Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gear Concept

This is an idea I had while doing the Alaska Expedition, While I wouldn't want this level of information in my face everyday, on a long, expedition driven day, this level of, and access too information would be helpful. I would like a sunglasses company to team up with garmin and make this happen. What information would you want in a heads up display for kayaking?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Behold the power of muscle memory (updated)

About a year ago I made a conscious decision to stop attending my dojo. I think I may have blogged about it, but in short it was because I disagreed with several decisions they made in terms of instruction, and it was a big enough issue that I felt I needed to sever ties. I still work out six days a week, and part of that work out regularly involves the heavy bag. There is nothing like working out on a heavy bag. What I have rarely done in that year was Kata.

Kata, or Forms, are a prescribed set of movements designed to simulate fighting multiple opponents. When you test for a belt promotion you are graded on your ability to do the Katas for your skill level. I had learned six of the eight Katas for my school.

last night in my gym it was relatively quiet. At the end of this holiday weekend few had found their way back to the gym to work out. A large mirrored aerobics room was empty and I decided to do my Kata. I started facing the mirrors with the open glass behind me, so I could see how it looked. Almost immediately I got into a flow moving from my White belt katas up through what were essentially the Brown belt katas for my former dojo - even though I was only a blue belt. There were a few times that I wasn't sure I remembered the next step, and when that occurred I merely shut off my brain and did what felt correct. When I did, they flowed perfectly, the movements occurring smoothly for the most part, but with a few stumbles. Despite the stumbles I was happy that I remembered them all.

This is the perfect example of muscle memory. If you do something repeatedly, your body learns the movements and your brain only gets in the way. When you brush your teeth in the morning I guarantee you do it the same way every day. I am sure my friend the Chef cut onions the same way every time. I would be willing to bet you can find an example in your life of your muscles taking over when they know what they need to do.

The best example of this in kayaking is rolling. There is zero difference between a combat roll and a roll in a swimming pool. Yes the conditions may be different, the weather, the current, but the movements are identical, but so many people miss their roll when under pressure. For a very simple reason. Their brain gets in the way of muscle memory. When I teach people to roll and they get their roll correctly for the first time I tell them 'that was perfect, now do it 200 times.' You have to build that memory.

In one of the 'This is the Sea' movies by Justin Curgenven (I think disc 3) The great Freya Hoffmeister is paddling with a large group at a large tidal rip. Freya is probably one of the best kayakers in the world today, without a doubt the best, most prolific long distance paddlers currently active. I have heard it said that she can do 50 different greenland rolls, and yet in this tidal rip she failed to roll her boat. The reason is simple, her brain got in the way of muscle memory because she was thinking about how big the water was. (Clearly this is my assumption for the sake of an example as I wasn't there, Freya is an amazing paddler and I mean no disrespect)

And while rolling is a great example, we aren't limited to muscle memory effecting our roll. Muscle memory comes into everything we do in a kayak, from getting into and out of our kayak through all of our strokes.

When it comes time to react to something, you will always do better if you let your body react versus thinking about what the reaction should be. By the time you think about the appropriate reaction the time for that appropriate action has passed. A great quote from a bad movie, 'fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will make your worst fear come true.'


Today I received a comment that I felt deserved a bigger response than just a follow up comment. You can read it below, but here it is:

IMHO,you're right and you're not. I experienced lately a roll in cold water, the first attempt,based on instinct didn't succeed, (independently, I developed the same theory as you did and accordingly I rolled last summer at least 600-700 times) after the second attempt, despite the 7deg Celsius water, and no drysuit, I needed to bring my thoughts together and do it with more brain involvement, and less muscle memory, and voila, I rolled! But still, training is building muscle memory and confidence.I think you need both. Rolling 5 times after another doesn't mean by far that you're ready to go and won't fail
I suppose you know this better

So first let me say I welcome the comment and the conversation. I think I am a highly skilled kayaker, but the day that I stop trying to learn is the day I will stop writing this blog and for that matter stop kayaking. I welcome the conversation, and the debate, as long as both parties are open to hear both sides of the debate.  There is one particular kayak blogger who disagrees with me on a  number of concepts - and that's fine - but his lack of an open mind to my concepts - In my humble opinion - isn't. So I take what this anonymous commenter says very seriously. 

I have blogged about the exact thing that he mentions on at least two occasions. I did a post about rolling at the National Whitewater Center, And this post about 'fall back plans'. They are both about me missing rolls, one in a stressful situation, and one in a cold, but not dangerous situation.  

In my opinion when the commenter mentions "I needed to bring my thoughts together and do it with more brain involvement" I think he actually has it backwards. I think with the missed roll, a number of things are happening at once, the water is cold, and shocking. There is the stress of being in a bad situation. And the stress of the 'what if's'. What if I miss my roll. I'll get hypothermia and die. I'll end up in the next set of rapids upside down! From my point of view - and what I was trying to say in the original version of this post - is your mind is racing because of the 'what if's'. In my opinion when he calmed himself down he was taking the fear out of the situation, and allowed his body to relax and do what it needed to do. So I still consider that a muscle memory situation. 

I see what he is saying though, when I roll my kayak I am thinking as I do it, but it is more of gentle, slowing guide. The same applies to when I am sparring. I am thinking, but more about what I need to be doing, not how to do it. 

Rolling, I think - slow down, set up, hands in the right place? Good. Hip snap with your head down. 
Rolling, Don't think - Ibettermakethisrollorlifeisgonnasuck! (Your brain is racing, let your body take over)

Sparring, I think - protect, move, strike after he tries to strike
Sparring, Don't think - after he throws a right, I will block, and then kick to the head (Thinking this much will get you punched in the face)

In both of these situations we want the brain to be calm, and not racing. That way our body can do what it knows how to do. Without our brain adding a million thoughts, concerns and a whole lot of adrenaline to the mix. I am a big proponent of the concept of 'slow is fast'. Doing something slowly and correctly is much faster than doing something quickly and incorrectly. 

Thanks for the comment, and the conversation. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kayaking Christmas

While this blog isn't generally about gear, I am a big fan of Christmas. Yes, I am a Buddhist who likes Christmas. I guess I'm an enigma. With that in mind I wanted to give a list of what I think would be a great top ten list of gear for the kayaker in your life. From least expensive to most.

#1 Adventure Medical Kits Slim Rescue Whistle $6.00 Because you can blow a whistle longer and louder than you can yell for help, every PFD should have a rescue whistle attached.

#2 Smartwool Cuffed Beanie $18.49 Keep your head warm on those Alaska paddle trips, feels wonderful and packs small.

#3 Long sleeve tech T $29.50 The fastest wicking shirt you will ever wear. (and it can't tell the difference between sweat (what it was designed to wick) and water) It dries super fast after rolling sessions. And offers great SPF protection.

#3A The Rescues - Gordon Brown DVD #2 $29.95 Gordon Brown is the Scottish Yoda of kayaking. His book is amazing, and while I haven't seen this video yet I am sure it will change the way you view rescues.

#4 Black Diamond Storm $49.00 For those early morning starts or late night paddles. 100 lumens bright, and waterproof.

#5 Brunton Deck Compass $86.39 Time to finally fill that spot designed for a deck compass, yet I know a lot of kayakers who haven't done it. Strap on deck compasses just aren't as good.

#6 Half Dome 2 $179.00 This is a wonderful little tent. Perfect for those first forays into kayak camping.

#7 GoPro Hero HD2 $299.00 Too much fun in a tiny package. Use it to shoot all your kayaking adventures.

#8 Werner Kalliste $400.00 I can give you so many reasons to buy this paddle it isn't even fair. Do the Carbon/Carbon version and skip the bent shaft unless you have elbow trouble.

#9 Kokatat Meridian Dry suit $1100.00 Help justify the price by saying it is safety equipment and it will extend your paddle season. It doesn't get better than this dry suit. And if your going to do a dry suit do the socks and relief zipper option. If your going to do it, do it big.

#10 Delta Sixteen $2300.00 I love my Delta, and when I paddled this last year it was my seventeen but just a touch snappier. It would make a great second boat.

That list would make anyone the happiest kayaker on christmas day. I just love the idea of a kayak under the tree.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Seat taken - Update

I have a number of friends who check in with my blog who are not serious Sea kayakers. One is a very serious cyclist, the other is a serious whitewater paddler. I had conversations with both of them regarding the seat taken post.

My cyclist friend confirmed that the exact same rules apply to cycling. People tend to want big comfy seats when they start, and then as they learn what they want, and what works, go to ever smaller seats. He mentioned people with big gel seats that are sliding all over the place and have no real connection to their bike. Which sounds exactly like kayaking.

My whitewater friend - Andy, who I have mentioned before - has moved to Key Largo and I have lost my best kayaking friend. In fact, I wore his spray skirt in Alaska and told him that I felt badly that his skirt went to Alaska and he didn't. To which he replied "then I was there in spirit". An amazing guy who I miss paddling with, But I digress. He said the seat back looked a lot like the seat back he had in his whitewater kayak which he said he loved but on long days it would dig into his back. So I am curious long term how my new seat back does.

I have long been envious of the cockpits of whitewater kayaks. They have all sorts of contraptions to hold the paddler in place to make the kayak ultra responsive. We don't get any of these gadgets in sea kayaks. About the best we get are foam blocks we can shave into place.

I very much appreciate the perspective of two non-sea kayakers as I realized that the issues that I talk about in kayaking transcends my realm and is really experienced in other sporting realms.

If you live in the United States Enjoy your holiday weekend. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Seat Taken

Back in April I wrote a post about seat backs, and the novices love of a big comfortable seat back that replicates the lazy boy in their living room. I mentioned that I was considering installing a simple Immersion Research back band into my Delta. I had actually been told by someone from Delta that it would fit in the boat. About a month ago I was doing some research and contacted Delta about which IR back band fit my seventeen, and if they knew how to Install it. I had a great conversation with someone there that said it would fit, though I would have to do some work to make it happen, but that they had their own - similar - back band that would not require I change anything. He explained that it was still a prototype, but if I was interested they would sell me one - It actually cost half what the IR back band would have cost - and that they would like my feedback. It arrived about a week later.

Clearly a prototype, it has no Delta logos or markings on it. It came in a padded envelope with no instructions for installation. But upon looking at it, and the seat in my kayak, it seemed pretty straight forward in terms of Installation. I had it installed in about 10 minutes, which I would say is pretty good time considering I had no one telling me how to do it. I did have to peel back the thigh brace on the right side to release the end of the cord that supports the seat back - I have since learned there may be a way to install it without doing this - so I need to re-glue this thigh pad.

                               new back band       original seat back    original behind new

As you can see in the photo it is much smaller than the standard Delta seat, and it is fairly flexible. It sits comfortably at the small of my back actually mimicking the contact I got with my standard seat reclined all the way. Though I should point out having the standard seat reclined all the way was rubbing on the cockpit coaming, and after 21 days in Alaska it looked like someone took sand paper to the coaming.

My initial response to this change in my cockpit was very positive, once I got it adjusted it wasn't long before I forgot it was there - which is perfect! It was comfortable and flexed nicely with me.

The week after I installed it was the 2nd annual Paddling Otaku Expedition Skills camp (ESK2) and I got to use it for an extended period of time. It really was sensational. It did everything I wanted, offered a little support to my lower back, without getting in the way of anything I wanted to do. I am sure someone skilled in greenland style rolling would be very happy with this addition.

My only concern is that it may be too flexible. I worry how it will do over time - will it weaken from flexing - with the flip side being I might not like it if it were stiffer. Colin at Delta was very receptive to my feedback and I was very receptive to a new seat back.

I like it's minimalist sensibilities, and I like that it isn't more than I need it to be. I look forward to seeing how it does long term.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Last night

Last Night I gave a talk at my local REI in Greensboro North Carolina. I talked for about an hour in regards to this past summers Inside Passage trip. I was extremely flattered with the turnout, and the warm response I received.

A number of people were expecting to see the videos I made, I chose not to show them months ago in part because I didn't want the evening to be about seeing a movie which is a one way conversation when I could have a two way conversation with the people in attendance. If however you came last night to see the three episodes of Paddle North they are viewable to the right if you click the Inside Passage link.

I mentioned very briefly that I was a Buddhist and after the talk someone approached me with questions. For that person I promised a series of links to an Author I found very helpful when I was first sliding into Buddhism. Thanks again to everyone who came last night.

Steven Hagen has written a series of books I found enjoyable and very helpful. This, his first, I found particularly enjoyable and insightful. Two others, this, and this were also very good reads. 

Those of you who have been reading here for a while know of my interest in Eugene Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. Which I also highly recommend. 

Fall has clearly arrived here in the American south. The leaves have fallen and the temperature is about to take a deep drop. I have a lot of work to do on the book, and have been focused tremendously on it. But while the weather and the work ahead push me, and us, away from the water, now is the time that we must force ourselves back onto the water. We must be comfortable in the uncomfortable. If we are going to skilled on the water we must be comfortable in all conditions. The wind, and the rain, and even the snow and ice. Now is the time to be heading onto the water. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Because I am always looking

I habitually watch the way people paddle. Recently I was giving a lesson to two people early on a sunday morning. I saw a paddler moving towards us, and after we passed and exchanged greetings I stopped and waited for my students. When they got closer - quietly - I asked them if they saw anything wrong with what they saw. They were quick to point out that the paddler who was now a good distance away, was slouching in his kayak seat. If you're slouching you can't engage your core muscles. He was also paddling with his arms, and his PFD was too loose. If you watch the paddlers around you, you will see many similar instances. The vast majority of people who get into a kayak make very little effort to paddle correctly. It is both the bane and the benefit of kayaking being so accessible. So as I am looking at paddlers on the water I am never surprised to see people that could be paddling more efficiently. But there is no excuse for this:

I took this picture of a page in a major magazine - guess which one? - because I was so infuriated by the photo. Look at the photo on the banner of this blog, then look at the photo above. Now look back to the banner. Now back at the photo above. Both are paddlers heading away from the camera at an angle. The photo on my banner is of Sarah, taken somewhere on the inside passage this summer. Please note that her elbows are both quite low. Now look at the photo from the magazine. This paddlers left elbow is well above his shoulder. This is not only bad technique, it is actually dangerous. Any time your elbow is above your shoulder, it only takes a little bit of pressure to dislocate it.  Your hands should move across your face with your elbows below your shoulders. Now I should point out that in a past life I worked in photography, and I know how this photo was created. Someone found a model who couldn't paddle, and had them 'paddle' into the sunset for a great shot. They didn't care that the model couldn't actually paddle. I mean, who would notice? Right? I did. And honestly the editors of a major outdoor magazine should know better. So spend some time looking at photos, and looking at the paddlers around you. And most importantly watch yourself. Keep track of where your arms, and elbows and hands are. Keep track of how deep your blade goes in the water. And where the blade enters the water and where - in relation to yourself - you pull it from the water. Think about what it feels like when your pushing on your foot pegs, and what the kayak feels like when you edge. Be alert to what is happening around, and feel the wind on your face. Most importantly, be present in what you're doing. What ever your doing. Think for a moment of the monk who will sweep the floor for hours, intent on only that thing. Think about how amazingly well the floor will be swept. Imagine what your forward stroke would look like with the same level of attention applied to it. Most people aren't present when they are completing routine tasks. Their mind wanders as their body goes through the motions. They begin to think of all nature of things that have nothing to do with the task at hand.  Take what you are doing to the next level. Be present, and watch.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Less paddling, but a little more Zen.

16 years ago I went through a very difficult - for me - divorce. Shortly thereafter I first read about Feng Shui which in short governs the placement of items in your surroundings and their effect on you by influencing your Chi (or Qi, if you prefer). I studied Feng Shui and ended up using it to make some major changes in my life. In retrospect, my early learning's of Feng Shui cast me upon a path towards Buddhism, though it was still a few years off.

One of the first things I learned in my studies of Feng Shui was to de-clutter my surroundings. So one night I came home to my little west village apartment in lower Manhattan and set to it. I used massive contractor grade garbage bags and took 16 of them down to the street to be recycled, thrown away or donated. I followed a simple rule, if I thought I might need it, I threw it away. I only kept things I knew I would need. I sold furniture, a record collection, most of my stereo. I gave away a lot of things too.

It was liberating. Truly liberating. The first thing I noticed was that if I couldn't find something there were only a few places to look. Also, my small apartment now seemed much bigger. In our extremely materialistic world, people took great pleasure in giving me a hard time. I laughed along with them as I knew I was happier. I was literally having the last laugh.

What brought this to my attention recently was that I have lately been feeling like there are a number of things 'I want'. I have a couple of different jobs, and one of them would really benefit from an iPad. I have another new source of income pending, that down the road would benefit from a high end HD camcorder.  I literally feel a bit of guilt that I 'want' these things.

The past several weeks I have run across a number of really interesting web sites. This one is about a couple that moved into a 'micro house'. I have been following the micro house movement for years and would love to be living in one, but alas my wife's book collection alone would fill it. This one is about the 333 project which I could do easily as I don't really have a dress code anywhere I work. This guy reduced all of his possessions to 100 items! Adding even more of a challenge to my theory of 'if you might need it'. This blog is written by a much more serious Buddhist than myself, and I love this post about suffering, and ironically he wrote this post about not taking it so seriously!

All of these amazing sites reminded me of how strict I had formerly been. So I am going to do a bit of a purge of the things in my life, so I can remember that liberated feeling. It will also help my desk be a bit more uncluttered. I would like this more current effort to translate into my digital life. Do I really need that file, or this photo? Won't my computer run better with more free space on its hard drive? Will my digital life mirror my non-digital life as giving a liberated feeling once the de-cluttering is done.

All of this hearkens back to early lessons in kayaking. We talked about Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do. Less movement, nothing extraneous. Keep it simple. All relates back to a simplicity of movement in our kayaks. I prefer the cross bow rudder to the bow rudder because there is less movement involved. Is there any reason that these concepts can't be applied to every aspect of our lives? Do we have to be defined by our possessions, or can we define ourselves with our actions. Do I really need three paddles? the third of which was the first one I ever bought made of plastic and aluminum?

I will continue to think about ways to simplify my life and my surroundings, and when the time is right or the need is imperative I will probably obtain the additional things I 'need', but in the mean time I won't beat myself up for wanting them. Does anyone need a paddle?