Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Swordfishing - The Fenn Swordfish.

Yesterday I picked up a demo Fenn Swordfish from Dean Gardner at Ocean Paddler. I have previously tried out a 'Swordy', but on a calm day paddling with Chris & Kim Walker around Cronulla, and was eager to get this highly regarded design out in a sea state that would give me a better idea of its capabilities.

Conditions were at the marginal end of perfect for a full-on test, with a mighty East Coast low buffeting Sydney with gale force winds for the 48 hours previous, and showing few signs of easing. A warehouse inspection down South provided the perfect opportunity for a work colleague to drop me at Kurnell on the southern shore of Botany Bay, and (hopefully), collect me a short distance from my office again near the airport on the northern shore, after a 9km downwind-ish blast.

Pushing off the beach it was immediately obvious that I had made a mistake in not sitting and watching the wind and waves for longer, trusting instead a set of live observation for the airport I'd seen an hour earlier, showing dead southerly winds gusting to 30 knots.

Once past the flimsy lee of the Cronulla isthmus however, a subtle wind shift a few degrees to the west meant my SSE line to the airport was going to be a quartering ride most of the way. To counter this I turned west and tried to give myself a better line by running across the bustling steep chop, conditions some reviewers describe as not the Swordfish's favourite.

The boat is buoyant in comparison to other skis I've paddled, and in really rough water this is a definite design advantage. You couldn't imagine a more demanding set of conditions than extremely strong beam winds and short, sharp, wind generated chop, from the side, in which to test this reported weakness. Happily, the ski just rode up and over everything and powered through.

With a slightly better line to my destination I then turned and ran north, with frequent gusts powerful enough to nearly pull the paddle out of my left hand. The short video shows the messy chop, and the quartering nature of the waves.

The beauty of  Botany Bay in high winds is that there are few consequence if you get it wrong. Sydney's cliff line topography makes the safety margin for ski-paddling offshore in winds of this strength too narrow. Inside the bay, you get enough fetch to whip up shoulder high waves, and over about 20 knots they're more than a boat length apart, which makes them about the best little fun waves you can imagine. Even if you capsized half way across and had to simply hold onto your ski and go where the wind blew you, it would only be a maximum half hour drift before you landed on sand, or at worst, hitched a ride with ASIO off an airport runway!

In fast steep chop, the shorter waterline and rocker profile of the Swordfish excels. Despite having the stability profile of an intermediate ski, it accelerates and then manoeuvres like an elite ski. I love kayaks and skis that follow the axis of your shoulders when you're running on a following sea. More simply, if I see a steep section to my left, my shoulders will turn towards where I want to go and hopefully the kayak will too as I naturally drop my right hip. I've found that the more stable a hull is, the less inclined it will be to have this magic property, one for me that separates the good designs from the ho-hum. It's also the reason that bulletproof stability in a kayak or a ski soon becomes a restriction on your paddling development, rather than an aid, as you improve.

With a slightly better downwind line I hooked into screaming runner after runner, all the while noticing with alarm the water of my treasured bay turning dark brown, as the runoff from two torrential days rain made it's way to the sea. Not a day for a swim.

All too soon I was tucked inside the break wall of the Cooks River and heading for my pick up, buggered but felling pretty damn alive! It's funny how flat water is always such a let down after you've been for a blast in a decent sea.

In hindsight the conditions were too extreme for a solo paddle, let alone in an unfamiliar craft, but this neat little ski looked after me and lived up to its well won reputation. My advice is, and remains, once things get over 25 knots, you are reducing your safety margin to an unacceptable level. In this instance, please do as I say, not as I did....

Note. Expedition Kayaks will be stocking the Fenn Swordfish and the new entry level, 5.8m Fenn Bluefin from September, with access to the full range of Fenn skis for test paddling south of the bridge. Five me a shout if you'd like to give one a go.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Peak UK Tourlite Shorty - Reviewed by Ocean Paddler Magazine

Read the OP Review HERE

One of the surprise packets of the cooler months has been the huge popularity of the Peak UK Tourlite Shorty paddle jacket. 

It has a bunch of stuff going for it, even allowing for the great price at just $129 for a premium piece of cool weather kit.

In our climate it's a warm enough jacket for all but the rare howlers, when most of us are watching the action from behind a window anyway.

It's more waterproof than a non-cag paddle jacket, because the ingress point for water isn't around your wrists, it's above your elbows. This means any splash from a wave or your paddle won't slowly allow cold water to seep through, always a risk with a long paddle jacket that doesn't have tight gasket seal.

It's lighter than a traditional heavy duty cag, and being short-sleeved is practical as a warm weather shell on blustery summer days, or for immersion activities like surfing, where short high-octane sprints are interspersed with long periods sitting still, wet, in the wind.

We've found that that in this mild Sydney winter, the Shorty has been the go-to jacket, worn in concert with the Peak UK Thermal Rashie.

The UK's Ocean Paddler Magazine have written an excellent review of the Shorty which you can read HERE. You can buy the Peak UK Tourlite Shorty paddle jacket through our online store HERE, for $129.00 including delivery nationally.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Rob Mercer - Five Years in a Valley Nordkapp

It was wintry afternoon for Sydney with a forecast warning of strong southerly winds, 2 to 3m seas and long period easterly swells to 4m, the air temperature was a brisk 10C and I had no doubt that we would have the launch site to ourselves. Parking was easy and sure enough some of the regulars had already setup their boats and retired to the café for a hot chocolate foregoing their usual pre-paddle paddle. Upon seeing the sea kayaks lined up my first impression was what a fine picture these boats made; bright colours against a steely Harbourscape and then I realised what was really special about this scene; of the seven boats already on the beach all were Valley Nordkapps or Nordkapp LVs. On easier weeks some would have been in faster boats for a workout or more manoeuvrable boats to play but in the more challenging conditions of steep seas over rebounding swells these seven experienced paddlers had defaulted to their Nordkapps; a serious boat for serious conditions.

 So much has been written about this boat, its history, its evolution and its legacy that it is often referred to as a benchmark for describing the performance of newer designs, it figures heavily in the fleets of those with several boats and even where it is the first serious kayak purchased it is often the last one sold.
Neil using his Nordy where it's meant to be used.
My personal experience is mainly with the composite standard size Nordkapp in its most recent form. I believe the current design was last tweaked in 2008. When I say “tweaked” it seems that the cumulative effects of almost four decades of these successive tweaks or incremental refinements has yielded a boat retaining the original elegant line and sea manners but in a much more user friendly form. Indeed, I have seen both fans and sworn enemies of the original design with the same look of delight at the predictable manner of the newer model, especially in turbulent and difficult waters.

The antithesis of recent competing designs with their radiused hard chines and almost flat semi planning hulls, the Nordkapp has very round bilges for a sea kayak. Subjectively it is very slippery in the water, it is not a boat that is easily tripped up by cross chop or breaking waves abeam and there is no “notchiness” in the stability profile of the boat. As a result it is responsive to active and assertive technique but less accommodating of those who are just along for the ride.

A classic icon of the sea, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge!
Much is made of the light stability of the Nordkapp but stability is a subjective term; underpinning it are theoretical concepts like resistance to various angles of heel. To a paddler in challenging water, predictability and responsiveness may be more valued attributes. After all it is how the kayaker and kayak work together that makes a design seaworthy. Those who proclaim a design stable or otherwise often forget that we only learn balance by challenging stability. The wider and less responsive the boat is to edging the less balance we will learn by paddling it.
 Ambitious novices prove the trickiest with regard to the issue of stability and balance. If the stability is too light they may never relax enough to develop good balance but if it is too stable they will develop very little balance at all and just become a passenger rather than ever feeling “at one” with their boat.
 Although not for everyone; I am surprised by the number of newer paddlers who have chosen a Nordkapp or Nordkapp LV as their first serious kayak and enjoyed the steeper learning curve that this has provided. 

At a personal level I find the boat quick enough in all but the fastest of sea kayaking company, manoeuvrable enough to be used to guide and instruct across a wide range of conditions and stable enough to take photos in rough water.  The rockered hull is well suited to steep seas; tracking is relatively loose and with the skeg up the stern slides easily for course corrections, allowing fast changes to hit just the right spot on the wave.

Its lean shape and sweeping lines are deceptive and if you use skinny dry bags it can carry plenty of gear for multi-day expeditions and yet still work very well as a day tripper for those in the manufacturers’ recommended weight range. I can’t think of a better boat to paddle out to Broughton Island or similar locations where carrying food, wine, water plus camping, snorkeling and camera gear need to be combined with the nimbleness to run the rocky features and sea caves when you arrive.

The seating position is very comfortable for me with enough bend at the knee to allow leg drive and enough contact with the thigh for good edge control and rolling. The back-band is really more of a lumbar support that encourages good posture when set up properly. There are adjustable pockets on the seat side plates that allow foam shims to be added for those with slim hips who need more contact.
 I recently sold my long serving Carbon Kevlar Nordkapp with it’s beautiful clear hull and tangerine deck to a keen buyer after a second hand boat. After about 700 days on the water it is weather beaten but still going strong and I wanted something new. So after much deliberation what do you think I have replaced this classic design with?

Another Nordkapp of course!

Rob Mercer, July 10, 2014

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

New EK Products - the Alite Mayfly Chair & Grower's Cup Expedition Coffee

We've been busy scouring the outdoor market while these big westerlies have been blowing, and have come up with two brand new products for the winter stretch, the Alite Mayfly Lightweight Chair & Grower's Cup Expedition Coffee.

The Alite Mayfly Chair is a small marvel of lightweight engineering, made entirely from a combination of 210D ripstop nylon fabric & corrosion resistant 7000 aluminium, with fully machined frame fittings designed to support more than 125kg of weight, in a tiny carry bag that weighs in at 1.7kg. 

It easily fits into even your day hatch, has a removable front footing so you can rock if you prefer a stationary front support, and the fully machined aluminium frame makes anything else in the outdoor lightweight chair market look positively flimsy. The chair is available now from our online store (under Boat Accessories), for $139.00 including freight nationally.

Grower's Cup Expedition Coffee offers a very simple solution for those of who love our coffee, but aren't always inclined to carry any kit to make a decent one. All you need is boiling water, 3-5 minutes to sit still & enjoy the smell of your Brazilian or Ethiopian Free-Trade blend brewing in the disposable bags, & a couple of mates to share the joy.

These awesome little bags of winter luxury are available now from our online store (under Boat Accessories), for $4.50ea, but for the month of July (or until stocks last), we're giving away a bag with every order over $100 through the online store.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Harnessing Rebound & Clapotis

One of the most common questions I'm asked by paddlers new to the sea, is how to deal with multi-directional water. It's pretty hard to avoid off Sydney; as soon as you clear enclosed water you're bound to come under the influence of a cliff line throwing back some mess & chop.

Most paddlers feel comfortable bashing into a headwind, where the movement of the boat is very predictable, even paddling clean downwind, where you eventually tune into the tempo of the running sea.

Rebound, clapotis, confused water around cliff lines & headlines however, provoke the most tentative responses from paddlers not used to it, and it got me thinking about strategies for turning this less predictable sea state into something fun and 'useable'. By useable, I mean a free ride, instead of a leveller.

On Tuesday I joined Rob, Mark, Matt, Dave, Luke & John on a fun little downwind paddle from Sydney Harbour down to Malabar, about 20km of variable water parallelling Sydney's affluent Eastern Suburbs beaches. We had a clean northerly, some remnant swell, and a freshly developed sea moving at 'kayak pace', about 12-16kmh when you hooked into a runner.

The section between South Head & Bondi is a steep cliff bound stretch where the wind generated sea was colliding with the sandstone walls and sending back chop & rebound at varying angles, depending on which part of the cliff it was hitting. Underneath all of this the predominant north-moving sea was forming rideable waves, fast, steep & fun, which made this short 8km section engaging & entertaining to paddle.

My take on this sort of water is to keep positive, both in terms of posture and intent, & stick to the universal truth of following seas - the faster you go, the faster you go. I watched the video back after the paddle & figured it offered a reasonable look at what I do to nullify the unsettling nature of confused water. 

If I had to summarise it simply, I try to visually filter out the water that isn't going my way, and keep looking for the wave shapes that are. Combined with more power in my stroke when the boat is set to head downhill (this is the moment just before it actually heads downhill), this strategy makes me accelerate constantly, using the stability of speed to crash through anything unhelpful.

You also find that the shape of the sea changes as you reach the speed at which it is running. Because you're no longer wallowing in troughs that can push you around, and instead constantly surfing in front of a gently sloping pile, the next move becomes more obvious & you can subtly change direction to catch the next steeper section that presents itself.
Trailing brace on my left side, where I naturally have a flatter more sympathetic blade surface.
Above all I only ever defend in the most dire circumstance. When running fast on a wave you'll notice the back of my blade drop into a trailing brace. This isn't a rudder or braking stroke, merely a gently skimming precaution to allow me to get my retaliation to an unpredictable event in FIRST. My weight shifts to the left so I can accommodate any unexpected movement on the side I have the most sympathetic bracing blade angle.

I've seen instructional videos where another technique is used, catching a runner then immediately going to a stern rudder to control direction. In my mind this is surrendering all of that hard won speed, and makes your day on the biggest free ride you'll ever get twice as hard, as you constantly stop & restart. My preference is to use power to control direction, so I'm accelerating towards where I want to go, as opposed to braking to make sure I don't go somewhere I don't. 

Confused...? Watch the video & see if you make any sense of it, the views from behind give a good perspective of the running waves as they form up. Then, get out & give it a crack somewhere safe in the company of peers who can help you out of something goes awry! With a little exposure & dedicated practice, you can very quickly turn rebound and clapotis from something you swing out wide to avoid, into something you actively seek out & enjoy.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Paddling Gear for the Cold

We're blessed to be based in Sydney, as temperate a climate as you could hope to have, with cool winters laced with sunshine, and a water temperature that barely plumbs the depths some of our southern neighbours have to endure.

Nonetheless, as the calendar marches into winter, the mornings are cool, the evenings chill down fast, and gradually our sea temperatures are dropping into the teens.

On cue, we're getting requests for information on paddle gear we stock for cool weather, how they work together & how they apply to different types of paddling.

The NRS Disco Shirt ($115), NRS H2Core Expedition Shirt ($99), and NRS H2Core Paddle Shirt ($70)
In the past year, we've revamped our range of winter gear to include the cream of cold weather kit from leading manufacturers Peak UK, NRS & Reed Chillcheater.

The lightest is the loose-fitting NRS H2Core Paddle Shirt. This is slightly heavier than a rashie, with silky fabric on the normal rub points for paddlers under the arms & on the sides. It's a fair weather winter top, suitable as a base layer, without the cooling evaporative effects of a typical lycra rashie.
The Peak UK Thermal Rashie ($75)
The Peak UK Thermal rashie is another new addition which is a brilliant cold weather top. When I'm working hard & pushing my aerobic limits the biggest problem I face with clothing is overheating. The Peak Thermal Rashie is thin enough to breathe if I'm working, holds very little water & thus has a greatly reduced evaporative cooling effect, and provides 'instant toasty' when worn under a barrier like a cag or paddle jacket. It's incredibly versatile, and like all Peak UK gear is cut for paddlers.

The NRS Disco Shirt is the cold water high intensity top. I'll use it for a surf on the bar in winter where I'm going to be soaking wet for an hour or two, and the bursts of high energy & sprinting to catch & surf waves are interspersed with a fair swag of time waiting for a wave. It's strength is it's wind resistance, a barrier material that protects your core, with silky anti-chafe fabric where you need it.

The latest addition is the heavy duty NRS Expedition Shirt, a warm thermal top versatile enough to be worn as an outer layer, but definitely the bomb when layered under a cag. On a slow coastal exploration trip with mates, stopping to play at rocks & surf, this top under a cag or paddle jacket would be the king.
NRS Hydroskin Pants ($115), Peak UK Neoskin Pants ($75), Reed Aquatherm Pants ($115)
Down below, there are three options depending on what you value most. 

The NRS Hydroskin pants are the most stretchy, least constrictive, and insulate by trapping warm moisture between you & the fabric. 

The Peak UK Neoskin Pants are scuba diver warm, thick Neoprene with a considered paddling design free of rub points. They're my pants of choice on cold early morning ski fitness paddles.

The Reed Aquatherm pants are the most waterproof, and by virtue of Reed's shell fabric the most windproof. On their own they're not particularly insulating, but if I was standing on a beach in a cold wind they're the ones I'd hope to be wearing.
The Peak UK Tourlite Hoody ($189), Tourlite Shorty ($129), NRS Short Sleeved Endurance Jacket ($75) & Long Sleeved Endurance Jacket ($115)
We've also updated our paddle jacket range lately, with some new jackets from Peak UK. They're not the heavy duty cags we have come to see profligate over recent years, and that's because we recognise that the biggest problem with cold weather gear for the majority of paddlers is actually overheating. These outer layers stop the wind without adding bulk and hindering your athletic output.

The Peak UK Tourlite Shorty & Hoody are premium quality paddle jackets, light enough for all round use in our forgiving climate, but constructed for the rigours of the sea. They're both made from a  tough but soft feel ripstop nylon, with wide neoprene velcro cuffs.

The NRS Endurance Range offer a low cost over-jacket, cut for paddling, and specifically designed to protect paddlers from the wind, especially if they've been caught out. Made oversized, so they're easy to slip on over your paddling gear on the water.
Reed Touring Cag ($285), Aquatherm Pants ($119), Shirt ($149) & Vest/Deck ($159)
Last but not least, Reed Chillcheater continues to pump out brilliant cold weather gear, born of the frosty waters of the UK. This is hard core sea kayaking kit, the trademark Aquatherm fabric designed to insulate & beat the wind.

I think it's important to get cold, before you go out & spend money on cold weather gear. Some of us feel the cold regardless of how hard we're paddling & need all the help we can get, others turn purple as soon as they lift their output & can make do with much lighter gear.

Please give either Rob or I a shout if you'd like to chat about any of our winter paddling gear. Everything listed is avaiable through our ONLINE STORE, with freight free on all orders over $50.

Friday, 16 May 2014

EK Now Stocking ORKA Paddles from South Africa

We have just landed our first stock of the South African made ORKA Paddles, the paddle of choice for current World Surfski Champ Sean Rice.

ORKA Paddles are made strong, with a solid layup, alloy joiner & a finish & look to rival the hand made Mitchell Blades we import from the UK.

We've chosen two designs from their range, the Inner & the Flex.

The Inner is a mid-sized blade, designed to be sympathetic to the varied & unpredictable shapes the sea throws at us, suited to long distance sea kayaking and endurance surf ski paddling. It's designed  with a forgiving leading edge, it's built strong, with an alloy joiner & a reinforced shaft, and an ovalised grip to assist in blade orientation, and features 10cm of length and infinite feather adjustment. 

The Flex is a small mid sized paddle with a punchier catch, which provides huge stability at the entry point, but a very narrow neck for a clean & effortless exit, combined with a smaller blade size. If you're endurance racing your ski on flat water this would be an excellent choice, also built with ORKA's customary strong layup, with 10cm of length and infinite feather adjustment.

ORKA Paddles are retailing for $390, and are in stock. You can order freight-free through our ONLINE STORE.

Friday, 2 May 2014

What the Cold Paddlers Are Wearing.....

The Peak UK Tourlite Hoody Paddle Jacket - $189.00
Tomorrow marks Sydney's first day of proper cold weather (...he says imagining a loud snigger down the ethernet cable from our Tasmanian canoeist mates...), as the temps plunge down to 15C & a bitter westerly wind makes it feel a heck of a lot colder.

Almost on queue, we have had a gaggle of queries about cold weather paddling gear, and these two new additions to our online store certainly add to the armoury we have available through our online store.

Having tested the Peak UK Tourlite Shorty Jacket over the past couple of months, we decided it was so good we would also bring in the full blown Tourlite Hoodie. It's a practical paddling jacket for our climate, made from a X2.5 lightweight recycled polyester with 10m waterproofing, featuring Aqua-out waist and wrist seal.

This jacket has an articulated cut with bent elbows, a zip opening neck and large fully adjustable hood, and an easy access right hand side zip pocket. Another of the new generation Peak UK paddle garments released in early 2014.
NRS Men's H2Core Expedition Shirt - $99.00
The second cold weather addition is a complimentary one, the NRS Men's H2Core Expedition ShirtDesigned as a thermal base layer, using advanced H2Core fabrics to deliver maximal warmth without limiting your movements, while gasket-friendly cuffs and friction-free seams provide unmatched comfort underneath outer jackets and cags. 

Micro-fleece filaments efficiently wick moisture away from the skin, and the durable, smooth exterior resists pilling and abrasion. H2Core Lightweight fabric under the arms creates friction-free zones for comfortable paddling while improving ventilation where you need it most. It's cut in a semi-form fit for athletic comfort and easy layering over the top.

Both the Peak UK Tourlite Hoodie & the NRS Men's H2Core Expedition Shirt are available now through our ONLINE STORE.

Monday, 28 April 2014

From the River to the Sea

A few weeks back we offered to take some members from Sydney's famous old River Canoe Club out on Botany Bay for a morning of basic sea kayaking skills instruction.
We ran through the gamut of biomechanics & technique required to paddle & close-quarter safely on the sea, on a bright, warm & sunny Sydney morning.

The session was a success in both directions. We had the learning experience of instructing recreational & whitewater river paddlers, and they got some tips on adjusting their existing skills to an open water environment.

It was a terrific morning, and we offered to follow it up later in the year with a genuine open water day to allow participants to get out onto the sea & put the theory into practise.
We pencilled in yesterday as the date, but a big southerly system which developed on Saturday evening (as predicted), had Rob & I doing some very careful planning Saturday night to ensure an incident-free paddle.

The spot we'd picked is a long, mostly enclosed bay, adjacent to Sydney's infamous Long Bay Gaol. It has a sheltered launch spot on the sand at Malabar Beach, but a swift transition from lee to full-on open ocean conditions at the southern headland, only 1.5km from the beach.
Rob's briefing.
The southerly had abated somewhat from peaks in the early hours of Sunday morning over 20 knots, but the remnant sea state was peaky, short, and in places very steep. Had the wind stayed up we would have moved to a more protected location.
Rob gave his briefing out of the wind, so everyone could be sure to hear all of the details, & emphasised the forces at play on the sea overnight, and what we could expect to see & feel once out in the relentless moving water. I reminded everyone that the sea will take control of you, if you let it, and aggressive & positive paddling is rewarded with control, once things start to move around. Personally I hate the big briefing, mostly I reckon they overload groups with information, when in the simplest terms all you're trying to do is identify risks & make sure everyone is in on the plan. This one was short, succinct & most importantly, left everyone in no doubt as to what to expect.
My group leave the safety of Long Bay
We split our groups into two, me with 6 paddlers & Rob & Sharon with 8. In amongst them we asked Mick Taylor, the club's training officer, to distribute the more experienced members with the less experienced, so we had a mix of steady hands to help out in the event of a problem.
Sharon & Angie (on her first sea paddle) head back into the bay.
The stated objective was a paddle from Malabar around & into Little Bay, a return trip of just under 6km, but laced with everything from industrial strength rebound to the flat calm of the beach, to a tricky navigation through breaking reefs into Little Bay itself.

Crucially, we identified the northern cliffs of both Long & Little Bay as the dangers, with a breeze likely to very quickly minimise any sea-way should an incident occur that took some time to sort out.
The trace of Sunday morning's paddle
As such, we kept our groups as close as possible to the protected southern cliffs, and went very wide on the way around to Little Bay to avoid the steepest, most multidirectional sections of sea. These were most likely to produce a capsize, and we wanted as much distance between us & the cliffs should something go awry.

The approach to Little Bay can be intimidating, with reefs breaking on both sides of a narrow entrance, but experience has shown us a clear line in through the break, and a left turn behind the most prominent reef to the sand. It's one of those 'surely we're not going in there' sights from the sea, which is actually pretty smooth as long as you hold a disciplined line.
Sharon working with her group inside Long Bay
Not everyone made it out of the bay, with some novice sea paddlers rightly deciding they'd had enough as we approached the start of the steep stuff. We escorted them all back to the calm water as a team, where Sharon put together an excellent session guiding her impromptu group in less demanding water, & worked on some moving water skills.

Andrew having a short breather at Little Bay
I headed back out after this with Andrew, Dee, Deb & George, and we made it all the way around, landed at Little Bay, then rode a tighter line to the cliffs home as the wind abated. For a group with mostly little or no big water sea experience, they did incredibly well in some proper ocean conditions.
Dee (on her first sea paddle) & George heading out to sea after leaving Little Bay
Rob's prudence paid dividends, with several capsizes & rescues out in the middle of the biggest seas in his group, but nothing more serious than a bit of blue language!

We were so impressed with the ticker on display from the River Canoe guys, both from those willing to say enough, and those who took on the challenge with such relish. Like our mates at the Sutherland Canoe Club, this is clearly a place where a supportive environment encourages people to do their best, with a sense of humour underpinning everything.

For us it's no easy task to get a group of paddlers we know little about, except that they have very limited or even no sea experience, out into such intimidating conditions, without unforeseen problems. A lot of planning goes into the exercise, and in this instance the club you're banking on to have done the prerequisite basic rescue & group work has to have done their bit too.

Thanks to the River Canoe Club for allowing us to show them the sort of paddling we love, and for fulfilling their end of the bargain with a well prepared & enthusiastic bunch of members.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Benji Factor

I read with interest this morning about a local legend in Rugby League, Benji Marshall, deciding after a six month switch to the alternative rugby code, that it was time to head back to the game he knows best.

He said he realised that he probably wan't the outstanding rugby union player he had hoped he might be, but wasn't disappointed with having made the switch. The crucial thing for him was that the change in discipline had reinvigorated his desire to be a top sportsman. He's deliberately made the journey back to being a learner for the sheer challenge of it, & enjoyed the experience, even though he hadn't succeeded to the extent that he'd hoped. He's said he'll now return to rugby league a lot hungrier, & with a greater appreciation of how hard he needs to work to maintain his standards.

I personally think it's important to keep on having a crack at new & different stuff, for much the same reasons as Benji.

I think the 'gaining of a reputation' in a sport like sea kayaking can sometimes be an albatross around the neck of the esteemed 'paddler of note'. I cheered loudly when I saw a Facebook post from top UK paddler Jeff Allen late last year of him emerging from the surf on foot, having previously been swimming through the wash after getting a trashing good enough to see him perform a humble wet exit.

It was a far cry from the 'what goes on the expedition stays on the expedition' rule that often shrouds the 'swim that Herby had on this landing' or the 'tow that Stevo needed around this rough headland', etc.
Mercer performs the 'Arsovertit' manoeuvre. 
It's also the reason we always put in the capsizes & mess ups on our surf & ocean paddling video adventures, because we're forever getting knocked over & knocked off in the process of having a decent go. There is no greater truth than the fact that you won't fall in unles you're giving it a decent crack!
A typical Epic fail.
I'm grateful for an upbringing that saw several severe & very public humiliations on the sporting field. Dropping a bomb in the last minute of the game that leads to the winning try, or getting out ducking a slower ball that you thought was going to hit you in the head, but instead hits your middle stump, and the following howls of delight from your opponents & spectators, make the self esteem consequences of falling out of a kayak in the surf seem pretty tame by comparison.

At a recent paddling event I asked one mate why a local paddler-of-note wasn't in attendance. He shrugged his shoulders & said, 'I think he's worried about being exposed as a bit of a talker, but not much of a doer'. I thought that was a pretty sad state of affairs from someone who clearly loves his paddling.

Looking a lot better than I'm feeling on my new K1
My latest attempt to keep fresh has centred around the purchase of an old racing K1. For a couple of hundred bucks spent through eBay, I now have something capable of inflicting all sorts of core-torture. It began with a loud boast to Steve & Joel that I'd easily be able to paddle one of their silly flat water boats, knowing full well that they'd both had their own moments in them when starting out. Steve & Kate then took me down to the local river & set up several cameras to capture my demise, only to be disappointed with a performance laced with subtle bracing strokes & a well thought out strategy on keeping the bloody thing upright by using speed. A picture of sprint paddling beauty it was not....

I heard the joy of paddling a K1 described as 'sitting on a floating water melon, whilst doing pilates'. Sounds like fun right?

There is no commercial reason to take up this challenge, we won't be rushing into the world of sprint & marathon racing anytime soon. Instead it brings a purity of form & shape that allows no scope for poor technique. Like the GPS, the K1 is brutally honest about how good you are - one slightly slipped arse cheek & you'll spend half a dozen strokes keeping yourself upright, let alone paddling with any efficiency. It's revived that feeling you get as a beginner where you're forever anxious about a mis-timed stroke, which has got to be a good thing for someone often in charge of beginners.

The reward comes from an amazing feeling of glide when you get it right, and extrapolates to my ocean racing ski. When I hop back onto my V10 for a run in the ocean it suddenly feels like an ocean liner.

Good on Benji for setting the example, it doesn't mater how good you think you are, it never hurts to go back & hang out with the beginners, & you should never be afraid to fail publicly in pursuit of the thing you love doing.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Tiderace Xtra vs Valley Gemini SP RM - Surf Session

Rob & I headed to our favourite sea kayak surf spot, the Bundeena Bar, on the strength of yesterday's forecast 2-4m SE swell & 10-12 second wave period.

An intense east coast low had obliterated Sydney's beaches for all but the biggest wave adrenaline junkies, but a fast run-out tide mid-morning delivered us as good a set of fat waves as you could hope to find.
Mark goes the aerial route in the Xtra.
We spent about 90 minutes putting the Tiderace Xtra & Valley Gemini SP RM through their respective paces. I was getting my head around the Xtra, having only previously paddled it briefly & only on some very gentle surf at Bateman's Bay, whilst Rob went for it in the Gemini, pushing the hull as far as he could.
Rob about to 'go dark' in the Gemini RM
The results are on the short video above, some acrobatics, some fast & controlled rides in these neat little play sea kayaks, some biffo, and thankfully some un-airable language censored from a family website. Suffice to say there is a reckless Rescue Board paddler somwhere in Sydney who will be having nightmares about mild mannered snow haired men who go bad.

My impressions of the Xtra in some surf that presented a few more challenges? The super flat hull planes like you can't believe as long as you can get it into the sweet spot. The best course of action is to keep it simple, don't over edge, just make small adjustments. Like the Xcite it adjusts direction one way or the other with tiniest amount of edge & a well time stern rudder or draw, and for a beginner surfer it would provide the most sympathetic route possible into the fraught world of sea kayak surfing.

Enjoy the fruits of our hard work, making absolutely sure these boats we're selling you good folks are as good as the manufacturers say, and don't feel too sorry for us having to put in such toil.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The North Shore Atlantic Returns...!

There was a welcome inclusion in our latest shipment from the UK, which landed yesterday, in the form of new stock of the North Shore Atlantic.

I was asked recently why we had brought this much-loved, stable & sympathetic skeg design back into the country after selling our last one a few years ago, and before I could answer, the guy who asked the question said, 'latent demand, right?'

I nodded & smiled, it's as simple as that really.

Back when we decided to cut the boat from our stock range we felt we had surrounded it with boats that we more extreme at the play end like the Gemini & Xtra, faster at the Tour end like the old Aquanaut & new fast tourers, and figured people may not be interested in the rough water all rounder, that at it's essence looks after less skilled or new paddlers.

We then had a tremendous resurgence in interest in this genre of boat with the arrival of the Tiderace Xcite, and people have been asking ever since, will be you bringing the Atlantic back into the country any time soon?'

So, by popular demand, they are now here, in a range of colours, priced very keenly in an era when our dollar is slowly slouching, at $3790 for North Shore's light, stiff & strong standard Diolen layup. You can see the colours on our Kayak Prices & Stock page.

We have a demo on hand for anyone wanting to either re-acquaint, or test out this little gem of a boat.

Ocean Paddler Magazine in the UK wrote an excellent article which I feel nicely summarises the virtues of the North Shore Atlantic, which you can read HERE.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Eden to Bondi, Without Landing

Now that they're all set, I can release the news that Rob Mercer, Johnny Lee & Mick MacRobb are about push out through the surf at Eden, on the far south coast, aiming to touch the sand next, non-stop, 450km to the north on Bondi Beach in Sydney.
Mick & John enjoying a last brew this morning in Eden 'both in tip-top shape'
They have been training secretly for months, ironing out bugs in a sleeping system involving a three boat raft, developed for them by Thermosleep in Sweden.

All three have been training intensely, monitoring heart rates, comparing performance notes & getting into tip top shape for a paddle of over 450km that they're aiming to finish inside 7 days.

Mick packing his new Pace 17 in preparation for 'The Everest of Kayaking'
Rob was upbeat about their chances last night, here's his thoughts:

"I've never seen Mick in such great shape, & John has been a machine lately in his resistance training & downwind efforts. Unfortunately the first couple of days out of Eden have headwinds forecast, so I'm at a distinct disadvantage, with my routine nowadays involving downwind paddling only. Hopefully the other two guys can give me some advice on headwind technique, or it's going to be a slow start. The sleeping system is now sorted, although John is something of a 'loud' sleeper. We're planning on a maximum 4 hours per night in the Thermosleep set up, which should get us there in reasonable shape"

Join me in wishing the guys well, and tune in to our Facebook page for a daily update of their progress, for this challenge, a new 'Everest of Kayaking'.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Kayak for Kids, A Breath of Fresh Air

I'd consciously finished my season of races & events after last weekend's Bay Runner Race at Cronulla, a long summer of sorts that began with the Hydrothon, and included some fantastic days out like the Myall Classic, Hawkesbury Classic, the 20 Beaches & the Royal Challenge.
It's been a rewarding few months, with something slightly different on the horizon to train for, an excuse to keep getting out on the road or the trail or the sea or the river & keep in shape.
I asked paddling mate Steve Dawson what he was doing over winter, as he & his wife Kate do the entire Marathon Series in various craft ranged on the their back lawn (umm.... 16 of them to be precise), and he mentioned the Kayak for Kids Race as being a good one & a lot of fun.
I entered a few days before, expecting nothing much more than what is on offer at the series of B-lining ski races that are increasingly populating each summer weekend.
What a surprise then to rock up to Blues Point Reserve early on Sunday morning & see such a vast & diverse flotilla of craft on the banks of the harbour, getting set for the 16km race.
Steve's traditional pre-race Macarena.
Everything from the 3-person plastic sit on tops - as Steve says 'design consideration #1, stackability' - to wide rec boats, sea kayaks & a few skis.
The golden thread of this race is the 3 person boats. They're crewed mostly by non paddlers, again not something I was too up with until I heard eventual winner Matt Blundell doing the pre-race briefing & carefully describing how to correctly orient the paddle!
They're the first ones off, and a king tide combined with some ferry wash to make this a brilliant spectacle, as one by one, kind of like penguins launching off a rock, the crews piloted their boats down the sandstone steps & into the breaking clapotis.
Fun & games as the teams boats take to the water.
I swear I saw three women paddling off with the handbags tucked neatly into the footwells, an assortment of garbage bags storing (hopefully not very) valuables, and defying Matt's professional instruction, a fair proportion of competitors with the paddle backwards! 
One thing I didn't see was a jut-jawed frown though, this was a big bunch of people having a big bunch of fun.
It was quite a sight, hundreds of little yellow boats bobbing up & down, framed neatly by the Opera House & Harbour Bridge.
The 'own your own' boat class was next, & we negotiated the same launch & paddled towards the Harbour Bridge awaiting the start. Compared to the more serious races, it was great to see so many different boats out on the harbour. I was especially pleased to see so many sea kayaks, & if I'd known the race was so inclusive I would have left the ski at home & brought one too.
Is there a better paddle race panorama anywhere on the planet?
I was trying to work out how the organsiers managed to get the claimed 17km out of a course that was maybe 13km at best, but the serpentine route went right into several harbour beaches (to facilitate the crew changes in the 3-person teams event), and essentially hugged the foreshore all the way around to Middle Head. 
The Kayak for Kids race course.
The first can was an interesting experience. I paddled in full tilt, a bit consumed with the slightly faster guy in front of me & the slightly faster guy closing in on me from behind, looking up only when I saw what looked like the M3 on a Friday at peak hour, except all yellow. The concept of rounding the can anti clockwise was loosely followed at best, and I think more than a few of us puffing along & staring at our GPS's felt a little silly at 'racing' in the midst of such a hilarious scene.
I applied a couple of friendly 'direction assists' to get both my ski, & the yellow boats in my path pointing the right way, & I was away again.
The weather gods had been kind to a field possibly not too conditioned to moving water, & it was as calm a day on the harbour as you could hope for. I took the closest line as I could to the sandstone cliffs that ring Sydney Harbour, enjoying being up so close in the benign seas & wind.
The Marquee City at the finish.
The finish was welcome after racing the last few legs into an outgoing tide, on what was yet another unseasonably hot & humid Sydney day.
Organisers had built a marquee city at the finish, with free drinks & sausage sangers, and the presentations featured several parents of kids for whom the Lifestart charity has clearly made a difference. It was nice to have the charity which underpins the entire event put so elegantly, and eloquently, into the picture.
Kate & Steve did really well, finishing 7th overall as the 3rd double home. Another honourable mention goes to Les Westerweller, who told me as we sat at the start line he wanted to break 2 hours, yet bolted home in 1:46 on his V8. Not bad for an old bloke Les!
Yet another another mention however to Emiel Temmerman, who picked up his V10 Sport on Friday having paddled it once - EVER - with no other paddling background at all, and paddled/swam home in 2 hours. If that's not inspiration enough to get out & have a go I don't know what is!
I'll definitely do this one again, it was fun, traversed a varied and scenic course, and considering the much lower skills base of many of the participants, was quite brilliantly run. Thanks also to my mum Suzanne, who volunteered to drive the car for Steve, Kate & I & save us the long shuffle & parking fines!