Friday 27 February 2015

An Evening with Sean Rice

Last night my mates at Dolls Point Paddlers hosted World Surfski Champion Sean Rice for a coaching clinic and 'Q&A' dinner.

It was an opportunity to get an insight into the makings of an elite paddler, and also to garner a few pearls of wisdom on our own paddle strokes, set up, attitude and also work through some excellent drills aimed at identifying the true source of paddling power.

Sean began the session with a short theory lesson on posture, hand positioning & boat set up, with an emphasis on the biomechanics of harnessing your big muscles.

From there we headed out into some very mild bay chop for over an hour of on-water skills, drills, balancing exercises & a series of short bursts each focusing on a different aspect of stroke. Mindful of the journey most of the DPP guys have taken this summer from flat water to moving water, he pulled together a series of drills that graduated from form & posture, to balance, and finally to fitness and conditioning.

I noticed a lot of tired core muscles by the end of it, and I don't think I was Robinson Crusoe.

Despite the large group, he managed to get around to each & every paddler, taking the time to offer advice on individual boat set up & paddle length, as well as few short & uncomplicated words of advice on the water, aimed at improving what he could see. For me it was the small observation that my knees are consistently too far apart. I corrected my posture & immediately felt a lift in the amount of power I was able to generate. A really small thing, but the sort of golden tip which I always appreciate. 

A dramatic, burning post-storm sunset greeted as we paddled back to the club, where after a group photo we adjourned to our clubhouse for a counter dinner with Sean & Emily & a cold beverage or two, where Sean held court with tales of the world surf ski circuit. I had no idea that he is the only surf ski paddler in history to be bitten on the head by a seal, which is something you would think will endure as a first, long after he's stopped winning world championships! 

Suffice to say we had a great night, came away with enough food for thought to take away & improve our own paddling, as well as getting a very personal & at times outrageously funny glimpse into the world of the ultra elite champion paddler.

Sean is heading around the country & over to NZ in coming weeks, but will be back in Sydney for another session at Dolls Point on Wednesday March 18. Cost per person is $80, which includes dinner & a Q&A with Sean at the Sailing Club afterwards. There were quite a few people who missed out on this one, so please either give Mark a shout at, or contact Sean Rice direct through his website ( if you'd like to come along. 

Sean's coaching is excellent; it's inclusive, universal, good humoured & extremely professionally presented, and everyone in attendance last night was thrilled with the experience.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Paddling Strength Training

When Oscar Chalupsky hosted a couple of clinics for us in the early part of last year, as well as a great couple of hours of his no-nonsense coaching, he left each attendee an illustrated exercise sheet with a series of strength & conditioning exercises that he has used to great success over his career.

There was nothing revolutionary about them, but I'm sure each of us with Oscar's exercise card, who has taken the time to run through the drills a few times, very quickly works out whether they do, or do not, have the kind of core strength required to paddle at the top level. Not many do's, I reckon....

I did the Tough Mudder late last year, and while aerobically I was well ahead of most of the participants, the obstacles I struggled with were the ones that required pure upper body power & strength. This year I decided to try to remedy that, not becuase I wanted to do another slightly silly Tough Mudder, but rather with the goal of becoming a stronger paddler.

Our new office is a couple of doors down from something that up until now has been a mystery to me, the PT Gym. It's called Oxygen Fitness, and it's a bit of a contrast to the gym I last frequented, the infamous Giles Gym in Coogee. Demolished, tragically, in the late '90's, Giles was perched perilously on the cliffs of North Coogee, had a big sign in the weights room that said 'DON'T SPIT ON THE WALLS' (which everyone ignored), was frequented in equal numbers by rugby league players, colourful Sydney racing identities, and detectives. Rumour has it the sauna was bugged by the NCA, and while shaving in the steam room, wiping your whiskers on your leg (yes you read that right), you'd often hear a great story about the latest heist here or there, mingled with old footy stories of biffo or coppers talking about a spectacular arrest.

The legendary, now sadly demolished, Giles Gym at Coogee. If it looks a bit crooked, it's becuase it was.
It was immortalised in the Les Norton books, where the hero often went to 'Gales Gym', where there were always old Kings Cross gangsters and hit men who used to sit in the sauna and spa pool that looked over the beach with their gold chains, speaking out of the corner of their mouths in hushed tones. My training partners included several members of the 'Maori Mafia' who ran Sydney's scaffolding industry, blokes call 'Ironbar' and 'Stumpy', Bra Boys, several disgraced detectives and the choregrapher of the Sydney Dance Company (who was head & shoulders the strongest bloke in the joint). It was one seriously egalitarian place!

Giles was unique, it was my training venue for the winters in between cricket seasons, and part of the reason I took up paddling. When it was closed down, I was shocked to visit a 'real' gym and see a bunch of blokes watching Neighbours while riding stationary bikes, occassionally hopping off to lift a ridiculous weight, mostly accompanied by a swagger, some grunting & a fair dose of peacock fanfare. If you'd done that at Giles you may well have been taken out the back & been given some etiquette lessons. After a few weeks of this, I decided to do something outdoors to get fit instead, bought myself an Old Town Nantucket, set my sights on the Hawkesbury Classic & never went near a gym again.....

Anyway, I digress, the gym next door is small, everyone seems to have a neck, it has a few free weights, some torture machines for stepping, the bizarre running machine (why do we need these things....?) and, crucially, affiliated personal trainers who, as often as you like, will reduce you to a whipmering mess on request.

I've hooked up with Ryan, who has a background in outrigger canoeing & is also a former elite footy player. He has taken Oscar's base of exercises & expanded them into something that seems to target every single muscle vital to paddling. Over the course of an hour each week, he's overseen my form on a variety of core & arm strengthening exercises, all aimed at building paddling strength. Essentially, he's given me a base of routines that will make me stronger, taking care to make sure I'm doing every one of them safely and using form that will maximise their effectiveness. I started this program in pretty decent shape, but he has managed to shorten me up like nothing else over the past year or so, and I'm confident it'll produce the results I'm hoping for.

OK, so I know sea kayaking isn't something we do against a clock or even very often in a race, but I tend to look at my own paddling in the context of what it is that holds me back. Like me, I reckon the overwhelming majority of paddlers are limited not by a lack of skill or opportunity, but rather by conditioning and the kind of reassuring strength in your joints & muscles that inherently prevents injury. I've watched people tie themselves in knots at skills lessons, blow themselves up on a short harbour paddle, & often thought they would have been better off leaving the kayak at home once a week & instead doing some decent cardiovascular conditioning. If you start slow, and keep at it, it's really not that hard to lift your overall aerobic fitness, and it happens surprisingly quickly.

Busted ....
So, while the inspiration for this tangent came from a world champion surf ski paddler and his generously shared path to high performance, the benefits of specific strength training geared up for paddling should not only have the less important benefit of making me go faster, but also help prevent the kinds of niggling injuries that can potentially put me off the water.

I'm enjoying the challenge, it's another one of those things that is taking me miles outside my comfort zone, and it doesn't require much more than a couple of spare hours a week out of my busy schedule.

I'm not a qualified exercise instructor so I won't outline any of my specific exercises here, but if you're local to southern Sydney & would like to get in touch with Ryan or the guys at Oxygen then either give me a shout or look them up through their website

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Justine Curgenven's 'Kayaking the Aleutians' DVD

We're pleased to annouce that we'll have the first stock of British filmmaker Justine Curgenven's new DVD, 'Kayaking the Aleutians, here later in the month.
The sneek preview we've seen features the wild beauty of this brutal island chain, interwoven with the story of Justine and round-the-world adventurer Sarah Outen traversing the archipelago by sea kayak.

The summary of the film is below:

"No-one has succeeded in kayaking the length of the remote and stormy Aleutian Islands which stretch from Russia to Alaska. Explorers Justine Curgenven and Sarah Outen set out to paddle 2,500km along the archipelago to the nearest road confronting more than 20 long crossings which separate the tiny unpopulated islands. Sarah faces an even more formidable challenge as this is part of her round-the-world human powered journey and she has limited kayaking experience. Alone for 101 days in one of the windiest, roughest places on earth, these two women are swept away from land by unknown currents, pounded by rough seas and approached by bears. Experiencing an edge-of-your-seat journey, they gain a rare insight into themselves, the rich wildlife and the lives of the few people who live in this harsh yet beautiful landscape."

When paddler Jon Turk paddled in the Aleutians many years ago he described the many crossings between unpopulated islands as “the greatest, as yet undone, technical sea kayak expedition in the world”, and on this film he added that  “The film is spectacular, full of high adventure, a touching friendship, and some of the most magnificent scenery on earth”.

As you can see from the trailer the film features the guys using Mick MacRobb's Flat Earth Sails, quite possibly in the most testing environment in which they have been deployed.

In my eyes no single person has done more to haul sea kayaking as a sport into the modern age, with her emphasis on adventure in all it's forms, great magazine-style story telling usually accompanied by a rollicking soundtrack, and cinematography which led the way for paddling films which have followed. This film continues Justine's fine body of work, and like all of her previous efforts, is a ripping good yarn to boot.

It'll be on the shelf at EK from February 15, available from the DVD section of our ONLINE STORE for $34.95 (remember that orders over $50 include national delivery). Pre-order your copy now.

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