Thursday, 30 October 2014

Rob's 2014 Hawkesbury Classic

Here's Rob's account of his effort in this year's Hawkesbury Classic, partnering Mark Hempel in a double SLR2:

After the first few kms of "argy bargy" out of Windsor we settled into our race pace and let the tidal current work its magic, taking us on the ebb as far as Sackville ahead of time. Paddling partner, Mark Hempel  had plotted our likely ETA's at each checkpoint and these calculations put us on the Brooklyn finish line at 3.07. Ultimately we arrived at 3.12 or just 5 minutes late and we both agreed that 9 hours and 42min for 100km was a satisfying result for a couple of sea kayakers with no flat water pretensions and little flat water experience.

 We actually paddled faster than we predicted but stopped for a little longer at Wisemans to sort out hydration lines, we also caught two full ferry crossings. At  the first one we had just  powered past our sea kayaking mate David Linco, giving him and a few other familiar paddlers a bit of a friendly "revv up" only to have them all sitting next to us looking very amused about 10 minutes downriver as the ferry finally ground up the ramp and ever so slowly switched off the flashing light.

 We never found that magic wash ride that would have given us a little free speed to make it in home under nine and a half hours, but instead, we provided some very long rides for a school of ski paddlers who clung to us like remoras, sometimes clashing paddles  with me and generally getting in our faces, other times providing some friendly banter and encouragement. One of these paddlers had become so dependent that he started having his rest breaks when we did and urging us to get going when he was ready.  

   We had done less than 200 kms in the boat all up before the race and prior to that neither of us had ever paddled a flatwater double. More than half of these kilometers we managed to squeeze into our busy schedules in the last 3 weeks before the race and on at least two occasions we missed some pumping sea conditions to train on the river instead, but when the big night arrived neither of us regretted the extra time in the boat. 

Discussing it with Mark (H) later on I think we were both very pleased with how good we felt for most of the race, the last one and a half hours were the toughest  but within about ten minutes of landing at Brooklyn neither of us had any aches or pains. For me the relentless heat of the night was the biggest challenge and I had to make an effort to keep up the hydration and take any energy foods or drinks very  gradually to avoid nausea. I was glad that Mark was the navigator and had the rudder, his sharp eyes and a good sense of direction were essential because my glasses continually fogged up and crusted with salt and grime on the outside.

I am famously not a fan of paddling on flat water, it just doesn't engage me like paddling on the sea and I have been known to make loud and churlish pronouncements to this effect. This has provided much amusement for Sundo and Steve Dawson in particular and though these comments are occasionally directed at hapless fisherman who seem to enjoy casting under my boat, they are usually aimed at reminding myself that this sort of paddling is not on my list. i do this in the vain hope that I don't relapse in the future so it was with some surprise that I started to begrudgingly admit to myself about half way down the river that I was actually enjoying the whole experience of participating in this event. Below I have listed some of the reasons why in no particular order:

 1) Watching ordinary people do something extraordinary: I remember when I first heard about the race many years ago I found it hard to believe that mere mortals could do such a thing. To watch the commitment and dedication of the seasoned campaigners is truly inspiring. Distance is a great equaliser that means often the most determined or experienced will beat the more serious technicians and fittest paddlers to the finish line.

2) The unfamiliar pallette of scents - both good and not so good: My sense of smell was sharpened especially when we were  paddling in the dark with most extraneous sounds cancelled out by the white noise of paddles and hulls slicing through the still water and especially those noises from the school of Ocean Ski "remoras" that clung to us for most of the race. Eucalypts, campfires, flowering shrubs, cow dung, damp earth and a houseboat that smelt like a brewery were memorable by their intensity. 

3) Thunder, lightning and bioluminescence: I think the light show alone was worth the price of admission! Forks, sheets and balls of lightning ripped through the darkness. Rain showers washed us down and the occasional blast of headwind ruffled the waters and cooled us against the hot soupy night. Bioluminescence streamed off our paddle tips and flared around our bow wave. Maybe without these special treats the night would not have passed so easily. 

4) Celebration of Diversity: Canoes, Kayaks, Skis, SUPS, and paddlers; large, small, young old,male or female all sharing the experience of a night on the water and all tied together in the darkness by a spirit of goodwill and common purpose.

5) Learning: It was fun to be the student rather than the teacher to ask questions and learn more about the nuances of flatwater paddling from serious flat water racers. If I never paddle another flatwater event again that alone was worth the effort. Thanks to members of the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club and Bob Turner in particular for advice and encouragement.

6) The training sessions:  Flat water is a more static environment  for measuring performance than the sea so it is easier to gauge fitness and technique without the complications the three dimensional paddling environment you find among the waves, I am keen to see whether we reap any short term speed benefits in our sea paddling from this discipline, only time will tell. Regarding team work and planning I reckon this is one area where our experience of paddling big water in sea kayaks gave us a head start. We both paddle as part a sea kayaking group that values self sufficiency, teamwork and preparation ahead of big egos. I think this shared experience and existing friendship translated easily into planning, training and decision making on the river.

7) Finishing: By this I don't just mean the relief of finally being able to stop paddling. There is something very rewarding about setting a goal, developing a plan and then executing it as best you can.  Then there is the tantalising opportunity to  ponder on how you could improve for this or other challenges in the future. 

8) Its for a good cause: Over the long and auspicious history of the race it has raised millions for The Arrow Foundation to help them continue their research into better cancer treatments. The generosity of friends in sponsoring me for this event made it all the more worthwhile. Special thanks to David R, David K, Graeme and Sharon for their donations. 

Also thanks to our stalwart land crew Alan whose positive attitude, enthusiasm and practical approach was invaluable, my mate Mark Hempel who skippered the boat and set the pace, Sundo for sort of talking me into it and Bob Turner for entrusting his very shiny SLR 2 to a couple of rough and ready sea kayakers. 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Lightning, Martians & Dead Sheep, the 2014 Hawkesbury Classic.

What an experience it was, without a doubt the most interesting & challenging night out on the river of all of the six Classics I've now completed. Only now that my hands have unfurled from the Hawkesbury Classic competitor's position, bent awfully around the approximate width of a carbon paddle shaft, am I able to pen a few words about Saturday night's race.

From the first checkpoint there were lightning strikes all around, but thankfully nowhere too close. How do I know? I applied the old adage of counting to the clap after the strike, using my cadence as a measure; I think the closest anything high voltage got to me was 7 paddle strokes.
Hanging out with Mum under the EK tent.
One massive strike far to the east sent a chorus of oooohs from the pack in which I was furiously duelling, but it was so far ahead of us that the only people in the firing line were the record setting K4 crew, and they were going too fast to get hit.
Rob Mark & I all smiles at marshalling.
The fork lightning storm ended with a brief deluge at about the 30km mark, to be replaced as the dark descended by an amazing sheet lightning storm which illuminated the entire world, a blessing as the moon was busy shining brightly on Bolivia.

Somewhere around 85km, I watched ball lightning bouncing around in a cloud out to sea, but that was almost the same time the bright bioluminescent algae dancing around my paddle shaft morphed into tiny aliens, so I stand to be corrected on whether that was there, or not. I was shaken out of my chat to the martians by a severely bloated dead sheep, which I unwittingly jabbed hard with my paddle as it drifted into my ski in the darkness. Don't even ask why I only smelt the poor creature after I'd poked it.
First stroke of the evening.
The race for me was simple, beat the sh*t out of the one & the one in eleven hours. I paddled my V10, because I knew it would get me down faster as long as I could deal with the exposure.

A scorching day greeted us at Windsor for the start, where the objective was to get registered, and get under a tree. We all managed that to some extent, but the forecast of an unseasonably high minimum temperature made most of us adjust our dress plan down. I even contemplated starting in my smugglers.
Rob having a Nana nap.
The first three hours of the race were pretty hectic, an ebb tide & a close and fast series of packs had me running slightly harder than I had planned, but I was quite cheery when I'd done 33km,or 1/3 of the journey, after 3 hours. So quickly did the tide turn however, that I pulled over & harangued a couple of blokes having a rest into pulling all of the weed off my (weedless) rudder. 'Sorry mate, it's clean' was the reply, much to my chagrin.
There is always an uptide battle in the Hawkesbury, and this year it was an unbroken four hours during which I managed only 32km. It's soul destroying, because the effort levels required to go even 5% faster into the tide are a lot more than 5% extra effort.

I stopped to change into warmer pants at Wiseman's after 60km, then took off to do the last 40, hopefully within the 4:12 I'd left myself to get under 10:30. I had a brief stop at a houseboat to get my drinking tube unkinked, whereby one of blokes on board cracked me a beer & handed it over. I'll call him Shhhhimon, because he was shhhpeaking the least amount of shhhhit. I took a swig to be polite, then backed out into the darkness, while all six of them loudly debated why any dumb bastard would row a f#%cking canoe down a f#%cking river in the middle of the f#%cking night. On reflection they weren't being entirely unreasonable.

Slowly the tide swung as the river widened out, my pace picked up & I began to claw back that dastardly AVG SPEED reading on my GPS which is the one & only truth of your Hawkesbury campaign. I was busy bathing myself in hubris at the 100% navigation job I'd done in the dark, when I noticed Checkpoint 'O' far away on the left bank. Bugger, I'm on the wrong side, I swung left to shout out my number only for them all to yell in chorus 'TURN RIGHT!' Bugger, I wasn't on the wrong side, I'd just added 600m to my race by going to the optional Spencer checkpoint. If I ever crew the Classic, I'm going to stand at checkpoint 'O' for while so I can yell out 'TURN RIGHT', and then listen to the swearing.

Loudly & enthusiastically admonishing myself, I turned the big bend, drank my special 'final hour' concentrated caffeinated drink, and took off for the finish. Whistling along the second-to-last stretch, I heard the familiar whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of a faster craft looming beside me, and like a gift from Gough I had a fast-finishing SLR2 to draft home. Imust have nudged these hard-paddling, very generous blokes about 10 times as I surged when they eased, apologising only to hear 'no worries' 'it's alright' barked back every time. 

The island at Milson's Passage loomed, followed by the lights of the finish, and having edged past my hairy godfathers in the double as we entered the final stretch, they rightly powered past me right at the end to pip me by a few seconds. It was great to finish 100km still racing hard.
Finished, another one down, and maybe the last one!
My Mum Suzanne was there again, the bestest land crew you could hope for & entertainment for my faux landcrew, Owen Walton & Colin Sheringham. My final time of 10:27 was, for once, 3 minutes under what I'd figured I was capable of. My trace of the race is HERE.

Rob Mercer & Mark Hempel also had a great race, powering down the course in 9:40, running Mark's meticulous plan almost to the minute. Rob has written his own account of the race will be posted here later this week.
Rob & Mark firing past the first checkpoint.
Finally, I asked friends & colleagues to sponsor my paddle, as a tribute to the late Barry Davison, a victim of the blood & bone cancer that the Arrow Foundation tirelessly works to stem. I'm pleased to say that through their generosity, we raised over $2000 for the cause. To Lyall & my old club mates at the Randwick Petersham Legends, David, Paul, Bryce, Scotty, Graeme, Steven, Jason, Paul, Singhy, John, Tim, Greg, Dino, Ian, Selim, Emma, Mick, Peter, Rollo, cuzzy Haden, Rod & Greg Davison (Barry's sons), Tiernan, Jess & the team from Wentwest, Groucho from CE Chapman Lawyers, Suzie @ Popink, Harry from Promotional IT Solutions, Birger & his team at James Harvest Sportswear, Rosemary & the guys at Bottles of Australia, and Hamish Solomons from Kingsgrove Sports Centre, I thank you for your support.
The 100km stare.....

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Hawkesbury Time!

Two days to go to the 2014 Hawkesbury Classic, an event we are both sponsoring and competing in, Rob with Mark Hempel in an SLR2 Double kayak & me in my trusty V10.

Rob had more or less sworn off the hard grind of flat water racing, but the temptation to go hard with a guy as strong & determined as Mark has seen him relent & have a crack. I'm pleased they'll only be within earshot of me for a few hundred metres as they likely shoot past, because 2 hours paddling alongside Rob in flat water training can get very trying as he gradually succumbs to the grind & begins to complain loudly. 10 hours doing the same thing, in the same boat? Best of luck with that one Mark!

This year promises - in a very large set of inverted commas - "a much better tide" than the last two years where at least the later starters have copped two incoming tides. Considering BOM can predict a seriously complex East Coast Low such as the one that ripped through Sydney last week nearly to the hour, I'm mystified by the lack of accuracy in the forecast of a tide that methodically changes direction every 12 hours on nice little river. So, after cleverly devising my strategies around these tidal predictions for the past two years, despite Bob Turner telling me maybe 10 times that it was a dumb idea, this year I've resolved to trust only my GPS.

A few random observations from both Rob & I on training for the Classic, and applying that training to the actual race.

First, the monotonous pace of training for such a long endurance race has greatly eroded our ability when we get back out on the sea to accelerate. Weird as it may sound, all that training seems to have made us both go slower! It's simply explained by the gear change required to endure, as opposed to the interval-type paddling you naturally do on the sea, but a little unexpected. It's also hard! Paddling in the sea is so engaging, time flies, no two padle strokes are the same. On the river, it's relentless, mentally challenging, there are no free rides, no waves, a very tough exercise.

Second, we reckon you need to really gun it when the tide is going your way, because the difference in speed between trying harder against the tide, as opposed to trying hard with the tide, is substantial. Rob & Mark have noticed in Bob's flat-water specialist SLR2 that there isn't much of a difference in effort between going 9kmh into the tide, and 13kmh with the tide, whereas in my ocean ski, with a slightly deeper draft I really feel the resistance. They still find it hard to go any quicker than about 9.5kmh into the teeth of a tide though, which tells you something.

Third, with the foibles of the river bends & flow direction, a smart paddler will minimise the head tides by working out where those little back eddies are. In two attempts where I was well tuned into this phenomena I haven't managed to find out where they are. My advice on that one is if you see an old bugger going faster than you into the tide, even though he or she doesn't look to be trying harder, follow them! There is a lot to be said for experience & river-craft in the Hawkesbury.

Fourth, and thanks to Warren for pointing this out, the race is being held post-daylight saving this year, which means an extra hour of daylight & heat at the start. For me, with the forecast for the race start temperature close to 30C, I'll risk dressing lighter for the 60km to Wiseman's Ferry, and use a beanie to get me through the last hour or so to that watershed stop, when it nearly always gets very cold. A light paddle jacket from there should see me home.

Finally, assuming your form is good enough to propel you the 111km without injury, fuel is the key to a good performance. High energy, easily digestible food that preferably takes very little time to unwrap & eat works for all of us. A drink that you can stomach while exerting yourself that provides energy will also be much more beneficial than plain water. I've even gone to the trouble of filling gel dispensers rather than waste time opening individual sachets. The bad news is, if you haven't been training with this kind of fuel plan, it's too late, whatever you do don't deviate from what's worked in the lead up.
Mark's nutrition plan!
It's all very exciting, another Hawkesbury Classic to get my teeth into, and a first one for many, many years (not since he was 55) for Rob! This week I sent out a request for sponsorship, with a back story about my old coach, Barry Davison, who lost his battle with blood cancer earlier this year, which you can read HERE. I'm very humbled to report that friends & colleagues have contributed over $2000 to the cause, benefiting the Arrow Foundation. My target was $2000, so if the idea of further inspiring me towards pain & suffering brings a smile, it's not too late to donate through my sponsorship page HERE.

A sincere thanks to Hamish & the team at Kingsgrove Sports Centre,  Lyall & my old club mates at the Randwick Petersham Legends, DavidPaulBryceStevenJasonPaul, Singhy, John, Greg, Tim, Fali, Dino, Ian, Peter, Tiernan, Mick, Rollo, Selim, Emma, Rodney, Jess & the team from Wentwest, Groucho from CE Chapman Lawyers, Suzie @ Popink, Harry from Promotional IT Solutions, Birger & his team at James Harvest Sportswear, and Rosemary & the guys at Bottles of Australia for donating to my Hawkesbury paddle!

My target time? Anything with a 10 in front of it will do me!

Monday, 20 October 2014

111 Hawkesbury KM's for Davo.

This Saturday night I line up for my sixth Hawkesbury Classic, a 111km overnight race from Windsor, all the way along the Hawkesbury River to the Brooklyn Bridge (the video above records some of the action from last year's race).

I've been racing in this event since 2002, when I punted down the river in a wide, slow old plastic kayak in the excruciating time of 17 hours, 34 minutes. I've said it before, but that first Hawkesbury remains one of the hardest things I've ever done.
The start of the 2012 Hawkesbury Classic.
The past two years I've set myself the target of beating 11 hours, paddling our fastest true ocean-going sea kayak, the Tiderace Pace 18. In 2012 I did 11.05 and last year 11.08, so both times I've been forced to race the whole bloody way with my eye on the GPS knowing I was ever so slightly behind my target. Not an easy way to spend 11 hours I can promise!

This year I've switched boats to an ocean ski. It's a new challenge as I'll be more exposed to the conditions on the night, paddling a craft with no deck, but one that should see me down the course underneath the 11 hours I've set my sights on for the past two years.

It's run for the benefit of a charity, the Arrow Bone Marrow Foundation, just as most of the big events thesedays are linked in with a cause of some sort. Whilst I'm always respectful of this essential fund raising source, it does get a bit bewildering after a few different races to even remember which one is for what, so I mostly resist the call to send out fund raising notifications on social media etc.
The life & times of Barry Davison.
Last year however, when I sent the link for my Hawkesbury Classic fund raising page, I was surprised by the speed and amount that was donated by my old cricket coach at Randwick, Barry Davison. Baz was a fantastic coach who came to Randwick when we could at best be described as under-achievers, and in three seasons  took us to numerous premierships, two Sydney Club Championships and had a hand in turning several good first graders into Sheffield Shield players. At his first training session on taking over, he started by saying 'You Randwick blokes have a reputation for being pissheads & womanisers, and that's all going to change'! He then asked us to split into two groups for some fitness drills, whereby one of the club characters said loudly, 'Pissheads to the left, womanisers to the right'! Guess which group was the biggest?

He posted a lovely note with his donation, pointing out that his quality of life and roller coaster ride of dire predictions followed by strong recovery was facilitated directly by the hard work & research of the good people at the Arrow Foundation. Sadly Barry's rare bone marrow cancer took him from his loved ones earlier this year. Happily, before he passed away we all had a chance to send him off at a brilliant tribute night where he received a lifetime coaching award from Cricket NSW, and made a lovely speech to the gathering which rounded out his community involvement in the game he loved with great dignity.

Listening to Barry's catalogue of treatment for his disease, the costs of the drugs, the time spent hooked up to various machines administering measured doses of what at times were seriously experimental treatments that the Arrow Foundation had a direct hand in creating. He was in awe of the dedication of their doctors & scientists, and was pretty stoked that my pain in the Classic was going to be for the gain of others suffering with diseases like the one he endured.
Feeling the pain at the end of 100km
That may have also been the idea that he wasn't able to inflict much pain upon me as a cricket coach, me not being the most umm, dedicated of trainers, so he was quite pleased to hear that karma hat got me....
So, this year, after speaking to Barry's wife Sandy & his sons & teammates of mine, Greg & Rod, I'm going to make a hoo-ha about the fund raising aspect of my race, to honour & remember the very brave & generous man that was Barry Davison. I've targeted $2000 as a good result, but it would be great to exceed that amount. The race is this Saturday evening, and you can donate to the Arrow Foundation cause & sponsor my efforts by clicking the link HERE. Times are tough and I appreciate any support you can spare, and I in turn pledge to race my ski like it was stolen!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Sharon Betteridge on the Lendal Cadence Paddle: The Little ‘Big’ Paddle

Some thoughts from Sharon Betteridge on the brand new Lendal Cadence paddle.

"Expedition Kayaks recently took delivery of the new Lendal NA Cadence paddles, and this week I have had a chance to try it out. Our current stock is the full carbon model so this review is based on this ultra lightweight premium build.

On picking up the Cadence, my first impression was how light weight it was; and when I popped it on the kitchen scales it weighed in at a mere 615grams! This puts it in the premium ultra light class.

Blade construction:
The Cadence is beautifully made. It certainly looks sleek, being a flawless full carbon layup – with a satin finish on the blades and a matt finish on the shaft. 
The spine of the paddle blade is a raised ridge on the back face rather than a foil section like the Storm and X-range but the ridge is large and nicely tapered right out to the tip of the paddle so that although this makes the paddle more economical it retains the nice buoyant feel of it’s two larger foil back predecessors.

Shaft construction:
Although the shaft feels a little more flexy than the other Lendal NA paddles it retains the ergonomic cross section unique to these paddles, with the indexing moulded into the shape of the shaft. It is not just ovalised it is actually shaped to sit easily into a lightly closed hand. It feels great in my hands with its ergonomic shaft, and the ridge sitting comfortably under my knuckles.

On the water:
At 600 square centimetres I expected the blade to be fairly easy on the catch, and, as it is smaller than my current blade, I feared it might be too small. But when I took the Cadence out for a test I was surprised at the power of the catch. It has a good initial grip on the water, and the shorter wider blade allows quite a powerful catch, but the overall smaller blade area with its modern torque shape pulls easily yet definitely through the water giving plenty of power for an efficient forward stroke and allowing a good cadence for paddling distance. There is no flutter as the blade travels through the water and the exit is clean and smooth.
The ergonomic shaft is comfortable to hold and allows me to maintain a light grip and, with the defined ridge, allows feedback with blade angle when blending strokes for maneuvering, and for bracing strokes and rolling.

In summary the Cadence is a beautifully made, lightweight, well-balanced paddle that I a really enjoy using. Try it, I am sure you will impressed!"

Sharon Betteridge, October 2014.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Introducing Dolls Point Paddlers

Dolls Point Paddlers hold their inaugural paddle next Thursday, an event that will become a weekly twilight time trial run along the foreshore of Botany Bay.

Borne out of the idea of establishing a weekly paddle which encourages surf ski & sea kayak paddlers out on moving water, in typical summer sea breeze conditions, to foster friendly competition, and help participants develop rough water skills that they may not have the opportunity to develop on their own or with their regular paddling mates. 

That's the on-water bit.....! Additional to this athletic & friendly competitive handicap race, I've always considered the post paddle meeting place, the fostering of a community, and the development of something that attracted members because it was fun, to be an even higher priority.

So, the DPP have affiliated to the 87 year old Georges River Sailing Club, with their spectacular premises on the sand at Sandringham beach, and their sunlit open air balcony for a post paddle gathering.

The idea is to provide an early evening race, something you can drop into on your way home, paddle your race, have a cold drink afterwards & slap a few backs, and still be home in time to preserve the peace.

The races are free each week to Paddle NSW members, who cover all on-water insurance & compliance. A one year membership to the Dolls Point Paddlers, including membership to the Georges River Sailing Club  is $140. Membership of the club includes $35 in redeemable vouchers, use of the facilities including hot showers, a car park virtually on the beach, an excellent bistro with a mean $12 steak, and view to die for. Compared to playing golf or joining a gym it's a pretty attractive package....

The season program, at this stage running for the entire daylight saving period, will include several trophy races, novelty events & a monthly presentation after the paddle by a local paddling identity. DPP offers a single trial race for paddlers keen to try out the experience, which costs $10 (to cover insurance only), and then to take part in future races participants will have to join. Races will be run within strict safety parameters, including a sweeper boat to ensure the safe return of all participants. There will separate divisions for sea kayaks & surf skis, but all boats must be suitable for sea paddling. The DPP isn't an initiative of Expedition Kayaks, just something I & a few local paddling mates have decided to start up over the summer & see how it goes.

For now we're limited to just 50 paddling members, so please feel free to get in touch or simply come along & give it a go. Last summer a group of stand up paddlers started a SUP Race from the GRSK on Tuesday nights, and it has quickly grown into a strong & vibrant club with a big membership.

As someone who always enjoyed the atmosphere of the post game 'dressing room', I'm personally looking forward to being part of a regular gathering of like minded souls, and doing the thing I love.

For now I'm the contact person, give me a shout at, or 0417 924 478. There is a FACEBOOK PAGE up & running & a website with full details coming soon. You can download the membership form HERE, but please note, you must be a member of Paddle NSW to participate in the races.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Sun's Out! What's Ahead for EK this Paddling Season

A short but wild Sydney winter has abated to the point that the fleece & Aquatherm can be kept in the fish bucket for all but the most crappy Spring days.

We use the quiet couple of paddling months each year to plan & allocate our time to a series of events & sponsored weekends & days among the kayaking community, and this year we have some hot irons in the fire.

First off, we are pleased to announce that we have full council & Waterways approval to conduct kayak & surf ski training on Botany Bay. These instruction sessions will include everything from calm-water boat control & stroke development, to forward stroke clinics, to intro surf ski, to lessons on rough water paddling in skis & kayaks, including the wonderful downwind training ground Botany Bay offers on a summer afternoon. Keep an eye on our website for details, launching later in the month.

We're also moving premises in early November, to a new warehouse in Sylvania that will give us an enhanced retail space for customers who prefer to come & have a chat rather than order online. It means the 'secret handshake' appointments at our current Marrickville warehouse will be consigned to history, and we'll finally have a physical appearance to match our leading online presence.

We have some great community events planned, including the excellent 'All at Sea' weekend with the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club (now in it's third year), our continued sponsorship support of the Hawkesbury Classic, and a number of single day events with local clubs & pods of paddlers, aimed at developing safety on the sea. I'm paddling the Classic again this year, and Rob has teamed up with Mark Hempel to have a crack in a double.

And perhaps most exciting, we've been busy helping with the formation of a new local paddling club, the Dolls Point Paddlers. The formation of this club has been driven by a desire for a local paddling hub, affiliated to a licenced community club, which facilitates a weekly social time trial in the early evening, moderate water of Botany Bay, with a place to gather post-paddle for a cold beer & a chat with like-minded people. 

Essentially it's going to be an 'on-the-way-home-from-work' once a week summer paddle which allows paddlers less confident on their skis or sea kayaks a chance to get out in a summer Nor' Easter & pushing their boundaries within the safety net of an organised event. Details of this venture are all but finalised, so again, keep an eye out for membership details. And yes, this will be a club that welcomes sea kayaks, with the near certainty each evening of some moving water to paddle.
It's great to see the sun shining & the afternoon sea breezes beginning to build, roll on summer....!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Knysna Jester Surf Ski - Entry Level Fun for Kids & Lighter Paddlers

My eldest daughter Kiri, perhaps due to 10 years of childhood exposure to endless Vimeo movies of paddling misadventures, is naturally drawn to any paddle craft I happen to pull off the roof.
She'll jump on a paddle board, hop into a kayak or ski and paddle it around at Swallow Rock, Dolls Point or anywhere else we happen to be having a demo or instruction day.

The problem is that none of them are actually designed for her small frame, and there isn't really any way she can get a genuine paddling experience beyond the simple joy of floating around.
Miss Kiri in her ski
A few months back I surprised her by buying a Knysna surf ski, a smaller design called the Guppie which is designed for lighter paddlers. It's entry-level stable, well made, and crucially, has cockpit ergonomics which allow paddler heights ranging from her diminutive 1.3m, up to 1.8m. We've enjoyed several winter adventures together paddling on the Georges & Hacking Rivers, always with an ice cream stop thrown into the mix, and being the adventurous little girl she is, we're now eyeing off the Bundeena surf break for a Daddy/Daughter surf session, once the water warms to a temperature acceptable to a tough 10 year old.

Speaking to the local Knynsa Racing guys, they pointed out that the Guppie has been superceded by a newer, sleeker ski in the same genre called the Jester. I was impressed by the upgrade, and think it'sfantastic that there is now an entry level ski available for juniors, smaller men & women to learn the sport, that doesn't cost an arm & a leg.

I'm pleased to say EK are now selling the Jester, available in four colours, for $1750. If you want to get your kids into the sport, or have become frustrated by a lack of ski designs around that are stable enough for smaller-framed beginners, then this is one to consider.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

What is a Fast Tourer...?

In my exposure to paddlers from a wide variety of paddle backgrounds & disciplines around the country, at the various events & races we attend as competitors, instructors & sponsors, an increasingly common question is 'we see you have the Rockpool Taran, Epic 18X, Tiderace Pace boats, tell me about these fast tourers?'

I'm asked by surf ski dudes & dudettes who like the idea of using their good form & conditioning to actually go somewhere in their paddle craft, at the speed & style to which they are accustomed in their racing skis. I'm asked by old fellas with beards who are starting to feel the pinch & would like an advantage over their paddling buddies. I'm asked by new paddlers, who are time poor, who want a kayak as opposed to a ski, but want one that can be used for fitness as well as 'one day', that big expedition on their bucket list.

Trying to simplify my response has taken some thought, but here is my collection of the essential elements a good modern fast tourer has to have. 

First off, they have to have a terminal hull speed over 9.5kmh. That is, be able to sustain that kind of speed in calm conditions over an extended period, rather than just a short burst. That's not so much because you ever really push that hard or fast, more that if the hull does have those sorts of hydrostatics, it's probably going to be quite a bit more efficient than average at the 'touring' output levels most of us work at on the sea.

Second, they have to be stable. I'm a very poor judge of what others consider stable, but my test is to see just how much micro stuff I can get done on my own in rough water, without having to raft up with someone else. As a minimum, fetch a helmet from the day hatch, change over a water bladder below deck, sort out something which might be essential to my own safety, in bouncy water, without getting the wobbles.

And finally, they have to be able to go downwind. All the biggest days on the sea are done in following seas, and if the boat misbehaves, buries, squirrels around in fast downhill conditions, then your day becomes miserable. That might sound pretty simple, after all they've all got a rudder, but the subtleties in how they perform downwind is what separates the great from the ordinary, in my opinion. 

It goes without saying that as a tourer, they also need to able to carry gear with little or no influence on the performance of the hull.

Brit style manoeuvrability is a bonus, but not a necessary element, considering the job these boats are designed to do. That said, if you have a decent set of skills learnt in a gear-shift boat, application of the same set of core manoeuvring skills, in a well designed fast touring hull should get you the same boat control, just not as acutely. It's no coincidence that the pick of the crop have a rudder that can be fully retracted when manoeuvrability takes precedence over speed & efficiency. Think about when you need to manoeuvre in a hurry & you'll understand why this is such an important design feature.

The only skill you might have to hone is your ability to paddle aggressively downwind, if you really want to find out what a good modern fast tourer can do.

As to the designers, the very best fast touring boats come from a long heritage of rough water paddling experience. Think Aled Williams & the Pace series, John Willacy & Mike Webb & the revolutionary Taran, Greg Barton & Oscar Chalupsky & the 18X, and newer boats like Rob Feloy's Inuk. All of the fast tourers these guys have designed come from peerless experience in both paddling & boat making, and it shows when you get them on the water.

It's great to see so many of these boats coming onto the market in a rush. In my opinion it's already broadening our sport, making it more attractive to a younger demographic, and chipping away at the perception that sea kayaking is for grumpy old buggers with crook knees!

Monday, 15 September 2014

1000 Myalls Away......

"Estimated time of arrival 1.30 pm
Been up before the sun and now i'm tired before i even begin.
(now you're flying) i got so much work in front of me,
(really flying) it stretches out far as the eye can see."

Apologies to the Hoodoo Gurus.....

I was lulled back to the Myall Classic, a festival of paddling that encompasses a 12km, 27km or 47km race along the beautifully scenic Myall River a couple of hours north of Sydney, with the promise that 'this year the tides are going to be great'. Last year's Myall was hard, 30km of 47km by my count, into the teeth of the tide, but this year, well one nameless bloke - Steve Dawson - even said it was going to be like a magic carpet ride home from the 23.5km turn.
Race briefing
Sure enough, the tide tables looked very nice, a strong flood tide to take us down the river to the turn, then a building ebb that should have been honking by the time we careened across the finish line, crowds lining the banks cheering madly while we sprang forth from our boats, did a few push ups & then went for a warm-down jog & a stretch.
Tony lines up the early start line.
Let's just say that three weeks of torrential rain into a lake system several times the size of Sydney Harbour, with one skinny little brown river outta there, should forever-more be a consideration when there are softies like me entering these things, unused to the brutality of an opposing flow for hours on end, and not a frigging wave in sight. 
The 9am 47km race start
I'd describe the journey in detail but my counsellor has told me to give it some time before I peer back into that dark place.....

My own race was a great shake down for the Hawkesbury Classic, & I'm now nearly certain I'll do that race in my V10. Comfort, ergonomics, and my hydration & nutrition system were all put through the wringer & came up green. One thing about paddling 47km under race conditions, you find out every likely cause of pain & anguish, and can then spend the 6 weeks before the Hawkesbury tuning them out. 

I had one incident about 2km from the end when I noticed a K1 paddler having some stability issues on the final stretch adjacent to Swan Bay, where a brisk easterly was tossing up a short beam chop. I changed direction to tail the boat and was only a hundred metres behind when the inevitable capsize came. No worries I figured, if there's one thing I know how to do it's an assisted rescue, but the complexity of the situation dawned on me as I rafted up. With no grab lines on my ski or the K1, it was a battle to get the kayak over my lap to try & drain it, and even when I managed that I realised I was no chance of emptying the flooded shell, not to mention actually assisting the paddler back into the cockpit. I figured the only thing to do was to set up a rafted contact tow & let the wind take us to a set of mangroves some 200m to the west. Lionel turned up in a sea kayak shortly afterwards & we managed to wrangle the K to the beach, whereby we emptied it & the paddler carried on with a pretty fearless attitude to the finish. I now know why most K1 races happen within short swimming distances from a safe shore!
The Dawson's ride the magic carpet home.
The marathon crowd themselves, maybe because their chosen pastime is one which less tests, & more reveals character, seemed to revel in the conditions. I moaned loudly to anyone within earshot during the event and was told to shut up & paddle, more than once, and fair enough too! While other racing disciplines around the place wax & wane in their popularity, marathon is positively booming, and I reckon it's because of what happens off the water. Paddlers are mostly affiliated with a club, the clubs seem to be built on the social side of the sport, and everyone works hard 'on the field' and celebrates each other's accomplishments on the river banks. The whole thing has plenty of soul.
Anne finishes.
Bob Turner, Tony Hystek & the crew from Paddle NSW did a great job running the event so smoothly, managing nearly 300 paddlers & keeping pained smiles (or maybe they were grimaces) on most everyone's dial. It's an event we're pround to be associated with as a sponsor & one for your bucket list.
Finished, looking a hundred dollars.