Friday, 30 October 2015

A Year in the The Think Evo II

We picked up our demo Evo II at the start of the year, and have had it out in conditions ranging from a big & lumpy sea, to raging downwind, to the long fast grind of a 100km Hawkesbury Classic.
First & foremost, I’m an advocate of intermediate-range ocean racing skis. I think the reality of the elite skis, even the elephant in the room, is that to paddle them where they’re designed to be paddled, in a decent running sea, you need to have an elite attitude. Over the course of a few years watching paddlers turn up with elite skis and paddle around like they’re sitting on a watermelon, in conditions that most intermediate skis would simply absorb, I think there are far too many guys limiting their paddling days on skis that are not only beyond them now, but will probably always be beyond them. To me that’s what it comes down to, within reason, making sure your ski doesn’t put any limits on when you can go paddling.

The Evo II was an addition to our demo range following on from the great success we’ve had with the Eze and the Ace, both short, stable, and light entry level boats which have spread through paddling circles based on what the new owners have been able to do in them. By that I mean the mix of ergonomics & stability have provided confidence in spades to paddlers who had been tentative about either owning a ski in the first place, or had been wobbling around on boats that didn’t offer the right amount of confidence-inspiring stability.

Like all Think skis the Evo II has a very disciplined seating position, perhaps the most regimented of all the ski brands, and simply doesn’t allow you the option of splaying your legs. You sit in a very upright position with knees forced together by the narrower channels for your calves, and once you adjust it makes it very hard to slouch or fall into any of the bad habits of paddling posture that drag most of us punters down.

It feels buoyant on the water, something I’ve always considered a reassuring quality in the rough stuff whether it’s a kayak or a ski, and the seating position, with your bum well & truly higher up than your heels, makes you feel like you’re well over the top of your stroke.
First impressions, especially if you hop on board on dead flat water, is a lighter initial stability than some of the other designs in the genre, but this hardens up considerably once the water becomes more dynamic. Essentially the Evo heels a few degrees further on flat water than some of the flatter hulled intermediates, but then locks into a solid secondary point every bit as solid as the rest.

As the waves wash through & around the hull, the transitions that separate the tough boats from the sympathetic ones are gradual & predictable. You don’t get a fast twitch from the Evo II even in crappy little bay chop. The trade off with a hull that moderates the bumps is usually a loss of that instinctive quality that allows to you turn the boat on waves using your eyes. By this I mean the ‘look left, right shoulder moves forward, right arse cheek drops, boat turns toward the raised edge of your ski’ in a nice organic motion that isn’t necessarily predicated by a hard push on your rudder pedal. The best intermediate boat I’ve ever paddled for this sort of instinctive turn is the Fenn Swordfish, and while the Evo II doesn’t quite carve around in the same way, it makes up for it in hull speed and the capacity to grab the runs with lift and acceleration.

It has speed to burn, more than I’ll ever be capable of harnessing in the ocean, and because you have the nice buoyant feeling that extra volume provides, it never feels like you need much of a dig to get it up & running. I’ve used the boat a lot to ride shotgun on our weekly Dolls Point paddles, where a big group of us take on the Sydney sea breeze for a 10km blast into, across & with the wind. It’s been a great mothership for effecting rescues, helping paddlers who’ve missed their remounts etc. I can manoeuvre it in bouncy chop, pull alongside to raft up & help out without having to think about my own stability, a trait in the sometimes individualistic world of surf ski paddling that should perhaps carry more weight. When you do do take a swim, the low gunwales mean you don't have to be anywhere near as precise getting your backside into the bucket as you do with the skinny skis, and remounts are pretty stress free.

On flat water the ergonomics really shine. Whilst metronome rhythm is your enemy on the ocean, for flat water training & racing your form and tempo are everything, and a disciplined posture gives you a great base for harnessing the right muscles. Whilst not a particularly dedicated flat water paddler, I didn’t hesitate to reach for the Evo II from our quiver of demo boats to do this year’s Hawkesbury Classic, a 111km overnight race on the outskirts of Sydney. Despite only paddling a couple of half rat-power 10 & 15km flat water sessions in the boat, I knew it was the one that would keep me in the right form, and would have enough glide to allow a comfortable & reasonably quick trip down the river.
111km done & dusted, and a good ski for the task.
There has been a trend recently towards using elite skis on flat water for marathon racing, understandable given the challenges most K1 hulls provide to those of us not raised paddling them. But, if you can only afford one ski I reckon only the fittest of racers would get more out of an elite than they would out of something like an Evo II, and the versatility of the ski in the ocean allows you to go beyond being just a fair weather sea paddler.

We spend a far portion of our time introducing paddlers to the sea, and even the seasoned & technically sound flat water guys don’t take very long to work out that the two disciplines are a world apart. We’re lucky thesedays to have the breadth of excellent mid-range, intermediate skis which provide the portal into the part of ski paddling that I reckon provides the big smiles. Fortunately for us and you the consumer, the brands we represent, Vajda, Epic, Fenn & Think, are all damn good. They're all well made, well designed, they have their own traits that run through their ranges nowadays, so you really do need to get out there and get in them before you make a decision about which one is for you. The Think Evo II is a very successful blend of speed, sympathetic predictability at sea, and acceleration for the days when it’s all going your way, a boat I love to paddle.
Length 625cm   Width 48cm   Weight See Below   Paddler Weight 75-110kg
$3295 (Performance - 15.5kg) $4295 (Elite 12.5kg)

We have a demo at our Miranda store and will happily take you out on some moving water so you can see for yourself.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Hawkesbury Classic 2015

Another weekend in late October, and another 111km Hawkesbury Classic finished, with time to ruminate.

This year I had no goals, no target time, because of my commitment to the Sydney marathon hadn't done any hard paddling, unless you count a couple of 10km technique paddles and a 5km time trial as preparation, and was purely along for the ride.

I figured I was as aerobically fit as I'd ever been, did one very worthwhile hour with a local flatwater coach ironing out a couple of flaws that I sensed had crept into my stroke, knew how to fuel myself, importantly had done this race for the past 3 years and knew what I was in for, so why not...?
Continuing my excellent dietary tapering program (pic by Steve Dawson, who with Ross Bingle broke the LREC 2 record)
My craft of choice this year was the Think Evo II, and despite having paddled no further than 15km in the boat, I could tell it was going to be the best mix of comfort & speed for the race.

Compared to last year when the race started and ended with a fast running tide, this year was the direct opposite, with a pretty pissy ebb for an hour at the start, a brutal stretch into the flow for 5 hours, a second ebb, and then almost definitely, at my speed at least, an opposing flow over the last 10km. In other words, way more than half the race with a current in your face, and the demoralising reality that as you're getting closer to the end, you're only going to get slower!
Hanging' out with the SSCC - Remember who picks 'em, and what hand they use.....
Once again my trooper of a Mum, Suzanne was along as crew, although this year she'd also messed up her preparation with an enthusiastic session with the neighbours and their wine collection the night before. I bunked in with the Sutherland Shire Canoe dudes, relinquishing the opportunity as a sponsor to set up an exhibit in favour of a relaxed arvo under a tarp, and some lively conversation about dates and Gurney Goo.

The start was somehow even more furious than other years, and despite having the experience to know that I shouldn't be chasing the K2 down the river, I couldn't resist and whistled through the first 10km of slack water in under an hour. The tide then turned and by the time the sun set I was down to 7.8kmh and seriously contemplating pulling the pin at Sackville, the 30km crew checkpoint.

It just seemed too early in the tide cycle to be going so slow, and I surmised that maybe spending the Thursday night before the race enthusiastically catching up with my old Randwick mates on the south coast until 3am was biting me on the bum. Whilst I usually whizz past the Sackville stop, a little smug that I don't have to stop there, this year I pulled in, disconnected my knot of goo and drinking tubes, and stood in the mud. I stretched my legs, my back, looked around at everyone welcoming their paddlers ashore full of smiles and cheers, & decided to truck on after 2 minutes feeling very sorry for myself.

Inevitably in this race, if you can just tough it out, the tide turns and you start to feel better as the resistance on your stroke eases and the GPS lurches into double figures. For me this was about an hour from my planned stop at Wiseman's Ferry, so by the time I skidded onto the astro turf lining the boat ramp I was feeling pretty cheery. A quick stretch, beanie on, and after a seven minute rest I had the balletic and quite wet David Little for company as we both chugged out of the lights and headed for home.

By now the tide was really humming and I was clipping it along, bang in the middle of the river, lining up the turns easily in the glow of a very bright moon, probably as perfect a set of conditions you could ever hope to paddle in this race. I caught Rodrigo after an hour & gave him a wash riding tutorial on the go, which he took on board, slipped his Rockpool Taran onto my wash and hung around with me for a good hour chatting away in his South American lilt. He went on to do 11.30 in his first Classic, not bad for a guy who can really hang one in a mean sea, and only started paddling a year ago.

Just at the point I was starting to fatigue, a big old OC6 loomed behind me, and I took my chance to glide onto their slipstream and hitch a good thirty minutes up the line as they powered through the night. Six man paddling does look like fun, gotta give it a whirl one day...!

As the last big turn loomed the head tide returned with a punch, however the bright night made it a little easier to get out of the full flow & catch a few eddies going my way. The last bit of the race has been a painful one over the years, but Saturday night with no goal time I just took it all in, alone for once and enjoying the spectacular light show in the water from the bioluminescent algae that lit up the blackwater. Paddling real hard over the last 3km I was going just 7.6kmh in a ski well capable of going 13kmh, so the poor buggers behind me must have had a very hard run home.
I crossed the line in 10hrs 43mins, 16 minutes outside my best time in last year's race, but last year I had a lot of training under my belt, in a boat that is probably a little bit faster, in an easier tidal year (this year I had about 4hrs 30min with the tide, last year about 5hrs 30mins, my trace of the race is HERE). Even though it wasn't my fastest, I reckon it was the best I've ever paddled in a Classic. It just goes to show how silly it is to compare one Classic to the next by race time, we might get better, fitter, or even worse, but no river is ever the same twice, right? 
My race trace
Once again, it was a terrific night on the water, even if only for the fact that paddling is our thing, & where else can you take part in an event like this with such a big bunch of like minded souls?
Me & my crew in the middle of the night (pic by Dave Linco).
A couple of random thoughts on the race this year:

1. I heard a few of the hardy volunteers speaking among themselves about how much work it had been this year to even get the race going, because their numbers have thinned dramatically. The problem, it seems, is that so many of us enjoy multiple Classics as paddlers, but when we invariably take one off we don't turn up and volunteer, which when you think about it, is pretty crook. I've decided that if I miss one, and I'm in town, I'll be heading for Windsor or Wiseman's or wherever they want me to help out on the night and put a little bit back in. If twenty paddlers a year fronted up to volunteer, I reckon they'd be right.
The good humoured volunteers at the scrutineering tent.
2. Numbers were way down, reminiscing about the carpark at the start overflowing a few years ago it was barely half-full on Saturday, and many familiar names were missing from the field. There is a LOT of competition thesedays for the event junkie, and I should know. Even in paddling, the marathon series is fair humming along with participation numbers way up, ocean and harbour races are well attended, and little clubs, like our own Dolls Point Paddlers, are popping up around the place. I may be well out of line for even suggesting it, but I reckon an option of a 60km race to Wiseman's Ferry, or a 3 person full-race relay stopping at Sackville & Wiseman's to change paddlers, would greatly invigorate the event. Every big event nowadays has a half version, some even a half & a shorter race all going from the same start, and it would be great if the Classic organisers could figure out a way to do this. When I floated this past a mate he said it might make the full 111km event fade away, but I think it would actually elevate it to something really big to aspire towards, as it does in the running marathon. I know heaps of paddlers who would do the 60km or a leg of the relay with a couple of mates as a stepping stone to the big one, and it would be nice to see those big numbers at Windsor return. I don't think it's any coincidence that a race like the Myall Classic is thriving with big numbers across three race categories, 20/20 didn't kill 50-over cricket, 7's rugby only made the 15 man game better..... I also suspect that the points I made above about volunteers would also help facilitate an expansion of the Hawkesbury Classic, if that's the way they wanted to go.

3. Personally, I'm going to spend a lot more time concentrating on technique in preparation for these kinds of paddles, whether they're in the ocean or the river. My little tune up, a week before the Classic, probably saved me from a very long night, gave me little cues to remember when I got tired, and got me home with no hot spots, no injuries, no worries. When things went my way, I was able to operate within a sound set of movements that kept me efficient & safe, and paddle pretty hard. Of course you need fitness and I've never been as fit, so assuming it's possible to do the race every year without some form of targeted training is just plain silly, but when I was essentially forced to come up with a last minute plan, it was the technique that got me through.

4. Marathon vs Hawkesbury Classic? I had a fair go at both and they were only 32 days apart so fresh enough to compare. As I wrote in my marathon story, if there was a paddle race as brutal as the marathon we'd have people falling out of their canoes and drowning en masse at the 80km mark, not just feeling lousy and soldiering on. As a non-runner my view is obviously skewed, to finish a marathon I had to train really hard, to finish this years' Classic I got away with form, fuel & experience. Suffice to say they both take some doing, and both leave a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

Thanks again to all my paddling mates out on the river and on the banks, surely this is the friendliest paddle race on the calendar, and thanks also to Don, Christina, David, Gav & my mates in the office for kicking in to support the Arrow Foundation & sponsoring my race.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Tim Trehearn's 'Gone for Shore' - A Guide to Sea Kayaking in North Queensland

Rob has penned a short review on the terrific new guidebook to FNQ just published by our paddling mate in the north, Tim Trehearn.

"This is more than just an excellent kayaking guide for North Queensland. Dont be mistaken by this modest size of this book, it is rich in images, maps, details, anecdotes and a deep respect and appreciation for the North Queensland Coast. I have paddled the areas covered by the book, some of them several times  but on reading Tim's guide realised how much more there is to discover. It makes me want to go back to find some of the special places I have paddled straight past on previous journeys. 

It is widely accepted that local knowledge is an invaluable resource in any trip plan and underpinning this book are decades of kayaking experience in North Queensland. Even better, despite the inevitable repetition that the guide book format can impose on the subject matter this actually easy and enjoyable to read and a worthy addition even if you don't have the trip scheduled and the charts on the dining room table.

Rob Mercer, October, 2015"

The book is available through our online store HERE for $24.95.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Nordkapp Forti - Rob's First Impressions

Pic by Selwyn Gotleib
When the Valley guys announced that they had a revamp planned for the iconic Nordkapp, our interest piqued, and we've been looking forward to seeing what this 'old-is-new-again' Nordkapp Forti would deliver. This latest incarnation is inspired by one of the earliest versions of the boat but with many a modern twist.

On Saturday we launched Australia's first Nordkapp Forti for a leisurely paddle on Sydney Harbour and I immediately enjoyed the glide and easy manner of the boat. By way of contrast  on Sunday I launched out of Malabar and paddled the boat whilst coaching off the cliffs, in 15-20 knots southerly winds and some moderate southerly swell. 

Pic by Selwyn Gotleib
Immediately apparent is that this is a straighter tracking kayak than the 2008-edition; it's easier to surf and demands less work to hold a line at any angle to the wind. I suspect it's more efficient and it is definitely more stable and predictable in multidirectional waves. The profile shape is just as elegant as ever but from most angles this redesign looks a more contemporary version rather than a retro design. 

Pic by Selwyn Gotleib
I must admit I really like the looser tracking of the 2008 version but I have had a long time to get used it and know it is a highly idiosyncratic aspect of the boat that polarises opinion; many will see the slightly firmer and more predictable tracking of the Forti as a better compromise. What is so impressive is that with a few subtle changes this boat is easier to paddle, more forgiving and yet still retains that lively and engaging feel that is the hallmark of the previous Nordkapps.

Pic by Selwyn Gotleib
Aesthetically the new boat has less pinched ends and fuller sections at bow and stern, the foredeck is less peaked at the centre but higher over the knees forward of the thigh braces, and the coaming is recessed to keep it low and streamlined.

It is another beautiful looking boat that will not only appeal to Nordkapp aficionados but also to those who may have found the looser tracking 2008 version a little too much in rough water. It will not replace the LV for feel or playfulness but at first test seems to have the previous full sized models covered. I look forward to further trials in surf and heavier weather. 

Testing boats is a tough gig but someone has to do it!

(Thanks to the Dapper Doctor Selwyn for riding shotgun & taking a few nice snaps)

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Going the Distance

A couple of years back a local surf club identity, Steve, tried to talk me into entering the race he organises each year, the Royal Challenge. It involved a 22km trail run with an 11km ski paddle either side of it, and my reaction to his invitation was, 'I'd do the paddle bit, but I'm not a runner, never have been, never will'.

Thinking on it later in the day I thought about what a rubbish answer that was, that it was a cop out, decided it might be worth a go, how hard can running be anyway, and set in motion a path that my goal-oriented personality would ensure had only one logical conclusion. 

Now I've never been a runner, even in my rugby days I was more inclined to run into someone than try to run around them. I had no inclination whatsoever to run. Three seasons of club time trials & swims with the big hearted & encouraging people at the Brighton Athletic Club, a bunch of fun runs & more committing half marathons, the slightly silly Tough Mudder with my mate Tony, the very demanding Royal Challenge itself (where I was dead last out of 100 runners over the 22km), all fed a growing desire for more. Time, people, to join the exulted pantheon of Polynesian marathon runners!
Finishing the run leg of the Royal Challenge
I'd often heard people talk about marathons & figured it was just something to do, 'sounds like a nice challenge' etc etc, but not really anything like braving the wild seas with the wind in your hair. Like most people who've never given it much thought, I hadn't even considered the sheer brutality of the training you need to do, just to get yourself in a position to consider running 42.2km. My training regime built from what at the time seemed like an awful lot of running, about 25km a week, to an unthinkable 60-70km a week at it's peak, as I slowly built up the muscle endurance to weather the punishment of long distance.

I've never dedicated this kind of time to a paddling endeavour, with only the North Reef Expedition in 2011 generating the same motivation to make sure I'd prepared well. The real motivator...? Fear of course. For North Reef, it was the fear of putting my paddling mates under pressure, and potentially in danger, by tanking on a long crossing. For the marathon, it was a genuine fear that I'd bitten off more than I could chew, and just wouldn't be able to do it. The fear wasn't quelled any by a series of attempts to run longer and longer, which invariably ended with a geriatric shuffle after 20km. More than a few of my kind mates pointed out that there aren't many 95kg marathoners at the Olympics.... 

I had a breakthrough a couple of months ago when I employed my long distance paddling-fuel strategy to a 25km training run, and finished it strongly. It was a humble eureka moment, where I went from not really believing I could do it, to a 'strong glimmer' of hope that I could. People who know me know that I don't generally lack, umm, confidence, but this was realistic confidence (for once). I found a training partner in my mate Glenn, who not that long ago was lying busted under a semi trailer which had squashed his commercial van, with leg injuries serious enough to demand over a year of full-on rehab, so inspiration to dig in was never far away (Glenn ran a fantastic 3 hour 54 minute marathon).

With all the training done & the dreaded tapering fortnight over, a tormented couple of weeks hand washing like a surgeon, dodging the contagious bugs swirling around my family like an East Coast Low, hacking coughs from one bedroom replaced by projectile vomits from another, the day finally arrived.
Completely freaked out before the start.
They say the hardest part of a marathon is getting to the start. Avoiding injuries, scrimping the time to train & train well enough to approach it with confidence, none of them things to be underestimated. Lining up with the thousands of people attempting the distance was something of an honour.  Knowing that they'd all most likely been out there in the early mornings, like me doing their 30km long runs, planning, obsessing, basically consumed by the whole thing, felt very reassuring. I didn't feel like the mad bastard anymore.
The rev-up over, the gun fired & we were off. I'd heeded warnings about going out hard, and settled into a very conservative pace, being dragged along in the throng of humanity across the Harbour Bridge, over the Cahill Expressway & up Macquarie St towards Hyde Park. I'd mentally rehearsed the route many times, it became my bedtime video, playing in mind as I plodded along the city streets.

As I cleared the city and made my way up Oxford St, I started to see significance in the course. It was a strange thing to drift into, and lets face it you have to have something to distract you from how much it hurts, but I got lost for at least an hour in the memories of the places I was passing. 

Halfway up Oxford St I passed the legendary nightclub. Rogues, where as a 17 year old I spent my Friday nights picking up glasses and observing the rich & famous downing Stolichnaya shots & trashing themselves. Down Moore Park Rd & past the footy stadium, which was once the Sports Ground, where I've seen Jonah Lomu rampage and the Roosters play from the days of Horrie Hastings right up to the days of his son, then along past the SCG where I watched heroes like Viv Richards & Dennis Lillee. A cutback took me past my old school, Sydney High, where I was surrounded in equal measures by beach-suburb larrikins who remain my great mates to this day, & very, very bright kids (yes they're mutually exclusive qualities). Approaching Centennial Park I passed the unit block where Mum & I had our first flat in Sydney, & I remembered staring out as an eight year old at the expanse of a huge city from the positively stratospheric 6th floor, quite a change from our modest little farm in NZ. Into Centennial Park where I spent most of my youth playing sport or playing in the mud, and then out onto Anzac Parade where the trip down memory lane was replaced with a wildly premature revelation that at 28km, I was on the way home.
Chariots of Fire down Oxford St.
I'd been mentally rehearsing striding the long downhill back down Oxford St, crowds cheering, fist raised in a victory salute as I powered the final third of the course, but the reality of the marathon for me was that by this stage the downhill allowed me only a slightly faster shuffle than the flat bits. Running through the trees of Hyde Park again & then down the hill back to Circular Quay I got a big lift from my Mum, standing on the curb cheering like mad and urging me on. '10km to go, you can do it', she hollered. I felt great, only 10km to go.

My mate Knighty had warned me that the marathon only really starts at 35km, everything up to that point is the cruisy bit to get you into a position to withstand the rigours of the last few miles. The Sydney course quite obscenely sends you up onto the Darling Harbour flyover, and as you hit the mythical distance where runners speak in hushed tomes about 'the wall' there is a dirty great hill. I was secretly pleased that the 50 runners within shouting distance of me also decided it was a dirty great hill, as basically every one of them slowed to a walk for the 40m required to get to the top. People around me were starting to look very shabby, the chirp had gone, the smiles were replaced by gritted teeth. To my paddling mates, imagine an event like the 47km Myall Classic, where at the 35km mark people literally started dropping their paddles, and falling out of their boats with exhaustion. And swearing....
42.2km is a VERY long way.....
This part is very hard mentally, sure you're hurting, but you expect to be hurting. What you don't expect is the overwhelming urge to stop & walk. The mistaken urge that walking will make it easier, even down to calculating when you'll finish if you walked the last 5km. At the top I forced myself to run again, enjoyed the slight downhill to the Powerhouse Museum, and just as I was starting to feel very sorry for myself on the final big incline a guy who had bounded past me stopped with what looked like a cramp. As I shouted a word of encouragement I looked down & realised it wasn't a cramp; he was adjusting his prosthetic leg. Suffice to say I drank a pint of concrete and decided that my wall was only a little wall.
Running the last couple of kilometres to the finish was like taking Ibuprofen via the cloud,  the pain in my feet & legs dulled by the sight of the harbour, the bridge, then the Opera House, and finally the long chute lined by a cheering crowd which you traverse to the finish line on the Opera House steps. In my mind I was running like Richie McCaw, striding on to the finish line with power & purpose. It's only when I saw the finish video that I realised how buggered I looked, more like Lionel Richie! Crossing the line is one of the great things you can experience.

My time was 4.45, which was to-the-minute what I figured I was capable of based on all my training. It was a good feeling indeed to have done it in the style I'd hoped for, without the teary war story, and with a brilliant minds-eye memory of running a marathon, a tremendous, positive experience. There is a lot to be said for preparing properly for serious things, and there is nothing as committing as commitment.
Glenn & I with our medals
As for Steve, he now directs the very successful swim/paddle/run Hydrothon franchise, and moaned to me the other day that it would be great if he could get more runners, like me, to cross over! Cheeky bugger.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Valley Kayaks on the Way

Our next shipment from Valley is on the way, with stock of the reconfigured Nordkapp Forti among the range. Here's what Valley had to say about the boat:

"2015 is the 40th launch anniversary of undoubtedly the most influential sea kayak ever produced, the Nordkapp! Designed specifically for a 500 mile sea kayak expedition up the Norwegian coast, to the northern most point of Scandinavia, the Nordkapp marked the beginning of sea kayaks being designed specifically for extended recreational sea kayak trips.
Whilst, in these intervening years, the Nordkapp cemented its reputation as the benchmark “Expedition” sea-kayak, there were still some who believed it had, had its day. For the kayak’s 25th anniversary it went through a major face lift, in part this was to make it more user friendly, as it had gained a reputation for being unstable, especially with lighter paddlers or those paddling predominantly unladen. This Nordkapp Jubilee, as it was called, again proved very popular but some traditionalists felt that it had lost some of the originals soul. The release of the LV, some years later, gave back the liveliness those traditionalists felt they were missing but there were still those who missed something intangible, about the original.
In these past few years, whilst archiving some of Valley’s history and recording the evolution of its range, we were able to systematically look at the chronological development of the Nordkapp model. What came to light was quite revealing and has ultimately led us to produce this new 40th anniversary version!"

As well as the Forti, there is a mystery design which will hit the water here in Sydney before anywhere else in the world, stay tuned for info on that nice surprise.

We've also included the North Shore Atlantic LV, to cater for the smaller-paddler market in a plastic boat. These are now made the same way as Valley's ultra stiff triple layered RM boats, a great quality plastic boat at a great price.

Our Valley info page has also been updated with all of the new ranges, check it out in the left frame of our website (

Kayak Prices & Stock page has details of all the boat layups & colours on the way (due September 30).
Despite a drastic drop in the AUD/GBP rates, we've managed to hold pricing on all composite boats at the same levels as they have been for years, and can confidently say that Australia is now the cheapest place in the world to buy a Valley boat.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Cruising the Royal

My mates from the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club invited me along last Saturday for their weekly sea paddle from Bundeena south to Little Marley Beach & back. All up it's a 20km return trip & one of the most scenic, although committing paddles, you could hope to fit into a winter morning.

On this particular day the weather was uncommonly kind, with no wind to speak of, and a minimal groundswell allowing us unfettered access to the fortress-like sandstone cliffs that line the route. The video below shows just how benign it was, and I was pleasantly surprised when I watched the raw footage to see the clarity of the water through the GoPro lens, just magic.

Rob was busy fitting out the Evoke & Pace 17 for an upcoming trip, and as usual he had all the fun boats, Nordkapp LV, Xtra & Xcite at his place, so I turned a little mournfully to the Pace 18, knowing it'd preclude me from manoeuvring in & out of the myriad rock pools & gauntlets that for once, would be open for exploration. 

After the first 2km of the paddle shot past with the GPS hovering around 10kmh, I was grateful for the speed of the Pace, and a quick look around the group should have reminded me of what I was in for. The double kayak had the better half of current mixed double National marathon champions, the back seat was occupied by the current cup holder in the mixed double ski class for the Hawkesbury. The better half of that champion ski combo was paddling a pretty slippery single, and the other two singles were occupied by Hawkesbury record holders. I was relieved when they told me they were saving themselves for a marathon the following day, otherwise I would probably have busted a boiler keeping up....

The paddle down to Little Marley was bathed in early morning light, and the hues of gold & brown in the cliffs were something to behold. Better still, we were able to paddle within touching distance of the cliffs for most of the journey, a rare treat along a stretch which generally varies between industrial & nuclear powered rebound.

As we turned into Little Marley Bob, Kate & Kristie were treated to a couple of whales playing in the morning sun, complementing the seals, dolphins & sea birds we'd already clocked up. We also had the pleasure of being chased by a school of pilchards; forget the cetaceans, you haven't lived until you've heard the mighty roar of breaching pilchards up close.

A stretch & some pics on the beach, & back in the boats for the paddle back, again treating ourselves to the spectacular cliffs, right in tight. You know it's calm when you can see the sea urchins...

Truly one of the nicest days on the sea you could imagine, a good workout, some amazing scenery, wildlife & a few laughs with a great bunch of people.

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Vajda Mission X2 - Welcome to Sea Kayaking In Style

We've recently become acquainted with the Vajda range of ocean racing skis, having been admirers-from-afar of their platinum reputation for building world class flat water race craft.

We were asked to test out a somewhat unexpected arrival at the tail end of last summer, when Vajda were prototyping a new sea kayak aimed at the entry level paddler, the Mission X2.

Whilst an entry-level sea kayak has never been something too high on our list of priorities, after all the difference between something aimed at an ambitious beginner & a seasoned but not particularly skilled veteran is a very subjective thing to define, the striking finish & features on the X2 piqued our interest.

Made from an advanced new thermoplastic called Stryolight, with an acrylic outer sheen that is miles ahead of anything we've seen in this genre. The look & finish of the X2 is something to behold, only a close second look betrays the non-composite heritage. The kayak has an angled full footplate, the PowerGlide system adapted from the superb ergonomics of their famous race craft, with the stern-mounted SmartTrack rudder system that we have come to recognise as an excellent performer at sea.
The Vajda PowerGlide Footplate & Steering System
The seating set up allows fore & aft adjustment to negate any trim issues, while the general ergonomics reflects the philosophy of correct posture that you would expect from a company squarely aimed at producing kayaks for efficient paddling.

The boat is light, weighing in at a miserly 20kg, a feature not immediately apparent due to the excellent structural rigidity of the Stryolight hull. At 5m & 57.5cm wide it's not a fast-touring thoroughbred, but clips along with a very low resistance curve at the 7-8kmh speed range within which most sea kayaker operate, with carrying capacity & freeboard to accommodate a multi day trip with room & buoyancy to spare.

Whilst not a unique entity in a crowded market of so-called entry level boats - light, stable, ruddered - the performance of the boat for the essential quality of building skills & confidence in a new paddler rates very highly. It heels over to about the same reassuringly early resistance point as a favourite like the North Shore Atlantic, turns right when you drop your left edge (which gives it an instant advantage over a couple of other designs we've seen inaction in this genre!), and generally does the right things, when you do the right things.

If you're looking to get into paddling on a budget, but like all of us seek quality in your boat choice, then this is as good an entry-level contender as we've seen. We have stock on the shelf in the vibrant red with white hull, for $2790, and have some attractive packages including paddles, PFDs, on-water orientation, & spraydecks with this boat.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Valley, North Shore & Rockpool Kayaks Cut Off Date July 27

Our next shipment of Valley, North Shore & Rockpool Kayaks is due to leave the UK in late August, and we have a box full of custom boats, made for customers who've picked their colours, layups & features.

The cut off date for the next shipment is looming, a week from today on July 27.

The next shipment also features the brand new Nordkapp Forti, Valley's latest take on their most famous classic design. Reviews from the UK have pointed to it's impeccable lines, superb behaviour downwind, and many are hailing it as the best Nordkapp yet. Valley's press release with all details about the boat is HERE.
The Nordkapp Forti
Also available for the first time is the new Rockpool Tarantella, another fast tourer for the lighter paddler.

If you'd like to have a Valley, North Shore or Rockpool boat made the way you want it, with a clear carbon kevlar hull, or in colours to match your dream design, then please let us know.
Those of you who have been eagerly awaiting the return of the Valley Gemini SP RM, rest assured you'll have your boat prior to the coming warmer weather. We have all three colours coming & plenty of stock. Here's a reminder of just what this awesome little playboat is capable of.