Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Simon and Adrain - Congratulations!

When I first met Simon Maguire in March this year he told me about his plans to paddle from Byron Bay to Newcastle and I knew he was serious. Although he had very little sea experience it was obvious that he was committed and his mental and physical preparations were underway.

That is not to say that Simon and his mate Adrian were making a fuss, in fact I suspect that without a good cause to promote and support they just would have quietly gone about their preparations and launched with as little fanfare as possible.

So after a few months to hone skills and fine tune equipment they set off on a 600km open water paddle facing sea from every quarter, headwinds, landing heavy boats through surf and crunching out the miles when they really needed to.

The hardest part is often making the plan, setting the date and pushing your heavy boat off the beach. I reckon taking that first stroke on day one is a victory in itself because so much needs to be done before this can happen and it is always so much easier to find yet another reason to leave it until next year....

So congratulations Simon and Adrian! An open coastal voyage of this scale is a credit to you and one that you can always view with satisfaction,whilst raising money for a cause and taking a stand in support of victims of crime broadens the significance of your acheivment.

After a 600klm paddle you might be excused for thinking that Simon would want to give himself a break from kayaking? Not according to an SMS he sent yesterday in which he says:'''Keener than ever to paddle and increase my skill level"

For those who would like to know more about Simons and Adrains paddle or VOCAL (Victims
of Crime Assistance League) you can go to: the Manning Kayak Klan and/or the Hunter Kayak Klan websites

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Skill Session/Whale Cruise

Above: TJ and Whale checking one another out with North Head and Bluefish Point in the background. (photo by Matt Bezzina)

We are always trying to do a little something extra on the Tuesday night paddles.

It is one of the few groups I know of that goes out regardless of the weather and we work on skills, rescues and safety all year round. It is not uncommon to see a few upturned hulls as a wave of spontaneous rolling seizes the group. Within this group there is a rare sense of playfulness that co exists with a healthy respect for the sea. Sometimes we just paddle for the fun of paddling, other times we incorporate a group activity somewhere exposed to the prevailing wind, sea and swell.

This week for example, we decided to head out about .5 to 1 nm off Sydneys North Head in a gentle 10-15knot noreaster. As I looked around the group I realised that all twelve participants had a roll, re entry and roll and good support strokes.

At the agreed point offshore we split into pairs and one from each pair threw their paddle a boat length or so away from them, then capsized, tried to swim while still seated in their boat to retreive their paddle and then roll up. If unssuccessful they wet exited, swam leading the boat to the paddle and performed a reentry and roll.The whole time buddies waiting their turn were keeping a watchful eye and ready to lend a hand.

Some paddlers got it right the first or second time and all the rest managed a reentry and roll before they started working on personal skills in pairs.

Standard rolls, exotic rolls,hand rolls, sculling braces and a range of assisted and unassisted rescues followed when, suddenly, Matt let out one of his legendary blood curdling yells. By the time we had regained our composure we realised that this wasnt a shark sighting or any threat to our safety but instead, a very playful humpback calf having an afternoon frolic under the watchful eye of its very large Mum.

There is an unwritten law that whale watching takes precedence over skills practice and the group moved off following at a respectful distance in awe of one the finest shows of Whale acrobatics I have ever seen. It is a truly a joy to witness these huge and gentle animals launch themselves into the air with such effortless power and a sense of playfulness.

I consider sightings like this as one of the rewards of being competent and willing to extend your range. The better your skills, the more options you have to paddle at sea, and the more you paddle at sea, the more you see.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Surf Skills at Umina

I have often heard fellow Sea Instructors say:" if you can handle your kayak competently in surf, even easy to moderate surf, you can paddle in pretty much anything."
Obviously it is not hard to find conditions that exceed the easy surf; just sitting in your boat and dealing with the relentlessness of long days on rough seas for example.
Nevertheless, there is more than a grain of truth in this saying and surf sessions certainly stand out as a concentrated test of your ability to stay upright and in control.
In the surf you are tested by pulses of moving water, not just moving waves but moving water which is very different.
In the surf waves dont simply roll under you, if you arent decisive with your strokes they will very quickly take control of you. Kayaking in the surf is about learning to yield to the greater power of the waves without losing control of the boat.
For this surf day Chris James came along to assist and he quickly had the group assembled to go through safety protocols and some land based excercises.
As we held our paddles and checked body, boat and blade positions a passerby looked on in bewilderment, from their perspective we were just a bizarre assembly standing next to the carpark, dressed in rubber skirts and waving paddles in the air, but for the group it was a good start to the day and I enjoyed Chris's reveiw of technique and stroke corrections before we even hit the water.
With our land based breifing complete Sally, Karen and Tim followed Chris out through tiny spilling waves and headed North looking for the ideal practice waves i.e. not dumping in shallow water or close up against the beach

As this was a surf day for paddlers training for the AC sea skills award the surf had to provide some challenges and with the challenges come the usual risks of injury. We looked for a spilling break with enough size and push to make it realistic so I surfed in to assess conditions and assist from the beach while Chris offered advice and inspiration from his boat.

The tide changed and we moved further north taking on some bigger waves and the group managed well.
The surf was breaking in a very predictable pattern and into deep enough water to avoid unplanned impacts with the sand.

There were a few swims managed with good grace and composure, some heroic rolls (Karen's first ''in action") and some very tidy skills employed to catch waves and stay upright at all angles to the break. These included an impressive display of backwards surfing by Tim (Even though he denies it, I reckon he really looked like he knew what he was doing).

Usually we try to move into bigger waves later in the day but in this case we peaked just before lunch with ideal conditions right at he edge of the comfort zone and then moved back a notch in our wave selection for the afternoon session.

The whole group commented later how relaxed they were when we moved back to the easier waves. This got me thinking that this might be a strategy worth trying again especially with groups like this one that have already done a little surf work.
The selection of images featured in this blog were shot during this later session and it seems obvious that everyone is getting a slice of the action.

Above: Chris leads the charge.

Above: Karen prepares for the broach.

Above: Karen setting up for a ride to the beach

Above: Tim with stern rudder looking very relaxed.

Above: Sally punches out with 100percent commitment

Above: Karen drops her edge and keeps her brace compact.

After a long day we headed to the Patonga Pub for a coffee, a snack and a chance to relive some of the highlights.

There was the usual laughter and a few groans. It looks so obvious if you are edging the wrong way when you can see the video in slow motion, from a warm dry chair, while sipping on a latte.

I always feel a real sense of releif and satisfaction at the end a surf training day. Matching the conditions to the group and making sure the risks are managed is intense but very rewarding work. It is challenging to run this type of training but I beleive the lessons learnt promote safer and more independent paddlers. Ultimately there is no substitute for time in the boat in this high energy environment.