Sunday, December 21, 2008

Going the distance..

In November my mate Gary suggested a few days paddle after the Australian Sea Kayak Symposium.
Initially I had to decline because I couldn't really justify being away from home for the extra days.
That was until I realised that an excursion to Caloundra would serve as an important "reconnaissance" for future training around Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.
So, with a successful Symposium behind us and a plausible justification (excuse) for a few days touring under my belt, I launched from Cleveland Point onto the muddy waters of Moreton Bay with local Sea Kayak Instructor Gary Forrest.
From Cleveland Point we paddled to the wreck of the "Platypus" off Peel Island

and then onto North Gorge on the outside of North Stradbroke Island.
Between Cylinder Beach and North Gorge the water took on a very different character with sandbars, currents and opposing seas producing some more engaging paddling.
After the hot, still conditions inside the bay it was invigorating to be in open water.
The next morning we had an easy launch from Cylinder Beach with an occasional splash to cool us down.
Tangalooma wrecks was a great place for a little kayak snorkelling...
and some further early morning exploration before heading off to Bribie Island enroute to Caloundra for a well earned coffee and dinner rendezvous with Deb (Gary's partner).
Gary's thorough preparation ensured a good line to the southern point of Bribie Island and, after bacon and eggs for breakfast, we pushed out into a building headwind for a fairly solid slog along the apparently endless surf beach to Caloundra Bar for a respectable 62km day.
After a good night's sleep we got down to the serious business of checking out the Sunshine Coast's best paddling and instruction venues with local Valley Kayak enthusiast, Sylvio Testa (starring below on the Cottontree Bar).
This is a great section of coast with tidal river bars, gradually shelving beaches and warm clean water.
I will return to deliver some action packed training with Gary in the next few months so watch this space and the EK website for details.
Looking back it wasn't the 62km slog on the last day of our little excursion, or the endless lugging of boats at the Symposium that provided the biggest challenge, it was trying to convince the folks back home that I had been ''working".

Thanks to Gary and Deb for their wonderful hospitality.
All photos of Gary and Sylvio by me, and all photos of me by Gary.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Spring in Sydney... An Instructor's Perspective

South Head looks like an island veiwed from this perspective. The low angle of the afternoon sun creates a brilliant flash reflecting off the Hornby Lighthouse prism.

Viv heads North out of the Harbour for her first paddle along these cliffs.

Alan checks out Passenger Liner and decides he is happier in his new Explorer.

Some of the Tuesday night crew hit the afternoon fizz off North Head.

Tony about to catch a ride on one of the friendliest bars in Sydney during a wave riding session at Bundeena.

Presenting a Sea Leader course at the Neilsen Park Kiosk. It was hard to compete with the harbour view.
Shaan and Alan plugging into a headwind south of The Gap. It's not as easy as it looks!
The Water in Sydney Harbour was still 17degrees in late October, so pool rolling became a weekly drawcard.
Danny started paddling with us over the past few months. He is a fast learner who doesn't mind falling in at the deep end. He has his sights set on a kayak crossing of Lake Victoria in Africa: a pretty serious adventure!
Chris and Ian lining up for a ride back to Sydney Harbour on a fresh southerly breeze.
The truly adventurous Andrew Hughes paid Sydney a visit to deliver a fascinating account of his solo coastal expedition along the Papua New Guinea coast. Here he is pictured in my Valley Aquanaut about to do some rolling tuition. We had a great afternoon and I learnt a lot about Andrew's approach to expeditions and in return, Andrew learnt just how much water gets up your nose when you practice rolling without a mask. If you get a chance to see Andrew present his story don't miss it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"The Catch"

(Riding the waves off North Head - photo: Andrew Eddy)

All sports involving paddling, rowing or swimming emphasise the catch. On flat water this is repetitive both in blade placement and cadence. Sure, the cadence may increase or decrease for a number of reasons, but it is nevertheless a rhythmic and repetitive series of moves: catch, power, exit, setup, catch........
But for Sea Paddlers of all persuasions there is another "catch": namely that a constant well modulated forward stroke will sometimes waste vast amounts of precious wave energy. Moderate sea and wind conditions will favour the paddler who is able to change the timing and placement of strokes to harness this power.
The most dramatic example of open water wave-riding can be seen in ocean races when ski paddlers pick up long exhilarating runs (e.g The Molokai), but I need to look no further than some of my regular ocean paddles along the Sydney coast to see the importance of developing these skills.
The speed difference between various members of my Tuesday Night Group is nowhere near as obvious on flat water as it is in moderate sea conditions and, even more striking, is that some of the quickest flat water paddlers aren't the quickest rough water paddlers.
So what makes a good wave runner?

There are the obvious things like stroke. The same qualities that make a good flat water paddler are essential in a sea kayaker. Then there is confidence, familiarity, and balance. But these alone don't explain why two otherwise well matched paddlers will sometimes travel at such dramatically different speeds on the sea.

The special ingredient is developing a feel for just where and when to place the blade and position your kayak to capture maximum power from the wave. Below are some tips for developing this feel and extracting more performance from your sea kayak.

( I offer the following as a brief summary of some important considerations. There are many fine points and subtleties that can only really be explained at sea with the right conditions for practice and an experienced mentor or instructor on hand to offer guidance, safety and encouragement.)

Reading the waves

1) Following Sea:
This is a steep locally generated wave pattern from astern that is travelling faster than you can cruise but is still slow enough to catch.

2) Swells:
You can also use local sea waves to generate enough speed to catch the bigger, faster moving swells. If the swell and sea are running the same direction then this is about speed and timing. When the sea and swell are running in different directions this requires catching a series of rides down wave and then having the knack 0f "tacking" onto the running direction of the swell.

3) Sea Against Swell:
Then there is riding sea waves against the swell direction. This happens around Sydney quite a lot particularly in Summer when the afternoon NE sea breeze often provides a fast ride directly into the SE swell.

4) Against The Wind:
Even more surprising is just how much speed you can gain by varying your cadence to accelerate "downhill" on the backs of oncoming wind waves (sea).

5) Rebound:
By far the most unappreciated source of helpful energy can be found in rebounding seas along steep shores and cliff lines. With good timing and a trained eye for finding the underlying wave patterns hidden in the apparent chaos a fast 'slalom' ride is often available. Your cadence may need to be syncopated to pick up this funky ride!.


1) Acceleration:
The unfortunate fact is that sea kayakers are the "plodders" of the paddling world. We generally paddle wide, heavy boats long distances at fairly low speeds and many of us don't even attempt to chase the exciting free rides that are there for the taking. The more you chase waves the faster you will get and the more waves you will catch. Try to do a few sprints every time you paddle and teach your body to perform a technically sound stroke at a higher rate with a light and lively grip on the paddle. If the budget will stretch to a workout boat (e.g a ski or racing kayak) then a regular session in this may help.

2) Edges:
The sea will often consistently broach you in the same direction and, if it is steep, it may frustrate even the most committed rudder user. (After all, the rudder will often be in the air!) To maximise rides you need to be able to use your edges to counteract the broach. You need to be able to take off on a wave with the boat on one edge.

3) Avoid Braking Strokes:
Constant trailing braces or leaning on a stern rudder may make you feel more secure but they are akin to putting on the brakes. The more you keep braking the more you will broach and lose directional control and position for the next wave.
In years of working as a sea instructor I have seen many more unintended capsizes due to loss of directional control and uncontrolled broaching than I have seen due to general instability. In following seas make your course changes on wave crests, with a little sweep and edge blended into your forward stroke. Be more aggressive, make small course corrections often, and cutback on strokes which drag your paddle and slow you down.

4) Weight Transference:
Some boats are "trim sensitive" and will run faster down wave with your weight forward. The usual trade-off is looser tracking, so its worth experimenting with when to shift your weight back to engage the stern and hold your line, or when to lean forward to accelerate.
5) The Forward Stroke is Your Best Support:
Next time a racing ski paddler leaves you in their wake remember that they are relying on their forward stroke to steady their boat. Rather than trailing a blade they keep looking for stable water to catch with their blade. Regardless of the challenges to balance that happen between strokes a solid catch is not only for power it is also the first line of defence.
If in doubt keep paddling!.

6) Finally: Remain Aware of The Possibilities.
Many new paddlers dread following seas and the slippery stability the sea imparts on their boats. But following seas are not just a fact of life, they are also one of the great pleasures of sea kayaking. There is nothing quite like the buzz of sliding down the face of a steep wave with the hull humming and plumes of spray flying off the bow.That is the best reason I can think of to develop skills and a feel for the waves.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Holiday Snaps From FNQ

In a warm shady courtyard with a gourmet lunch before us, we looked back on the last 14 days spent on the beautiful islands of the Northumberland, Smith, Whitsunday and Gloucester Groups in North Queensland and amused ourselves by dreaming up captions to accompany some of our holiday snaps. Here are my recollections of some of the more helpful hints.

Just because its a holiday doesn't mean it's always going to be "plain sailing".
(Peter sailing, wind against tide. Photo: Rob)
Develop good downwind skills and catch the tradewind express.
(Sharon off Armit Island. Photo: Rob)

Cover forseeable navigation issues before you launch.
(Boatport breakfast meeting. Photo: Sharon)
Other members of the group will often see things from a very different point of view.
(Approaching Saddleback Island. Photo: Rod)

... but, running repairs are the only reason you should "crawl into your shell".
(Armit Island workshop. Photo: Rod)

When they are "human watching", whales sometimes refuse to keep their distance.
(Rob and whale tail off Goldsmith Island. Photo: Peter)

There are locals on even the most remote islands and, even if they are a little "nosey", they deserve respect. ( Cockermouth Island locals - Pied Oyster Catchers. Photo: Sharon)

Beware of "destination syndrome" and allow time for exploring special places along the way.
( Above-Sharon explores Pleistocene reef on Cockermouth Island. Photo: Rob
Below - Sunset off Steens Beach. Photo: Sharon)

Sometimes it is more interesting to take the long way. ( Rob and Peter enjoying a detailed circumnavigation of Gloucester Island. Photo: Sharon)

The fishing is always best when you would rather be eating or sleeping.
(Fishing at sunset. Photo: Sharon)

(Rafting up for lunch- Edgecumbe Bay. Photo, Rob.)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Instructors School

The Sea is a great teacher, very unforgiving of any complacency or poor judgement but exhilirating when you rise to the challenge. The following five photos show top local paddlers putting their skills to the test.

I have called this selection of pics " instructors school " because these skilled paddlers are "learning by doing".
They view the sea as their teacher and this attitude helps them build the confidence and competence to share their passion for kayaking with others.

Keith Oakford: rock garden Nth Head

Chris James: Heavy weather off South Head

Mark Sundin: Big Day at Botany Bay

Gary Forrest: Cruising the bar at Mooloolaba

(photo Deb Browning)

Karen Dallas: classic beach break at Arrawarra Headland (for photographer details contact Karen Dallas at the Skee Kayak Centre)

Saturday, August 2, 2008


As my mate Matt says: "the best camera is the one in your hands". S0 I always take my humble compact along and even when it is bumpy and I have to brace with one hand and shoot with the other, I still try to take a few pictures.
This "dolphin cutlet" was taken when I wanted to identify the dark shape under my boat on a blustery morning, shame about the other bits!

Recently cuttlefish like this one, have been floating around off the Sydney coast providing fine dining for all manner of sea creatures and sea going birds.
Once the flesh is picked off the chalky core accounts for many false sightings of "sharks" with white bony dorsal fins.

A Black Browed Albatross with cuttlefish brunch on a lazy winter Sunday.
These powerful seabirds don't have the same tourist appeal as whales but from the low vantage point of a kayak you can watch them glide low and fast.
On windy days when the waves are steep their flight matches the contours of the sea, their wing tips lifting a fine spray off the surface.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


On Tuesday night we rounded south head in "light airs" to behold a distant waterspout and a rainbow.
Futher to seaward, spectacular cloud banks added steely tones to the rays of the low, winter sun.

The whole group sat surprisingly still in the afternoon lull, quietly watching as the vortex of moist air dissipated off North Head.

With cliffs to our west and more rainbows on the horizon we paddled with an unusual quietness.

It seemed we were all a little in awe of the skyscape as colours and forms dissolved into the night.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wayne Langmaid

Last Tuesday afternoon I packed my paddle and headed for the Central Coast to pay my respects and offer support to the family of Wayne Langmaid. We were gathered to acknowledge the passing of a multi-talented and passionate man who had earned the friendship and respect of so many people.

His loving family gave eulogies with a courage and intensity that were reminiscent of Wayne's finest qualities. His inspiration was so obvious in their words.

Wayne was a pioneering figure in the SeaKayaking community. He was a forceful and strident advocate for safety, and the standards that he set for himself and his business became benchmarks for the paddling community. He beleived that fledgling adventurers deserved a challenging but fear free learning environment. He insisted that safe and supportive guidance was a right rather than an option and reminded all aspiring instructors of their moral and legal obligations to these principles.

He shared these values with all concerned and was generous with his time and expertise. When I headed a review of safety and training proceedures as president of the New South Wales Sea Kayak Club, Wayne gave generously of his time and expertise. His positive influence over this organisation and many other kayaking groups, including my own training organisation, will live on.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Two Tuesdays at North Head.

Two photos, one week apart, same time, same place, same group....

... but a very different scene.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Small Waves = Big Fun

The surf report said: "small dribbling surf in the morning with a few peaky 1-2 footers later in the day". So with the low afternoon sun throwing a pink tinge on the breaking crests, Peter, Chris and I headed for Greenhills to catch a few rides in our sea kayaks.
We soon discovered the odd decent set and anyway, it doesnt take much to keep sea kayakers amused. It must have been big enough because we all needed a roll or three.

Punching out we still had some work to do....

with just enough wave action to keep us honest....

But most of the session was clean and cruisy with not a boardrider in sight.

With waves like this, you can practice strokes without the same pressure or urgency that you get with bigger, fatter waves.

Just on sunset with the tide running out, things got quite busy. The local surfers knew the best waves would happen after the turn of the tide and weren't going to let the low light deter them.

So we moved to the North of the beach to avoid the evening "peak hour".
Still enjoying the conditions, we surfed 'by ear' for a while and then reluctantly picked up one last shadowy wave as the last light drained out of the evening sky.