Monday 20 November 2017

Tiderace Sea Kayaks & Nelo Portugal

Tiderace Sea Kayaks made quite an impact when we first imported them to these shores back in 2012. Designed by Aled Williams, a chap we have the utmost respect for as a kayak oracle, shaping hulls that just do exactly what you want them to do, and built up to now at Cobra International in Thailand, one of the world's largest composite manufacturers.
They oozed simplicity, were built to a standard like nothing we'd seen before, and just looked damn cool. In the Pace 17 Tour Aled managed to bring the fast tourer to the average paddler, without compromising on performance, a genuine breakthrough in a market where plumb bow kayaks were being whispered about by some traditionalists as 'not real sea kayaks'.

Over the past 18 months it became harder & harder for us to get stock from Tiderace, as they became captive to a manufacturer for whom they were a very small fish in a very big pond, and we were wondering if they were ever going to grace our waterways again.
Last month we received news that manufacturing was being moved to the kayaking giants of Europe, Nelo.

With a state-of-the-art production facility in Portugal, we had grown used to seeing Nelo's unbelievably well made surf skis creeping into the ocean ski market here, so we were very excited at the idea of these guys pumping out the Tiderace kayaks we'd come to love for their performance.

The great news is that they're only a few weeks from finishing the moulding for familiar models such as the Pace 17 Tour, 17S and Pace 18, and well as the Evoke (now known more fittingly as the Action) and the Action S.

Because Nelo pride themselves on being able to customise every single kayak they build, we're no longer restricted to a very small set of standard colourways, instead being able to offer a huge range of colours & variables in deck & hull design (a few examples of which are illustrated in the graphic above).

Aled has also designed a new model to be the flagship of their skeg boat range, the Xceed, which looks to be a touring evolution of the Xcite, a kayak we consider to be the best skeg boat ever designed (we still have the last ever XciteS stock in this part of world, two remaining and then sadly gone forever).

With production based in Europe, we can now also import the rotomoulded Tiderace Vortex, a flat planing hull design that has redefined play in a sea kayak.

Pricing is still to be confirmed, but our best guess is that despite the manufacturing moving from Asia to Europe, it will be basically the same as it was when the boats were being made in Thailand.

If you'd like to test out a Tiderace kayak, or order one in your own colours, please get in touch, we're finalising numbers over the next 2-3 weeks, and will have plenty of stock here in April 2018.

Thursday 16 November 2017

A Festval of Blue Water & Blue Sky

It's always a tough one packing for our annual migration south for the Victorian Sea Kayak Club's Blue Water Festival. We invariably leave Sydney in balmy spring weather, the cold weather gear having been dispensed with for another season, and never quite manage to get our heads around the fact that several degrees of latitude south does tend to cool things down!

Having mostly been blown to smithereens at the previous two years' events, we did our best to prepare for whatever may be, despite a forecast promising plenty of sunshine.
The club put the weekend on at Barwon Heads this year, a seaside village so idyllic it was used as the backdrop for the TV series Sea Change.

We drove down to Melbourne via the eastern edge of the city & caught the Sorrento to Queenscliff Ferry across to the surf coast. If you haven't done that before, it's a real treat, and they have a bar.

On the Friday we had coaching booked for more than thirty club members, a morning session on forward paddling, and an afternoon of very targeted rescue practice cloaked in the inevitable buffoonery of Rob's excellent rescue game.

Don't assume we're going to let you use your paddle, just because it's meant to be kayak coaching!

Geoff Murray had sailed across from his native Tassie on the Spirit to be the headline act for the weekend, and we caught up with him and enjoyed some local seafood & spring water at a beautiful little restaurant perched on a wharf. 

On the Saturday morning I accompanied Gerard, Tina & a big group on a paddle out along the surf coast between Barwon Heads & the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, a broad expanse of small rolling swell that traverses a sandy sea floor of at times wildly varying depths.

Scanning the water ahead provided the occasional highlight as a peak seemed to rise alarmingly & then dissipate as quickly as it had appeared. Every now & then there was a hint of white water, ranging from about 500m to about 800m behind the surf zone, but we clipped along the calm, windless sea profile without incident.

At about the point where we were due to turn, I looked south & saw a big green wall that was threatening to break, but as years of ocean paddling experience tell me, surely  won't. Regardless, as it began to turn transparent, I decided a desperate charge was my best form of defence, and busted over the lip into a lot of clear air as it did, in fact, start to tumble over. With a degree of hubris, I thought "Phew, I'm glad it missed me, but I bet there's some collateral damage on the other side!' as I glanced back at the hissing white wall that was heading for my new paddle mates. 
Then the hissing sound changed ears, and when I swung my head around there was a bigger one, and I wasn't going to get away this time! Charging regardless, I hit the wave almost vertical, was pushed straight up into the air by the pile of whitewater, driven backwards into a not-so-elegant reverse endo, which terminated, by my best guess, on the 'over-the-falls' part of the breaking wave, where I was window-shaded three times before managing to grab a handful of purchase with my roll & breathe again. The trace on my GPS shows a 12 second ride backwards, but I swear it was 6 minutes.... With my sinuses now remarkably clear and chiropractic work done, I then set about retrieving my very expensive sunnies (on a float), my $90 hat and my pump (also both floating). So a good tale, but not an expensive one!

Excitement over, Gerard & his able deputies then proceed to calmly put the group back together, retrieved the riderless horses; Ben deck-carried one of the swimmers (as we'd practiced the afternoon before), and within 5 minutes were were all sharing a laugh about the experience.

A wider course home was deemed appropriate, so we paddled out to the submerged wreck of the HMAS Canberra, before running back to Barwon Heads on some very cool little waves.

Back at the beach a few curious souls tested out my demo Audax, before we made our way back to the HQ for lunch.

In the arvo Rob told the tale of the Audax, from concept through to design & manufacture; a story that surprises most paddlers when they hear first hand just what's involved in bringing a new design to market. In a part of the world where a plumb bow sea kayak is often treated with suspicion if not bewilderment, we hope we managed to explode some of the myths peddled about this new style of boat.

On Saturday night our mate from Tassie, Geoff Murray, presented his gobsmacking trove of images & tales from years spent paddling in Greenland & Antarctica. 

Preceding that however, the club had decided to honour Mick MacRobb by naming their hotly contested photo competition in his memory, and had invited Mick's Mum & Dad, Graeme & Jenny, and his partner Lyn to speak & present the award. It was lovely moment, in a room full of warmth & good wishes, and well done to the Vics say we.

Ben Flora's winning photo - what a stunner!

The final day dawned with blue sky & warm sunshine yet again, so Rob took the opportunity to join in on the club's surf coaching session in the insanely fun Tiderace Action, where from all reports all he did was surf himself silly. He certainly had a grin from sunscreen-smeared ear to ear when he came back from the beach!

The weekend finished with a catered lunch & a farewell from President Richard, and this year everyone went away with a sunburnt nose & big smile. What a top weekend.

Thanks so much to Richard, Steve, and the committee of the VSKC for inviting us down & making us feel so welcome. You know you're coming to play with a healthy club when they welcome outsiders & their seditious ideas in good humour, with an open mind, and we had a ball.

Monday 30 October 2017

A Classic Hawkesbury

Hawkesbury Classic number nine has been run & won, on one of those rare years where the hardy souls plodding down the river had to battle a pair of incoming tides.
On the upside, the moon shone bright for good portion of the night, and when it eventually disappeared over the escarpment it was replaced by a shining carpet of stars.
Combined with a warm & windless evening, this made it one of the classic nights out on the river, one to savour and enjoy.

Arriving a little late after a morning spent coaching Marley's under 10's cricket team, rego & scrutineering done, I relaxed & geared up for my 4.45pm start. Wandering through the boats lined up around the registration area is always fascinating, seeing how paddlers set themselves up for what in many cases is a paddle of 12-16 hours. Ocean skis with stuff all over them, goos taped to decks, bananas in footwells, drink bladders under bungees, bluetooth speakers, you name it.
Axe, Bob & Nick's chariots all set up. Axe would go on to invent his own 115km race, the 115km Central McDonald Classic, after he went left at Wiseman's instead of umm going right....
I hung out with my club mates from the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club, both paddlers & crew combining to erect a shaded campsite visible from space, where the excitement of the impending race start is tempered by the necessity to get your head down & rest through the intensity of what was a damn hot day out at Windsor.

The very relaxed atmosphere in the SSCC tent.
Jeff enjoying the large shaded erection.

My Mum Suzanne fronted up to crew for me in her 9th Classic. She's become a bit of an institution nowadays, a yearly throng of well wishers shouting out G'day & catching up with her year of adventures around the world. I'm not 100% convinced that Mum sees this event as anything other than a damn good night out actually!

The Brooklyn or Bust field is away first, a widely varied bunch of kayaks, canoes, SUP's, outriggers, even something that looked a lot like a polo bat, and it's always a treat to see this hugely optimistic group get away on the adventure that is the Hawkesbury Classic, many of them doing it for the first time. 

Nick & Bob awaiting the start of their first Classic.

My own turn to line up came around soon enough, and unlike previous years I waited until the last minute to get on the water & skipped straight to the front of the lineup. I figured this was 10 minutes I didn't need to be on my backside in the kayak!
Words of wisdom from Paul, about 30 years after he did his first Classic!
Off to the start line.
From the gun the pace was frenetic, with almost all 100+ competitive class paddlers going off together into the teeth of a flooding tide. I had budgeted 9kmh for the first 3 hours of contrary flow, but such was the wash effect of so many craft thundering down a river less than 150m wide, we managed to crack 10kmh for a good part of the first 90 minutes. As the field began to spread, the tide kicked a little harder but working in a great pack with paddlers going like the clappers meant I hit the 30km mark in a tick over 3 hours. 

Cheery at Pit Town (thanks to the LKRC guys for the pic)

From Sackville to Wiseman's Ferry, the leg that generally makes or breaks your race, we had a gentle ebb tide which meant we could stick to the middle of the river as darkness fell, & avoid the biffo of last year's race.

I hit Wiseman's (59km) in 5.50, and felt that with a quick pit stop I was half a chance of getting under 10 hours. Water bladder changed, a huge, noisy, and I have to say heart warming cheer from all of my club mates and I was away on the final 40km run to the finish.
Pulling in to Wiseman's
I tell anyone who wants to hear it that the Hawkesbury is really a 60km race, as after the pit stop at Wiseman's Ferry you're on your way, and of all the Classic's I've raced over the years that back end is mostly a blur. 

This year I rode the easing ebb to about 75km, then latched onto a two man canoe that was absolutely smokin' down the home stretch. This was one weird canoe, the stern paddler only about half a metre from the stern, leaving enough room for their compulsory cyalume night stick, so for 15km I was literally surfing these two mad buggers as the head tide built, being very careful not to over run into the kidneys of old mate in the back seat. I have been teasing my mate Steve & his wife Kate about their funny canoe thingy's for years, and here I was wash riding Casey Jones & Tonto along the final leg of the Classic, busting my arse to stay with them. I'm so glad there were no photographers handy.

Anyways, after they dropped me cold, I battled along the final 10km, at one stage looking like I was heading for a 9:50, but watching the tide drain my speed from 9 to 8.8 to 8.5 to 8.3, until I had 17 minutes left to go 3km for a sub 10 hour finish, which was about as likely as me publicly admitting I'd wash ridden a frigging canoe.

I crossed the finish in 10:04 (unofficial at time of publication), my best time by 10 minutes, in a year that had a much stronger opposing flow than a helpful one. I can't imagine paddling a better race, nor getting more breaks, with no ferry stops or unexpected pauses (like last year when I had to rescue Mercer)

Team Sundo 9.0
So a good time and a well executed race, but my memory of the event this year, is of the tremendous club effort from my Sutherland mates, their genuine good will & good wishes, and the shared joy of having everyone finish, and a couple of stellar performances from Ross & Robyn Bingle (a minute off a race record), Pete Faherty (9.45 on debut, 12 months after he first picked up a paddle) and Kate Dawson (first woman ever to complete the Classic solo in a stupid canoe). 

It's many years since I played a team sport, and at that level it was all about ruthlessly demolishing your opponent, before you shared a beer with them afterwards, but this was a proper community effort. The Lane Cove guys looked to be enjoying an atmosphere every bit as good, and it's something in kayaking that we all need to aspire towards, the shared joy of collective achievement. Where's the fun in a milestone if you haven't got mates to share it with?

Congratulations to everyone who took part, whether you finished, didn't finish, or like my mate Axeman took a left turn at Wiseman's and did your own private 115km 'Central McDonald Classic'.

The race raises vital funds for the Arrow Bone Marrow Foundation, and thank you so much to Jonno, Mike, Daniel, Cam, Rosey, Duncan, Michael, David R, Paul & David K for supporting my race with very generous donations.

It's on again next year, it can't possibly be any harder than it was this year, and it's something you've got to have a shot at if you're fair dinkum!

Tuesday 29 August 2017

Ultra Marathon Season - Tips & Gear

We're three weeks away from the Myall Classic, the first of the really long ultra distance marathon races that populate spring in & around Sydney.
Following on from that are a couple of regional river races, and then the iconic Hawkesbury Classic, the event that has become the Melbourne Cup of long distance races, especially after last year's phenomenal rejuvenation of the race celebrating 40 years.
They're races we tend to be involved in as both sponsors & supporters & also as competitors, and here are a few of our tips & tricks for getting through them in good style.

1. Form.
Long races are all about form & fuel. If the former is lacking you'll sacrifice speed to a lack of efficiency at best, and hurt yourself with a strain injury at worst. Getting your ducks in one line, wrists, elbows & shoulders in sync, is time much better spent than thumping down the river for endless hours in the mistaken belief that your paddling fitness will get you home. If in doubt book in a coaching session. It's never too late, and long-distance racing is 60% technique, 30% fitness & 90% masochistic delight! 

2. Fuel.
Once you exceed a certain threshold, holding your heart rate up for an extended period, your digestive system all but shuts down. Even for the mild octane levels you reach in a long distance paddling race, your evolutionary motherboard thinks you're running away from a Sabre Toothed Tiger after about four hours of stress. I get around this by concocting a gross mix of energy goo and water, mixed together in a small hydration bladder, with the valve permanently within hands-free sucking range. Every hour, on the hour, I have a mighty slurp, get my energy burst for the coming hour, and wash it down with a diluted electrolyte drink on another tube within slurp range on my left. The pure energy in the goo goes straight through your stomach wall & provides the fuel that science tells me food just can't. I budget about three litres of electrolyte for 50km, so one bladder for the Myall, two for the Hawkesbury, and 12 goos squeezed into the sickly mix bladder for the hourly slurp. I often finish feeling hungry, but not lacking the energy that a genuine deficiency would bring with it. If you haven't used a fuel system like this before, you need to test it out thoroughly before letting it loose in a race, or risk a very messy discovery session. Even swapping goo flavours can bring you undone, so tread lightly. Note, proper food is also very good for your morale, even if it's not particularly beneficial to performance, so don't think you have to follow our miserly performance-at-all-costs regimen. Bananas are excellent for their potassium & magnesium content, which can ward off cramp.

3. Training.
My own training for these races begins about mid July, where I'll do a couple of 20km paddles each week on the flattest water I can find, in the craft in which I'll be racing (for the past couple of years the excellent Sladecraft SLR). I'm not necessarily trying to go fast on these training gallops, just ticking at about 10kmh & trying to spend as much time as I can in the boat, getting weary, uncomfortable, and training up the muscle memory you need to paddle non stop for somewhere between 5-12 hours.
I use my ocean paddling for the fast twitch stuff, short sharp downwinders on waves where you have to accelerate ninety times in an hour of bursts & little mini rests. The long marathon races aren't really about being able to accelerate, but it is handy to have a burst & recovery in you, if the opportunity to hook onto a faster wash presents itself.
In the weeks leading up to the Myall & Hawkesbury I try to extend that training distance to 30km, again just to make sure I remember how taxing those hours can be be, all the while balancing such long & demanding paddles off against the recovery time you need to get over them. 
I personally believe that if you can sit in your boat comfortably & paddle hard for five hours, you'll have a good Hawkesbury, because in that particular race, the pain & suffering hits a peak as you close in on Wiseman's Ferry (about 60km), and doesn't generally worsen for the 40km after that to get home. It's why the 47km Myall Classic is such a good shakedown race if you're going to do the Hawkesbury, a fantastic opportunity to take your body somewhere that your mind hasn't been before.

Friends & club mates do much bigger distances than me, and those heavier schedules do seem to get them home a little faster, but I have never been too enthused about the grind of long flat water training paddles & prefer to keep it shorter & sharper.
I think the aim of your training should be to get you to a level of preparation where you can spring out of your kayak at the finish, all smiles, punch out a couple of push ups and then stare proudly at your awesome time. Wander around the Hawkesbury finish line at 3am and that's pretty much all you'll see! Seriously, it's great when you've trained well enough to perform in good style.

4. Gear.
Without going near the topics of which boat & which paddle, here are a few tips gear that have got us home many times over the years.

  • Gurney Goo - not for eating, but rubbing! The single most important piece of gear you can have in your ultra distance armoury. Rub it on your hands & other body parts up to 24 hours before to prevent blisters and chafing, and even rub it onto a hot spot during the event to ease the burn. The ingredients are locked away in Steve Gurney's safe, but whatever is in the stuff, it works!
  • Layers - a tight fitting, ultra light weight, merino t-shirt as a base, chafe free, warm-when-wet, and then layer from there. In the 'lightning-storm Classic' a few years ago, it's all I wore for the entire 100km as it was like paddling along the Mekong in summer for most of the night. Otherwise it's the starting point for me, with a base layer like a Vaikobi V-Cold Base top or Enth Degree Bombora over that. If it's a wet night or the wind comes up, I always carry an NRS lightweight Endurance paddling jacket as a safeguard against wind chill, but have only used it once in the last 6 years, as I tend to overheat pretty quickly. Remember however that most people who withdraw from the Hawkesbury do so as a result of getting cold, so it's a good idea to actually go out on a night training paddle and make sure you have a layering system to nullify it should the same thing happen on race night. One thing to avoid is a standard summer rashie. They have an evaporative cooling effect and can chill you down very fast once the sun sets.
  • Have a beanie handy, it can be the single, simple addition to your race quiver that stops the cold getting at you without having to stop & add another layer.
  • Gloves if you're a glove wearer, and have trained with them. If not, the hand taping that goes on in the physio tents looks very impressive, but unless it's following a taping pattern you've been following in your training, I personally can't see the point. I don't use gloves, instead relying on training hours & Gurney Goo to keep me blister free, but that hasn't always worked!
5. Race Strategy
It's understandable, especially if it's your first go at a long race, to just 'aim to finish', and nothing more ambitious. A problem with that plan is that it can peel back the discipline that you need to keep your mind pushing through the hard hour or two that you will always have in races of this distance. Without the discipline to push through - 'it's fine I'll ease up after all I'm just hoping to finish' - your realistic 13 or 14 hour time can end up taking 17 hours. Believe me I'm speaking from experience, a 17 hour hour Hawkesbury is about ten times harder than a 10 hour Hawkesbury! If you are managing 8kmh in your training, you're heading for a Hawkesbury time in the 12 hour range, as long as you keep your stops to a minimum, and keep your nose to the wheel. It's not necessarily a 'fun' night out, but its a wonderful glow of achievement when you get it done, because while it's a tough challenge, it's also very doable for an average Jo. 

Clock your training speeds, aim for a time & give it everything. I guarantee you'll enjoy the experience if you're pushing yourself with the added focus of a time to beat, and if there's one thing I've learnt from multiple long distance races it's that you can go surprisingly hard, for surprisingly longer than you think you can.

If you can get onto a wash & hold yourself there without blowing a gasket, do it. Some grumpy old buggers might splash you or curl their lips, but unless you're banging into them, that's more about them than you. Sometimes you only realise what a lift you're getting on a wash when you drop off, and the speedo plummets, but the effort remains. It's not cheating, it reduces your effort and gives you a bit of a breather, and if you're going OK yourself, you can bet there will be someone on your wash, so it all evens itself out on the night. If you get the chance in training, practice on a friends wash, it is a bit of an art form.
As to the tides, I have grand plans each year of pushing hard when the tide is going my way, because you can go quite fast at full ebb and that time is hard to make up elsewhere. 
If you can manage it, by which I mean if you can see what's in front of you, head for the river's edge when it's flooding, and stay in the middle when it's not, even if that means not cutting the corners. The flow in the middle is pretty fierce when it's honking. We aim to go 9kmh into the tide, and 11kmh with it, but its not unusual to hit 13kmh+ in ebb and a miserable 7.5kmh in full flood. Twice I've railroaded fellow competitors into pulling weed off my rudder because I was going ridiculously slow, and twice there was no weed!
Navigation in the latter sections of the river, in the dark, can be a challenge too, so a map course on a GPS screen that is set to glow every kilometre or so is a very good idea. If you get it right, the Hawkesbury can be as short at 98.8km, but I've been disoriented several times over the last 30km & done as much as 101km. And I've done it eight times, so you'd think I'd know where I'm going!
Finish 2016, two minutes later I was doing my push ups.
If you're not up to speed to enter the Myall on September 16, but this has piqued your interest then you're still well inside a window to get into training for the Hawkesbury. They're big, big races, between 300 & 500 paddlers in each, the atmosphere is always terrific and the challenge is a very real, but very achievable one.

Despite the sickly goo, the numb bum, the blisters, the cold, the disorienting blackness of a moonless night on a wide old river, and the occasional welcome hallucinations, it's worth having a crack! 

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...