his lifetime of paddling adventures. Purely & simply, a beaut arvo on the water, followed by a gem of an evening in the pub.
Thanks to Oscar & his lovely wife Clare for coming across to do the clinic, and to all of the plucky participants.

Monday 9 December 2013

Klancopia 2013

Rob & Sharon are back from this weekend's annual Klancopia event at Nelson Bay. Here's Rob's summary of the event:
As competitors lined up for the inaugural Klanacopia Team Kayaking Challenge, it was clear that this was going to be a tough and close fought event; a test of planning, communication, skills and teamwork.
It was this last one, the teamwork that I was hoping to promote and highlight with this battle of boats and paddlers, so  with more than a little trepidation I ran the idea past consummate event organiser and ukele virtuoso Shawn who thankfully saw the fun potential of giving the challenge a try.
With teams organised and leaders briefed, strategies formulated and tactics agreed upon there was nothing left to do but give it a go and I really think the way the Hunter Klan played the game did them credit, not just as individuals but also as a group with a real community spirit, it was fun enough that no one was excluded or left out, but tough enough that skills and approaches were tested and after round one everyone was keen for a re-match to decide the winning team.
The rest of Klanacopia went well with surfing on a very sweet wave just inside Yacaaba, a number of skill sessions and some social paddles out in the fat long period swells that invaded the Bay.
On Saturday evening we all enjoyed fantastic local fish and chips followed by video presentations showcasing just how diverse the paddling experience can be with Tam and Zeph's far northern adventures on Lake Argyle, Shawn's great images of Mayall Lakes in an East coast low and some high impact video of Fernando crashing into rocks that had many in the audience not knowing whether to laugh at the exuberance or grimace at the almost constant grinding of hulls against very hard places.
Overall another successful Klanacopia where a sense of community and goodwill were the ultimate winners. Thanks to Shawn and the rest of the Klan for letting us share in the fun, Mick from Flat Earth Sails for several impromptu and very engaging workshops on towlines and sails and for his good company on and off the water,  Fer and Joel for helping with counting heads in the surf , helping with instruction and their role in the challenge and finally the steadfast and very capable Sharon for her skilful and seamless management of the EK team both on and off the water.
Rob Mercer.

Friday 6 December 2013

The Pointy End

I’ve entered the upcoming 20 Beaches Ocean Ski race, an iconic Sydney event that traverses the multitude of beaches from Palm Beach to Manly, and is always run downwind (as long as there is some wind).
It’s been on my list for a few summers but each December an inevitable end of year commitment has meant I’ve missed my chance.
This year, I’m clear, and I’m going to have a go, and I’m really looking forward to it.
To tune up, I took my V10 on a downwind run from Watson’s Bay inside Sydney Harbour, 27km down the coast to La Perouse, just inside Botany Bay. It’s a run I’ve done countless times in a kayak, but never in it’s entirety on a ski. Rob came along on his Rockpool Taran, keen for a really hard paddle to keep in shape for a possible ‘Degree’ paddle we have in the pipeline.
I know just how challenging conditions can be with a summer Nor’ Easter blowing, with cliffs lining the majority of the route, all angled slightly differently to the prevailing swells and wind-generated sea. A strong northerly wind would hopefully knock the multidirectional nature of the water down a few notches, whilst a long period, but not particularly big easterly swell would also (hopefully) be overrun by the sea running our way. These were all factors I took into account as being likely to moderate the typically confused conditions that can prevail along big sections of the route.
I also figured that the course the 20 Beaches race follows doesn’t have anything like the coastal features throwing back long stretches of rebound, so as a tune up I’d probably be ratcheting up the technical nature of the paddle in comparison to what I may encounter next weekend.
If you had to summarise this paddle, there are five very distinct parts, all with their own unique features.
First, you plug out of the harbour, around South Head and then east out to sea across the south moving sea & wind. It’s usually quite spectacular as you are rising up over the swell and the wind & spray is in your face.

You then turn south with a clean line down the coast to Magic Point, the headland off Malabar. 
Until you reach the northern headland of Bondi, the cliffs throw back a miss mash of clapotis and rebound. It’s confused, it stands up without warning and robs you of the chance to establish any rhythm or tempo to your paddling.
From North Bondi to Magic Point you’re a long way offshore, the effects of the cliffs are mediated and you tend to get clean, long runs. It’s a hoot.
Magic Point marks the point that the cliffline trends west again, but not before you’ve negotiated at close hand some terrific bounce & mess. Or in my case on Wednesday, have little swim through them! From there to the southern headland of Botany Bay things tend to ramp up again, but once around Cape Banks everything flattens out & you get a long but easy cruise into the shelter of Frenchman’s Bay.
In a kayak I look forward to each section as  chance to test something different, with relative stability in a rough water boat that allows me a stable rest every now & then.
In my V10, the chance for a breather was more or less taken away, and the imperative was constant to keep on getting a good catch, and therefore keep going through the confused seas at a good rate.
I can’t remember being so engaged in an ocean paddle, nor as exhausted by the end of it at the relentless ‘charge’, and the demands for subtle changes to my stroke to keep on moving forward. I don’t think Sydney Harbour to Botany on the back of a Nor Easter is going to become Sydney’s answer to ‘Miller’s Run’ any time soon. Stew at Think assures me that Malabar to Bondi in a southerly is way more fun, but not too many guys enjoy the cliffs north of Bondi on a ski!
The video above captures most of the stages of the paddle, from the easterly start, to the bounce off Dover Heights to the admittedly rare clean runs that we hooked into off Coogee & Maroubra. It also captures the easterly swell than ran across our course the entire way, complicating things for me no end. It was hard work, but a day on a mighty heaving sea with shearwaters dipping between the waves as you fly along on runners remains one of life's great and rare privileges.
Rob in the Taran was rock solid, punting his boat along as fast as me in everything except the most pure downwind conditions, and able to thump through the confusion far more effectively than I could manage. It's a hell of a boat, and he's a hell of a paddler.
It makes me ponder the level of skill you need to really rip into committing ocean conditions on an elite ski, in comparison to what you can do in a modern fast tourer like the Taran or Pace series. No conclusions, just pondering! We get to pick Oscar's brain on Monday arvo, so maybe after that I'll have a few more clues!
There are a lot of paddlers new to skis out there, and to those eyeing off the challenge of an eastern beaches downwind run, make sure you get your safety protocols in place and paddle with very capable peers.

Monday 18 November 2013

A Right Royal Challenge Beckons

I have enjoyed the shape my paddling year has taken over the past few seasons. Events like the Hawkesbury Classic & a few open water races are motivation enough to get myself into gear and aim for a good showing. To do them properly means some form of conditioning program, which in themselves I find tremendously satisfying.
Once they're out of the way I've usually got enough base fitness and endurance to enjoy the  warm weather paddling I get up to for the rest of the summer & autumn, be it surfing in my sea kayak, chasing runners at sea in my ski or even lining up another big ocean paddle like a 'Degree in a Day'.
Even though so far this spring I've competed in the Hydrothon, Myall Classic & the Hawkesbury Classic, they have to an extent been means to an end, the terminus looming at this coming Saturday's Royal Challenge.

This is a 21km paddle split in half by a half-marathon run along the trail of Lady Carrington Drive in Sydney's Royal National Park (course map is HERE). The paddle part is something I've always been confident of completing, but I only started running in February, and herein lies my challenge. I have a long log of slow and consistent running build up since February, was fortunate enough to do a winter season with the Brighton Athletic Club, but even so I've only ever pushed myself past 15km once. That was last Thursday on a very hot arvo; I did a great job dismantling any confidence about my running that may have falsely began to develop!
Anyway, for some strange reason I enjoy the possibility of a nasty endurance surprise. It reminds me just how dedicated and talented the elite people who consistently do this stuff are, and allows a small glimpse into that world of deep inner examination. It's something like meditation combined with suffering, with a stopwatch making you meditate faster.
The race starts at 7am Saturday down at the weir at Audley, and I'm hoping to finish somewhere between 4 - 4 1/2 hours. That is a probably a bit optimistic considering I've never run a half marathon then tried to paddle 10km afterwards, but there you go, you can't go to jail for being an optimist.
Organiser Steve Southwell puts this race on for the KIDS Foundation. KIDS is an acronym for Kids In Dangerous Situations and their charter is to try to redress the startling childhood injury statistics in Australia. More children in Australia die from injury than from disease. Not only do they offer childhood programs on injury prevention, but also they also support hundreds of children and their families who have endured trauma, horrific burns and other injuries that have changed their lives. I'll admit to not knowing much about KIDS prior to becoming involved in the Royal Challenge as a sponsor, but seeing what they do makes me proud to be participating in an event to their benefit. 
I have a sponsorship donation page set up HERE. If you have a spare dollar or two any support for this worthy cause would be muchly appreciated.
Last minute tips from experienced long distance runners will be received with much gratitude.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

All @ Sea II - The Real Deal!

My favourite paddling weekend last year was the inaugural All @ Sea Weekend with the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club, essentially a sea-familiarisation weekend at Bundeena where we tried to help the club members with sea aspirations, to get out safely with their mates & experience the big, wide ocean.
It was a hoot, with laughs all weekend as we took most members from their first wet exit on the shore at Bonnie Vale to deep water rescues off Jibbon Head, over two committing days on the water.
This year, organiser Bob Turner had a more challenging goal and booked the camp ground at Currarong, and we basically aimed to take up where we left off and head straight out into the demanding waters of the Beecroft Peninsula.

Twenty paddlers hit the beach on the Saturday morning for what turned out to be the only calm-ish weather of the entire weekend, and in two groups we headed east.
A rolling Nor Easterly swell was being lifted by the complex undersea topography of the area & making a series of bomboras occasionally go off, but otherwise the windless skies just made everyone feel rather small. As an intro to what the sea can look like when it's being lifted by a swell with some length to it, the intimidation factor was almost as elevated as the waves hitting the bombies.

Back safely inside Currarong Creek we then spent the arvo getting wet, practising rescues, edging, turning, with a few even having a crack at rolling. It was great fun, with an infectiously enthusiastic bunch of mates with a tremendous group attitude to having a go & egging each other on.
The feature of Saturday night's entertainment was a series of ten minute presentations by members on subjects as diverse as a paddling/road trip to Queensland, some ridiculous NZ whitewater action (which explains much of Steve Dawson's behaviour), and the iconic Murray Marathon. A few bottles of red washed down a superb seafood spread put on by Zac's, the omnipotent Currarong eatery, and merriment ensued well into the early hours, as a big southerly weather system wrought winds & driving rain outside. As you can see from the pic below, it was cold enough for the hard men of the club to reach for their blankies...

Unsurprisingly given the drastic turn in the weather overnight, there were fewer paddlers up for the Sunday trip, which we decided would be a tight coastal hug in the lee of the land, out to the headland where the southerly winds would rapidly make things more interesting. We beachcombed all the way along the picturesque coast to Little Beecroft Head, at which point the sea took over as our instructor. The group paddled into some steep & bouncy seas for a few minutes, getting a taste of just how mighty it can be 'outside', before we ducked back into Abraham's Bosom to regroup. It was challenging, once again very intimidating, but everyone relished the exposure.
Sunday Action.
I particularly enjoy the atmosphere around the Sutherland Club, they all know each other well enough to laugh along together in the wet & dry moments that are inevitable on a weekend like this where so many boundaries are being pushed. The Saturday night was a screamer, in my opinion the sort of gathering that makes shared paddling experience such a joy.
Well done to all of the wide eyed folks who got out among the rolling apartment blocks off Beecroft, and thanks to Bob Turner for putting it all together. 

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...