Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Inside Outside

This is a view we have seen - in part - before. I had opportunity to mount a second camera under my deck at the same time I had a camera on top of my deck. I used them to get a good view of myself 'finding good contact' when entering the kayak as well as the foot and leg motions that go along with the forward stroke. It is hard to see how my body moves the kayak when I edge, it's there, but it's subtle.

So many things we have discussed before, but that are always worth mentioning again, and again.

Contact - five points of contact between the paddler and the kayak. This way the kayak will move as you move, and react to the movements of your body. Alternately giving you information to what forces the kayak is feeling from wind and water.

Forward - with each stroke we rotate our core at the belly button. The hand in the air (opposite the blade in the water) is pushing with relaxed fingers.  And with each stroke we are pushing with alternating feet. This is where our power really comes from. When I am paddling slowly, I don't even engage my feet, but as soon as I want to accelerate I start pushing with the foot on the same side as my pushing hand. We never think about pulling the paddle through the water, just pushing through the air and with our feet. We are doing very little work with our arms, letting our large torso muscles and the even larger muscles in our legs do all the work.

It's amazing how much light comes through the hull of the kayak.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kayaking with Grace

Several Sundays ago I found myself in my kayak at around 8:15 in the morning. I was giving a lesson to a young woman named Grace. This is her third lesson with me in borrowed kayaks as she waits for delivery of her handmade - by her brother - strip built kayak.

We had just started paddling and I was getting comfortable in my boat. The morning was absolutely glorious. Just warm enough to be in a long sleeve quick dry shirt and a pair of shorts. Just a little breeze as  we paddled out onto the water. Warm light danced on the surface of the lake we paddled, and the sky was a nearly perfect shade of blue. The trees here in North Carolina were just starting to show off amazing fall colors.

Within a few minutes from across the water Grace mentioned that she was jealous of how effortless I looked, while she was still struggling with the intricacies of the forward stroke. I replied with a thank you, and that really all it took was practice - ten thousand hours, if you have been here before! - and that she was doing well and just needed to keep at it.

This interaction came back to me a couple of nights later as I was re-reading Eugene Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. When the student is talking to the master about his failure to fluidly loose an arrow, the master replies:

" Don’t think of what you have to do, don’t consider how to carry it out! " he exclaimed. `The shot will only go smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise. It must be as if the bowstring suddenly cut through the thumb that held it. You mustn’t open the right hand on purpose." 

It struck me that this is the way it must be when you are perfecting the forward stroke in a kayak. You don't think about walking down the street, yet you do it everyday. You must get to the point in your kayak where your forward stroke occurs without thought. I should point out that this is a lesson that applies to anything you are trying to learn. I have mentioned in the past the difficulty I have with certain kicks, it is as equally applicable to a tennis serve, or making a souffle or perhaps even learning to incorporate some flair with your drum. In order for it to look relaxed it has to be relaxed and you can't try to be relaxed. It is like trying to think about not thinking. "Zen Archery" goes on a bit further, as the student continues to question the master, the master responds again:

" You must hold the drawn bowstring ", answered the Master," like a little child holding the proffered finger. It grips it so firmly that one marvels at the strength of the tiny fist. And when it lets the finger go, there is not the slightest jerk. Do you know why? Because a child doesn’t think: " I will now let go of the finger in order to grasp this other thing." Completely un−selfconsciously, without purpose, it turns from one to the other"
" Maybe I understand what you are hinting at with this comparison, " I remarked. " But am I not in an entirely different situation ? When I have drawn the bow, the moment comes when I feel: unless the shot comes at once I shan’t be able to endure the tension. And what happens then? Merely that I get out of breath. So I must loose the shot whether I want to or not, because I can’t wait for it any longer. "
" You have described only too well " , replied the Master,
" where the difficulty lies. Do you know why you cannot wait for the shot and why you get out of breath before it has come? The right shot at the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself. You do not wait for fulfilment, but brace yourself for failure. So long as that is so, you have no choice but to call forth some thing yourself that ought to happen independently of you, and so long as you call it forth your hand will not open in the right way ̇ like the hand of a child: it does
not burst open like the skin of a ripe fruit. "

There was an afternoon in Alaska where Sarah and I paddled through some very rough and unexpected water. Twice it spit us out in a direction we didn't want to go before we figured out a way through, or more accurately, around it. At one point Sarah said she was concerned about how rough the water was, but she looked over to me and I was just paddling along calmly. She said later that this made her relax, in part because her comfort level increased, and in part because she knew she didn't have to worry about me, she could focus on herself. This was flattering for me to hear as I regard Sarah as one of the better paddlers I have had the pleasure of sharing a route with, but I recall thinking that at the point when she looked over I was pretty concerned about what was happening. I am glad that she saw a calmness in me that I didn't feel myself.

And I think this is what Grace was seeing, a relaxed paddler allowing the stroke to occur. I won't be so presumptuous to say that I gave it no thought, I am always tweaking and playing and perfecting - or trying to - my stroke, but I think I am approaching that level of relaxed. And with practice so will Grace. But the key is not thinking about making it relaxed, simply allowing it to happen. Like the fingers of a child opening. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Will someone please make an eVent Paddling Jacket!

The last few weeks has been transitional weather here in the American south. The dog days of summer are over - and with summers departure my favorite quick dry top is no longer quite enough anymore - and it isn't quite drysuit weather as the the air is in the low 60's and the water is in the 70's. The drysuit - while convenient in terms of staying dry, is a bit warm, even though it is made of gore-tex.

Which leaves me with a paddling jacket that I love and have used for years. It is - or was, as it is no longer  manufactured - made by Patagonia and is called a Skanorak or sea kayak anorak. It's a wonderful jacket with a large rubber rand at the waist and good wrist and neck gaskets. But oddly I have found myself NOT wearing it. This is the perfect weather for a tried and true piece of gear, but I just keep picking up something else. Something not even made for kayaking.

It is the REI Shuksan jacket. I bought it three or four years ago as a rain shell and it has been wonderful. It's light weight, layers well, and packs down to nothing. But the best thing about it is how incredibly breathable it is. Far more breathable than any gore-tex shell I have owned and far more breathable than my drysuit. I first grabbed the REI jacket for paddling because it was all I had, I ended up at the water under dressed and I had it in the car. I figured it was better than nothing - which was true! - but it was better than most anything! I put it on first, then my skirt, then my PFD. It is so thin that I barely feel it under my gear, it has a hood like my Patagonia Skanorak, it is even a similar color orange. But the breathability is incredible. NRS does make an eVent drysuit and I would consider it if I didn't have an amazing Kokatat drysuit. I can't really justify two drysuits. So what I really need/want is a paddling jacket made out of this amazing fabric.

If someone could get to work on that I would gladly product test it and give appropriate feed back.

Friday, October 14, 2011

House Keeping.

This is not a blog post about how to keep your tent and kayak clean and tidy on long paddle trips, though now that I think about it that would be a good post.

This is a blog post to tell you that this blog is now located at:

The blogspot address will still work and redirect you here. Or you could update your bookmarks. If you have any trouble with RSS feeds or readers, let me know.

Thanks for stopping by


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Good Camp/Bad Camp

When the time comes to get off the water for the day, and a campsite has to be created, there is a great deal of thought that gets put into all facets of the site. The first is location. Is this a place that I can easily get off the water, with space for three things. A good site for a tent, level, and flat. A site for a kitchen, a good distance from the tents, level and flat would be nice but it isn't necessary. A place for the kayaks to sleep, preferable above the tents - in terms of tide height - but if not above the tents then at the same height, and regardless of height above tide they must be able to be tied to something stout. It wouldn't do for a wave to come in and take our boats away while we slept warm and dry in our bags. Keep in mind that most of the foot traffic in a campsite is in the kitchen area, so it should be on the most durable of surfaces. Rocks, gravel, dirt. No grasses or mosses, nothing fragile that would be impacted by our trampling feet. The same goes for the location of the tent and the kayaks, but because there is less traffic to those locations we need the kitchen to be on the most durable surface.

Our new home may take on the look of a yard sale while we are setting up, cooking and eating dinner, and relaxing afterwards. People tend to try and hang things to help them dry and food bags get their contents strewn about during dinner preparation. But once it is time to call it a night and climb into a warm bag with a good book, the yard sale has to be put away. Everything is packed. Food is stored safely with Animals in mind. All our gear is packed and stored well above the tide line. I like to put things back in their dry bags, and then back into the kayaks. In Alaska I would put my gear in their two large mesh duffel bags and put those on top of my kayak (over turned so the mesh was down and the waterproof bottom was facing up) and then I would carabiner them to the kayak. 

The thought process behind this is that we need our gear, and we need to take care of it. Just as it wouldn't be beneficial to have our kayaks wash away, it wouldn't do to have any of our gear wash away. But what could wash away our gear, you ask? Well, besides the fact that we may make a mistake calculating the next high tide, there are also storm surges that can create higher tides than predicted. It could also be something as simple as a ferry or cruise ship a dozen miles away. Its wake hits the beach and pushes way above the predicted high tide line. We were very careful in Alaska.

So you can imagine our surprise when early in the morning we came around cape fanshaw - it was probably seven AM and we wanted to be some unpredictable weather around a point known for big water - and saw the epitome of a 'bad camp'. We could see tents in the trees way above the beach - which in and of itself is fine, but the rest of what we saw was a little scary. Click the image below to see what scared us. 

A tarp that was about to be blown down and away. Thirteen kayaks, that didn't look tied up, or to each other - they may have been but as far as some kayaks were from others led us to believe otherwise. A vast amount of gear on the beach, just above the high tide line. And as incredible as all that is, someones red jacket on the grass, waiting to be blown away, washed away, or just simply rained on. The number of dry bags and water bottles waiting to disappear was very disturbing. This is poor leadership, and poor role modeling. We never saw this group again, we suspected that they were heading south while we were heading north. I hope their trip ended well, but honestly, they were setting themselves up for disappointment. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thanks Steve.

    I am at a loss, so I will just say thanks. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wind and clothing

I spent this morning paddling. I have had very little time to paddle in the past few months. In part because my free time has been spent editing video, which I will be doing more of tomorrow morning, and in part because I have been working a tremendous amount. I only had a little time this morning and when I got to the water it was cooler and windier than I thought it would be. I was under dressed and the majority of my paddling clothing was at home. I would have put my dry suit on, if I had it with me, but I didn't, so I had to improvise.

There was a fleece in my car but while that would keep me warm it wouldn't protect me from wind or water. I had a shell jacket - the eVent Shuksan jacket by REI - and I decided to try it out as a paddling jacket. I put it on, then my skirt then my PFD. It was absolutely the perfect layer. I wish REI would make a paddling jacket out of this wonderfully breathable material but alas, they don't. It was light, and comfortable and with the cuffs velcro'd tight it worked well as a paddling jacket.

And it got me to thinking about paddle gear. While I have lovely paddling pants and jackets that I sometimes use instead of my dry suit - in the in between seasons like it is now in the American south they work beautifully - what if your new to paddling, and you don't want to spend what could easily be several hundred dollars on paddle specific clothing? A lot of the clothes you have for other outdoor activities could work double duty. As I mentioned the shell jacket I had worked really well. A pair of rain pants could work as splash pants, though I would put the bottoms of the legs inside a rubber boot or mukluks of some sort because they will absolutely get wet on the inside which wouldn't be too comfortable. Under my dry suit I already wear non-paddling-specific base layers. Patagonia capilene works beautifully, as does smart wool or the REI power dry. I have always used mid weight base layers designed for hiking, when I paddle and they perform amazingly well. Wicking moisture, insulating and drying quickly. Paddling in Alaska close to glaciers I go to a heavy weight or capilene 4 as the water - and therefore the interior of the kayak - gets much colder.

This morning I spent my time - what I had of it - playing in high winds. Those of you who have read this blog know that I like to play in the wind on my local waters. I find that it gives me a higher level of comfort when the water gets big to have spent time learning how my kayak performs, and in short 'acts' when subjected to wind from all points of the compass. I enjoyed seeing how she paddles and how strokes that I use work and didn't work when 17 feet of kayak is getting pushed by high winds. For instance the cross bow rudder that I use frequently for quick turns wasn't as nearly effective trying to turn a kayak that is getting pushed around by the wind. I am watching the wind and how it effects the surface of the water, and the trees on the shore. The noise it makes, the sound of the leaves. Over time this will give you reference to what conditions feel like when you hear and see certain things. I also like to look for wind lines created by land because it gives me a good 'edge' of wind and no wind to play with. How much will my kayak jump when I hit that line? This was useful in Alaska when we crossed the entrance to the Stikine river. We could see the line, where the ocean and river met, and while I wasn't sure, it looked like other lines I had paddled through, and in fact ended up being very similar in feel. You have to spend time in your kayak, in all kinds of water, and weather, and wind to get a feel for how your kayak - and you - will react. Remember the ten thousand hours. More video in a few days.