Wednesday, January 23, 2013


One of the great things about the sport of kayaking is that you can have the excitement and rush of rock gardening on week and the calm and tranquility of a flat-water paddle the next. Gearing up for the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium which starts this weekend, we wanted to get out in our long boats. But we wanted an easy and relaxing day. The forecast for Tahoe was sunny and calm and that's just what you want for a winter paddle on the lake.

Of course, a winter paddle means it was 2 degrees when we got there. But as soon as we launched and paddled into the sun it wasn't so bad. In fact the sun warmed us up to such a degree that I had to take off the light fleece layer I was wearing at lunch. My new drysuit kept me warm and dry with just lightweight wool underneath.

Though we almost didn't get to stop for lunch. We had hoped to paddle into Emerald Bay and take a break near the beach. But even at 2pm most of the little bay was still iced over. And not just a thin coating like I've seen before - this was an inch thick plate of solid ice that wasn't going to melt off anytime soon. We managed to break our way through a lighter section in order to reach a little bit of sand near the mouth of the bay and enjoyed a little rest in the sun before paddling back to Camp Richardson. The wind never came up and the easy paddling was just what we were hoping for.

More pictures on my Picasa Page.

And for those long-time readers who remember my posts on my making of my own Greenland paddle: I finally got around to putting on some Tung Oil and taking it out for a spin. It was okay, but I think I need to make a few changes to improve its performance. The shaft is a little thick and the blades need to be thinned for a smoother entry. But it looks nice (or at least it did before it was used to break up the ice).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Whitewater of the Sea

On a New Year's road trip I ended up in Ft. Bragg along the Mendocino coast visiting my friends Jeff and Cate at Liquid Fusion Kayaking. The Mendocino area has an incredible beauty and diversity to it. The ocean is magnificent, with rock gardens and protected bays and good surf breaks. The rivers are calm and majestic, making for tranquil paddles in any conditions. The redwoods are ever present, making everything lush and luxurious. There is no better place for a little play and relaxation.

The first day we arrived with plenty of daylight but we left the boats on the car. Instead of paddling we went mushroom hunting. An easy concept - just find the mushrooms which seem to grow everywhere - but a little harder when you want to find the tasty ones and avoid the poisonous. With Cate's guidance and Jeff's climbing abilities we came away with a sizable load of tasty treats that provided several meals during our stay. So much fun tromping through the woods and searching for dinner.

The next day we hit the water. Jeff and Cate loaned us some whitewater boats - we all ended up in Necky Jive's which are great and surfing and a lot of fun in the rocks. The waves on the exposed coast were a little too large for playing (10'-12' @ 14 sec) so we stayed inside the friendly confines of Caspar harbor. We surfed a bit but the waves were small so spent more time playing among the rocks.

photo: Lindsay Grossman
Rock gardening in whitewater boats is so much fun because the boats are so quick to respond. It makes timing and learning so much easier and allows you to move around the features and get more rides and thrills. It's a specialty of Jeff and Cate's and works well in the Mendo area because you don't have to paddle far to get to the action. (the downfall of short boats is that they are sloowwww when you have to cover distance to get to your play spot)

The next day Jeff and Cate had to run to the nearby Eel River to teach a whitewater class (did I mention they are versatile?) and so we stayed behind to try to find some long boat rock garden fun. Unfortunately the waves were still big, so we just did a nice coastal paddle instead. As a bonus, we spotted some whales traveling the coast with us - just couldn't get any pictures in the big waves.

All in all it was a fun and relaxing trip that reminded me of just how special the Mendocino area is. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I've got to spend more time there. Here's a little video of the rock garden play in WW kayaks at Caspar.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


A little post on gear. If you go paddling in the winter (whatever winter means to you) and you look around, you'll see that at least 90% of the serious, dedicated paddlers are wearing drysuits. Why is that? Because drysuits work. They keep you dry, but more importantly they keep you warm. That's important.

It's not really about comfort - though drysuits are quite comfortable once you get used to the gasket. It's about safety. When paddling in cold weather you need to be able to handle it. You need to be able to handle it when things go sideways and you're out of your boat for longer than you hoped. When you're in the water, floating away. When you're helping your buddy who's bad shoulder has gone out again. That's when you need to be warm and functioning.

Drysuits are not the only way to insulate yourself, but there's a reason you see so many of them. They work. Well. They allow you to vary the layers of insulation. The breathable ones allow you to use them when the air is warm-ish and the water cold-ish. They're really nice. They're also expensive.

While there is a range in price of drysuits, breathable ones will cost hundreds of dollars. I highly recommend getting a Gore-tex suit - it breathes the best and comes with a lifetime warranty. Those cost around a grand. That's more than some boats. But it will last longer, it will make you enjoy your paddling more, it will extend your paddling season. It's worth it, and everyone I know who has ever made the purchase has told me the same.

Why is this topic on my mind? I have been without my drysuit for a couple of months now. I had one, but the Gore-tex delaminated (it happens). The nice thing is that it was a Kokatat suit and they always stand behind their equipment. I got a free replacement - a brand new suit. But my size was out of stock because of the holidays so I had to wait until the suit could be built and mailed out to me. In the meantime I've been using some old bibs, my wetsuit, extra layers of fleece, whatever I can hobble together. I've been paddling, but not as comfortably. It's been a little cold and a little wet. My drysuit is back, so bring on the winter.