Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The New crop of watches.

I have worn a suunto vector for over a decade. I chose it because I wanted an ABC watch, that was a step above the Casio Pathfinders I had been using, and a decade ago it was the best ABC watch on the market. ABC stands for Altimeter, Barometer, Compass, and for me, as paddler I won't hit the water without a barometer. 

Here is why. Barometric pressure is the pressure that the air is exerting on you, in a column from above, and it is what makes weather move. When you have an area of low pressure, bad weather - ie. stormy weather with rain - is drawn into it. Think of a Hurricane with an eye in the center drawing bad weather into that very low area of low pressure. As the air is drawn to a location with lower air pressure, it rushes to get there, creating wind. I don't mind paddling in the rain, but wind will really ruin your day. A lot of times, you will feel the wind, before the bad weather hits you, and it is usually a different temperature (cooler), so it is easily noticeable. 

High pressure pushes that bad weather away from you, giving you clear, cool skies. Think crisp fall mornings with a blue sky and just a bit of a chill in the air. That is high pressure doing its work. 

So that is why I wear a Vector, which has been replaced by the upgraded suunto core. I rarely use the compass, and only use the altimeter (which is really just a barometer with a differently calibrated scale) when I am hiking. 

But watches are changing. The first and biggest change is that most people aren't wearing them. I see this when I teach Wilderness First aid. Most people use their phones to tell time. But in the last couple of years we have seen some new watches hit the shelves in our favorite outdoor stores. 

In particular I am thinking about the Garmin Fenix and Fenix 2, and the Suunto Ambit and Ambit 2. These watches add so many features it is dizzying. They are of course ABC watches, but they add GPS technology. Giving you the ability to not only track your location, and plot it on a map, but to know your exact speed and distance and direction to a known point. I was skeptical of the Fenix at first, while it is waterproof I figured it didn't have any features to really make it usable by a paddler. Then I saw that you could switch your units of measure to Nautical. I was delighted, but refused to give up the $400 required to get into the Fenix game. There is now of course a Fenix (and ambit) 2 offering even more features. 

There is also the Garmin Quatix - dubbed "the mariners watch" by garmin, this does a lot of what the Fenix does, but they tout the ability to sight a distant point - and creating a waypoint and paddle towards it. It also has a number of sailing specific watches, it will interact wirelessly with garmin chart plotters, and it will feed NMEA data as well. It has a barometer and programmed tide tables as well - I am not sure if I trust watch based tide information, if you have used it let me know. I would like to try this watch but it is still $400! 

I could buy the new Apple watch for less than that. And speaking of... No mention of waterproof, or battery life, but if it runs apps - which it does - then there could be kayaking specific apps running while you paddle. We will have to see how this looks for real, not just in demo in a keynote. 

What watch are you wearing? 

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Hullaport Problem.

I am a big fan of the Thule Hullaport. I don't have the desire to fold my J cradles down, so I stay away from the more expensive Hullaport Pro - or the Yakima Bowdown. I like the simplicity of the Hullaport. As I have mentioned before I particularly like them on shorter vehicles, I am not very tall, but it is hard to get your boat into a j cradle when the boat has to be lifted on top of a tall SUV.

I have been using the Hullaport for a long time. I am actually on my third set, and when I got my most recent set, I realized they made a design change.

Here is an old Hullaport:

As you can see this hullaport, is curved on both top and bottom. Simple. Classic. Easy to strap a boat too, should you choose to do it that way... You shouldn't but many do. Here is the new one:

Instead of being a loop, top and bottom, it is a loop on the top, and it dead ends on two plugs on the bottom. I am sure this makes manufacturing easier, but you can immediately see the problem. My boat rubbed one of the plugs, and it popped out. I didn't notice it, and have no idea where it happened. Actually, that isn't entirely true... I noticed it the first three times it occurred, picked it up, put it back in the opening, and said to myself "I need to do something to that to hold it in place." and promptly didn't fix it. I thought this was a PO problem, but in fact I am not alone. I parked next to someone at work the other day, and this is what I saw...

I am not alone, and if there are two of us, there are many more. Thule, could you do something about this?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fall is right around the corner!

And a lot of change has occurred in this Otakus life.

Shortly after getting back from Alaska, my employer posted a job opening that was pretty close to my dream job. I applied for it, and got it, and have been working really hard at it for the last three weeks. Which is why there have been few posts here of late. For the first time in a decade I am working fairly regular hours.

When we came back from Alaska we really raced back, and it was for two reasons: one so I could spend my birthday with my beloved and saintly wife - who lets me do crazy things like go to Alaska for a month - and two, to close on a house. It seems the bank wouldn't let my wife buy the house without my signature.

That's right, I bought a house. With two pretty kayaks nestled in the backyard. So if you are paying attention, I may have become an adult. I own a house, and have a semi-normal job (okay, I am still in outdoor education, so it isn't THAT normal). But do you know what buying a house means? I'll tell you.

It means you buy stuff. I now own a weed wacker, can you believe it? I have had to buy a number of things for both the house, and working on the house, and if you read here a lot you know that I am a minimalist, and that it really hurts to add things to my personal tally of items, and so, that means that it is time for a purge!

Starting September 1st I will be doing the purge I did a while back. It is called the minimalist challenge and I first read about it here. We are going to try and do it again. Are you with me? If you are, leave a comment here, or like this post on Facebook. I will post the occasional picture of the stuff I am getting rid of.

Now I am wondering if getting rid of things the previous owner left behind counts....hmmm.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thule Hullavator Madness

The Thule Hullavator is an interesting product. Designed to assist in the lifting of your kayak onto the roof of your vehicle, it is a beautifully designed item, particularly if you are a smaller paddler. If you aren't familiar with it, here is how it works.

Each cradle - which is sort of a modified J type cradle - is connected to a gas assist arm. In the up position, it sits flat on the roof of your vehicle. In the down position, it pulls out to and lowers to the side of your vehicle. Meaning you can put the cradle down, put your kayak in it, and secure it, and then the lift assist will help you get it on the roof of your car or truck. You don't have to lift the kayak above shoulder height. Here is a video showing how it works:

This essentially removes 40 pounds of weight, as you lift the kayak. So in this video, he uses no effort because it is a small boat, for me, it would be the equivalent of lifting a 12 pound boat onto the roof. This is a great thing? Right? Particularly if you are a short paddler like me, or you have a tall vehicle. But there are a couple of problems with it. First is the price - $600. Though I did see it is marked down a bunch of places when I was researching this post - the second is the weight. It weighs 44 pounds. I will get back to why that is important in a minute.

despite how awesome this thing looks, I had never seen one in the wild. Meaning on an actual paddlers car. The only place I ever saw them was at trade shows on display cars. But about two weeks ago, I saw five Hullavators in 3 days. I couldn't believe it.

I saw these two when I was putting in my boat. I never saw the paddlers, I was very curious what they were paddling. The day before this I saw another hullavator on a different vehicle. But then the day after this I saw the ultimate.

It is a little hard to tell in this photo, but that is two hullavators on one vehicle. Now I remember a Thule Rep telling me you couldn't - or shouldn't - do this. But as I peruse several sites I don't see any mention of that. In fact, when I googled it I found a lot of people are doing double Hullavators - which I feel I should point out would be $1200 before the cost of the base rack (which is at least $300) and all of a sudden you are at the cost of a pretty nice kayak!

But here is the problem with the Hullavator - and particularly the double set up above - it goes back to the weight. 44 pounds per Hullavator. Most car racks will support a max weight of 165 pounds. Really, it isn't the car rack that is the problem, it is the roof of the car - Now, We all know that number is designed to be low, and I have had WAY over 165 pounds on the roof of my yaris, going to Alaska I had 150 pounds of boat alone! But still, you have to be safe... Right? So, 44 pounds, plus the weight of the base rack, another 15 or so and you are right at 60 pounds. That leaves you 100 pounds for gear on the roof. My seventeen  and sixteen weigh 102 pounds combined. Now add on that second Hullavator in the picture above. Keep the math simple, two 40 pound Hullavators, and two 40 pound kayaks and you are above the weight of the roof before adding in the base rack. I can see using one, but two seems a little risky to me.

I have to say, I have used just about every kayak hauling device made by Thule and Yakima. I am currently using a Thule Base system, and love it. Though I prefer Yakima round bars, as they flex less. I have always preferred the Thule Glide N Set over the Yakima Mako Saddles and Hully rollers - if you are interested in why, let me know. For the most part J style cradles - which are what I am currently using, are pretty interchangeable. Though the current Thule Hullaports have a slightly different design that I like less than the old ones.

But Thule has something that I think looks really nice, and as soon as I come up with a reason to purchase it, and sell a set of J cradles I will. It is this.

This makes it easier to load, while keeping the boat flat, which makes for a better ride in the car. All of this seems like a lot of obsessing over something that shouldn't matter that much, but really does. If you load your kayak on and off your boat all year, you will learn what works and what doesn't. Like anything else it is easy to see when a product is designed by paddlers who have used it a lot, versus designed by a committee. I like the look of this product a lot. I look forward to trying it out.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Guest Post - Exercise for Expeditioning

Spending a lot of time with the same group of people leads to some interesting conversation. Since both Beth and AJ are accomplished cyclists we talked a lot about long distance cycling and how it compared to long distance paddling. Aj is an avid gamers, so there was a lot of game discussion, and what makes a good game, or what keeps a good game from being great - his level of knowledge, and the ability to pick apart a game and isolate the subtleties of what works and what doesn't is staggering, he should really work in the gaming industry. - But Beth is a personal trainer, with a degree in Kinesiology. She is my go to person when I have a training question, and training and nutrition was a regular conversation. After talking with her, I realize I eat way too much protein, and will never have need of a drink like gatorade - and you probably don't either. I asked her to create a post for me that highlighted the exercises that would benefit kayaking. I did far less intensive pre-trip workouts on this trip, then I did for the Inside Passage, and I felt it. I will never let that happen again, and now i have a guide. Below is Elizabeth Hansens Guide to training for kayak expeditions. Enjoy. 

Preparing for an expedition is a time consuming process; from checking (and double checking) gear, arranging life to continue while you are away from home, and attempting to mentally prepare yourself for life in the backcountry, it is a journey of its own simply to prepare yourself mentally for all you will encounter.

Whether it’s riding a bike, hiking up a mountain or paddling in less than ideal conditions, it is nearly impossible to completely prepare yourself for the awesome experiences that lie ahead of you. Calluses are never thick enough and it’s amazing how just an hour of cold rain can wash away one’s resolve. That is why physical and mental preparation are the key to any successful expedition.

With that being said, here are some exercises I found helpful in my preparation for our expedition to Alaska (or wish I had focused more energy on before I left). Brett does a great job of breaking down the paddle stroke into phases and this article will follow the same format. Each exercise is specifically designed to target a particular element of the forward stroke and strengthen the stabilizer muscles involved. Proper body mechanics are impossible to achieve for extended amounts of time without sufficient muscular endurance. Therefore, it is recommended you do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Each phase of the forward stroke is further explained here. (note from Paddling Otaku - my current favorite version of the forward stroke lesson is in the free book "Forward" available from iTunes.)  Start incorporating these exercises into your routine and almost instantly you will see a difference in the quality of your forward stroke!

5 points of Contact



C. Lunge

As a starting guide, incorporate a single phase at a time into your regular workouts. For example, if you typically do cardio on Fridays, you would complete your regular workout and then add in your 5 points of contact work. Make sure to give yourself at least a day of rest between strength work to allow for recovery
And finally remember: “In a kayak, the harder you work, the slower you go.”
So don’t work harder, work more efficiently. Efficient bodies effectively utilize energy with minimal waste, making your expedition that much more enjoyable.

 -- Beth Hansen is a veteran personal trainer living and working in her hometown of Greensboro NC. She graduated from the University of North Carolina with a BS in Kinesiology and will finish her MS in Exercise Physiology in Fall of 2014. An ACE certified personal trainer, Beth is a NOLS graduate who specializes in conditioning established athletes and novice adventurers for various types of expeditions.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Garmin, Kayakers would like this feature, please.

On both the Inside Passage and the AGAP trip I used a Garmin GPS. In fact I used the same Garmin GPS, A Dakota 20. I am a big fan of GPS - despite the fact that I teach map and compass classes, I think they are two tools that work great together. Most of the time I use GPS as a check for map and compass work. But before I explain what features I don't see from Garmin, Let me explain how I use a GPS.

I don't leave it on all the time. I know Geckopaddler does, and he creates great maps of all his paddles, but for me I would rather do that on paper. I guess I am old school in that way. Ages ago I pined for Garmin to make a simple tracking device. waterproof, two buttons. Long battery life. Mount it on your boat, bike, or pack, turn it on, activate it, and with no other interaction tracks your movements in three dimensions. When you get home, download it onto your computer and do with it whatever you want. It has no screen and no interaction other than that it is on and tracking. I imagine it looking something like a spot connect only smaller. A lot of people want to know the data from their run/ride/paddle, but that just isn't me. If I really wanted to do that, I could do it with a Garmin Fenix.

I also don't generally load maps on my GPS. Repeat after me, you don't need to load maps on your GPS for it to be functional. All I need a GPS to tell me is my distance to a known location, and the direction to that location. If I know the distance and direction to where my car is parked, I know where I am. There are two times I have loaded maps on my GPS, when I was using it as a bike computer for my commute to work, I wanted roads on my basemap. When I did the Inside passage I loaded topo maps onto my Dakota. Let me just say they won't replace my charts and topo maps - though I do see digital taking over for this. It is only a matter of time until my iPad or something like it is inside my chart case. I do like the idea of having access to satellite images on my handheld, but honestly, I want them to be live, as in, I want to see the top of my own head in real time - or close to it. But that is a discussion for another time.

So if I don't have my GPS on all the time, and I don't want maps installed, what is it I want? I want my GPS to be able to tell me the distance to two different way points at the same time. Here is why. The one time I leave my GPS on all the time is when I am doing an open water crossing. Here is a quick story. A handful of years ago I was paddling the South and North Core banks - Off the coast of North Carolina with a friend. We were in the position of having to make a final crossing - about 2 miles - to get back to the mainland and our car at the put-in. Unfortunately we got stuck at a tiny pile of mud - some would call it an island - before being able to make our crossing. We were stuck there by a series of squalls moving through the area. We waited out through one of them, and then realized we had a break long enough to make it across. My friend had a waypoint where the car was, and he told his GPSmap 60 csx to "goto" that waypoint. I made a waypoint where we were, and told my old etrex legend to "goto" that waypoint, even though it was right where we were. Here is why. As we paddled across the channel my friends way point would tell us how far we had to go, and mine would tell us how far we had come. So at any given moment we knew which way offered safety closer. I want to be able to do this same GPS trick with one GPS unit. It could be as simple as on the trip computer screen, a Distance to field, and a Distance from field.

The other benefit of using this trick is that your compass bearing information gives you important knowledge about the path you are paddling. If you are paddling towards a point your bearing should stay the same (a heading is where your facing, a bearing is where you want to go) But if your bearing is changing that is because your kayak is being pushed left or right, while you are paddling forward. This is very hard to determine without a navigational aid - it can be done, but you need to be super aware, and paying attention to landmarks, and in an open water crossing with large waves, limited visibility, and a high level of stress, it is almost impossible.

So Garmin, it would be great if you could help us out with this. A simple add to the features of your GPS's.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Gear that didn't survive

The Alaskan Glacier Awareness Project was the second major expedition for a lot of my gear. Most of it was purchased years before the Inside Passage trip, but with the expectation that it was for expeditions. Which is why I did things like, buy a four season tent when my three season tent died. So this post, I want to talk about the gear that either needs to be replaced, or upgraded after this trip.

My sleeping pad, the Thermarest Prolite Plus didn't even go on this trip. The last two overnight trips I did, I didn't sleep well on it. It is an inch and a half thick, and that just wasn't enough for my shoulder and hip bones. Oddly, I have used this pad for a long time and never and a problem, so clearly the comfort issue is changes in my body, not the pad. Instead of this trusty pad I brought along a borrowed Big Agnes Q-core SL. For a long time I have stayed away from the new generation of blow up pads, primarily because I think after a day of paddling or hiking, having to blowing up your pad is akin to punishment. But my friend loaned me not only the pad, but this. The NeoAir Mini Pump uses triple A batteries to inflate a pad, and despite the fact that it is made by thermarest it works well with this Big Agnes Pad. It is very "Glamour Camping" or as some prefer "glamping" but I really like it. I will be purchasing both of these products at some point. Unless REI makes a version of the incamp pad that is closer to a regular size (it is 25 x77 and I would like one that is 20 x 72). That pad has a built in hand pump, that works really well.

My beloved tent had a couple of problems. I use an REI four season tent that isn't made anymore, it is essentially a North Face Mountain 25. The first problem was that the shock cords in the poles have lost a lot of their stretch. This is not surprising, and is easy to replace. The bigger problem is that in certain places the fly is leaking. This is confusing because the material is still beading up water like it should. I will re-coat it with DWR and try and figure it out. But I need to keep an eye on it. Particularly before the next rainy trip. Speaking of Shock Cord I need to replace the cords on the deck of my kayak. But that is for another post.

I think my Kelty Noahs Tarp is dead. This leaked like a sieve the entire trip. The material also feels like it has gotten papery thin. I am pretty sure it just needs to be replaced. Which makes me sad, because it is only 4 or 5 years old.

My Immersion Research Shockwave is pretty close to dead. It has been re-taped once by IR, and needs to be done again. The taping on the tunnel came off pretty much right away, and leaks from a couple of places. This is a skirt I got for free, and it has been amazing. It really sold me on the idea of, if you want a great skirt that doesn't pop off, get a whitewater skirt.

My back up paddle, a Werner Camano carbon/carbon is dead. The wiggle in the joint was just too bad, and I have in fact already sold it. I am going to buy a new Camano and drop my Kalliste down to backup status. I like my Kalliste, but I want the lower weight of the Camano as my daily paddle.

I really thought that my sleeping bag, an REI Lumen was going to make its last trip this time, but it keeps chugging along - unfortunately because I would really like a Sierra Designs backcountry bed. But my Sea to Summit Compression dry sack has already gone in the garbage. It got a hole that I repaired on the Inside Passage - it is amazing what you can do with duct tape and aqua seal - but this time it got a tear that was about two inches long. Not the fault of the dry bag, it got stuck on a bare screw under my deck compass, I need to get acorn nuts for them. But it will be replaced with a similar bag. I am using almost exclusively Sea to summit dry bags now. After years of swearing by seal line, it just sort of happened, a bag at a time.

The Spot Connect worked fine, but I hated it. It will not be doing another trip if I can help it. If I do another big trip I will either use an ACR plb, or a Sat Phone. Time will tell...

The fact is, that gear doesn't last as long as you would like to think. For instance, working fro NOLS one summer I did two courses almost back to back. I used my own North Face sleeping bag that was new. I could have rented a bag from NOLS for free, but I really like having my own trusted bag to sleep in every night. The problem with that was, at the end of the summer, it was really and truly dead. Which means it had a life of around 90 days. Now if you use a sleeping bag 4 times a year for a four day trip, that is a long life. But do a couple of 30 day trips, and gear just breaks down.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gecko Paddler Asks....

"Hey PO which of the three is the fastest? Love my load monster 15.5 but might try a demo 17 to compare it to."

This is a great question, but unfortunately a very subjective one. Having spent a fair amount of time in all three of these Deltas I have a pretty good feel for them, so which one is "the fastest"? To determine that we need to understand what "fast" means in a kayak.  A big part of how fast something is, is determined by the motor, and in this case, the paddler is the motor. 

I know from paddling my Seventeen with a GPS that I can cruise at 3.5 or 4 knots, and sprint to 5.5. A couple of times I have hit 6, but I can't keep it up for long, and everything needs to be perfect for me to hit that speed. I am actually not a very fast paddler. So that is the first part of the equation, The speed of the boats will of course vary with the ability of the paddler, and I wouldn't be surprised if Gecko paddles faster than me. 

The boat of course plays a role, The longer a boat is, the faster it will travel. The reason for this is pressure. Pressure on the hull. You have to propel the boat through the water, and to do that you have to physically push the water aside, as it moves down the hull. The front half of the boat is pushing the water ever further apart until it reaches the midpoint. So at the midpoint of the boat - where it is the widest - is the point where pressure starts to decrease.  So the longer the boat is, the more hull you have from the narrowest point - the bow - to the widest point, at the midpoint. So if that distance is longer, the pressure on the hull is less because it is distributed over a larger area. And of course, the wider the boat is, the more you have to press the water apart. Which is why a long, narrow boat is faster than a short wide boat. 

So the Delta 15.5 is of course fifteen feet, six inches long, and 24.5 inches wide. The Sixteen is longer and narrower, sixteen feet long, and 22 inches wide. When you are talking about kayaks width, 2.5 inches is a lot. Then you have the seventeen. Longer at 17 feet, but 22.5 inches wide. So if we are talking about absolute speed, my guess is that the Sixteen and the seventeen are pretty close to identical, with the 15 being slower.  But we are probably talking about a total difference between the 15 and the 17 of half a knot. 

But if you have ever driven a high performance car, you learn that top speed isn't really that important. It is getting to that speed that is the fun part, and if we are only talking about half a knot speed difference, then that just proves that top speed isn't that important. What is important is acceleration. And without a real way to measure acceleration in a kayak, it is all about feel. 

When someone gets into a boat, and does a handful of strokes, and says "wow, this feels fast" what they are really saying is, wow, this accelerates fast. And I will say right now, the Delta Sixteen accelerates fast. It is a nimble, responsive boat. I think the fifteen is pretty fast, but definitely accelerates slower than the other two. And the Seventeen is right in the middle. 

The Fifteen has been pretty consistently referred to as "the minivan" of the Delta line. It hauls a lot of gear, and for a boat of its width is a lot of fun to paddle. The Seventeen is the classic touring kayak. Seventeen feet is a great length for touring, it holds a lot of gear, accelerates fast, and cruises all day long. the Sixteen is like getting in a corvette. Fast off the line, responsive, with a slightly smaller payload. 

So, Gecko, I would definitely demo a seventeen. 

Delta Sixteen - In Depth Review.

We received a Delta 16, as our third boat, for AGAP about a month before departure. Beth Spent a lot of time in it, during prep, both paddling it and packing it. We did self and assisted rescues with it, and then in Alaska, spent a lot of time in it, in all sorts of conditions. I didn't paddle it until recently, so much of what I am going to tell you, is from Beth's perspective.

Straight out, it is a beautiful boat, with clean lines, and the amazing Delta attention to detail. The boat we received is a year old, and has been slightly updated in the product line, but I believe the changes are pretty minimal. Sixteen feet long and 22 inches wide, with spacious bow and stern hatches, as well as a small deck hatching front of the cockpit.

Beth immediately found the boat comfortable and responsive. She found the cockpit outfitting comfortable - I found the seat back a little high, not surprising since I replaced the seat back on my Seventeen. The rudder pedals were easy to adjust, and she found them to be in a good location. We both had room in front of our feet for more storage. The seat bottom is adjustable, and is the standard Delta seat, which is very good.

Packing the boat was easy with her large hatch covers, that utilize hooks inside the compartment to hold it closed. No neoprene internal covers, which we both liked. It took Beth a couple of days to get the hang of the locking mechanism, but I found them easy to use, and very secure. This boat is surprisingly spacious in terms of storage. Beth loved the day hatch in front of the cockpit on day paddles, but didn't use it on the actual expedition. There tended to be gear on top of it, like a deck bag, and it made it a little more difficult to get a pelican case with a camera into the cockpit. I don't use day hatches, but this one is nicely designed and built, I am just glad it isn't behind the cockpit like most.

The boat we received was the skegged version, which has a small skegbox in the center of the rear compartment. While this wouldn't let me use my large tapered bag, Beth had no problems packing. Speaking of the skeg, it too is well designed and we had no trouble with it, with the one exception being the cord that holds the skeg in place needs a refined mechanism, it sometimes slipped out of the cleat, and the skeg would fully deploy when she only wanted it to deploy halfway.

When I paddled it first I was immediately impressed. Its rounded chines don't hold an edge quite as well as the hard chines on my seventeen, but is very easy to get on edge. The boat is very quick to accelerate, and carries speed well. It is a very fast little boat. I say little, but it is only a foot shorter than mine.

I think this is the perfect boat for the smaller paddler - just like the eighteen is great for the really big guys, my friend who is 6' 6" fit in it perfectly - it gives you the ability to easily do multi day trips, but is still fun, and agile for day trips. I would highly recommend this boat.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Black Belt Kayakers

I paddled today, actually for the first time since Alaska. It was lovely. In part because it was just nice to paddle, and even better that the boat didn't have 150 pounds of gear in it. In part because it was a beautiful day. But in part because I was paddling with family. Particularly my wife, who doesn't love paddling, it has been at least a couple of years since she has paddled with me.

As I was paddling something occurred to me. Everyone in the kayaks, from my 10 year old nephew, to his 13 year old sister, Their mother, my wife, son and myself are all trained in martial arts. Most of the people in the group were black belts. Here is something most people don't realize about the term Black Belt. When people hear that term, they immediately think expert. Something I found very interesting in the Dojo, was that isn't really what it means at all. It means you have learned the basic movements in whatever art you are studying, and now, with this knowledge you can really start to learn.

My wife is a 3rd degree black belt - A Sandan in GoJu Karate. I think she would have been higher, but she stopped testing for belts, which I will explain more about later. My niece is a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and my Nephew a 1st. AJ, my stepson, is a Brown Belt, also in GoJu Karate, but was literally raised in a Dojo. He lost interest in his early teens, and stopped attending. My sister-in-law is a 4th degree black belt in Goju Karate and a 2nd degree in Tae Kwon Do. I am a lowly blue belt - two steps below black. I didn't lose interest. I still practice, and occasionally do Kata. I love to spar, and hit the bag. But I stopped because I was disenchanted with my Dojo. The teachers had great skill, but weren't great teachers, and as an educator that really bothered me. For years I have been saying (jokingly) that my wife, a psychologist, generally knows what I am thinking before I think it, and then, because she is also a martial artist can kick the crap out of me for thinking it. It is even more humbling to think my 13 year old niece could as well.

But here is the thing. They never would. If you spend enough time in a Dojo, you begin to realize that fights in the real world are to be avoided. You always lose, even if you are the victor. When some people reach brown belt they get an illness sometimes called 'brown belt-itis' A swelling of the ego, as they are starting to get fluent in their skills, and they start looking for fights. My son is at his core, a pacifist. He is very gentle, extremely loving, and will back down from any real fight. I weep for the person who backs him into a corner and forces him to act. It will not end well for that person. I know this from experience, when he was 10, on a beach in the Outer Banks, he knocked me on my ass with a punch to the chest. He is now 24. His lifetime in a Dojo inoculated him from brown belt-itis.

Today as I was paddling I was thinking about martial arts because of the group I was with. I have trained many martial artists to paddle, and I have known for quite some time that they make great paddlers. Many of the movements are the same, for example power comes from the core and the legs, the key is torso rotation. Martial artists are both comfortable translating their skills to the boats, and they are also skilled at following instructions to learn something physical. I of course, teach paddling as a martial art, and that technique came to me while in the Dojo, probably while doing my one millionth reverse punch.

Paddling, of course doesn't have a belt system of ranks, but we do have ranks of sorts. Certified by either ACA, BCU or Paddle Canada, we take classes and tests to illustrate and demonstrate our skill level. Some people wear these rankings as a matter of pride. I have never done a course like this, because I never had to. I was trained by the National Outdoor Leadership School to teach, and for everyone who has hired me, that has been enough. Most of the time, when talking to these people I am underwhelmed. Not so much with their skill level, but with the experience level, for example, these are the Prerequisites for the BCU Level 5 star sea kayak assessment, the highest offered.

Assessment Prerequisites:
Previous experience -
The candidate must provide documented logged evidence of a minimum of 24 varied,
quality, advanced sea kayak days in 3 different sea areas. This should include at least
one multi-day trip.
  • Recognised First aid award (minimum 16 hrs training including CPR) within the last 3 years
  • Relevant Leadership Training - 5 Star Leader Sea training within the last 3 years or ‘old’ style
    5 Star Sea Training within the last 3 years. Due to the nature of this award and its important remit for leadership it is required that candidates show 3 days (2 days and 2 nights) logged experience of training in leadership and personal skills, safety and rescue, and must include an overnight camp. It is also strongly recommended that further endorsed training be undertaken based on the candidates action plan in different sea areas and a variety of environmental conditions.
  • Relevant Safety Training: BCU Open Water Navigation & Tidal Planning Training or 2 days specific training on open water navigation tidal planning from a registered BCU 5 Star Leader Sea Provider.
  • Home Nation Registration (LR Form)
  • Aged 18 years or above. 
Now, when I look at this compared to myself, I have 24 days in 3 different sea areas all in one multi day trip, in just the last two months. Everything else on that list, not only have I done, but I teach them as well. It is important to understand, I am not knocking BCU at all. I think it is the premier program in the world - though I have very little exposure to Paddle Canada, but from what I have seen looks like a great program! - for kayak certification. I guess I never got BCU five star-itis. At some point, I won't get a job because I lack a certification, and then I will go get it, though I can't go right to 5 of course, I will have to work my way through the ranks. Part of the reason I don't like "certification hunting" is because when I was a Paramedic, it is all about certifications. ACLS, PALS, PHTLS, CPR, AED, etc, etc. I had a stack of cards saying I had passed tests, but none of them said how good of a medic I was.

I think that was why my wife stopped taking tests to advance her rank. She realized there was no point. She didn't need the rank for work - some actually do - She had no need to impress people. She continued to work out, and perfect her skill, but had no need to have her skill denoted by a stripe on a belt. My problem is that an ACA or BCU 1 star won't be enough. I will have no choice but to work my way up the ranks, in essence to match my experience. It will be time consuming, and expensive. I know I will learn things, we never stop learning, and for a couple of years I have been saying I want to take paddling instruction to push my skills. There are few people I want to work with though, and the two I do want to work with are both pretty far away. One, four hours, and the other in Scotland.

I like to think of certifications the way my Sensei described his black belt. He said to me once, "at the end of the day, it just holds up your pants"