Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Video content this week, on Instagram

This week I am releasing 7 15 second videos on instagram. All comprised of footage from the last Alaska Trip. The best way to see these are on my instagram account, though they will post on Facebook. You can see the first 3 right here!

getting there from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Packing from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Here We GO! from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

I am toying with producing a short film for each month of the year looking at my life as an outdoor educator. Still not sure what that will look like as I am not a fan of really being on camera. But I might just suck it up and make it happen.

But I would love for you to join me on Instagram. I am really loving the simplicity of the environment, and the greater control I have over what I see. Stop by.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Post incident debrief

In the outdoor recreation and education industry, accidents - or incidents if you prefer - are inevitable. It is a standard practice to debrief an incident to see what in your risk management program is effective, or where there are holes in safety creating areas of potential risk, and most importantly what can we learn from the incident to prevent similar incidents in the future.

You can never remove all risk. These are inherently risky games we play, but we can work hard to mitigate the risk.

This morning I read Rick Ridgeways account of the Doug Tompkins fatal incident, and my brain immediately slipped into debrief mode. When assessing a situation like this - and you should always assess a situation like this, there is always something to learn - here are some of the questions I start to ask myself. I need to stress, I am not questioning Mr. Ridgeways or Mr Tompkins actions. Merely trying learn from a tragic accident.

What was the cause? I want to know about the gear involved and the gear worn. Weather. Experience. Hydration and Nutrition. Other risk factors. Think about those while you read Mr. Ridgeways account:

The trip started as a four-day paddle along a remote section of Lago General Carrerra, in Patagonian Chile. There were six of us on the trip in two single and two double kayaks. Between us we had well over a hundred years of combined experience. But Doug and I also had a double kayak with a finicky rudder. On the third day of paddling a growing crosswind created challenging conditions, and with our faulty rudder Doug and I were unable to avoid a broaching wave that capsized us.
We knew immediately we were in a grave situation. As the wind and current pushed us toward the center of the lake, we had no way of knowing whether our companions in the other boats—who were ahead of us and out of sight around a point we had been working to round—knew of our predicament. We realized we had about 30 more minutes to survive; the water temperature was perhaps 38 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit. We tried and failed four times to right the boat and paddle it, but the wind and waves were too strong for us to maintain balance and the boat was too flooded. Eventually, we had to decide whether to attempt to swim or to stay with the capsized boat. The boat, pushed by a perpendicular current, was drifting towards the center of the lake. Staying with it was putting us in an even more difficult if not impossible position.
We decided to abandon the boat and began to swim toward the point. It was tough and I realized, against the current, it was likely impossible to reach the point. Time was also against us. I was slowing and even with a life jacket I was pushed under by the larger waves. I could see Doug and assumed he was in the same situation. I was hypothermic and I was starting to drown. For a few minutes I gave in—just let it go—but then snapped back. Then I saw our companions paddling towards us against the wind—now at about 40 knots with gusts much stronger to 50 knots and more (later confirmed from weather measurements for the lake that day).
Two of our companions, Jib Ellison and Lorenzo Alvarez, reached me in a double kayak. I hung onto the stern loop, still in the water, while they paddled into the wind to reach an eddy behind the point. Between the waves and the wind, there was no point for me to try to get onto the boat. I had to dig deep—I think as deep as I’ve gone. It seemed to take forever. I remained focused on my hands and holding on to the loop until I realized I was on a rock. Then I lost consciousness and my next memory was of lying in front of a fire.
Doug was not so lucky. Our other companion, Weston Boyles (who had been paddling with Yvon Chouinard but left him in order to attempt Doug’s rescue), gave a supreme effort—attempting to paddle Doug to safety but unable to overcome the power of the wind and current. Doug held on for another half-hour, kicking as much as he could, but lost consciousness. Weston risked his own life to keep Doug’s head above water as he fought to reach shore. By the time they landed, Doug was too hypothermic to survive.
Okay, in the first paragraph we learn that they are in a remote location, as a group they have a lot of experience. Rick and Doug have a double also called a tandem kayak with a finicky rudder. Because of the rudder the kayak turns sideways to the waves and rolls. Here are the follow up questions I would ask if I had access:
When did you know the rudder was finicky, before the trip? before that day? When you discovered the rudder was finicky, could you have found another beach to land on, short of your destination to fix the rudder or wait out the wind? Was the boat checked before the trip began? 
In paragraph two we learn that because of their finicky rudder they aren't able to keep up with the group who are now out of sight and around a point, this is a tremendous error in leadership and judgement among people who know better. Staying with the boat is generally a good idea, as it offers much better visibility, but if it is getting pulled away from a safe location it is a crap shoot. Here are my follow up questions. What exactly were you wearing (though even a drysuit in 40 degree water is cold) Did you have bilge pumps and paddle floats? (could the boat have been outriggered with a paddle float for stability and then bilge pumped empty?) Could you get on top of the boat to get your body out of the 40 degree water? With wind in 40 to 50 knot territory, did we hear a weather report before hitting the water? Did we have an opportunity for weather updates while paddling? 
Paragraph 3 The remainder of the group realize something is wrong and come back for them. The tandem rescues Rick - by the way, this is what the handles on the ends of your boat are for, I have written about this in the past! - but a single can't make headway with Doug against the wind. We know how this plays out. 
There were unfortunately a number of mistakes made that started with a finicky rudder. Then a failure to make a "no go" call when faced with high wind, or a bail out call when that wind was getting worse. Then the group getting separated. There are still a lot of questions to be answered and we probably won't get them (Clothing, weather reports, what was actually wrong with the rudder, bilge pumps)
I wasn't with them, but I suspect the biggest issue was that a in big group of highly skilled adventures, no one wanted to say "these conditions are too much, lets find a beach and call it a day". 
In fairness, and because I have a lot of respect for the people involved, my questions may all be unfounded. Maybe the rudder didn't act up until they were paddling that day? Maybe they were in drysuits with ample insulation. Maybe in bad conditions they told the group not to wait, so fewer people would be at risk. Maybe in the rough water they couldn't set up an outrigger, or pump out the kayak. Maybe they had weather information and it was wrong - though I know that is a stretch, the weatherman is NEVER wrong! Maybe earlier in the day they realized they needed to get off the water, and couldn't. 
The point of this exercise is to look at the incident, and see what could have prevented a fatal outcome. So we can learn, and next time prevent something like this from happening. Think about your own trips, and near misses. Have a solid plan for future trips, and think about the what if's. What if the weather goes bad while we are on an exposed coast? Have you ever practiced getting into a kayak in rough water? When you are cold? When you are tired? 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Kayaking Courtesy - Don't use boat ramps

I spent the last year teaching for a major outdoor education company. We offered both kayaking tours and lessons, to groups and individuals. On many occasions we would end up at a put in at one of the beaches we worked from with 15 kayaks, waiting for people to show up.

Not uncommon in my life. 

While prepping gear and boats for a group to appear, I would watch the boat ramp. Boat ramps are designed for power boats. the idea is you have a boat on a trailer which you back into the water. You then either get in your boat and take it to a dock, or just line it to a dock. Then drive your trailer to a parking space. Total time on the ramp, 3 minutes or less.

I would also see kayakers use the boat ramp. It seems obvious. A kayak is a boat. It is called a boat ramp. I should put my kayak in the water utilizing the boat ramp. The problem is, we are slow. We carry our boat from our roof to the water line. Then go back to the car to get paddle, pfd, and whatever else we need. Then make another trip to park the car. Then we can finally get on the water once we put on paddle, and secure everything else. This never takes less than 10 minutes. If the person involved is a kayak fisherman it takes even longer. (I'm not knocking kayak fisherman, but you people have a lot of gear!)

What I suggest is this, find an area adjacent to the boat ramp with a beach like appearance, and stage your boat and gear there. It is courtesy not to block the ramp for an extended period of time, and it is also better for your boat, as the ramps are almost always concrete. Because they are concrete they are also usually slippery, and more than once I have slipped and fallen.

While the above reasons are valid, they aren't the best reason. The best reason is courtesy. We all want to get on the water and have a nice day, and if you can't get on the water because some kayaker is taking forever on the ramp, you are going to be in a foul mood. I don't want anyone on the water in a foul mood.

Another option is to do a dock launch. I don't really like them, but a lot of people do them all the time. It is something to think about, and there are times when you don't have an option, so it is a good skill to have.

I have a third option that is my favorite. I used it extensively when my boat lived on Long Island, New York. I kept in my truck a copy of the Gazetteer for New York. I spent a fair amount of time examining the coast line of Long Island looking for places where road, ran to, or along the water. I would then drive that road looking for an easy put in. It was crazy fun to explore dozens of small dirt roads and find a secret spot to put in. I would then highlite the put in so I had a quick reference for another time. Today we can do the same thing with Google earth or Google Maps. Boy do I miss that book. It was a great resource, and as much as I love digital maps, there is something about a paper map.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Goodnight Doug.

Yesterday we lost Doug Tompkins, founder of The North Face and Conservacion Patagonica in a kayaking accident in Patagonia. Doug spent the last 20 odd years of his life founding parks and protecting land in Patagonia. While renowned as a climber he was also a skilled Kayaker. There are few details as to how the accident happened - he was with a  group that is a veritable who's who of the outdoor world - but I am sure with time we will find out what happened.

I am saddened anytime someone dies in a kayak, but particularly someone who had such a big impact on the planet.

This is a good time to check out the film 180ยบ South which he is featured in prominently.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Water Treatment - "I'll just use drops"

Yesterday I heard that sentence. "I'll just use drops" she said. This is not a good sentence when you are advising someone on gear for an extended trip. There is a lot of misconceptions about water and water treatment for the backcountry. I would like to dispel some of them now, or...

Everything you wanted to know about water treatment for the backcountry but were afraid to ask!

What are we afraid of? If you are adventuring in North America, in regard to water, you have two things to worry about. Giardia, and Cryptosporidium. Both are intestinal parasites, that give you gastrointestinal distress, which can actually be life threatening. There are many ways to take care of these two water born nasties. Lets talk about how pervasive these are later. We will also talk about viruses in your water later.

You can outright kill them, with chemicals or ultraviolet light. Or you can remove with with some form of filtration. Here is a rundown on all three methods.

Chemicals: Drop a tablet or drops into a liter of water and wait, or create a solution of some sort, drop it in a liter of water and wait. this is the chemical method, but there are different types of chemicals for this process and they have varying degrees of success.

Iodine is the most common, and the least effective. It is cheap, which is why it is so common. Simply add it to your water, wait 30 minutes and you are good to go. Sort of. It only kills giardia. Cryptosporidium has a hard shell, that Iodine can't penetrate. DO NOT USE IODINE!

Chlorine or Chlorine Dioxide. These work well. They kill both Giardia, and Crypto, and depending on which you use, it can only take 30 minutes, but depending on the brand it may take up to four hours. MSR and Aqua Mira are the brands I look to, if I choose this method. NOLS uses Aqua Mira. Great product for long trips. Also kills viruses which we will talk about later.

UV Light: UV light systems made by steripen or camelback use light to kill giardia, crypto and viruses. It is quick, 60 to 90 seconds. It is theoretically effective. I have had chemists tell me when they do the same thing in a lab they use a much longer 'dwell time'. They don't understand how these devices can work in 90 seconds. There is also the problem that the water has to be clear. If there are floaties in the water, the light can't get to the things it is trying to kill. Which means you may be pre-filtering the water so the water is clear (though this could be as simple as a bandana or a coffee filter) Let's also not forget that they require batteries and electronic devices can break.

Then there is filtration. Filtration uses some form of pressure to force water through a material. This material has to have .2 micron holes or smaller, to allow water molecules to pass through without letting giardia and crypto pass through. Add something like charcoal, or carbon to the process and you also remove odors and flavors. Historically, this pressure was created by pumping. If you have been active in the outdoors for along time you know the Katadyne Hiker and Hiker Pro, as well as the MSR Waterworks, and MiniWorks. Later MSR released the Sweetwater which was smaller and faster then the other filters i have mentioned. All of the filters I have mentioned with the exception of the Waterworks is still in production.

All of these filters utilize some form of replaceable filter cartridge, so when you are shopping, think about how fast it filters a liter of water, how much it weighs and how long the filter cartridge will work. They are generally in the range of 1000 liters or 200 gallons.

About ten years ago people started to say they hated pumping water. It was hard work, and it was slow. Various companies released gravity fed systems, where you fill a bag with water, and hang it in a tree, and gravity forces it through a filter into a receptacle. No pumping, but they tended to be bigger and harder to pack.

Then about five years ago, we saw a big change. Sawyer and MSR released Hollow Fiber technology. Here is how hollow fiber works.

I am a big fan of Sawyer filters, I used them on both the Inside passage and the AGAP PWS trip, and we had exactly zero problems. I love the versatility of the sawyer squeeze and mini. They can be hand held, used in line with a reservoir. In a water bottle like a Lifestraw. Or you can turn it into a gravity system like we did. No filters to change, just periodic cleaning. An important thing to note, Hollow fiber technology doesn't get out odors and flavors. If your water tastes like poo, after filtering with hollow fiber, it will still taste like poo - but be safe to drink. We did experience this once in Alaska. We had questionable water as our only option. We drank it with a drink mix until we found better water.

The lifestraw is incredibly popular and it is also a terribly flawed product. It can really only be used as a straw, from either the water source or a water bottle (that is now contaminated with unfiltered water). It is popular because of amazing marketing, that went viral, much like the biolite stove, something that is also amazingly flawed. The lifestraw has lifespan of 200 gallons, versus 100,000 gallons for the sawyer mini or 1,000,000 gallons for the sawyer squeeze. The lifestraw costs 4 dollars less than the sawyer mini.

There is one thing I left out of this equation. Viruses. Viruses are even smaller than Giardia and Crypto, and historically have been hard to filter. Though every year there are more options for filtering viruses, as sawyer even makes a filter that will do it. Viral level filters tend to be harder to pass water through, as you have to pass it through an even smaller hole. It is important to note that Chlorine and Chlorine Dioxide both kill viruses and can be used in conjunction with a filter if you are in a location with questionable water. When water has been treated for viruses, it is referred to as purified. Filtered water still has the potential for viral infection, Purified water doesn't.

How common are viruses in our drinking water? Not very. At least in North America. If you are backpacking or paddling in North America it is a non-issue. While we are talking about how common things are, how common are Giardia, and Crypto? Great question, and there is no definitive answer.

In the 80's a hiking club decided to take it upon themselves to find out. They sent sterile water bottles to hiking clubs in all 50 states. Asked them to fill the bottle with water from a popular hiking destination in their area and send it back. They paid to have all the water tested. They found about a third of water was contaminated. This is a very unscientific test.

This doesn't mean, you don't have to filter your water. You absolutely should. Particularly considering how small, light, fast and inexpensive filters have gotten.

The final thing I want to talk about is this. I have heard many times "this filter doesn't work, because I used it, and the next morning I had diarrhea." This isn't a water filter problem, this is a hand washing problem. After going to the bathroom the person didn't practice good hand hygiene, and then ate dinner with their hands. Yuck, but all too common.

You probably won't see effects from Giardia or Crypto for 10 days. Both have to get into your digestive tract and have time to reproduce. Giardia is the slowest, 7 to 14 days. Crypto is technically listed as 1 to 14 days, but 7 to 10 is normal.

A couple of final questions I get asked:

"What about boiling?" Boiling works great. The water just needs to come to a full rolling boil - temp of 212F or 100C - you don't need to let it boil for X minutes. But it does use up fuel, and you have to wait for it to cool.

"What about bleach in my water?" Go for it. I don't know the ratio, like 3 drops per gallon, and 30 minutes? Find a reliable source online for the ratio.

"Can I cook with untreated water?" if you will be using high heat/it will have opportunity to boil, absolutely.

"if I shower in the backcountry do I have to use treated water?" No. Just keep your mouth closed. I would however brush your teeth with treated water.

I think that should cover it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Kayaking Christmas 4 - The stocking stuffers!

Part two of the Christmas post season here at Paddling Otaku is the Stocking stuffer list. This is a less expensive list of little things for the kayaker in your life. It started in year one when someone complained about the $10,000 kayak on the list.  So here is a list of 10 items all for under $25.00

Safety is key and nothing says your loved one is important like apiece of gear that can literally save their life. In the previous list I mentioned first aid kits, and WFA classes, but here are another couple of items that can make a difference before and after something bad happens.

#1 - The Fox 40 Whistle. You can blow a whistle much longer than you can call for help, and this whistle is designed to be heard over great distances and isn't impeded by water. It should be on every PFD.  Get it in orange, for around $5, and while we are on the topic get them a rescue signal mirror also. Better to be prepared. 

#2 - After you have had something bad happen, you have helped rescuers find you by blowing your whistle, you have rendered aid with your First Aid Kit, and the skills you got from your WFA course, it is time write down all that happened to your patient and what interventions you took. We use the SOAP note format for that, and for decades we have done it on paper. No more, now you can do it with the Wilderness Medicine Institutes app, available here for free.

Two items that make any campsite more festive, particularly around the holiday seasons, #3 try the Eno Twilights for $19.95. Guaranteed to make any campsite more fun.

I also like #4 the Festy Flags from Eno, Also $19.95 which are kind of like tibetan prayer flags, which always look nice in a campsite. Maybe you should just get those! Available here for $14.95

A couple of other apps I couldn't live without, #5 Dark Skies is a micro weather app that gives very accurate (usually) very localized weather reports like "Rain stopping in 8 minutes, starting again in 22." Get it here for $3.99. If highly localized isn't right for the situation, how about just looking to see what is to the west with #6 the MyRadar weather App. This one is Free.

#7 Just as GoPro cameras are always on the list, I also have GoPro Batteries on the list. If you ask me they don't need to make the camera any smaller, just make the batteries bigger. In the mean time, stock up, they are only $20.00

#8 Coffee is key, right BeardedCanadian?! Those Yeti Mugs are getting hard to find, try this one. Yeti is what everyone is using. The cool people are using HydroFlask, add a closing sip lid for a few bucks more. Pair it with this for best cup of back country coffee you have every had.

Speaking of Snow Peak, do yourself a favor and just slide over to their website. They make the most amazing gear - I love this Titanium Sake cup. There is almost nothing one their site for under $25.00 but all their gear is amazing.

#9 I know I have mentioned this before, but Gordon Brown Sea Kayak for intermediate to Advanced paddlers is the best kayaking book on the planet. Bar none. I hope he is working on a second book. Get it here for around $15.00

#10 I don't have a link for, but encourage the person you are shopping for to do something epic. It is a skill builder, a confidence builder, and a story generator. Buy them maps of someplace cool - the IP, the UP, the OBX (lets see how many location specific abbreviations I can come up with!) On the East Coast go to Maine or PEI. Tell them to paddle safe and have fun. You could do this with non-kayaking picture books, or videos too.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Ultimate Adventure Vehicle

For a long time I dreamed of the perfect adventure vehicle. I started rock climbing at 18, and I knew then I would spend a big portion of my life in the outdoors. I needed a vehicle that could get me where I needed to go with all my gear. I envisioned something like this.

But it turns out these aren't too practical. Hard to find. Generally in bad shape when you find them, and they require a lot of work. They are also expensive, and when you decide at an early age that the outdoors is going to occupy a large part of your life, there isn't a lot of money left over.

When I bought my first kayak I still lived in Manhattan. My boat lived at my sisters on long island. I needed a way to get myself out to the boat, and then the boat to the water. I settled on this.

If you squint at this blurry photo it looks a little like the land rover in the photo above it, but in reality it is a 1992 Isuzu Trooper. Everyone who rode in this truck loved it. It was inexpensive, reliable - with a pretty bad leak in the transmission - but it ran fine. It went everywhere, snow, sand, dirt roads to reach a put in. I loved this truck, and I died a little when its engine went. She was named Trucky by a dear friend, and is still referred to with affection.

There was a brief period with a Toyota forerunner. To give you an idea of how much we liked that truck, I have no photos of it. Everyone hated it. The last trip the forerunner made was to get my boats and my dog down to North Carolina. It literally died in the driveway, and not a single tear was shed.

I lived vehicle free for a few years, and didn't make a purchase until it was time to paddle the inside passage. I needed a way to get myself and my gear to Alaska.

Behold the Toyota Yaris. An unlikely candidate for the Ultimate Adventure Vehicle. It isn't four wheel drive, or have great road clearance. It was purchased for two things, a round trip to Alaska, and to get me to and from Wilderness First Aid classes. But over time, she has proven herself to be worthy the title. My son named her Yin - as in the white half of a Yin Yang. She is understated and quiet. Yin is featured pretty prominently in Paddle North - Episode 1

Paddle North - Episode 1 from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

This is her in Dawsons Creek, BC. with three boats on the roof on her second round trip to Alaska. She did those Alaska trips asking for little more than oil changes. Carrying gear for three, on a 4700 mile trip (one way!). Chugging up over the rockies and almost hitting a bear on the Alaskan Highway. She took a rock to the windshield on both trips. The crack is pretty annoying, but it is kind of like a scar. A road map of a well lived life. 

We drove into a hurricane to go kayaking at the coast last year, and she never complained. She told me on that trip it was time for new tires, her second set. Tires, oil and fuses are about the only maintenance she has taken - I tried to get the brakes done a while ago and my mechanic said "she doesn't need them yet!" The fuses are because I seriously overwork the power port in the dashboard, charging phones, cameras, radios and just about anything else I can think of. If you look closely, you will see three other Yaris's. Yin was such a hit my wife, and both grown children bought yaris's.

She is my office when I am teaching, keeping any amount of gear, for however many things I am teaching, safe and out of site - I prefer a trunk to a hatchback for visibility reasons. You don't know I have $1000 in paddles in the trunk but you would see them in the back of a hatch back.

This week she turned 100,000 miles. Thanks for everything Yin. Maybe when you hit 200K I will get you that new windshield.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Kayaking Christmas 4

I was too busy working last year to make Kayaking Christmas happen which is too depressing for words. This is one of my favorite posts to do each year - because when you get right down to it I am a gear head. So without further delay, here is your kayakers holiday wish list for this year. Listed from least expensive to most expensive.

I have become a huge fan of this Yoga Studio App - it doesn't replace taking a class but is wonderful when you want to practice alone. it is only $3.99 and worth every penny. If you aren't doing yoga already, start. It will dramatically increase your comfort in the cockpit - in both flexibility and strength.

I love sea to summit dry bags. Sorry Seal line, they stole me away. They did it subtly, with lower prices, a more diverse product line. Quality is great from both brands, but I prefer the selection from Sea to summit. They are awesome for paddling as well as hiking, or backpacking. Starting at $14.95

A first aid kit, any first aid kit. People don't like buying them for themselves, do it for them. I like the REI kits $24.50, but these are good too. When you are done with that, recommend that your loved one and paddling partners take a Wilderness First Aid course. Who knows, maybe I will be your instructor.

If you don't have a sawyer mini (or squeeze) you are missing the boat. 3 ounces, no filter replacements needed. Usable in just about any manner - inline, gravity fed, squeeze right into your mouth. A steal at $25.00

Headlamps are always on the list, and they are always Black Diamond, because Black Diamond just keeps upping the ante. This year they increased the Black Diamond SPOT to 200 lumens - which is a little ridiculous - and made it waterproof which was the reason I changed to the Storm. To make it even better it is still only $39.95. I will not paddle without a headlamp. You never know.

These wicked cool titanium chopsticks. okay, why chopsticks? A number of reasons, they slow your down when you are eating, which is good for your body and mind. I am also all about adding a layer of civilization to our outdoor adventures, and even if you are eating packaged ramen, when you eat those noodles with chopsticks it just makes the day seem better. $60.00

You slide up onto the beach, set up camp, and then create an amazing dinner. Dine like a civilized person - we're not backpackers after all! - and sit in a chair that keeps your bottom of the cold ground like the REI Flexlite chair $72.50, maybe even add a little table like this one.

SPOT Devices are FREE! Okay, not exactly. Spot is offering a rebate for the cost of device when you pay for a year of service. Tell your loved ones you don't want them to end up like this guy. $99.00 a year.

Want to chill around camp, maybe you're not ready to slide into your bag? Set up your eno doublenest with Atlas straps and enjoy the starry night. (Around $100 for both) - so there was this campsite in BC with an improvised rope hammock... amazing.

The Werner Camano (all carbon version) is the best, lightest, all-around paddle for touring kayakers. I like the kalliste, but prefer the Camano and it is less expensive to boot! $349.00

Another frequent visitor to this list is GoPro Cameras, and this year is no different. This time however I am not recommending the Hero 4 Black. Take it back a notch and go for the Hero 4 Silver $399.00, Amazing camera, and not too expensive. Unless you are a professional film maker, you don't need the 4k resolutions.

Pick any number of Goal Zero product, and they will help keep your phone, go pro, and whatever else you need charged. I swear by my Sherpa 50 and Nomad 13, but tech wise it is getting a little old. Now there is a Sherpa 100 and Nomad 20! Yikes, that should power just about anything you have in the field, just turn the phone off. We get out here to get some separation from our hectic lives. $599.00

Stay tuned for the less expensive Stocking stuffer list, coming soon.

And if this isn't enough, previous years lists are here, and here, one more here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Pulling the Plug

I returned from Alaska, and the Alaskan Glacier Awareness Project over a year ago. In that time I spent a great deal of energy working on turning the 40 or gigabytes of video into a coherent film, that I could submit to film festivals.

At the moment I have a 28 minute rough cut, complete with music. I am fairly happy with the rough cut, and feel with two or three more passes I could have a fairly good finished project. We got some amazing photographs - which I have carefully kept off the internet (with one exception)- to add a layer of suspense to the film. The final step was finding a Glaciologist to look at our photos and tell us what we are seeing.

It took a while, but I finally found a glaciologist who would tell us what our photos said, and the answer is... Nothing.

It seems tidewater glaciers - which are glaciers that terminate (or end) in the water are incredibly complex. There are many factors that speak to the health of a glacier, and when that glacier terminates in the water it is even more complex. She said that when they study tidewater glaciers, they need to work with several other scientists at the same time. Oceanographers, geologists, meteorologists, etc, etc.

We spent so much time planning the expedition, we didn't think about talking to a scientist before we went, which in retrospect was really stupid. What we saw was this.

About half the glaciers were unrecognizable from their 1957 selves. But some seemed unchanged. We hoped a glaciologist would be able to tell us why that was, and they can, but the photos themselves don't tell the entire story. So with that in mind, I am pulling the plug on the film.

There is no doubt that the glaciers are unhealthy and dying, but our photos don't prove that. It is a much more complex situation. 

The footage will get used in some form, and it will be making appearances on this site. The photos will be finding there way to Instagram and Facebook soon.

Barry glacier from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

As you are looking at the transformation above, keep in mind the original photo was taken at the end of the season when it should have been the smallest. Our photos were taken in June when they should have been the largest.

I sincerely apologize to the people and sponsors that worked with us. You will continue to be spoken of highly on this site and in other social media, so for the record, a great contact at starbucks got us a ridiculous amount of coffee and other products for use on the trip (including a large gift card to keep us Caffeinated on the drive up and back). I also want to add, if you are driving through Minot, North Dakota, stop at this starbucks and find a guy named "Joosh". We are still talking about Joosh today.

Honestly, there is no other reason to stop in Minot. Sorry Minot, I call it as I see it. 

Another great supporter was Delta Kayaks, who got us our third boat, and they all - even the nearly destroyed by a forklift Delta Fifteen - performed amazingly. Like zero problems amazingly. I stand by my earlier comment that the Delta Seventeen is the best expedition kayak on the planet. Period. 

Our final sponsor was Lazy Otter Charters who comped us a month worth of parking in Whittier Alaska. If you are going to Prince William Sound, please look them up. They Also make great coffee!

The final supporters I need to thank are our Kickstarter Supporters. It is you that I feel I have let down the most. We set a small goal that we blew out of the water, and probably couldn't have done the trip without your help. 

If you donated to the trip, in any manner and you want a copy of my book, please send me an email and I will make that happen. 

A special thanks goes out to Adam Forgash, who was our largest kickstarter backer. He is a great photographer and becoming a great film maker. Thanks for your support Adam. 

Thank you so much to everyone who supported this trip, particularly my amazing wife who lets me undertake crazy things like this from time to time. Stay tuned for photos of the glaciers. And as always, thanks for your support. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Goodbye Facebook

I am pretty much done with Facebook.

As I continue to work to simplify my life, I am growing more and more frustrated with Facebook. I view Facebook as an internet drug. It lures me back day after day because of never ending curiosity. What are my friends, who are scattered all over the United States and Canada, doing. Yet I spend most of my time frustrated by what I am seeing. Honestly it is mostly friends of friends who are frustrating me, but nonetheless, I am frustrated.

I don't mind the kitten and puppy videos. The kids first day of school, or the myriad other random videos and pics people post. Many of my friends on Facebook are active in the outdoors, or work in the outdoors and it is nice to see what they are doing. I love knowing that Sarah (who I paddled the inside passage with) is now a competitive mountain biker. I love seeing updates from all the paddlers I know and all the amazing adventures that are happening every day. At any given moment, I can see experienced slackline/highliners, amazing kayakers, highly skilled mountain bikers and climbers. But to get to these amazing photos and videos I have to wade through a sea of crap.

It is the never ending clickbait links that people post without realizing (I hope!) that they are just feeding money a micro cent at a time to Facebook or some other entity. Any post that has a sentence like "you won't believe what happens next!" or a list post with a sentence like "wait until you see number 7!" These are designed solely to draw clicks, and clicks are money.

It is closed minds that think a red cup is an assault on their religion, instead of just a cup holding coffee. Really? You don't think there are more important things to be worried about? If you are insulted by something you see on Facebook, stay away from reddit or 4chan because your head might explode.

It is the never ending list of people who still think global climate change is a liberal media attack on big business, Planned parenthood sells baby parts, and that health care and good education aren't included on a list of peoples rights.

I stuck with Facebook for a long time, because I was hoping that it was driving traffic to my website, and then hopefully to my book. But I have known for quite sometime that it isn't driving traffic, primarily because no one can see it. Facebook dramatically limits who can see your posts.

There are a handful of wonderful people that I don't get to see - because they live hundreds or thousands of miles away - who I use can see on Facebook. I can see what they are up to, and how things are going. That is the only thing that keeps me using this site.

I am really starting to think that Instagram is the way to go. There is little to no spam. There is no click bait nonsense. People are limited to one photo or a 15 second video. But even this isn't perfect. It would be great if they would step into the 21st century and allow you to post from your computer, and as an iPad user I would really like an iPad native app that would allow pinch to zoom to work.

What I would really like is a cross between Facebook and Instagram with a bigger lean towards video. Maybe stretch the video length out to 30 seconds. Allow only user generated content. With an adventure sports theme. I would really like that. Maybe it could have "pools" of media you could follow, so you don't have to just follow people, but follow a kayak pool, or a climbing pool (think of pools as keywords I guess) That would be wonderful, I really need to learn how to code...

My instagram is about to break 100 followers - which is nothing! - If you are interested in seeing what I am up to, follow me there and I will follow you back.

So that is it. I am done with Facebook. PaddlingOtaku Facebook will still get updated with feeds from my website, and instagram. I am pushing to do more video content. I will probably poke my head into Facebook now and then. But for the most part, see ya.

(for the people that I normally contact via Facebook expect more calls and texts from me. )

Friday, November 13, 2015

Instagram, I am having fun

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I am not very happy with the Facebook experience. There is more about this coming, but for now, let it be known that my presence on Facebook is probably not going to continue much longer. (Just to be clear, I am referring to my personal Facebook page, not the PO page, which will stick around being fed by instagram, with the occasional post.)

However, I am really enjoying Instagram. I like the simplicity. So if you are interested in sticking with me on social media, your best bet is Instagram.

This weekend is kind of a big deal, I am teaching my last Wilderness First Aid class of the year, and it has been six months since I have taught one. In my opinion WFA classes are the hardest things to teach. You have relatively little time to teach a tremendous amount of information. You have to coordinate moving thirty students outdoors and indoors without losing time, and dealing with weather. You also have to balance all of this with another instructor. While I know the course will go just fine, it is a lot of teaching and I am feeling a little out of my normal grove. In January I teach (and precept a new instructor) another one. Then I have one in February in a location I haven't taught it before, which is another level of stress.

So to keep this weekend interesting, I am going to do my best to post a bunch of shots, and maybe some video on instagram. Want to see what a WFA course looks like, follow me there.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Things I have learned from Casey Neistat

I have spent the last month pouring over Casey Neistats Vlog - or video blog. I have been enjoying it tremendously, and have started to adopt some of his techniques. For those of you who are unaware, Casey is a film maker. Completely self made - meaning no film school and no traditional film jobs -  he is a firm believer that if you work non-stop producing films good things will come. He went from shooting videos on a point and shoot camera to making a documentary series on HBO.

Casey first came to prominence with a short film about the battery in the iPod and it's inability to be changed.

The video went viral and shortly after it did, Apple changed its battery policy, of course claiming it was unrelated to the film. He continued to make films and grew a following. I am sure I saw other films before this next one, but this was where I was like "hey, I know this guy!"


I love this commercial/film for Nike. I love how simple, yet captivating it is. But what really made me fall in love with this guys work, was this.

Live your dreams. He was asked to make a video about living your dreams for the release of the film the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. He told them he wanted take the budget and go to the Philippines and spend all the money getting food to the people affected typhoon Haiyan. He did, and made a great short film about it.

Once of the reasons I stopped working in the film industry was the tremendous waste of money I saw as we made television commercials, when the money could have done some really good work. So to see a film maker take his budget and do something wonderful with it really touched me.

So I spent the last month pouring over his films and his daily Vlog, and I realized some recurring themes. Here is what I learned from Casey Neistat.

1 - Keep shooting. Always have a camera, and keep shooting. I have started shooting a lot of things, with no plan to use them. The use will at some point present itself. I essentially want to become my own stock agency - meaning I want to have my own library of video to use when I edit a project. You can see some of the time lapse videos I have been making on instagram.

2 - The gear doesn't really matter. While I wish I had a second GoPro (I have had 2 in the past!) but I have a GoPro and a DSLR and an iPhone. I can shoot with all those things and edit at home on my iMac which is more film making power than most of last centuries greatest film makers.

3- Don't quit. Just keep plugging along, maybe somehow I will make a difference.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thoughts on Coffee, and Cups, and a Pack and Go! or Hell No!

I have been thinking a lot about coffee lately.

There is a piece making the rounds of Facebook - which I am this close (his fingers are very close together) to quitting completely - about the joy of bad coffee. Folders crystals and the like. When I think about bad coffee I think about a backpacking trip I did with my brother 20 years ago in the Presidential Range in New Hampshire. We were camped on the backside of Mount Washington in the Great Gulf Wilderness which is rarely visited, and makes a good base to do day trips to the summits of the range.  We made coffee by the liter each day, one for each of us. First we added the instant coffee, then a lot of sugar, and then the non-dairy creamy. We had a slush of powders in the bottom of our bottles. Then we added hot water, and it got, well,  palatable. We realized the best way to drink it was ice cold, achieved by submerging it in a stream. After many hours of hard hiking it tasted wonderful. But after many hours of hard hiking everything tastes wonderful.

The article about bad coffee goes on to talk about how we shouldn't be spending 20 minutes in the morning making coffee, when we could be doing something better with our time. It also claims that bad coffee is comforting, like certain foods. Both of these things are nonsense.

The ten minutes I take to make a pot of french press isn't doing me any harm, and bad coffee is about as comforting as that exam all of us late 40's kayakers have to have. You know the one I mean.

Add to this equation that I drink decaf coffee, which most coffee companies and baristas alike view as a waste of time. It is surprisingly hard to get a good cup of decaf coffee. I can't imagine how my father drank Sanka all those years. Most think decaf means we don't like the flavor or robustness of good coffee, which is untrue. I want good flavor, and a robust cup of coffee, I just don't want the caffeine. Yes, I know there is still some caffeine in my decaf.

I am careful how I spend my money, but one of the areas I most want quality is the food I eat. I don't mind spending money on good beans to use in my French Press. I don't eat processed foods, I don't eat fast food, I am certainly not drinking fast, processed coffee beans.

The other coffee related topic I have been thinking about is the cup. One of my paddling students works for a major coffee company. Once I got him on the water I traded him paddling knowledge for coffee knowledge. Did you know the most expensive part of a cup of coffee is the cup!? If I bring my own cup to Starbucks the deduct $.10 from the price of my coffee. The cup costs significantly more than that. The part that really gets to me about the cup though is how short its active life is. Paper is made and coated, which is then turned into a cup with a bottom, and a rolled lip. It is then shipped to a distributor that sends it off to your coffee shop. Then you order a cup of coffee, drink it for yen minutes and throw the cup away. It seems like a terrible waste.

Then there is what this place did....

Yes, 160,000,000 coffee cups a day end up in land fill. But wait, how many of them get recycled you ask? None. None of them get recycled. You can't recycle a paper hot cup because of the coating on the inside. So bring a reusable cup with you, I leave one in my car. A nice one.

This brings us to the Pack and go or Hell NO! for today. I recently bought a new insulated coffee cup. I have owned many over the years. Sometimes they break, sometimes they get lost. Sometimes the disappear into the void of missing gear. This is what I got recently.

I know everyone is going Yeti crazy. Yes, they are very expensive. Yes, they are heavy. But their products work extremely well. I used a 45 liter yeti cooler on a beach trip a few months ago and was extremely impressed with how well it kept ice from melting. It was also amazingly heavy.  I purchased this Yeti Rambler mug because it was recommended to me by a serious gear nerd.

I paid $30.00 for a coffee mug. I'm going to let that settle in for a bit. Thirty Dollars. That is 300 ten cent savings (for bringing my own cup) to Starbucks. Which is about 8 months of coffee. That is a lot of money for a cup. This is also a ridiculously over engineered cup. Here is why it is worth $30. It works. It works really well. It works like burning your tongue and lips 2 hours after you put your coffee in it. It is a double wall vacuum insulated, stainless steel coffee cup, and is ridiculously priced and worth every penny.

My only complaint is that the lid doesn't have a way to seal the sip hole. Other than that, perfect. This is without a doubt a Pack and Go! Situation. Okay, because It won't seal completely I won't actually take it on a backpacking or kayaking trip. But car camping? Hell yes. Daily commute? Absolutely. This is a sensational product.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Minimalist November

It seems November is the month I feel the biggest urge to go minimal. It is probably because of the pending period of gluttony starting on the third Thursday of this month. This year though it wasn't even my doing. A friend of mine suggested a group November minimalist game. You remember the one I did last year. 1st day you get rid of one thing, second day two, until the last day when you are getting rid of thirty things. I told her I would play but I wasn't sure I could get though a whole month.

I am already scanning the house looking for things to give up. It is exciting.

The other aspect to minimalist November is my diet, or more directly, how much I spend on food. My wife and I spend a lot of money on food. When I say a lot, I mean we probably spend what a family of four spends.

The problem isn't quantity. We don't eat a lot of food, but we work very hard to eat good food. When friends ask if we miss living in New York - we both lived in Manhattan - we say the only thing we miss is the food. Living in a small city in North Carolina means the food options are somewhat limited, and we don't get the cutting edge cuisine that we had access to in New York.

I am reminded of this daily when I see my friends Instagram feed. He is a big deal in the food photography world, and he gets to eat at some of the best restaurants in the world. The things we miss are really pretty simple. Real New York Pizza, a good bagel. I barely eat meat, but would kill for Kat'z corned beef. It is having the ability to decide at 2 in the morning that you want any kind of food delivered, and it is possible. Anything.

This isn't to say there isn't good food in North Carolina. There is. But let's be honest. All the food the south is famous for is bad for you. Donuts. Fried Chicken. Barbecue. Sweet tea.

So we work really hard to eat well, and healthy, and it is a challenge. Ill give you an example. We don't eat a lot of meat, but we do eat fish. But I refuse to buy farmed fish. It is bad for you, the fish and the environment. But wild caught Salmon can cost as much as $20 a pound. that is on the high end, but I haven't been able to buy fish for under $10 a pound in years. I am okay with that. I want to support real fisherman, and I will make that sacrifice. But at the end of the month it adds up.

Every week we get a box delivered to our house. It has locally sourced produce. It costs us 30 dollars a month (give or take). It is great produce. but it is expensive.

I also don't eat fast food. Slow food is expensive. My supermarket has a club that saves you money, you give them your phone number when you checkout and when they give you the receipt they tell you how much you saved that day. I never save more than a dollar or two - when some save $10 or $20 dollars - because I am not buying junk food. I am buying produce. Junk food is cheap to make, higher profit margin, so they can offer a great discount. Produce? Not so much.

So my goal for the month is to purge a lot of items, and spend as little as possible on food. No eating out. Make meals go further. Let's see how it goes....

The lingering question is, does coffee and/or alcohol count as "eating out"?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Gear Improv - The handler

A few months ago I found myself at the beach playing in the surf. For years I have been doing this and simply holding my GoPro in my hand. It has always made me a little nervous, and I thought about buying myself the GoPro Handler.

This is the Handler. It is a floating handgrip for GoPro cameras, If you play in the water it is a great little product. It's $29.99. So I found myself at the beach in need of one of these. But there was no place to pick one up. Then I noticed that the cap to a 20 ounce coke bottle was about the same size as the old non-quick release tripod mount. I found a screw in my car that was the right size - 3/8ths inch I believe is standard tripod size, total dumb luck - and combined these parts.

The only part that was tricky was making a hole in the bottle cap with my knife. There was a good chance that I would cut myself, fortunately it didn't occur.

Here is what the "rig" looks like, incredibly simple. In the future I might change the bolt so it is stainless, and add a small rubber gasket to insure that there is no leaking - though in my use it didn't. I did a google search and found that there are a lot of options for handler-like devices, but I didn't see anyone do something like this. Maybe I actually invented something.

It floats incredible well. In fact if you let go of it in the water, the whole thing inverts with the bottle sticking straight out of the water, and the camera below - a great way to shoot underwater I suppose. If you want it less buoyant, just add some water to the bottle. Even with the bottle full of water it floats. Total cost? $8 for the tripod adapter, $1.79 for the coke, and pennies for the screw.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Behind the Scenes

A lot is going on with 'On the Rocks', which is the title of the AGAP movie.

The film is about half way through the editing process, and it is currently stopped. We have run into a science problem. I don't want to get into the details right now, but I am not sure what the final outcome of this project is going to be.

If it dies, the footage will be used in some way shape or form, and the photos - which are amazing - will be available soon.

But in the mean time, here is a look behind the scenes at the normal goings on in camp.

behind the scenes from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Stay tunes for more AGAP information. it's coming soon. I promise.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Pack and Go! or Hell NO!: Seal line Deluxe Bailing Sponge

I want to start doing more gear reviews. I use a lot of gear, and when teaching, get to put things through tests in harder conditions than most. So, let’s call this the first official gear review. There have been others in the past, but I think I am starting something new...

Is the reviewed piece of gear ready to "Pack and Go!" or "Hell No!"

This should have been an excellent product, from a company that makes excellent products. The Deluxe Bailing Sponge is a regular sponge that is wrapped in super absorbent "pack towel"  material and It does absorb a tremendous amount of water. 

A sponge is important to have for various reasons. You use it after bailing out your boat to get the last of the water that your bilge pump can't get to. For me, this is particularly important because I teach so much in the summertime. If my boat isn't dry when I put it away it is downright stinky for my next class. It is kind of like putting on a damp wetsuit. That's no fun for anybody. So it is particularly important for me to keep my boat clean and dry. I have gone through many sponges, most only cost a few dollars, so it is no big deal when they fall apart. I finally made the move to spend nearly $15 for this Seal Line sponge and expected it to be wonderful. I purchased it in January in prep for the pending teaching season. (In February I start working on my skills, in March I start working with other instructors, in April the season generally starts) My kayaking instruction season officially came to a close last week and this is what my sponge looks like after one season of use. 

I know about proper sponge care and maintenance: never put it under a bungie and store it dry. (The bungie will cut it in half over time.) This sponge lived in my cockpit and was occasionally left in the sun to dry out completely. I am not sure how the first rip started but it didn't take long for it to spread.

Now, I have to stress, it took a lot of use and it worked beautifully before it fell apart. I am tempted to try another one next season and see if the same thing happens. Between my paddling for fun and work it might have seen 90 wet days. But I still feel like it should have held up better than this. ( I don't know, is my 90 days the equivalent of 3 or 4 years of normal paddler use?) I should also point out that I use many 'pack towel' like products and I have never had one get torn. Before this sponge I was using one daily in my cockpit. So I am not sure what caused this failure. But I am disappointed.

So the verdict is: HELL NO! Stay tuned, maybe I will buy another one and see if it does better. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Tiny house Not tiny enough?

I have a knack for picking trends. Unfortunately I am not good at recognizing that I have picked an up and coming trend, and somehow capitalizing on it. I started rock climbing before there were indoor rock gyms, and before most people knew it was a thing. Somewhere I have a list of things like that, but a big one is the Tiny house craze. I have been following that movement since the only option for tiny houses was Tumbleweed, I currently know two people under construction on tiny's and a third who is thinking about it.

I tried to convince my wife we should do a tiny house, but she says a tiny house with two 40 pound bull terrier puppies is a recipe for disaster. She may be right (and in fact she usually is). But recently I have become enamored with "van life". Now you can't help but think about living in a van without this coming to mind.

It isn't like that anymore. There is an amazing van culture - primarily VW vans - being displayed on instagram. just do a search for #vanlife and you will be amazed by both the culture of van life and the quality of photography. My wife is enamored by the VW bus, and ICON 4x4 just rebuilt and updated one.

I prefer the Mercedes/Freightliner Sprinter Vans, and I was walking through a parking lot the other day and came across this.

There was a small crowd standing around it talking, and as I approached they were all disappointed that I wasn't the owner - as was I - and as I stood there and other people arrived to look at it and take pictures I felt the same disappointment that they weren't the owners. The van you are looking at is the extended length with the high roof, and it is also four wheel drive, which is pretty incredible. We finally found the owners and they were a retired couple who were just starting their life on the road. They were coming back from the outer banks, after a week of rain with hurricane joaquin. My biggest problem if how would I get two kayaks on the roof of a very tall van? Hullivator? Time will tell, I still have to convince the wife. 

Ill let you think about this, while you watch the rest of that amazing Chris Farley SNL bit. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tips for aspiring GoPro Film Makers (updated)

I watch a lot of videos. In part to find good things to show here, but also because I just like watching a well crafted video. Well crafted being the key, there is nothing that upsets me more than watching a poorly crafted video that has a great premise.

I recently watched two videos shot on GoPros - I am not going to show them here - One was summiting a mountain, a big mountain. The other was a commute to work. Both should have been great videos, but at the end of the day they had some problems. Let me stress, I love both of the people who created these videos, and they are great in concept, but they made a few mistakes that took great concepts, and winning ideas and killed them. So what follows are some tips for making your GoPro videos better.

#1 - Time. You have a max of about 4 minutes to get your idea across. People watching videos online have a very short attention span. I try and make my short films between 3 and 5 minutes. If your video is 7, 8, 10, 15 minutes... people aren't going to commit to that kind of watching time, unless it is spectacular. If it is ten minutes all from the same camera position you don't have a prayer - unless you happen to be in an f-15 dogfighting aliens. Don't for a second think that your footage is so great none of it can be cut.

#2 - Multiple Camera Positions - I mentioned camera positions, you need a lot of them. You need to be constantly moving the camera to a new shot, a new position. Some static, some moving. This is an utter pain in the bottom, because it takes time to keep moving the camera around. You need to stop, move the camera and then go again... and then stop, move the camera, repeat. This is where having multiple cameras comes in handy.

#3 - 4 seconds! - You are going to use those camera positions to give yourself something to cut to. Looking forward off your chest, then you need a reverse angle looking back at yourself, then it would be good to have the camera on an obstacle as you move past it. Each of these shots should be under 4 seconds.

#4 - Have a plan - Go into your shoot with a plan of what the final piece is going to look like. Don't forget that you are telling a story, and a story has a beginning a middle and an end. You have to have all three. If you have a plan, and know the shots your are going to need, it makes editing much easier, and faster. If I am going kayaking I always include a driving shot with the boat on the roof, and an unloading the boat shot.

#5 - No filler - There are no filler shots. Every shot is contributing to the story or the action. If you are adding shot to fill time, you are making a mistake.

#6 - Good Audio - Don't forget the audio. If someone is speaking, it needs to be loud and clear. Frequently I will record the audio separately, and sync them up when I am editing.

#7 - Be a rule breaker - There are always times to break the above rules. Just be sure you know why you are doing it.

If you watch the above video, and start counting seconds every time they cut you will see that they rarely go over 4 seconds.

21 minutes, all the same view. No good.

Paddle North (teaser trailer) from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.


It doesn't get any better than Devin Supertramp, and yes he only occasionally uses GoPro, but he makes excellent concept videos like this one. And while he may not plan every shot, he is creating an environment were great shots present themselves.

The biggest tip I can give, Keep shooting, keep making videos, and be constantly watching other videos and think about what makes them great.


Like Casey Neistat was reading my mind!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Slow Down

Something that has long bothered me is the way we can no longer slow down. By 'we' I mean us as a culture and specifically I am talking about the United States. I can't speak for other countries, obviously. And by slow down I mean, have the ability to take some time, and be alone with our thoughts. We are constantly rushing from one thing to another while talking on our phone the entire time.

I am as guilty as anyone, but I work hard to make myself have the time to take it easy. One of the nice things about raising a puppy is that I have to spend time just sitting keeping an eye on her. This is coming to an end as she is growing, and needs less supervision.

My sister takes a train into Manhattan each day, and then walks downtown to her office. I think this is a great choice as I am sure it gives her time to think. We all need time to think. I remember New Years Eve 1999, I lived in the west village at Houston street. I spent New Years Eve at a friends house on Long Island, and I needed to take the Long Island Rail Road. I decided to walk from my apartment downtown to Penn station. 34 blocks. About a mile and a half. It was a lovely walk.

I like picking one thing to focus on, and really focusing on the process. Cooking an egg. Making a cup of tea. Watching the rain - which I have had a lot of opportunity to do recently.

It is something that is very easy to do when paddling. I can focus on my stroke, or I can simply watch the surface of the water as I paddle, or the sway of the trees in the breeze. It is of course a meditation of sorts. Anything can be a meditation.

Ink - Written by Hand from Ryan Couldrey on Vimeo.

I love this short film about the skill of writing by hand, which is being lost on current generations. They simply aren't teaching children to write with paper and pen anymore. As they say in this film, when you put pen to paper you spend a little more time crafting your words. Most everyone writes today without thinking about it, without crafting what they are writing. Something I enjoy about this is I am forced to think about what I am writing. It forces me to slow down.

Find some time. Do some yoga, or just sit with a  cup of tea and watch the rain.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A day in the life of a kayak instructor

This past weekend was my last scheduled group kayaking class for the large organization I work for. By my math, in the last year I was teaching for about 350 hours and probably had 70 or 80 students. People always say "what a great job" or "I wish I had a job like that". It is definitely nice to have my job, and I worked hard to make it happen, and made a lot of sacrifices along the way. It is great to earn the bulk of my living outdoors, and the thing I love is being able to impact people and help them be active in the outdoors and most importantly to do it safely. I thought I would give you an idea of what a day is like on a kayak course for me.

While it is normally a great job, it isn't all sunshine and flowers. When it is cold and raining out, I am still teaching. When it is 103 degrees out I am still teaching. I have to be prepared for a lot of eventualities, and this summer I had my first skin cancer scare - and I am very careful about sun exposure.

I know about classes weeks or a month (or sometimes a little more) in advance. As opposed to when I was teaching privately it was very "hey, you available this week?!" But what I am doing leading up to a course is watching how many people are enrolled in a class. There is a big difference between teaching two, or teaching 6 - and a couple of times I have had groups of 12 or 15.

Two days out - I start watching weather, and prepping my gear, which may change depending on the weather. I think a lot about what I am wearing and making sure it is appropriate to the conditions because I am role modeling for new paddlers constantly. I also don't trust weather reports that look more than 48 hours into the future.

One day out - Actually the night before, I pack all my gear for the following day (as I will have an early start) I make sure I have all the paperwork I need (Blank course evaluations for participants to fill out, roster and sign in sheet for participants, course end report for me to fill out, plus all the emergency reporting paperwork should something bad happen.) My large first aid kit is packed, sealed and in a dry bag. I pack water, and snack food for myself for the day, as well as a surprise snack for my participants. I always pack more gear than I need, for example if someone asks about navigation on a long trip I want to have some charts even though I won't need them where I am teaching. I always have a large dry bag in my bow compartment with extra layers of clothes in case someone should get wet, and I always carry sunscreen and water for people.

Morning of a 9:00am class

7:00 am - Rise and shine, a quick light breakfast out of the house by 7:30, having checked the weather and my email for any cancellations. Load my boat on the roof of my car - I prefer to paddle my boat as opposed to the fleet boats the participants use. I like my boat more. My gear goes in the car in a big mesh duffel, two paddles and the cooler that lives in my car has snacks, lunch and reusable cold packs.

7:45 - stop for coffee and if it is hot, I may be getting a watermelon for my participants (if it is cold they may get hot chocolate!)

8:05ish - At the venue, my boat and gear is unloaded, I unlock the storage container with fleet boats, and pull a boat, paddle, pfd, bilge pump, and paddle float for every paddler. I line them up and make them look pretty. A clipboard for each participant, with a Liability form, and an end of course eval form. They do one at the beginning, and one at the end.

8:30 - Usually everything is ready to go 30 minutes early. This gives me some time to drink my coffee, and relax. If the sky is anything but clear and blue I do another weather check. Usually someone arrives 20 minutes early and I have to make small talk.

9:00 - Usually one person is late and I have to stall while I wait for them. I use this time to make small talk and determine skill levels/previous paddle experience. Someone usually asks a question about my experience, and I can tell good Alaska story, which eats time until the late person arrives.

9:05 - the late person arrives, we discuss and sign liability forms, Paper work is stored someplace dry and safe until the end of the course. Give participants the plan for the day, so there are no surprises.

9:10 to 9:45 - Everyone learns to fit a PFD, what size paddle to use, and how to have 5 points of contact (i.e. how to sit) in a kayak. Then they are shown how to carry a kayak - 2 people per boat please! Don't carry them by the handles please, hold the hull of the boat! and we bring the boats to the water line, where my boat is waiting. While people do a final bathroom run I gear up. Skirt, pfd, glasses strap, final sunscreen application, sandals off paddling booties on. Spare paddle on back deck, First aid kit at my feet. Throw bag within reach. Bilge pump and paddle float on front deck along with contact tow. Watch the time, always watching the time. Phone in a waterproof pelican, in a dry bag, in the cockpit within reach (If I get a phone call my phone will vibrate the entire boat - I am thinking about calls from co-instructors with questions, or a phone call from my bosses)

10:00 - An on the land forward stroke class, followed by how to get into a kayak.

10:15 to 10:20 - I get everyone launched onto the water.

10:20 to 11:00 - paddle to a protected cove to work on skills. This gives people time to get a feel for the forward stroke while getting coaching from me. I always make sure everyone in the group gets one on one coaching, multiple times in a day (it is hard with big groups but people really like it) This gives me the opportunity to see who has a good feel for it, and who is struggling. Who is itching for more knowledge and who can't handle what I have given them. Seek out the people who aren't sitting in their kayak with five points of contact - it will dramatically effect their ability to keep up with the group. This is the time when I start to realize I will be spending the rest of my day paddling as slow as I possibly can so I don't lose anybody.

11:00 - In the protected cove spend time on the sweep stroke, teaching it first as a static stroke, and then how to use it while paddling.

11:30 - continue paddling, coaching the forward and sweep stroke. At this point people start asking about other strokes. Give it to them as they can handle it, but don't let them get overwhelmed. At 12 stop for a surprise snack, use the opportunity to teach the draw stroke to get everyone rafted up.

12:00 to 1:00 Spend the time paddling back to our put in. Keep coaching to a minimum now, peoples brains are tired. At the take out make sure people know that their legs might be wobbly. Help those that need it.

1:15 have people fill out evaluation forms, and thank them for coming, tell them next steps for their paddling development.

1:30 return all the boats to storage. Making sure they are clean and dry for the next course. All gear is stowed, and/or hung to dry. All garbage, and sand is out of the boats. Inspect all gear for damage Take ten minutes to fill out my post course paperwork, which will get sent to the main office.

2:00 Send a text message to the boss telling him the course is complete with no incidents

3:00 unload my personal gear, including my boat, make sure everything is dry, or hang it to dry.

A big part of all my days is self care, and group care, but I come first. Making sure I am fed and hydrated, then making sure they are hydrated and have sunscreen. I am constantly counting participants to make sure I know where everyone is.

It is a lot of work, it can be a lot of fun. The paperwork isn't too bad, the part the drags on me the most is how much time I spend loading/unloading/moving boats. I don't think I am exaggerating when I say I have probably moved 50,000 pounds of plastic kayak in the past year.

I am usually working weekends, when my friends and my wife aren't working which can be difficult, but I also generally have a days off during the week. The best part is when I get to see people who "get it" and understand the joy of spending time on the water.