Saturday, June 28, 2014

Returning to Newcastle

On Friday morning I had a few hours to myself and decided to go paddle the loop around Newcastle, a classic route I often paddled years ago that mixes up river, coast and tidal backchannel.  Conditions were near perfect with light wind, abundant sunshine, no boat traffic, very little swell and a flooding tide.

For this trip I packed full standup paddling kit into one bag consisting of 14' race inflatable, 3-piece paddle, leash, PFD, paddling clothing, VHF, water dromedary & drybag.  With a quick inflate of the board, I was on the water by 8:15am, just as the sun was getting high enough to provide some warmth.  I rode the eddies downriver, but upcurrent, since the tidal influence on the Piscataqua River is stronger than the natural current of the river.  Making my way to the Northeast corner of the island, I crossed past the Portsmouth Harbor Light, a station that dates back to 1771 and is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

After stopping for a photo, I ferried across the river mouth into the wind over to the Maine side for a quick stop at Wood Island and a closer look at the structure, which seemed to be in the same condition I remembered it in from 10 years ago.  Run down, but beautiful in the perfect light of the day and the bluebird background.  Another few minutes south put me in the lee behind Whaleback Light, a station dating back to 1820 situated atop the rocks of Whaleback Reef.  Back in the day we used to rush out to the point during big winter storms and watch the waves exploding most the way up this 50ft structure.  It was always an impressive display at how mighty the ocean could be and made you puff your chest up a bit.  Those were fun times living on the coast.  As I write this a memory just popped into my head of taking the old 4runner along the coast roads, swerving to avoid lobster traps in the street and driving under the spray of breaking waves on the sea wall.  Those days of 'stormchasing' were some of the most exciting times living at the beach and were usually followed by cold, blue sky days and large, frigid New England surf.

I continued to reminisce on my way back through Little Harbor, the back channel and along the Portsmouth decks.  Nice look back into paddling days of old!

looking upriver to the Maine side of the river

the view from Pierce Island where I learned to paddle

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse

Whaleback Light

East Coast Homecoming

In my heart I'll always be an East Coaster no matter how long I stay away.  The granite state was a great place to grow up, always will be, but just doesn't have everything I need these days.  My family is still here, so I'll return to re-connect and spend time with them whenever possible.  In early July, my little sister is getting married in southern Maine so I decided to make a good long visit home, celebrate her union, catch up with old friends and re-visit the area where I learned to paddle.

When I left New Hampshire I considered myself a good paddler.  I had solid rough water experience in sea kayaks, I'd travelled around the East Coast paddling different areas and I was proficient surfing the coast.  This was back before standup paddling was re-invented so to me, sea kayaking was the most fun I could have on the water.  This was before I paddled the heavy conditions on the West Coast and before I'd ever paddled a canoe with grace.  Today, I still consider myself a good paddler, but my technical understanding has grown leaps and bounds and my skills have been refined.  Returning to the area where I first wet my paddle is pretty nostalgic and exciting and to standup paddle everything this time around makes the return even that much sweeter.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tomales Bay SUP Instructor Certification Workshop

Tomales Bay is an incredibly beautiful Northern California paddling destination loaded with wildlife on land and in the water.   It's a spectacular hiking and paddling destination with a diverse climate and weather conditions.  Wind is usually on the menu after 11am and downwinding is one of the best activities on the bay.  Jeff Burton paddles Tomales Bay a ton and runs a great paddling blog called Paddle Standing Up.

This week Jeff assisted me on a 3-day Instructor Certification Workshop at Blue Waters Kayaking, the leading paddlesports provider on the bay.  Collectively, it's the youngest group I've worked with yet and their energy worked wonders helping them progress a ton in a short time and soak up info quickly.  We struggled at times with low tides and wind, but that didn't change the amount of fun we had.  Each time I run one of these workshops, they seem to get better and better.  This one flowed smoothly the entire time in an effective and efficient manner and I feel pretty good about my delivery.  Nice paddling in Tomales!

photo by Jeff Burton.
Daniel, Chandell, Liz & Dallas.  photo by Jeff Burton
photo by Jeff Burton

Monday, June 16, 2014

Such a good feeling

After wrapping up the California 100 on Tuesday morning the plan was to get the hell out of town and shut off my phone.  I drove to San Diego on Wednesday, picked up my partner Thursday morning and we made our way towards the Nevada Arizona desert for a Colorado River trip.  The trip began with a 3-hour full-moon upriver approach and a midnight landing to our campsite at the stroke of Friday the 13th.  It only got better from there.  This was an unforgettable trip for me and a much-needed chance to exist in the moment.  My head was clear all weekend and I was thinking about nothing but what was happening around me.  Such a good feeling.  I'll keep the details to myself and leave you with a tiny glimpse of the trip.

arriving to the river, packing up

looking downriver in the early morning

thermoregulate and thrive in the desert

Sunday, June 8, 2014

fun runs on the bay

We got three nice runs in on Saturday on the latest Downwind SUP Safari with the Barbary Ghost.  Good times with Marion, Craig, Jeff and I on boards and Drew at the helm.  First run was a great warmup with decent glides and strong wind at our backs.  Drew dropped us behind Pt. Blunt where it's super easy to enter the wind.  Going from zero to twenty knot wind in 30 seconds is exciting!

The second run produced the most favorable glides.  Wind waves were small, but very catchable and real good for linking up runs.  Third run was smaller, but a nice cool down as we were all spent by then.  Back on board we changed out of our wet clothes, downed a beer and enjoyed the grub Drew BBQ'd up for us while cruising back to San Rafael.  You can't go wrong with boat assisted paddling.   I'm hooked.

Friday, June 6, 2014

South Fork SUP

This was my first real whitewater SUP experience and it's so, so much fun.  I'm ready to pack my bags and move to the river so I can do it everyday.  I felt like a kid again - not a care in the world, splashing around in the cold, clear, fresh water.  It was great.

We joked around and had a great time while paddling safe & smart.  Kelly & Goose paddled whitewater kayaks while Mitch & I stood up on sweet WW boards we borrowed from California Canoe & Kayak in Coloma.  The Coloma to Greenwood run was a perfect intro for me - a class I/II run that's mellow.  

It's hard to standup paddle in dynamic moving water while scouting lines and keeping an eye on the team.  Lots of rough water paddling had me completely ready for it and I'm pretty happy with my performance out there.  I swam, I flailed once or twice, but I also got onto some standing waves, stood through most the rapids and ran some really good lines among the rocks.  It was pretty damn cool and I cannot wait to return.

I have my sights set on the gorge by the end of summer.  I'm ready for class III and can't wait to run it with a small team of solid sup paddlers.  

Waiting our turn at barking dog

boat retrieval from a SUP

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Afternoon Downwind Delight

I'm still pumped from yesterday's downwind session on the Barbary Ghost.  Captain Drew took us out for his first Downwind SUP Safari of the season, and true to his reputation, he hunted down and delivered some bumps for us.

photo by Drew Testwuide
Six of us were along for the ride, starting with a warmup run heading northeast to Red Rock Island. Mixed conditions made it difficult to find glides until the end, but it gave everyone a chance to get their legs under them, get wet and warm up their smiling muscles.

Run two was completely different as wind speed doubled, wave size tripled and glide time significantly increased.  We were limited by our own energy, not lack of waves.  He dropped us in the lee of Angel Island for a good run towards Richmond.  Everyone did fantastic, catching bumps, handling the strong wind and looking out for each other.

I'm again impressed with my new ride, the Cali 14 from Focus SUP Hawaii.  For a pointy all conditions race board, it handles damn fine in mid-sized downwind conditions.  It catches them easy, has great planing speed and the nose releases predictably when stuffed underwater.  No surprises from this board and the secondary stability is impressive.  Loving it!

photo by Drew Testwuide
photo by Christine Schneider
If you're in the bay area, check out the Barbary Ghost and get on one of the next downwind safari's.  You definitely need the skills to enjoy the thrills.  It's a challenging environment so proper paddling skills are mandatory and quality equipment is crucial.

Thank you Drew, Nico, Marion, Craig, Christine, Gretchen and Janet for a fun afternoon!