Sunday, December 9, 2012

Surfing the Bark Expedition

Just before noontime on Thursday I got that stir-crazy kind of feeling like If I didn't get out of the house soon, I was gonna go nuts.  The surf was reported to be small, but clean and ridable and a perfect day to surf longboats.  Kayak surfing hasn't been on my mind though - the fourteen foot standup board has.  At 14 feet it's pretty darn long for a surf outing but I figured if I can handle long kayaks surely I can handle this huge board.  I tossed the log on the car and motored towards the coast.

After maybe 30 seconds of watching the waves I was assured they were perfect for the equipment I brought.  "Let's go, we're burning daylight" I said to myself out loud while jogging back to the car.

The Bark is a reasonably fast board, but it's heavy and that makes it really slow to accelerate.  It takes a few strokes to get up to speed and that's not a desired characteristic in the surfzone.  After a few warm up rides on the far shoulder, I worked my way into the uncrowded lineup where four others were surfing the peak on regular surfboards.  I spent the first few waves sliding down the wave like a sea kayak, rather than carving.  I wasn't yet used to the weight of the board, wasn't engaging the rail properly and had to use low braces to stay on the board.  It was fun, but I wasn't in control.  Then it clicked.  I worked the rails more, got used to the weight and was nothing but smiles the rest of the day.

By now, the other surfers had paddled in, leaving me alone in the lineup with a few curious seals and a dimming sun getting closer to the horizon.  Before getting shark-fever I paddled to the next break and joined two other guys.  This time I just jumped in when a nice wave came to me.  It was twice the size of the others and really fun until it closed out on the sandbar.  I repeatedly got lured into the sandbar trap, staying on waves that were too fun to peel off of before they closed out.  After 30 minutes I caught my wave of the day, shoulder high and peeling.  That's what it felt like, at least.  I'm sure it  looked ridiculous from the beach, but who cares.  That wave alone was worth the long drive.  It was exactly what I needed to get out of my morning funk.  I'd completely forgotten about whatever it was that had me crazy this morning and was re-energized.  So nice.  As the sun set, I replayed that wave over and over in my mind, slid my sandals off and drove the curvy roads a bit faster than I should have.  So fun..

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Paddling "the maze"

Today I was looking for mellow and that's what I got.  I paddled out of Emeryville and along the normally shallow, marshy shoreline from the 80/880/580 interchange to the Oakland Bay Bridge toll booths, affectionately referred to as "the maze".  Like most residents of the greater Bay Area, I've passed this cove in a vehicle hundreds of times and never once paddled it.  On a normal high tide there's less than a foot of water, if any, and it's not worth challenging the getting-stuck potential.  This morning's 6.9ft high tide brought the entire cove into play and gave me a reason to stay local.  

Looking back towards the "maze"

80 West

The cove is full of evidence that suggests it was a happening inlet back in the day.  Weathering piles, dilapidated duck blinds and boathouse remains fill the cove with nostalgia and give a slow, quiet feel to an area normally experienced at 50 mph.  Nautical debris lines the shoreline while land that is usually high & dry is a foot under water.  The water is close enough to the highway to read license plates in the commuter lane.  It's an odd place to paddle, but I feel strangely connected to it and will be back during the next set of spring tides, if not sooner.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Lumpy Waters Symposium

Paul Kuthe and the crew at Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe go far out of their way to make sure everyone has a good time and I'm pretty sure that was the case.  For me, it was 4 solid days of paddling this, paddling that.  Talking about paddling, actually paddling, reconnecting with other paddlers & meeting new ones.  There was a wonderful fresh energy this year dominated by first-time attendees, some of them having only gotten into kayaking this summer.  Considering the less-than-ideal conditions for new students, I'm greatly impressed with their stamina and positive attitudes in rainy conditions.  I didn't hear one complaint the entire weekend and, to me, it was refreshing to see everyone just enjoying their time around other paddlers no matter what the conditions.  The majority of folks were highly appreciative and understand all the work that was done to give them this opportunity to learn.

Well done Alder Creek!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Treasure Island Paddle

Yesterday morning I made the paddle from Berkeley out to Treasure Island, around it and back.  The planning was perfect, as was the weather.  What I was looking for, however, was the 15-25 kt wind from the west that was forecasted but never materialized.  The idea was to get out to the far side of TI as the winds picked up and then ride the wind swell back home with some surfing excitement.  Unbelievably, the wind was stronger at 9am when I launched than it was at noon on my return.  Oh well, it was a nice paddle nonetheless and one I've been wanting to do on a standup board for awhile.

It's been quite fun re-paddling many of the San Francisco Bay routes that I've done previously in sea kayaks.  Planning for tides and currents is a bit more important on a board since I can't quite sprint as fast as I can in a kayak.  On this paddle the crux move was paddling up current just north of the Bay Bridge where it hits the west side of Yerba Buena island.  With a bit of swell crashing on the rocks at YB I couldn't quite stay in the eddy and was forced into the main current for a few minutes.  Even though the flood was racing through, it was barely 2 kts and quite manageable.

As I look out across the bay today, it's whitecaps as usual.  The typical scene that we get almost everyday.  I'm still baffled that the one day I'm really hoping for strong wind, I get ignored and find glassy conditions at noontime.

the route

approaching the east side of treasure island

the gear:  Naish Glide 17, Werner Grand Prix S1000

Bay Bridge construction from Clipper Cove

Coast Guard base on Yerba Buena Island

Rounding the southern tip of YB Island, SF in the background

Bay Bridge and San Fran

flat conditions on the return

Looking back to Treasure Island and Yerba Buena - unbelievably flat!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lake Tahoe Circumnavigation - SUP

For the first time in years, I have a paddling-related blister.  My arms feel heavy and my abdomen is sore but I'm in good spirits.  I knocked off two of my summer paddling goals yesterday when I standup paddled 45 nautical miles in a day and completed the 56nm loop of Lake Tahoe.  This was sort of a backyard expedition for me.  I had 3 days completely free from any responsibility and the weather forecast was highly favorable.  I packed supplies for 48 hours on the water, loaded the car in the late morning on Tuesday and by 6:45pm I was launching at Carnelian Bay.

6:45pm launch at Carnelian Bay
A few folks approached me on the beach to see what I was doing and it probably looked odd since I was loading gear onto the front deck of the board and had two paddles with me.  All of the people were standup paddlers and commented on the trip; one guy was really intrigued by the Werner 3-piece paddle on my foredeck and repeatedly asked me why I carried a spare.  A different gentlemen told me that last weekend a couple of guys did the trip in "like 16 or 18 hours."  I assured him it would take me longer than that.  I'd wondered what it would take to complete the loop in 24 hours and knew I had it in me, but didn't quite feel the need to go that hard this trip.

As I floated the board and paddled away from the beach I could feel the weight of the equipment I was carrying.  I never did weigh the pack but it consisted only of a sleeping bag, pad, dry clothes, food, repair kit, first aid kit, spare paddle, water filter & camera.  I quickly second guessed my board decision, rationalized it and forgot it.  The first few strokes of any trip often brings up questions.  A half hour later, the wind let up significantly and by 9 o'clock that night, I was paddling in flat conditions.

With no moonlight and little light from land, I paddled another hour until it became too dark to effectively see.  It's difficult to stay near shore because there are so many moored boats.  I used a strategy of paddling straight into lights projecting from shore.  When an obstacle was in the line of light it would be easy to recognize as a boat, buoy or rock.  This came in useful at the very end of the trip too.  The 17' Naish Glide I paddled has a foot-operated rudder.  To break it on a rock would not be good and I didn't carry a spare.

Around 10pm I stopped at Homewood marina to eat and put on warm clothes.  The pebble beach I landed on would make a nice bed and with that a decision was made to stay and sleep.  I didn't even inflate the sleeping pad because the pebbles were so comfortable and smooth, conforming to my body.  I woke after midnight and was treated to a cloudless sky twinkling with stars and a half moon high up in the night sky.  The lake went completely flat a few hours later and was barely audible with the littlest movement up and down.  An hour later I woke, ate, re-packed and launched into glassy lake water reflecting the moon's light and had to once again follow the trails of light around the shore.

4:55am launch the next morning
Naish Glide 17 loaded and afloat for the morning launch
As I approached Sugar Pine Point, a shallow rocky area with an absence of light from shore, the twilight kicked in enough to help me see my way.  During my next break at Lester Beach I removed clothing, ate second breakfast and basked in the sun for awhile.  It was warm and bright with at least twenty miles of visibility as I sat and scrolled the entire coastline with my eyes.  I briefly contemplated the trip and in my head assigned checkpoints to the landmarks I could identify on the opposite shore.  That was 7am and by 10pm that night I would be all the way around the lake and back to where I started.  With such ideal lake conditions my body and mind kept telling me to move forward, so that's what I did.

Wednesday morning sunrise

Looking down into the "cockpit"

Love the view from a standup board - South Lake

Dinner at Secret Harbor

When I got off the water late that night I really started to feel tired, especially after walking on land for awhile and feeling less stable than I should've.  The last hour of night paddling was relaxing but I had just put in a 17-hour day with eight of those hours in confused wind chop and a headwind that put a strain on my body.  My muscles ached, sleepiness was starting to set in and I was craving red Gatorade badly.  Packing up, I made a final notation in my journal, called home and headed for the supermarket to indulge.  Once outside the market I realized I was still wearing my paddling clothes and probably offended the cashier with my stink.  She'll get over it.  I changed my clothes in the parking lot, headed for the highway and pulled off into the 2nd rest area to sleep a few hours.  The trip was over and I'd succeeded in meeting my goals and challenging myself physically.  Nice trip.   

Done.... and done

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

ACA SUP Level 1/2 ICW

Last weekend I ran an American Canoe Association Standup Paddleboarding Level One/Two Instructor Certification Workshop in Half Moon Bay, CA under the watchful eye of Roger Schumann. We had 7 candidates attend the 3-day workshop from all parts of California with various degrees of skill and experience from the kayaking and surfing worlds.

The SUP ICW contains over 24 hours of material in a casual back-and-forth learning environment based on learning & teaching theory and personal training.  Ideally, candidates will come to the course well experienced having already mastered Level 1 & 2 strokes and maneuvers.  That's not always the case, however, so we do spend a significant amount of time tuning up candidates personal skills and defining the technical aspects of each stroke & maneuver.  That takes time, because in my experience, not all candidates come armed with all the necessary strokes needed to pass, and before they can teach these skills they have to be very competent at them.

Learning & teaching theory become a major part of the workshop with classroom time addressing the way we learn and how to best approach a group of students that all learn in different ways and at different speeds.  In the words of someone smart, "just because you're teaching, doesn't mean they're learning..."  That's the challenge and the reason the ACA's Instructor training program has been around since 1973.

As an instructor on this course, I learned as much as most the candidates.  I'm armed for next time with a fresh take on how to best run the schedule, cover the syllabus and give the candidates as much as possible.  Having taught paddle sports for many years, I'm a strong believer in personal development - both paddling skills and coaching skills.  People pay good money to learn to paddle well and as instructors it's our job to make sure we're qualified to coach them as best we can.  If you teach SUP, take a good look at this course and consider putting in the time to improve your skills.

If you're interested in an ACA SUP Instructor certification workshop, email matt at calkayak dot com.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jersey Shore

The red duffel holds an inflatable standup board, pump, leash, clothing & 3-piece paddle.
After a recent cycling-related wrist injury I was forced off the water for three long weeks while I recovered.  My first dive back into paddling found me on the Jersey Shore visiting the fam.  Since we were staying beachfront for a week and SUP rentals were scarce and expensive in that area, I opted to bring along a borrowed 10'6" inflatable with a Werner 3-piece paddle.  For $25 on Virgin America I checked the SUP, paddle, leash, fins, pump & clothing and was guaranteed fun while I was there.

Even though inflatable standup boards lack stability, speed, and glide when compared to rigid boards, they more than make up for it with their ability to travel.  If you can only have one board in your quiver and have room to store it and means to transport it, go with a rigid.  If you have room for board number two and love to travel, consider purchasing an inflatable.

This trip to Jersey was by no means a paddling trip, but having that inflatable meant that I could paddle and surf whenever I wanted.  It would have been strange torture staring at the waves for seven days without some time on the water.  In the end we surfed most of the days we were there and my wrist performed beautifully, well on its way to full recovery.  The week was rounded out with funnel cakes, crab fries, lobster dinners and lots of quality time spent with the family.  I don't get home too much these days, so it was really great to see everyone.  I miss them already.

Little Jersey beachbreak & warm water

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Olas de diversiĆ³n en Ensenada


     After a mid-morning low-tide surf at Sunset Cliffs with smooth small conditions and an uncrowded lineup, we packed up the truck, took our time enjoying a lunch and motored south of the border stopping just north of Ensenada.  My companions had once before spent time at the The Motel California, a cute little place with five oceanfront rooms and a well manicured grassy yard leading down to the beach.  Arriving, we were pleasantly surprised with ocean conditions and although the wind was on the verge of howling, the surf looked good, the air was warm and the sky was clear.  It was promising that tomorrow morning would present us with fun surf to start the day with.  We settled into the rooms and instantly began the relaxation process.  For me, this quick trip to Baja was all about surfing, eating, practicing spanish and having fun with friends.  


In the distance, Punta Banda straight ahead, Todos Santos on the right side of the horizon
     Relaxing on the patio that evening, we looked south across the windcapped Bahia Todos Los Santos and saw fishing boats chugging back to port.  Cruise ships were returning to sea, sneaking through the 7 nm  gap between the mainland and Isla Todos Santos to the Southwest.   Punta Banda, a prominent peninsula making up the southern border of Todos Santos Bay, was looming 8 nautical miles due south.  Jutting out nearly 5 miles and rising almost 2000 ft to its peak, the Punta Banda area possesses some of the finest ocean rock gardening I've ever played in and got me daydreaming of past trips I've made with sea kayaks.  Steep cliffs and an expanse of scattered rocks makes it very picturesque and fun to explore.  Add a touch of vibrant Mexican culture and powerful pacific swell and you've got an incredible paradise for sea kayakers just hours from the United States and easily accessible.  South of Punta Banda the rock gardens stretch for another 8 miles and are chock full of caves, pourovers, slots, stacks, surf breaks and extreme fun.  Dotted with fish camps and pocket beaches perfect for siestas and lunch breaks, the remote stretch is doable for beginners and experts alike, long boats or short.  Although easily accessible, preparations must be perfect since there is no coast guard, cell service or paved roads.  Help is not easily available and paddlers should be prepared to sort themselves if an incident occurs.  Charts are limited as is tidal and current data.  The fish tacos, tequila and fun, however, are truly unlimited.    

    Isla Todos Santos is made up of two islands accessible only by boat and best known for "killers", a surf break off the north island that is capable of holding waves up to 60 feet tall.  Looming over the bay, Todos Santos is a delight to stare at and has this unnerving mystical aura around it.  It made me wish I was traveling with sea kayaks as the paddle out to the island chain is not that long.  Come Sunday morning, Todos Santos was much more visible and detail had been shed onto the buildings and lighthouse.  It looked entirely more friendly and now made me want to paddle out to it even more.   The skies were clear, the air was still and the sea was completely flat, except for the clean 2-3 footers breaking at the point outside the motel.  Eating up and then suiting up, we paddled out for a morning surf with three locals who graciously shared the small lineup with us.  I paddled an 11' 11" single fin sup and caught dozens of slow rides working on cross-stepping, slow cutbacks and surfing goofy.  My cohorts were using a mix of short boards and longboards and riding equally well.  On the inside, the waves stood up steep and left room for a few quick moves on the face before spilling back down into the sea and bouncing off the shore.  As the changing tide altered the shape of the waves, onshore winds picked up and distorted them more.  That was our cue to call it a day, paddle in and bask in the sun for a few hours before feasting on mexican.  


     The next 24 hours were filled with more of the same - surfing, eating, relaxing, kicking the hacky sack and just fooling around.  We never spoke a word of work and were able to reconnect with each other after a few months of little contact.  Although the Monday morning surf was a bit smaller, it was much cleaner and better formed.  The session was super fun and we met the same three locals ripping it up on the inside.  We even played musical boards in the lineup and I got a few nice rides on a longboard.  After a few hours surfing together, one by one, we made our way back to land and dried out.  Sadly, it was time to pack up and move out.  

     Later that afternoon we stocked up on Mexican snacks and fruit and took the scenic route east towards Tecate.  The weekend plan was executed perfectly until we got into the border crossing line.  What can normally be a long 2-3 hour wait morphed into a tamale-infused haze, hot Mexican sun-drenched 7-hour-long border crossing from hell!  Within that half-day of suffering each of exhibited various traits of the 6 stages of border crossing syndrome previously unknown to us.  If you're not familiar with BCS (border crossing syndrome), it's like a helpless form of road rage that lasts twenty times longer and typically goes undiagnosed.  Being essentially helpless, one may lose control of their bodies and minds, shaking uncontrollably, swearing at kids, honking, crying, laughing, screaming and acting like a honey badger.  When one hits the final stage, the only option is to open the mustard Atun y vegetables soaked in vinegar and hope for the best.  Surely an inside joke, had it come to that, the words I'm writing would be much, much different.  Luckily, we snapped out of it around 9:30pm when we were miraculously transported into the United States and were allowed to shift out of first gear.  The confusion still apparent in our glassed-over eyes could be smelled on our clothes and in our hair.  As the air finally cooled off and the sugar from Mexican Coke slowly absorbed, we reached the comforts of Ocean Beach and shook off the awful stress of the border mayhem.  Sharing smiles and cocktails before sleeping, we had already begun reminiscing and cracking jokes at the expense of the holiday.  Nice trip.  


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

2012 Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium

The fourth annual Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium ran from February 16-22 and was a success thanks to the mild, sunny weather and overall highly positive attitudes.  While the format was largely the same as years past, with full-day courses and focused on instruction, it felt more refined compared to years past.  As the event manager and co-founder, It was relieving to see that our hard work and feedback-inspired modifications paid off.  Now that the stress is gone and another year is to rest, we'll begin working on 2013.  Feedback is already pouring in and after a well-deserved rest, we'll get right back to work very soon.  Just as we made changes for 2012, we'll make more for 2013.  All we can do is attempt to make the event better and better each year.  

The funny thing about GGSKS, for me, is that my perspective of the event is entirely different than everyone else's.  I rarely get to paddle, in fact I've paddled a total of 1 day in the four years this event has been held.  It consisted of about 3 hours on the water the last day of 2011.  Because I'm not in the cockpit I miss much of what makes the event so special.  I hear the stories of glory and disaster, I get pieces here and there.  I look at the pictures and fill-in what I missed.  To me, I can measure the success by the amount of smiling I see at the launch, the number of people meeting new friends, the old friendships rekindled and the new participants telling me about their experiences.

Starting as an intermediate to advanced level sea paddling instructional based event, it has actually become more than that.  The curriculum is still focused on paddling of course, but the event has taken on a new element all on its own.  It's a social gathering in and of itself.  It's a link between the Northwest paddlers in Canada, Washington and Oregon and the paddlers of California North and South.  It's a chance to see your friends, meet people you've only chatted with online and connect with new people on a personal level.  It's social networking at its best and paddling is the common bond.  

Friday Pics
Saturday Pics
Sunday Pics

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Standup Paddleboarding @ Yellow Bluff, SF Bay

Last Friday I took my standup paddleboard to Yellow Bluff for the first time and it was challenging.  I hoped to arrive to perfect conditions and a smooth front wave that I could surf on.  The weather wasn’t great, but the radar showed a break in the rain from noon to 2pm that lined up perfectly with the 1:50pm max ebb.  By 12:15pm I paddled into the top of the eddy at Yellow Bluff without rain and with skies clear enough to see across the Bay.  Light winds from the south and strong currents set up an okay wave up front.

self portrait using the GoPro Surf Hero HD

At first it was difficult to stay in position, but after several attempts I finally got a really nice surf.  Turns out it was a passing passenger ferry that created the wave.  The ferry wake mixed with the waves of the tide race and created a nice set of waves – up to 2′ each, at least four of them at peak height.

Between passing boats I made my way into and out of the current practicing ferry glides and maneuvering.  Balancing the board in such confused water is pretty difficult and bracing is absolutely crucial.  I found myself bracing much more than I would normally brace while in a sea kayak in those conditions.  After playing in the waves for awhile, I paddled up the tide race into the eddy above.  It was a workout paddling up current at a fast cadence and reinforces the need to develop proper stroke technique.  While taking a breather in the eddy above, another boat passed and by the time I made it back down to the tide race, the wake had reached the top and turned into four nice, steep, clean waves.  With more skills I would’ve spun the board around and tried to surf them, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen so I headed straight into them.  I couldn’t resist the chance to plow the board over those waves at a quick speed.  I did pierce cleanly through the top of one while maintaining my footing.  After the charge I pulled into the eddy, took a break and then played for another 20 minutes.  As I paddled back to Horseshoe Cove the rain began falling again, the skies grew darker and in my mind I began planning my next trip here.

first good surf at yellow bluff
returning to the launch

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Round Alameda

Last Saturday I had the day off and felt I deserved some time to myself.  I decided to paddle a standup board around Alameda to challenge myself and do a route I've never done before.  My goal was to make the complete loop in 5 hours.  It's 15.5 miles around the island and I was hoping to ride the current around half of it.  I launched at Jack London Aquatic Center in Oakland just after 8am and headed north up the channel.  Within an hour I made it to the northernmost point of the island with a crystal clear view of downtown San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and Yerba Buena Island.  Paddling into the flooding current, I felt the wind at my back, dropped to my knees and took my first quick break while drifting in the right direction.   I chugged some water, removed a layer and snapped a few pics.  5 minutes later I was back underway.

San Francisco, The Bay Bridge & Yerba Buena with cranes

Alameda is on my left and I've moved into the bay far enough to pickup a ride from the flood tide.  This entire section is new to me and I'm trying to picture it back on the google map.  After passing CG ships, nesting grounds and breakwaters, I'm quickly down to Crown Beach.  All of a sudden it feels like San Diego with harbor beaches and palm trees, bike paths and lots of people - quite a nice stretch to paddle.  The air is starting to move a bit more and I'm happy my heading is downwind.  Along the way I take a 2nd break for a quick bite, more water and a few more pics.

I round the corner and continue to ride the flood up into the backchannel.  Wind is now at my side so I tuck in tight to the shore.  It means losing the main flood, but also allows me to paddle in glassy waters and check out the homes along the shore.  I turn again, to the north, waving to people on their boats and continue to ride the flood - but now I'm heading straight into the wind.  From here till the end I'd be slogging into the wind paddling hard from wind break to wind break.  It's exactly like eddy hopping up a river and I really enjoy the challenge.  The wind easily outpowers the current assist and it means lowering my stance, my grip and quickening my cadence.  Every stroke is critical and powerful.

Nearing the end of the route I see my finish point in the distance, glance at my watch and realize I could possibly finish in 4 hours.  This prompts me to paddle harder and increase my speed to try and finish by noon.  Another 20 minutes passes and land back at the dock.  In the end I finished the 15.6 miles in 3hrs, 49mins.  I averaged over 4mph and finished an hour faster than anticipated.  Nice.