Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning "beginner's mind". It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

I don't remember where I grabbed that bit of text from, but when I read it, it struck me as a powerful concept. It sat on my desktop for several weeks and I just realized yesterday that I wanted it to be a theme for this new year. 

A friend at work made a comment the other day that his goal for 2012 was to learn something new every day. This has actually been a mantra of mine for years. They can be simple things, or complex things. The beauty of it is that when you get in the habit of seeking out new knowledge, it becomes a habit. You can stop seeking it from the expected places - teachers, instructors, bosses - and realize that you can learn things from anyone. Everyone has something to add. Something to give. 

I love teaching the forward stroke, because every time I learn something new about it. Consistently, beginners will have an insight into what it feels like to perform the stroke that I will not have heard before.  And because I am open to the concept of learning from the very people I am teaching - I hope - I am a better instructor for it. I don't have much patience for people who teach something who have no interest in other points of view. As a species we tend to get locked into 'our perspectives' on topics. We tend to defend our position - or stance - on something without actually being open to the ideas of the people we are talking with. 

I commend my friend for his goal for 2012, though I would encourage it to be a goal for life. Perhaps if more of us acted with more of a 'beginners mind' then there would be less trouble on the planet. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Stocking Stuffers For the Paddler in your life.

A few weeks ago I posted Christmas gift ideas for the paddler in your life, as the Holiday season is less than a week away I thought maybe you would need some ideas to fill out the stocking - that is hung by the chimney with care - of that paddler who is so hard to shop for. In no particular order, they are all under $25.00

#1 I am sad to see that my favorite paddling shoe is being discontinued and replaced with a more expensive version by NRS. But it still exists as a close out item and is a steal at $11.25.  I have worn this shoe (they call it a sock, but it is definitely more shoe like) from Alaska to the Caribbean. It's low profile yet comfortable.

#2 Another NRS closeout - These pogies served me well in Alaska this summer - So well I left them there. Somewhere between Juneau and Skagway. Probably on a  rock. I like pogies much more than gloves. These are a nice simple neoprene version.  $21.95

#3 Don't be fooled by the one bad review on This little five liter dry bag is the bomb! Durable, with tie downs on the sides it makes an awesome deck bag. A reader actually suggested it, and I will never go back.  $19.95

#4 Don't want to spend $49.00 on the Black Diamond storm - Try this for $19.95. This updated Black Diamond Gizmo is 35 lumens and weighs just a couple of ounces.

#5 Already shooting with a GoPro Hero HD2? Then they need this. $20.00 gets you a bicycle seat post adapter. Why would you need that? Because it fits perfectly on a paddle shaft.

#6 This is one of my favorite things. The replacement pad for the NRS quick change duffel. You already have a bag that all your gear goes in, but how many times have you stood next to it to change into or out of your paddling clothes and ended up standing on cold wet gravel mixed with mud? This is a round piece of nylon with a draw string around the outside. I stand in the middle of it to put on or take off my drysuit. It keeps my feet dry and clean, and protects the booties of my drysuit until I put on my desperado Socks. If you leave wet clothes in it you can then pull the draw string - it ends up looking like a big dumpling! - to keep your wet clothes from getting everything else wet. The best $15.95 I ever spent.

#7 To help you build Chi in the new year how about these Black Diamond Chinese exercise balls.  You can find this same item less expensive without the Black Diamond Logo, but they make such nice steel products I think it's worth it. I have a pair of BD chopsticks that I received as a gift from the president of BD. And they are so beautifully made it's incredible.

#8 Another company that makes amazing products out of metal, Snow Peak makes this amazing piece of cutlery. $9.95 for titanium, you can't beat that.

#9 This is a book that really helped me get my meditation rolling (no pun intended), I highly recommend it. Don't knock it until you have tried it. And if your going to meditate I find a timer essential. $1.99 gets you my timer of choice.

#10 And finally, Don't get lost. I love this Wilderness Navigation book, It's not marine specific, but it is very good.

I hope everyone has a healthy and happy holiday. I will see you in the new year.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

They Help

Over the years I have found several things that help the kayaker, that have nothing to do with kayaking. I thought I would pass a few of them on.

Martial Arts/Tai Chi: When I say Tai Chi and Martial arts what I am really saying is internal and external arts. I learned early on that people who practiced martial arts - particularly people that used weapons like the staff - took to the movements of kayaking very easily. You will find it easier to accept the concept of rotation faster if you already understand this movement from working with a staff, or throwing a punch correctly. Tai Chi teaches 'flow' and balance and patience better than anything I have ever seen. You also learn that power can come from slow, balanced, flowing movement, like a forward stroke.

Meditation: If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you know that I consider paddling a meditation. So meditation on dry land can only be good as well, right? I recently read a description of meditation that I liked, it described it as lifting weights for the brain. We spend our days focusing on many pieces of information all at once. the phone is ringing, while cooking dinner with the TV on, and the dog wants to go out, and little Johnny needs help with his algebra. As a species we do much better when we are focused on one thing. Our minds have become the kings of short attention span theater and this is never better illustrated by the friend you have that only calls you when they are driving somewhere and doesn't have something to do in the car. They will tell you it is a good use of time, but the real reason is that they aren't comfortable with their own thoughts. And they aren't comfortable with their own thoughts because they are constantly drowned out by a ridiculous amount of stimulus. By meditating you will learn to focus your thoughts down to one thing, your breathing. (When I am paddling I focus on the movements of a paddle stroke.) By doing this repeatedly you will make it easier to do - I think it is one of the more difficult things I do - and will give you a level of calm and peace you have never experienced before. You will also see the world with a clarity you have never seen before.

Neti Pots: If you are unfamiliar with a Neti Pot, it looks like a small tea pot. You put body temperature water in it, and a salt solution - so the water is the same salinity as your body - You then put the spout of the tea pot to a nostril, lower your head a bit, and pour. The water will go in one nostril, through your sinuses and out the other nostril taking all manner of things with it. What does this have to do with Kayaking? It is wonderful after a day of working on rolling when all sorts of liquid ends up inside your head. You can flush it out, and it will leave you feeling cleaned and refreshed. It is also a way to get the last of a cold out of your nose, And just recently I used one as I felt a cold coming on and the symptoms went away. Though this could have been a psychosomatic reaction.

Yoga: Yoga will help balance, and patience, and clarity and stretch. You want to learn to Greenland roll, your going to need to be flexibly and Yoga is the key. I was born pretty flexible - to the point that yoga instructors have commented on it, it certainly isn't through hard work on my part! - but you can gain a remarkable amount of flexibility and strength through yoga classes.

There are others, for more 'hard' skills, like land navigation sets you up for the more difficult water navigation, but this is another post.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Bear - extended version

A lengthened version of 'The Bear' encounter from the Inside Passage trip this summer has been picked up by Stop by and check it out.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Recently I received an email from an old friend. He asked a simple question, one that I am amazed I hadn't covered before. His question was this:

For beginners do you recommend a lake, river or bay setting?  If you had the choices of course.

Wonderful question. And the answer of course is, it depends. I take most first lessons on a lake. In part due to proximity, but in part due to controllability. I don't have to worry about tides, or the current of a river. Tides and currents are both important elements to take into consideration. 

I previously lived near the Hudson river, which is also tidally influenced. It is a great paddling destination,  but one has to be aware of the tidal effects. When the tide is flooding, it is fighting the effect of the rivers current. But when the tide is ebbing, they are working together. I always tried to start my paddle heading into the current, so that when I am tired and turn around, I am not fighting the current to get home. 

The same can be said for early paddles in a bay. What is the tide doing and how does it effect the local waters? Plan your paddle accordingly. So you start off working against the tide (tides can create currents, but they aren't the same thing), so you have its help coming home. If you plan accordingly you can put in towards the end of a tide cycle, and turn around when the tide does. So you are getting a current push in both directions. 

Of course all of these answers are neglecting to take into account wind. Beginning lessons I like to have on fairly windless days. But around lesson three - when a student is starting to get comfortable with the forward stroke - I will seek out some wind. I have certain exercises that I like to make a new student do to experience the power of wind. 

Recently paddling with my student Grace, there was a ten knot wind, and we paddled into it. I wanted her to feel how much even a soft wind can effect her speed. After a time we came around a point - that for a time sheltered us from the wind, and then created a wind zone as we rounded it. This implanted the idea of using the land to shelter you from the wind. We then paddled a stretch of coast that led to a dam. The dam was buoyed off. And we did the following exercise. We paddled up to a buoy and circled it. This allowed Grace to feel the effects of the wind as the boat was turned 365º - it also forced her to work to turn a long kayak quickly. At the next buoy we turned the boats the opposite direction. So again she could feel the wind on all parts of her boat front/side/stern as she circled the buoy again. 

So really the answer is Any of these locations is suitable for a new paddler, as long as the conditions match the skill level. Think about where you are before you are on the water. What is the tide doing and when does it change, how is the land interacting with the tide, or wind, or current and how will that effect me on the water. Most importantly, look at your surroundings. See how they are effected by the current conditions, and keep track of that effect. how much are trees moving, and how much is water moving from wind, and current. Keep track of those changes so when they do change, for better or worse you notice them. And respond accordingly. 

You may notice,

On the lower right side of my blog is a new Delta Kayaks Logo, that when clicked will take you to their site. Over the past three years I have developed a good relationship with a handful of people at Delta.

Delta Kayaks and myself have entered into a simple link swap. But this is where I point out that Delta Kayaks doesn't pay me, I am a long time user of their products and my opinions of those products aren't influenced by Delta in anyway.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Santa's paddling style

More readers, by far, come to this blog with one question. It is some variation on this:
Which is better, high angle or low angle paddling, or what's the difference between high angle and low angle, or when would I use high angle or low angle paddling style.

I have gone over the differences in the past, so I won't go into it again. However, this evening as we were decorating out Christmas tree my wife handed me two nearly identical Christmas tree ornaments. She said "we have two of these you should hang them both." As I looked at them I realized that while in theory they were identical - Santa Claus in a kayak - to the trained eye of a kayaker they in fact were very different.

Yes, they are both kayaking, and in touring kayaks. They both have a little dog on their bows, which is how I paddle most of the time. But one Santa is paddling a low angle style and one is clearly paddling a high angle style. The controversy of low angle vs. high angle extends all the way to the north pole.

I hung them on opposite sides of the tree so the two of them don't get into an argument of the benefits of their particular styles. As we have slid into December, I hope you are still finding time to get yourself into a kayak.