Friday, December 30, 2011

Three days on ACA

In the second week of December I spent three days paddling with some of Northern California's finest during an ACA L5 assessment.  Some of us were present as an L4 update (myself included), while others were assessing at level 5.  The course was largely unstructured by design to allow things to come together in a natural fashion.  Without three full days of syllabus to follow we would be able to improvise and try things that may not normally happen on an assessment or formal course.  Roger Schumann and Bryant Burkhardt put on a nice course, save for the insufficient L5 conditions, which were naturally out of their control.

Overall, it was a hugely worthwhile experience that I'm still looking back on and discussing with people.  Of the eight of us, there were 6 delphins, 1 schirocco, 1 romany.  I decided to paddle the Romany simply because I haven't paddled it in awhile and I missed it.  Having spent a couple weeks in an Explorer recently I was really looking forward to paddling it again.  It's a damn good boat for rock and surf and as strong a boat as I've ever paddled.  The plan didn't call for much rock gardening, but even if we did spend three days bouncing off rocks, it would hold up just fine.  I found it very interesting that there were six delphins - 75%...  I certainly walked away wanting to paddle one more and considering upgrading my plastic boat.

We covered rescues new and old, towing scenarios, challenging exercises, throw rope experimentation, played in current, surfed, played in rocks and the list goes on.  I definitely got outside my comfort zone at one point and got one of my best rides ever in a sea kayak - something I won't forget any time soon.  It was a pretty valuable reminder to me how powerful it can make you feel when you do something you're afraid of and succeed.

California Canoe & Kayak offered the course

one, two, three, four, five of the P&H Delphins

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thanksgiving on the river

After an all night drive with canoe and SUP on the roof, I picked up some Dunkin Donuts in Vegas and met Haley & Gillian at the airport.  Couple quick stops and we arrived at Willow Beach to launch for four days of paddling, hiking, soaking and holiday eating.  Haley and I did this trip last Turkey day with friends and were really excited to return with family.

We made our way upriver 8 miles, eddyhopping when necessary, and setup a base camp for the next four days.  Arriving reasonably early, there were few people around and we settled on a campsite as close to the river as we could manage.  We had a great fire ring to cook on with the new dutch oven we picked up just before setting out on this trip.  At 14 pounds it's far from lightweight, but with canoe support it was a breeze.  This Thanksgiving we'd be toasting all the family back home and savoring our meal cooked on Arizona time over an open flame.   Oh, and the paddle boarding wasn't bad either.

Check out some pics here:

Nice hike in the hills
climbing to the tubs

slaving over Turkey dinner

Bark Expedition with gear - great setup!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Baja California Sur

Machaca, Totopos, titanium silverware and Mr. Sandman.  Mulege to Loreto is an awesome route with challenging conditions, beautiful scenery, plentiful wildlife and a great representation of what Baja has to offer.  I spent ten days with a group of seven others on this route.  All were skilled and experienced paddlers coming onto the trip with different reasons for participating and varied expectations.  I made new friends, strengthened existing relationships and managed to fall in love with Baja along the way.  

As I write this I'm 8 hours into a 24 hour bus ride from La Paz to Tijuana.  Post trip I travelled to Los Barriles for a few days of paddleboarding & relaxing with friends.  After that I took a whirlwind drive in the south stopping in Cabo & Todos Santos then to La Paz for an odd night of rain and crime.  I've been on the road 25 days now and am ready to get home.  For Baja, this is just 'bye for now' because I will be back soon.  

I'm not much for writing up long, detailed trip reports so check out the photos below and at

Now I'm getting in the car for an overnight drive to Vegas.  Four days of paddling coming up!

Rigged and ready - Day One

Lots of sailing with Flat Earth sails

Day of the Dead Alter

A little team building....

Mexico's best sea kayaking guide - Santiago.

Sunset over Loreto

Last sunset

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Loreto Kayak Symposium

Sea Kayak Baja Mexico

This week I've had the pleasure of assisting Ginni Callahan with a 4-day sea paddler training at the Loreto Kayak Symposium in Loreto, BCS, Mexico.  "Mi espanol es no bueno" was my go-to phrase on the journey down since my conversational spanish is horrible.  After one flight and three bus rides I arrived in Loreto 24 hours after leaving Berkeley and was instantly greeted by Santiago Berrueta, Mexico's only BCU 4* paddler and lead guide at Sea Kayak Baja Mexico.  Later that day we met the group of 7 students - two Venezualans, one american and four mexicans.  Much of the course was run in Spanish and my conversation skills improved leaps and bounds in the 96 hours that followed.  

Sea paddler training works off the BCU 3* syllabus and can cover a large range of topics.  Since conditions on the Sea of Cortez were predicted to be light - read flat - we loaded trucks and ventured to San Juanico, also known as Scorpion Bay, arguably the longest right wave in North America.  Unfortunately it wasn't going off to it's potential, but we did encounter a nice surf zone to coach in and rather dynamic conditions for two days of training on the Pacific. 

Ginni is a fantastic coach and really brings out the best in her students.  Personally I'm improving my own coaching skills while shadowing and co-teaching with her.  She is leading the way for sea paddlers in Mexico and is raising quite a group of skilled paddlers.  Her business, Sea Kayak Baja Mexico, is a Nigel Dennis Expedition Center and uses the best equipment available - NDK kayaks, Werner paddlers, Seals, Snapdragon, Kokatat and more.  They offer everything from boat hire to training to full-on expeditions.  

It was impressive to watch the students progress quickly in four days and improve on fundamental skills.  Before the training some of these paddlers had never been in the surf zone and by day two they were side surfing, combat rolling and applying fundamentals in dynamic water.  It was beautiful to watch.  To top it off, we camped right on the beach between the ocean and the dunes.    

Back on the Sea of Cortez we said goodbye to Lorena and hello to Dave.  Launching at Rattlesnake beach on day 3, we set off for stroke training and navigation exercises in slightly bumpy water.  The brave stuck around for a fourth day boat control in wind and rescues on the rocks.  Sadly the water was just too warm to be refreshing and you can be out of your boat all day and not be a bit uncomfortable.  Baja is an amazing place and I feel very lucky to be here paddling & exploring with great people.  I'm in Loreto the rest of the day then we head north to start a 10-day trip from Mulege back to Loreto.  Check back for a trip report...  Adios.

my bed for the night

Baja Highway

San Juanico

Sunrise over Danzante

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Last week I had the chance to participate in the first ACA SUP ICW on the west coast, hosted by California Canoe & Kayak.  After arriving home at 4:30am from Oregon, I had to be fresh and ready in Half Moon Bay by 10am.  Not sure about fresh, but I was there and ready.  Why am I taking an ACA SUP Instructor Workshop?  I figured it would be fun and educational, I'd work with some great ACA instructors, meet some new people and see what the ACA has to say about standup paddleboarding.  Personally, I really enjoy standup paddleboarding and am happy to see this program.  

I entered the course with an open mind and wasn't dissapointed one bit.  Part of what I enjoyed so much is that the program is still on the ground floor.  We were trying things that haven't yet been determined as standard practices.  Standup Paddleboarding is moving in leaps and bounds and I think it is appropriate for such a large paddlesports organization to create a program of safety and instruction.  I can't see it being adopted by the hardcore paddle surfers, but certainly the recreational crowd - which is gigantic.  

Since this was an ICW and not an IDW, the pace was very quick and participants were expected to know all the strokes and manuevers before attending.  We were split down the middle with four of us coming with a paddling background and four with a surfing background.  That division worked out to be advantageous since the crowd of new standup paddlers seems to be split as well.  For three days we worked on teaching styles, SUP concepts, building on paddling skills, and generally all things SUP.  It was an appropriate venue to bounce ideas off each other and try new things.  I'm excited for where this may go.  There are many people teaching SUP already, some with no background in paddle sports or teaching.  I strongly believe they could all benefit from a course like this and would be doing their students a service.  

My personal experience is that SUP is easy to pickup in flat water, but building technique, balance and speed takes time.  if you want to paddle in moving water, surf, wind or in coastal conditions, you should be training your body with skill development and physical conditioning.  Once you leave protected, windless waters SUP can be rather difficult and time on the board in dynamic conditions helps tremendously.  If you want to be a good standup paddler, get yourself into good physical condition, take some paddling lessons and practice often.  Your balance, control and speed will increase drastically as well as your enjoyment.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lumpy Waters in Oregon

I recently travelled to Pacific City, Oregon with Bryant Burkhardt and Sean Morley,  two other California Canoe & Kayak instructors.  The three of us were coaching at Lumpy Waters, a terrific sea paddling event catering to different levels of boaters.  Without a doubt, anyone who is passionate about sea kayaking and training should go to this event next year.  No matter what drives you there - the class offerings, the coach lineup or just the overall experience - it's worth the trip.  

The event begins Friday afternoon allowing everyone the morning off to free paddle, to drive in or just to sleep in.  Friday came and went with lots of boating and some incredible Incident Management on the part of some instructors.  Saturday brought decent weather and beautiful ocean conditions and I'd estimate around 100 students in attendance.  Sunday was more of the same with nice paddling weather and conditions.  This was one of the first events I've attended as a coach.  I travel to lots of events, but often as a volunteer, student or organizer.  It was nice to attend from a different perspective and learn some things.  I've definitely come away with some new ideas for GGSKS this February.  I also got to spend some valuable time working on my coaching skills and observing top coaches at work.  

Symposiums in general are really exciting to me.  They are such a good place to learn, to fine-tune and to advance your skills in good company.  I got my first serious taste of the sea at a symposium and it kick-started my training.   For paddlers new to symposiums, though, I think it is important they step back and take in the whole experience, not just the on-water courses.  The social aspect is huge at symposia and meeting other paddlers and coaches is very easy.  It's in these social settings that we often talk shop and discuss other events, trips, concepts, teaching styles and more.  Think of it as a meeting of the minds - for sea kayakers.  If you're interested in learning more, check out The Golden Gate Sea Kayaking Symposium in San Francisco in February or The Southwest Kayak Symposium in San Diego in March.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pull Harder...

A couple times a year I dust off the equipment and print t-shirts for friends or events that I work with.  I really enjoy the process of going from idea conception to final product.  The printing itself is almost a form of meditation for me.  The beginning of each project takes precision and concentration, but once you get through the first couple prints, the process begins to flow and develops a rhythm.  Usually about this time I turn on some pretty lights, pour a beer and relax as my hands go through the motions.  The timing and measuring become natural and I briefly turn into a machine. 

Late Friday night I finished printing the t-shirts for Berto and the boys over at  If you haven't visited their website, do so.  It's climbing-centric with a hint of shenanigans.  On October 16th, they are hosting the 2nd annual marathon in San Diego and I hear the t-shirts are awesome!

San Diego has a special place in my heart and I try to visit as much as possible, but unfortunately I won't be running.  I'll be in Oregon coaching at Lumpy Waters.  If what I hear about this paddling event is even close to accurate, then it will be a hell of a good time.   Everyone I speak with agrees that the team at Alder Creek do a damn good job with it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

LOCO in Washington

A couple Thursdays ago my alarm went off at 3am.  By 3:30 I was speeding up the highway with a kayak and a stand up paddleboard on the roof and a coffee in my hand.  By the time the evening rolled around, 700 miles later, I was pulling into Slow Boat Farm in Cathlamet Washington to attend the fifth and final Lower Columbia Kayak Roundup.  It was LOCO!

I  had high hopes for this event and wasn't let down at all.  Ginni Callahan and her crew do a great job pouring tons of love and care into this event.  The vibe around the farm is absolutely wonderful - no hustle or bustle and not much to care about except for paddling with great people and great food.  Right away I ran into friends from all over the west coast and felt right at home.  For the next ten days this would be home and I did my best to stake my claim in the field among the cows and horses.  

I came up to LOCO to take two courses - Open Water Navigation and BCU Level 2 Coach Training.  The 2-day open water nav course was technical, as expected, but also quite enjoyable and engaging.  Navigation is not exactly my strongest skill so I'm always eager to pick-up more information and learn practical ways to apply it.  Steve Maynard taught the course and was excellent as usual.   In addition to the valuable training I got a chance to meet some really awesome paddlers and further strengthen existing friendships.  

After two very enjoyable days off - one spent lounging around the farm, the other spent visiting friends in Portland, It was time for coach training.  Coming into this I was skeptical of the training and was starting to lose faith with the BCU altogether.  This changed for me and finally, in the third day of training, it all clicked together and I really started to understand what the BCU is all about and how valuable it really is.  It is amazing how long it took to sink in with me, although I dare say others in my class may not have reached that lightbulb moment.  For me, the problem isn't in the delivery, it's in the writing.  When I read the publications and coursebooks from the BCU I lose focus very quickly and struggle to comprehend what it is they are trying to drive through.  Must be my learning style or perhaps I'm receiving the wrong type of sensory input.  Their program reads like a boring textbook from my college years, but when applied, it is nothing like that at all.

In the end, I'm really happy I took the course and made it to this great event.  It's sad that this was potentially the last LOCO because it's a special event.  I'm pumped up on paddling right now and I have clear direction on my next steps in the BCU program.  I've set myself some important paddling goals and plan to accomplish them one by one.  

Lily the destroyer

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Colorado River SUP trip

I recently spent four days SUP paddling in southern Nevada/Arizona with my sister and a friend.  Rather than sit here and write a detailed account of our trip, I've decided to write about my experience on the SUP.  This was my first multi-day trip on a standup paddleboard and served somewhat as a test trip for me.  I've completed this trip at least five other times using sea kayaks and canoes and had some basic guesses as to the paddleboards performance.  I thought the SUP would be slower than a sea kayak, but faster then a solo canoe.  I didn't think I would have the manueverability of a solo canoe or sea kayak.  While standing in wind, I figured the sup would be slower than a kayak, faster than solo canoe.  The sup would be lighter than a kayak or canoe and I fully expected to portage at least one fast spot in the river.  Lastly, I questioned the sup's durability in this environment.  Here's what I found.

Five minute impression:  I screwed up.  Two huge errors - I didn't test paddle the board with gear attached and I brought a brand new paddle model that I've never tried before, in a shorter length than my other paddles.  Right away I'm noticing the instability of the board with weight on top and the ridiculously short paddle that I'm holding.  I have to paddle four days like this?  I'm in trouble.  

One hour impression:  This system is very, very good.  The first day's paddle is 8 miles upstream with a moderate fluctuating flow of water and some headwind.  Once we began making progress I was able to modify my stroke for the conditions and shorter paddle.  Over the next four days I would realize how much I enjoy a low body position and surf stance.    

My setup includes a Bark Expedition 14' SUP produced by Surftech.  It's a great board with a notable balance of speed and stability and a planing hull design.  It's comfortable to paddle with a center deck pad and I've added two additional pieces of deck pad than line up with my front and back feet while in a pivot position on the back of the board.  In addition to being comfortable and gripping well, it gives me an index point that I can feel.  The rest of the stern is waxed for grip.  I paddled with a 78.5" Werner Carve.

I approached the packing have just come off a sea kayak trip, so most of my kit was organized, I just needed to pack it on the board.  I used three bags on the front deck of the board each serving a specific need.  First, a North Face base camp duffel, size small, as a catch-all bag holding smaller dry bags with food, cookgear, first aid kit, sleeping kit, etc.  The duffel is a top load, durable, waterproof vinyl with lots of attachment points and able to take great abuse.  It also incorporates removable backpack straps and easily fills the role of a portage pack.  The second bag is a Watershed dry duffel and acted as my day hatch while on the water, holding cameras, batteries, mounts, food, knife, extra clothing and misc equipment that I may need while on the water.  The third bag is a North Face hydration pack and held my water, an easily accessible camera, sunscreen, waterproof journal, snacks, etc and is the bag I carry while hiking.  Attachment is a breeze with handles and a cam strap.  When landing it was very quick to release the hydration pack and Watershed duffel for hiking while leaving everything else attached to the board.  I could easily slide my shoes under the hydration pack when paddling barefoot and a spare paddle attached to the top of the base camp duffel.  Overall, the system worked extremely well and besides lowering the weight, I wouldn't change much.  

The most important thing on this trip was sun protection.  It was well into the 100's each day and very dry.  I really like dry heat and enjoy the climate, but you have to be very diligent with sun and hydration.  I packed two different sun hoodies - one a hooded UPF rashguard made by the North Face, the second a UPF buttonup sun hoodie made by KUHL.  Both shirts provided sun protection, comfort, some warmth at night and kept me cool when saturated.  I particularly like the integrated hood in both pieces.  Around my neck I wore a buff for cooling and covering.  The third critical piece was a brim hat, which I rarely wear, but needed on this trip and will continue to wear.  This combination of sunwear with a pair of durable board shorts performed extremely well.  

I modified my stroke to adapt to the short paddle length and river conditions opting for a fast, low, deep stroke that provided plenty of power and a natural bracing position while making it easy to use the hips and feet.  I gravitated towards a normal footed surf stance for balance and power, and could still generate plenty of power paddling on my left side  without re-positioning my feet.  

Overall Impressions:  I'm convinced the sup is the perfect craft for hot weather travel.  There are two major advantages to the sup over the canoe and the sea kayak.  First, being able to trim quickly on the water.  It was simple for me to step back on the board and easily maneuver tight turns quickly with sweep strokes.  With a little more work on my part, the sup will be significantly more maneuverable than both the sea kayak and canoe.  Second, the planing hull crosses eddy lines so easily.  Without a bow in the water, it was very quick and easy to eddy hop up river.  Normally in a kayak or canoe the angle of approach on eddy lines is so critical, but on a board it is so much more forgiving that you can change your line without consequences.  Granted, you can still be tossed off the board if you let the water pillow-up, but overall, negotiating eddy lines is far easier.  

I know the board is fast, I paddle it all the time.  I didn't realize it would be this fast in the moving water, though, especially traveling up river.  It's a long board with great glide and sprints quickly.  Ferrying across the river was easier than in a canoe or kayak for the same reason as crossing eddy lines.  The additional weight didn't seem to hinder my speed, maneuverability or stability.  

Overall, the system needs to be a lighter and I'll trim 5 pounds off for the next trip.  I had low expectations for durability, so wasn't overly upset to see the board take damage.  Certainly nothing significant, but deep scratches are very easy to inflict on the finish.  I was pretty careful and didn't hit many rocks, but I did happen to scrape one rock in particular that removed a large amount of top layer.  A canoe or kayak would barely have seen a scratch.  Before the next trip I will address the idea of carrying an extra skeg.

It was a wonderful trip and in addition to camping off a SUP, I got to spend some quality time with my sister.  We've grown much closer as we've moved further apart and I really value the little amount of time we do get to spend together.  Hopefully we'll meet up for this trip again.  Matt Christian joined us the for the last three days.  He flew in from northern Washington and easily arranged board rental and transportation from the city to the launch and back. I plan to do more paddling with Matt in the future as he's positive, knowledgeable and laid-back - A real joy to paddle with.  In addition to the great company, the trip had many highlights including thunderstorms, trash collecting and special trail gifts.

Check out more pics here.