Wednesday, December 22, 2010

When it rains...

the river levels rise!  Unfortunately we've had a little too much rain recently and most of the rivers are a little too high.  And with only a couple days off this week with a bunch of other stuff to take care off I wasn't interested in doing a full day of big water paddling and lots of driving.  So I rounded up a couple other locals and we headed to the lower American river right here in town.  It's dam controlled but they've been releasing huge amounts to make room in the lakes above for the huge amounts of rain water coming in to them.  Normally the lower runs between 1,000 and 5,000 cfs throughout the year.  Today it was at 21,000 cfs (we just missed 31,000 by a couple days...).

We took our sea kayaks since this isn't really a whitewater river.  Normally it's fairly flat with a couple class I rapids.  Today there were  several nice class II waves and lots of swirly water.  The only problem is that with the water moving so swiftly there was little opportunity to get back to any of the fun waves once you washed off.  But it still made for a fun and quick trip and it's always interesting to see rivers at different levels.  Here are a few more pictures from the day.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Off-Season Training

OK, in California there is no real off season.  We can (and do) paddle year round.  But the pace does slow down in the winter and is more dependent upon the storms that come through.  Early Fall is great weather on the coast and early Spring is when the rivers start running so I paddle the least November through January.  I like to take that time to get some rest and recover from the previous year's adventures and to do some training to help prepare for the following year's opportunities.  So I thought I would share a little of my training philosophy on what it takes to be 'in shape' for paddling.

The first thing you need in any training program is a goal.  It doesn't have to be very specific but you need to know what you are trying to accomplish.  Are you trying to get faster?  go further?  recover from an injury?  Are you preparing for an expedition?  long hikes in?  a local race?  Or do you just want to be able to paddle more often without getting tired or injured?  With a goal in mind you can customize your training to achieve that goal most efficiently.  Fitness is different than strength, endurance different than power, injury prevention different than health.

Personally, I do a wide variety of paddling and need a bit of everything.  But I tend to focus my off season training on building strength (mainly endurance) and fitness (cardio).  Strength training can be done with weights in the gym or with simple exercises and equipment at home.  For kayaking there are some obvious areas to work on:  shoulders, core, back - and some not so obvious:  chest and legs.  It's very important to strengthen the muscles you don't use when paddling.  This prevents your body from getting unbalanced - the muscles you build up when paddling will be much stronger than others and this will ultimately lead more stress on the weaker muscles.  I also focus on endurance training vs. power lifting:  I go with high reps and push muscles to exhaustion.  Unless you are a sprint paddler you don't really need to bulk up - it's more about making the muscle mass you have more durable.

And while strength training does help with injury prevention (or recovery) I think the best thing for that is stretching.  Flexibility is key to allowing your body to use proper technique and to absorb forces when out of position.  During the paddling season I don't have the energy to do separate strength training so I focus mostly on stretching - yoga is probably the best thing you can do to stay healthy and paddling.  The older you get the more important this becomes.

The other training I do is cardio.  I have bad knees so I don't run; I hate biking in the cold and rain; so my cardio is generally done in a boat.  Anything that gets your heart rate up for a steady period of time will work.  And if the focus is endurance you need at least 30 minutes of hard paddling to get any benefit.  An hour or two is even better.  Works great for both whitewater and sea kayaking.  But I will also get in my polo kayak and do some sprinting and interval training.  I find this really helps for situations where I have to push all out for a matter of seconds - must make ferries or fighting a tide race. 

And the overall key to any training program:  consistency.  Your body improves when it is subject to repetitive stresses with time in between to recover.  If you have too much time between the stress sessions then your body reverts back to what it was.  It needs routine workouts and each time you need to push a little harder - an extra rep, a slightly longer distance or shorter time - to make your body improve.  Even small efforts of 30 minutes twice a week will show improvements, but if you skip a week or ten days then you will lose the gains you have just made.

So if you can't get out there and paddle at least get ready for when you can.  If you are out there paddling, use the opportunity to prepare for even more paddling when the weather turns and the options abound.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How important is boat fit?

We met under the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge to do some playing amongst the rocks around the Marin headlands.  There were four of us and four different boats with a plan to switch throughout the day to see who liked what the best.  There was a steady rain but little wind and even though our timing was a little off from the current we had no problem getting out the Gate.  And immediately we were met with surge- even inside the protection of Pt. Bonita the forecasted 10 ft., 13 second swells were creating some fun action. We played our way out to Pt. Diablo and landed on a steep little beach for the first boat swap.

The swap put me into the new P&H Delphin - a boat I'd been wanting to try for a while.  It was the longest boat we had with us at 15'5" and was designed with rock gardens in mind.  My skirt was rather large for the boat and I mentioned to Sean I would just have to avoid getting dumped on by a wave (see the 2:35 mark in the video to see how I jinxed myself).  Sean ended up in a boat that didn't fit so well and as we pulled away from the beach he mentioned that he didn't think he would be able to stay in it if a wave took him for a ride.

In no time we rounded Pt. Bonita and I followed Sean in amongst the rocks, close to the point, and faster than you can say double jinx a big set came in and washed over our protective rocks.  Sean and I both turned into the broken wave and drove forward.  My long boat with a pointy and buoyant bow pierced the wave and I rode over the top.  I looked to my right and saw a complete lack of Sean and his rounded bow little boat.  I looked back and saw the wave wildly throwing the boat around and Sean popping up next to it - he had been sucked out of the boat.  I looked back outside in time to see an even bigger wave coming in and charged forward yet again - this time launching my boat completely into the air as I topped the wave.

I paddled towards Sean who was swimming away from the rocks (and his boat) and he told me to get clear - even while swimming he was looking out for my welfare.  He swam around the point into calmer waters and the rest of us met him there.  He climbed onto my back deck and with a little help from Bill and Tony we headed to the nearest beach.  Once there Sean climbed ashore while we went back to see if we could salvage the boat.  But the boat was nowhere in site - either trapped in the rocks or at the bottom somewhere.  Without a boat Sean walked the three miles back to the vehicles while we paddled.  He beat us back and we were all in relatively good spirits (Sean just felt terrible about losing someone else's boat).

 While losing a boat is never fun it was also never too scary.  Sean was comfortable with the swim and was not in much danger.  If he had been in a boat that had a proper cockpit that was outfitted for him he would have been able to stay in the boat, roll up after the wave passed and paddled out of the impact zone.  With just three paddlers at this point we chose to stick together getting the swimmer safely to shore.  If we left someone to watch the boat it would have left one boater alone somewhere.  It was easy enough to get him to shore and he had quick access to the road which lead back to our launch site.  The boat had float bags backing up the bulkheads and hatches so we were expecting it would still be floating when we got back to it.  So I think our response was correct and losing a boat isn't such a bad thing in the realm of possible outcomes.  Prevention was the key and proper boat fit was the lacking element.  Lesson learned.

Sean's recounting of events is on the California Canoe & Kayak staff blog.

Video below - you definitely want to watch this in full screen HD.