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.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

It's about customer service Part II

Three years ago I wrote about great customer service from Patagonia, The North Face and Immersion Research. I have a new story to tell.

Since 2011 I have been using a Uniden VHF radio. It accompanies me on expeditions, and long day trips - particularly at the coast. About two weeks ago I took it out of its pelican case and found that the plastic latch the holds the battery in place was broken. A great radio, rendered useless by a cheap piece of plastic.

I reached out to Uniden for a repair, and was told that there is a flat fee for all repairs on my specific radio model. $69.99, plus a $10 shipping charge. My radio was $130 brand new, and I started to do the math. Should I just replace the radio and have something new? Or pay the $80?

It was Samantha at Uniden that was helping me, and as I was running numbers in my head she said this, "let me see how much the part is, maybe we can just send it to you?" she put me on hold while she looked for a price. I wasn't optimistic. She came back on a few minutes later and said she couldn't locate the part number, and if I would give her my email address she would let me know a price. I gave her my email, but still wasn't terribly optimistic. Regardless I thanked her for her time and the effort, and hung up my phone.

I then went to Reddit and posted on r/kayaking if people had recommendations on a VHF. I really feel like the options for VHF aren't great. People recommended Cobra and Icom, and I looked at the radios and remember not being terribly impressed. My Uniden is small, 5 watts, and runs on rechargeable batteries or AA batteries which is super important for long trips. I stopped looking because it was frankly getting depressing.

A few hours later - much to my surprise - I got an email from Samantha. The part was $.44! and If I would send her my address she would send it to me for free, and cover the shipping! This is the kind of customer service that gets a customer for life, and Uniden - thanks to Samantha - you now have one. About a week later the tiny part arrived, and it took me all of 5 minutes to make the replacement. I spent more time trying to find the right torx bit to remove the screws.

Here you can see the broken one - removed - and the new one in place. Uniden, you have entered the rare stratus of companies that do the right thing. Thank you. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bear Spray

By now you should have seen this video. Judging by the near 3 million views I think everyone has seen this video.

This woman was not far from where I had my own bear encounter while paddling the Inside Passage. But despite the fact that you have probably seen this video a few times, there are a few things I want to point out. However, before I do, I want to say that I wasn't there - though I have been in situations like this, not far from her - but as I discuss her actions, I need to be clear it is for the benefit of other paddlers, I don't have any problem with this woman, and my intention is not to malign her.

For clarity, it is important to understand that she is standing at the front door to a cabin, where she could go for safety. From what I have read, she had just brought a load of gear including her food to the cabin, when she heard something outside. What she saw was a 600 to 800 pound coastal brown bear - I am saying that based on the hump on his back, and the shape of his face, If I am wrong, please let me know!

From the video it looks like she still has some gear down by the boat. It is also been said that this encounter was going on for a few minutes before she started taping. The bear is standing on the grass below her. She has the time to say "I am going to pepper spray you in the face". I am going to estimate the bear to be between 20 and 30 feet away (Based on the distance that pepper spray shoots, 30 feet approximately, and the fact the bear appears to be at the edge of that range.) This bear is not exhibiting any aggressive behavior. It is essentially sniffing around. It's fur doesn't appear to be up. It isn't making any noise. It isn't standing on its hind legs. It isn't charging (clearly). It isn't doing anything aggressive. She has the time to say "I am going to spray you with pepper spray". If you can say that, you don't need to use pepper spray. This is a great time to make a lot of noise, bang some pots and pans, maybe throw a rock - as I did. She could have even retreated to the cabin. The time to use pepper spray is when a bear is being aggressive or threatening. She doesn't need to.

After she discharges spray, the bear heads towards the boat. The bear is interested in the seat, and the cockpit area, because clearly it smells of food. As someone who has paddled the Alaskan coast, I can say I am sure she ate in her cockpit while paddling. You have to. There is almost no choice. Now that the bear is attacking the boat, I am curious why she didn't spray it again?

At the end of the day, this bear was just being a curious bear. It smelled something it liked, and was investigating.

I strongly suggest people read "bear attacks: their causes and avoidance" - it is the leading authority on bear behavior. I would also say, Don't paddle alone, particularly in bear country. I didn't want to do it, I am impressed she did. But if she had someone with her, they probably could have scared the bear away, and then gotten the rest of their gear - and maybe even the kayaks - into the cabin.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

My Meat Problem

In the past few months I have started to have a problem. The problem is, that I am beginning to think I shouldn't be eating meat. As a human being I would like to think that I have evolved enough to not eat the flesh of another creature for sustenance. It just seems a little barbaric. I know that my body evolved to be an omnivore. I have teeth evolved to chew meat (as well as teeth designed to chew leaves), and organs that can quickly turn meat into fuel. But at an intellectual level I know that it is wrong to be eating a creature that thinks, and has a personality.

I have been struggling with this for quite some time, and have been talking to a number of friends about it. I have a dear friend who is a vegan. My wife is mostly vegetarian, pescetarian actually. Beth, who went on the last Alaska trip was vegetarian when we were paddling but since has gone back to eating meat. So I have many people and perspectives to discuss my dilemma with. My struggle is actually on a couple of different concepts. The first issue I had was factory farming. I don't like the way animals are treated when they are mass produced for consumption. My work around for this was to buy locally raised dairy products, which is surprisingly easy to do. We have found local providers, meaning people who have farms, and are producing for sale, milk, butter and eggs. (actually about half of my eggs come from friends who have chickens). I was in the process of finding local purveyors of meat. What stopped me was the other issue, which is this, I don't think I should be eating things that have a personality, and all the animals I eat have personalities. Think about it like this. Elephants are smart. They have personalities, and family groups. They mourn when an elephant in their group dies, and they protect their young from danger. Clearly, I would never eat an elephant. Can they be that different from say, a rhinoceros? I am not going to eat a Rhino. How about a zebra? That is for all practical purposes a horse, and I know horses have personalities. Friends tell me horses are just like big dogs. I am certainly not going to eat my dog. Could you eat this?

She is smart and certainly has a personality, but no more so than a pig. This is a big problem for me, that I am still struggling with. Then I found this:

This Ted talk helped me clarify my thoughts a bit, and also said some of the things I had been thinking to myself, though feeling like an oddball for thinking it.

Then two days ago I saw this film.

I work really hard to be good to the environment. I do all the things I am supposed to do as a good environmentalist to care for the planet. I was shocked to see that my actions aren't really the problem with the environment. My car also isn't the problem. (For clarity sake, my car isn't great, but cars are highly regulated in terms of carbon output, the bigger problem is Electricity generation, power plants do far more damage in terms of carbon production than cars do. So if you are thinking about an electric car, investigate where your power comes from. You may be doing more harm than good. I live 20 miles from the 14th most polluting power plant in the nation located on Belews Creek, As long as I live where I do, as long as I am connected to the grid I can never get an electric car!) The problem is the cheese burger I ate for lunch.

That's right, cows produce more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. Cows make more greenhouse gasses than cars, trucks, planes, ships, and railroads combined. Then add to the fact that we are also cutting down forests to raise cattle, forests which could help reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Also, we could feed everyone on the planet if we stopped growing grain for cattle - which is inedible by humans - and grew wheat and corn for human consumption. The trailer for conspiracy doesn't do the film justice. Please watch it on netflix.

So I am left with this dilemma. Meat is bad for the environment, and I think it is morally wrong to eat sentient creatures. But here is the thing, meat tastes good. I am still trying to figure out what the right thing to do is, but for starters I am drastically reducing the amount of meat I eat. I am vegetarian most days, and when I do eat meat it tends to be in smaller portions. Currently meat is a special occasion kind of thing. Time will tell how it plays out for me, but that is where I stand right now. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.