Monday, January 18, 2016

Cold Water Vertigo

In a couple of weeks I'll be teaching at Paddle Golden Gate (renamed from the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium). One of my courses will be on combat rolling, so as I was working on my syllabus I figured it would probably be a good thing to get in some rolling practice of my own. I've haven't been paddling that much lately and when I've gone out it's been for fun, not work. And just like any long-time paddler, us instructors can get a little lazy on skill practice - when it's cold out and you don't have to flip over, why bother? So I hadn't done much rolling, especially not in cold water. Time to make up for my laziness.

I went out on the river - the surf was big and nasty - and planned to get in some quick rolls and head back home for some housework and then a hike (getting in shape for a backpacking trip - there's always something to get back in shape for). I wore my drysuit, put on a nice neoprene skull cap under my helmet, even had my pogies on. The weather was mid-50's (this is California, after all) and the water was several degrees colder than that. Not the most frigid conditions for paddling, but cold nonetheless.

I paddled upriver a ways to warm and felt quite toasty before I started some bracing to loosen up and get my face wet. The cold water refreshed me and gave me the usual doubts - did I really need to go over? I did, so I rolled. My left side rolls felt fine. I'm right-handed and learned my right side first, but my left side has always been smoother and easier. I never try to muscle it. My right side worked but didn't feel as smooth. I was fighting it and wasn't sure exactly why it wasn't working so well. I kept rolling, mostly the right, occasionally the left. Over the course of half an ourh I probably did thirty or forty rolls, with some paddling breaks to stay warm.

While I was intent on smoothing out my technique I didn't pay enough attention to my location. I drifted a bit into the shallows and on my next roll attempt I hit the mud with my paddle (side note - diving blade angle not good). I struggled to pull the blade free of the mud and by the time it came clear I was low on air and quite discombobulated. I instinctively set up for a roll on my right side but I had no clue where the surface was and my roll failed completely. I pulled my skirt and quickly wet exited for some air.

In eighteen inches of water it should have been easy to stand, but when I tried to get to my feet I fell right back over. I held on to my boat and anchored a foot in the mud so I wouldn't drift in the mild current. The world continued to spin and after a minute I gave up on the notion of walking and crawled my boat into shore. A couple minutes of rest on solid ground returned the steadiness of the horizon and I was fine.

I've always known cold water on the inner ear could induce vertigo. It primarily happens when cold water gets in one ear and not the other - something facilitated by wearing a hood and twisting yourself upside down underwater. But I've never experienced it myself. I think it's because I don't normally spend that much time upside down. Quite disconcerting.

It wasn't a danger in my case - even though I was by myself, I was smart enough to practice in a protected place near shore. But if it had happened while out in the wild it would have been a different story. The good news about the effect is that it generally goes away once the water in the ears warms up - so even if you're floating in the swell it should subside after several minutes. But that means you have to be prepared to spend several minutes in the water; another reason to dress for immersion.

It's good to have confidence in your skills. It's good to have a combat roll that you believe will never fail. It's still necessary to have backup. It's still smart to practice and keep your experience fresh. Our bodies fail us sometimes, often in new ways we didn't expect, often through no fault of our own. Cold water vertigo seems to become more common as you age - and we're all getting older.

The solution is simple: earplugs. I've misplaced my own or I would have worn them. Not only does it limit the chance of cold water vertigo, it helps to protect the ear from surfer's ear, a much more serious and long-term problem. I'm going out to new earplugs now :)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Kayak Meme Machine 2

Just for the fun of it, I thought I'd take some of my favorite photos and turn them into memes. As near as I can tell, the requirements for a good meme are a square cropped picture, Impact font, and no limitation to facts or common sense. So I'm going to throw a bunch out and maybe they'll spread through the interwebs and bring a little light in the gloom of night. Or at least a chuckle from those who understand. Here's the latest:

For the edification of my blog readers, this picture was taken in 2011 at Oceanside, OR. The paddler on the wave is Sean Morley, in the just released P&H Delphin. It was the day after the Lumpy Waters Symposium, the traditional 'Coaches Play Day'. The waves were big, but mostly friendly. A larger set did come in and catch a few of us inside, with one imploded hatch and interesting rescue to follow. Good times.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Kayak Meme Machine

It seems like life has been heavy lately. Not just for me, but for the world in general. Terrorist attacks, vitriolic political debates, short and dark days of winter. I thought I'd lighten things up, at least for me, but taking on a fun little project that combines a few of my favorite things: writing, photography, kayaking, even a little graphic design.

I thought I'd take some of my favorite photos and turn them into memes. As near as I can tell, the requirements for a good meme are a square cropped picture, Impact font, and no limitation to facts or common sense. So I'm going to throw a bunch out and maybe they'll spread through the interwebs and bring a little light in the gloom of night. Or at least a chuckle from those who understand.

If you have any photos you'll like to contribute, just send them in. Or if you have a better caption for my pictures just let me know. Let's have a little fun with life even if we're stuck here on dry land.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Paddler's Journey for the Holidays!

My kayaking memoir, A Paddler's Journey, has been out for a few months now and I can't tell you how great it is to hear from folks who have read and enjoyed it. When I showed up at Lumpy one of the participants searched me out to tell that her friend had read the book all the way through in one sitting and told her she had to get it. She wasn't reading quite as fast but was half-way through and loving it. A number of paddlers have expressed a little surprise that someone with my experience goes through the same issues: doubt, fear, frustration, failure. But that's kind of the point - the details may be different, the trips a little grander and rivers a littler harder, but we all really experience the same things. I think non-paddlers will get just as much out of it for the very same reasons.

So in light of the holidays, and hoping people might want to share with their non-paddling friends a little window in the world of kayaking, I'm putting the book on sale.  If you purchase it through the CreateSpace site and use the code XUW6M6ZV you'll get $3.00 off the cover price. That makes it only $9.99!

And if you want a signed copy you can order that through my website. You can even tell me what you want on the inscription and have me mail it directly to someone special as a gift. I have limited stock on hand so first come first serve for Christmas gifts. You'll need to order by 12/15/15 in order to make sure it gets there in time. And if you order in December I'll even through in a free copy of my Paddle California DVD, highlighting some of the best kayaking our wonderful state has to offer.

(with free Paddle California DVD)

The digital version is temporarily only available at Amazon and at $2.99 you don't really need a sale price to afford it :)

And if you've already read the book, let me know what you thought - I love to get feedback. You can always leave a comment, or if you want to share your thoughts with the rest of the world, consider writing a quick review. (Reviews also help drive Amazon search engines, so just by leaving one you'll help other people find the book)

And for those who missed it the first time, here's the trailer if you want more info on the book itself:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

5 Life Lessons Learned Through Kayaking

I've learned a lot about kayaking over the years, but just as importantly, I've learned a lot from kayaking. The river, in particular, teaches us many things about overcoming adversity, making wise decisions, and staying humble. Here are five principles I've learned  over my twenty years of whitewater kayaking that I try to apply to my life every day.

1. You have to commit if you want to improve

If you only dabble in the sport, you might find it quite enjoyable, but the path to improvement is paved with consistent effort and dedication. There are no shortcuts around time in the boat. During the spring runoff of my first season, I boated seventeen out of eighteen weekends. I paddled with people better than me and listened to what they said. I worked on skills, I did drills, I took some beatings. But by the end of the snowmelt I paddled class four consistently and never looked back. Nothing says you have to be a class V kayaker to enjoy the sport, but there is a steep learning curve to get to a basic level of competency, and if you don't get there chances are you won't keep kayaking for long.

There are a lot of different things you can do with your life, but if you don't put much effort into any single area, you most likely won't get very far. We get more out of long-term relationships than transitory ones. We learn more, contribute more, and generally make more money and find success when we commit to a career path. You can change and adapt, maybe even start over in something completely new, but at the start you need to give it everything you've got if you want to get the most out of it. Life requires more than dabbling.

2. If you mess up, you can't just quit

Everyone gets off line once in a while. You miss your boof, you misjudge the current, you get flipped over. In the middle of a rapid you can't simply stop and get off. You roll up. If that doesn't work, you try again. You quickly take stock of the situation you're in now and come up with a plan to get back to where you wanted to be, or you find a new path to the bottom.The river doesn't quit so neither can you.

No one's life goes perfectly according to plan. We lose jobs, we say the wrong things at the wrong time, we make bad choices and suffer bad luck. But complaining about it doesn't get you anywhere. Neither does beating yourself up. The way to get ahead is to look forward and figure out how to go there, to make the best of whatever situation you've landed in. You keep fighting. And bonus points if you can learn not to mess up the same way again in the future.

3. Everyone is on their own path; enjoy yours

Expedition kayakers have more air miles but they don't have more fun. Slalom kayakers have more skills but they don't get the best scenery. Playboaters learn to enjoy themselves without going anywhere. There are lots of different ways to kayak the river and each one is as valid as the others. Some people paddle class V in their first season; some stop at class III for their entire career. We all end up around the campfire at the end of the day swapping stories and sharing laughter.

Success is such a vague word, but so many people want to define it explicitly. Even worse, they let others define it for them. Chasing someone else's goal is never going to provide satisfaction. If you take a little time to decide what's important to you, what you want to get out of life, it becomes much easier to see the path to get there. Don't be jealous of someone ahead of you - they might be headed in the other direction. Don't worry if someone walks faster - they might have farther to go. Stop comparing yourself to others and you'll not only find more joy in your own successes but you'll be better at helping others achieve theirs.

4. The opportunities you skip are what you regret

Some rivers only run in big rains. Some require permits that are hard to get. Still others cost a lot of money and time. They're always worth it.When we look back on our paddling careers we remember the once-in-a-lifetime dam spill, not the day of work we skipped to go paddling. Eventually we make enough money that we don't even notice what we spent on that Grand Canyon trip. The more stories we have to tell, the more time we've spent with our paddling buddies, the bigger our smiles. What we regret is the river we never ran.

Life is about experiences, not things. Everyone knows this. Every old person says so. Yet we constantly make choices in our daily life that prioritize material goods over people and activities. We work hard now with the justification that it will lead to a better future. While it's fine to be responsible, it's good to build a nest egg and lay the groundwork for a successful life, it doesn't have to be at the expense of living in the moment. Take time off to spend with your kids. Blow the budget on a vacation to see old friends. And if you ever get a chance to go on a multi-week river trip - take it!

5. Who you go with is more important than where you go

A lot of people kayak for the excitement. Or maybe for the scenery. Or the physical challenge, the mental challenge, or just because they like water splashed in their face. But we all love the community. We make life-long friends on the river, even if we just met them at the put-in that morning. We bond faster, deeper, and more meaningfully through our shared adventures. And in the end that's what makes kayaking great. I've had just as much fun on the local class II run with good friends as I've had on remote wilderness trips. I've had bad experiences on beautiful rivers when the group cohesion fell apart. The ultimate paddling experiences start and end with people whose company you enjoy and who you willingly trust your life to.

The same is true with work. The same is true with friendship. It's easy to fall in with a random group of people and even easier to let people stay in your life who shouldn't be there. Kayaking is a crucible that grinds away the outer shell and reveals who people really are, which makes it easier to choose who you want to hang with. But we can do the same in life, we just have to look a little harder. Pay attention to what is said and left unsaid. Observe how they handle themselves in stressful situations. Trust our instincts. Most importantly, we do have the power to choose who we want to spend our time with and who is a negative influence that should be avoided. Everything we do, every trip we take or day spent behind the desk, is either lessened or uplifted who we share it with. Choose wisely.

Of course, I've learned a lot more from kayaking over the years. Too many things to fit into a simple list, and I'm sure as I continue to paddle I'll learn many more. But these are five truths I remind myself of on a daily basis. How about you? What has kayaking taught you?