Friday, December 14, 2012

Big Fun in Small Surf

A few kayakers you may know ventured into some winter surf. I am still without drysuit (hurry, hurry with the replacement, Kokatat!) so I came out with my camera to shoot some photos.

The surf that day was quite mild (1-2 feet) and mushy, but folks still had a great time. What's interesting to me is how much variety, fun, and challenge there is in the small stuff. As you look at these photos, it's good to consider how high a two foot wave can look when it's cresting above you
and you're seated in your kayak. Why, it can block your view! Imagine, then, what seriously big surf must look like--its weight, muscle, force. When I read about the stuff, say, Freya Hoffmeister has paddled, I am deeply humbled by both the ocean and true courage.

Take a look.

 Here's the start to the day. This is often how we view the water, standing. It doesn't look dramatic, just a calm day at the beach.

 When you're launched and just past the breakers, you can see how even small swell appears to swallow the kayak.
 From shore, standing, you might not even notice the swell. Look at the photo. You don't see the swell clearly with the eye. But you can tell it's there once you realize that Chris and Lee are in their kayaks, not swimming.
 When the wave crests, it looks really big! This wave may have crested at just above 2 feet. But look
how it appears from the vantage of Dawn, the kayaker!
 And, even the small stuff is fun to surf, lots of energy and great rides.
 Sit on tops, like Frank's, are a lot of fun in the surf. If you don't like to paddle a decked kayak, and aren't interested in learning to roll, these kayaks are terrific options, and fun in the surf!
 This photo looks dramatic! Lee has just finished surfing and now it's time to brace!
 With a nice low brace, Lee and his kayak bounce through the soup. It's counterintuitive, but leaning in to the foam pile with a solid low brace keeps your kayak upright.
Here, Chris is finished surfing and ready to brace.
 Frank zooms down a nice one!
 I like this photo because it looks so COLD. I think that's a stand up paddle boarder behind Lee. Lots of the SUP crowd is out these days.
 More pretty ones.
 A 1.5-2 foot wave can be truly fun. Look at the ride Dawn's catching!
 This is a pic of Dawn doing a cool layback high brace she learned at Sea Kayak Virginia.
I mean to try these sometime.
So don't think you need massive surf to have a good time in the surf zone.  Most sea kayakers wouldn't know what to do with a wave that's three to four times the size of the one in the photo.

Small surf is fun.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Finding Stability in a Sea of Chaos

As we indulge the sounds of life, a mosaic of diverse vibrations, notes, and beats play upon our ears at times orchestrated with purpose, other times randomly.   With the experience of life, we perceive these sounds and wire our minds to react to them in thoughtful predictable ways.   The sea is not unlike our terrestrial world.  As we watch the ocean, we see another type of concert manifested in the waves with rhythmic vibrations, harmonics and beats similar to the sounds we surf with our ears.  As kayakers, we are afforded the unique opportunity to become part of the music of the sea.  Where every other water going vessel passively opposes the sea's forces, the kayak alone is able to interpret and play upon each wave with elegance and precision, realizing remarkable stability for watercraft of such narrow proportions.  Last year I faced faced a situation of hostile conditions far out at sea for more than 10 hours (see "50 miles at sea") and learned in course of the trip, rather than futilely react to each wave, there was a opportunity to assimilate with the rhythms of the sea and feel stable in the midst of chaos using my paddle as an instrument, and my cadence as a verse.

But the waves and motions of the sea are even more complex and diverse than a symphony orchestra.  Waves originate from many sources and many directions, close by from boats to storms and winds hundreds and thousands of miles away, and even reflect from rocks and shorelines and move in opposite directions making the water very confused and difficult for kayaks.  A paddler unfamiliar with such conditions, like a person encountering a loud strange and unanticipated sound will react defensively with a thoughtless opposing reaction.  As we gain knowledge of unfamiliar sounds, we respond with a predictable and well thought out action.  Similarly, as kayakers, we will encounter difficult conditions many times and must develop ways to handle these situations.  Especially in a long trip where we may face difficult conditions for hours and days at a time, we do not have the luxury to react to each wave.

Large cruise ships use sophisticated stabilization systems with bracing fins that work exactly in the same manner as a kayaker braces with a paddle to provide remarkable stability in rough seas.  As its complex computer algorithms interpret the sea's motions and rhythms, so do our minds in an even more eloquent way with the the ability to anticipate the conditions and instinctually apply the proper stabilizing actions.

The kayak itself has little innate stability.  Although wider beam kayaks for the novice possess a higher degree of primary stability,  nothing comes close to the skills of a skillful paddler.  In wavy conditions, primary stability works against the paddler and shows its weakness inherent in every other craft as it characteristically applies a righting force to bring the kayak level to the surface of the water.  If that surface is on the slope of a wave, the kayak's primary stability will actually attempt to right the kayak more sideways which can be seriously destabilizing in the moving motion of the waves.  In challenging conditions, lower primary stability is more desirable as the paddler assumes the responsibility for providing the stability.  But every kayak still has some primary stability, and the paddler will be pressed to mitigate the affects of the waves on that primary stability in addition to the other effects by applying a brace to each stroke.

Applying a brace to the stroke is a simple matter slightly angling the blade downward during the stroke.   Angling the blade will add a downward force component in addition to a forward thrust.  Adjusting the downward angle of the paddle can be done very quickly.  Often times the paddler will need to try a number of angle settings to find just the right bracing strength.  But once the right angle is found, its normally good for the wave set and should be noted for similar reoccurring sets of waves.  If more bracing force is required to cross over a sharply pointed wave or through a whitecap break, a downward pry can be added to the stroke by pushing straight down on the braced blade during a stroke.  The pry can be used only when a brace is applied to the stroke.  Otherwise, the blade will knife downward and possibly compromise stability.  If a wave hitting the kayak requires a pry on a brace, the paddler should be ready to brace quickly on the other side to address a possible abnormally harsh transition to the downward slope with a temporary shift to a fast cadence.   As I paddled long hours in rough conditions, I was periodically hit by isolated waves which posed a problem, requiring a fast cadence until the wave passed.  On a couple of occasions  a wave broke over my bow, causing the kayak to spin off course like a compass needle.  The fast cadence possibly averted a capsize far from shore.    

As waves travel through the ocean they combine and cancel each other out.  Over a distance, the resulting set of waves normalize into a consistant procession known as a "wave train".  The waves further congregate into groups like harmonics from a string instrument, which  called "sets".  The kayaker will notice groups of similar size waves passing in cycles as wave sets come and go.  The paddler will need to adjust to changing wave sets by altering the brace angle and cadence to match the oncoming set of waves and make fine adjustments.  Through a number of cycles the paddler will notice a pattern which can be anticipated and formulated into a strategy to be used at any time in the future.  As we learn to anticipate the notes of songs we hear many times, paddlers on longer trips will have the ability to predict when wave sets will arrive and structure tasks around the arrival of specific sets of waves.
As a padder moves through a rough conditions with the wave train at the beam, the kayak will transition between the upward and downward slopes of each wave.   With a normalized wave train, the waves are spaced consistency.   The paddler may use this to an advantage, by matching their stroke cadence to the consistant period of the wave train.  A slower cadence is used for longer wave periods.  A faster cadence is used for more confused conditions with sharp pointed waves.  When in doubt, I always start with a faster cadence and adjust downward to empirically match the conditions.  The transition between braces should match the crest and the trough where the slope changes.  After a while I was able to develop an instinct to match my cadence to the wave train and develop a strategy for a number of conditions and realize a feeling of stability and confidence in a sea of chaos as these motions became more instinctual.

As kayakers, the chorus of the sea summons our skills and intuition to artfully ply confused waters with uncommon grace and dexterity while bearing witness to its every nuance like no other craft.  As a musician contributes to a song, the kayaker flows with the beats and rhythms of the sea, wielding their paddle in a special art of seamanship as a small contributor in the greatest composition.

Copyright 2012 Lyman A Copps

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kayak Katamaran Kabana

I am ever in search of the perfect camping solution for different situations, and a recent post by FastYak on the CKC forum shook loose some ideas I had about a floating camping set up. I'm not thinking of a pontoon boat or a platform with flotation that could be towed by kayak to the location of one's choice. My idea is similar but more compact, which is appropriate for a small boat. 

Mountaineering and the relatively new sport of tree climbing/camping make use of suspended sleeping platforms or portaledges like this.  I have no idea how they transport the things but am assuming they don't climb up the wall or tree with the fully assembled platform hanging off their backs. Presumably it comes apart like a tent and can be stored more compactly. 

The thought of sleeping suspended that high is absolutely terrifying to me.  Being wide awake is no more comforting. I can barely even stand to look at the photos. However, the platform, minus the suspension straps is an idea that could possibly be modified for paddling. 

Such a kayaking platform would consist of two side poles and a spreader bar on each end (or vice versa) between which some kind of taught strong fabric is strung. The whole thing would be securely supported across the back and front decks of two kayaks (the "pontoons"). To get an idea of how the crossbars might work have a look at this photo of two double kayaks attached together like a catamaran for use with a Balogh Sail. For the Kayak Katamaran Kabana there would only be 2 crossbars. There would be some permanent mounting base on the kayak to which the poles would be attached. Pole length would be determined by the desired size, structural requirements and engineering limitations of the materials. The longitudinal bars would of course have to be attached in some way to the crossbars.

It could be a camping platform, sun deck, swimming/diving/fishing platform, etc. A tent could be erected on top. To reduce weight and bulk it might even be possible to use strong specially constructed paddles for 2 of the poles with those also serving as the spare paddles. Other dual purpose features could possibly be incorporated as well. Perhaps a folded configuration of the fabric could double as a sail with poles or pole parts serving as mast, boom or spar. Also, in heavy wave conditions having the two kayaks securely attached to each other could provide additional stability, more like a catamaran. 

If designed right it could be taken down and the fabric stowed in a hatch with the poles stored on deck as are spare paddles. Since 2 kayaks are needed for support there will be 2 kayakers who need a place to lay their heads. So a double platform like this Black Diamond Cliff Cabana would be needed.  For mountaineering these platforms must be over-engineered for strength given the consequences of failure. That also makes them heavy, the Cliff Cabana weighing about 20 pounds. Seems to me a kayak supported platform would not have to be that heavy. 

Has my imagination run wild? Probably yes. But it would be so cool to have a Kayak Katamaran Kabana - paddle over to a unique corner of the marsh or swamp, drop anchor or tie off to a tree, set up the platform and spend the night gently rocked to sleep on the water.

Any mechanical, structural or materials engineers out there with any ideas about how to do this?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Beautiful Contrarians

Sooner or later someone will say to you, “Everything about learning to kayak is so counterintuitive.” For instance, to turn your kayak, you do all the work on the side opposite from the direction you wish to turn; to keep your kayak from turning over in a wave, you lean in to the wave, sometimes until you are buried by it, in order to stay upright; to roll, you keep your head in the water until the end. At first these things feel completely, dangerously unnatural. Why? Because they are unnatural-- at least to our land brains.

Maybe, like me, after you've kayaked a bit, you’ll begin to discover that your land intuition isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and that by learning to kayak, your brain becomes engaged in the entire world differently, all the time, not just when you're on the water. Perhaps when you are wanting to steer a situation the way you would steer a car, you think: no, this situation requires my kayak brain, and to steer this situation, I must work on the opposite side, even though it is counterintuitive.  Perhaps someone pushes you around and you think it’s time to hide, but you learn to lean in hard against whatever’s coming at you in order to stay upright. 

Or maybe you find yourself suddenly upside down and submerged and wanting to panic, but kayaking has taught you that you’re fine, you can hang out a while without worry or panic, only to roll back up, and keep paddling forward.

Kayaking may be counterintuitive, but the lessons transfer well to the non kayaking side of life too. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Harbinger for an Ancient Legacy

Recently, the science of kayak hull design has taken and interesting turn which brings together aspects of the kayak and surfski into new exciting high performance craft that promises to shape the future and change the way we paddle.  In this article, I present some background information and dive into design features of the Epic 18x which I believe is the most compelling hybrid design to date.

The kayak is a remarkable invention of the Inuit people allowing them to thrive in barren, hostile lands, not otherwise suitable for habitation.   This powerful tool while bountiful with its benefits, demanded a discipline and strict set of age old skills.  Modern renditions of the kayak gave this remarkable craft to the masses and introduced them to the rich Greenland traditions and discipline.  But nothing from the past is immune to the scrutiny of science, as paddlers demanded greater performance and mastery of the seas.  As science and technology have influenced the kayak, the surfski, having come from a very different past, faced an even more profound transformation, producing remarkable paddle craft capable of achieving high speeds on the rough ocean, not only squeezing efficiency from the paddler's every stroke, but augmenting it with energy captured from the sea itself.  As the quest for kayak speed progressed, high speed flat water racing kayaks emerged, achieving high speeds, but leaving the paddler with a much less seaworthy craft as optimizations for speed sculpted away its traditional rough water handling features.   However, the kayak industry is now taking a long look at the surfski and finding ways to adopt its remarkable design elements.  Recently, one kayak manufacturer introduced an exciting new iteration of its kayak that is every bit a kayak above the waterline, but every bit a surfski below the waterline.  While new designs are common, the paddling community took notice as this new radical design achieved staggering speeds and proved itself a formidable expedition kayak.   However, as with the racing kayak, there are always tradeoffs in exchange for gains.  But, for the first time, a near hybrid design emerged, capable of being paddled like a kayak or surfski on the ocean,  casting a shadow on the pedigree of two rich and storied legacies and their legendary disciplines.

The surf ski sprouted from modern western culture along the coast of 20th century Australia.  As the populations ventured into the turbulent surf,  a need arose for a suitable lifesaving craft capable of negotiating the surf.  In New South Wales, Harry McLaren and his brother Jack in 1916 built sit atop, hand paddle boards to navigate the family's oyster beds.   Variations of these craft were later used for lifesaving and proved much more agile than 5 person surf boats that required a high degree of skill.   In time, lifesavers realized a double surf ski could do most everything a life boat could.  These early surf skis were very wide and bare little resemblance to those in use today. With little reverence for its past, the surf ski was transformed into a high speed, ocean going paddle craft for recreational and racing purposes.  The length grew to increase the waterline for speed and provide more stability when smashing through the waves.  To reduce drag, hulls were narrowed and the "swede" hull design which places the point of maximum beam behind the cockpit was implemented.  With the point of maximum beam behind the cockpit, water inertia and friction on the hull is reduced as water is moved out of the way more slowly over a longer wedge.  The swede hull also places the paddler closer to the water for a better vertical stroke by locating the cockpit in a more narrow part of the hull.  The iconic pointed ends and most of the rocker that allowed Greenland kayaks to keep their bows above the waves in rough seas are sacrificed in favor of a much longer waterline for speed.  To replace the missing rocker and the up-swept ends, the bow was made much more buoyant by squaring it off and making it taller.  These efficiencies, the lack of rocker and extended hull length, allows surfskis to put their full length on the water and achieve a greater bow angle and more effectively harness the gravity off the face of a wave to add significant speed to the overall average.  Wave riding skills are an intricate part of surfski discipline.  Surf skis have no edging control, so secondary stability and chines in the hull that produce a distinct secondary stability are not required by surfski technique.  Instead, a smooth rounded hull is used to reduce the wetted surface, thereby further reducing water friction.  But this requires more technique and a strict discipline to keep them upright.  Stability is attained through bracing and proper posture centered over the keel.  Typically, the paddler will lean forward to utilize the strongest torso muscles with knees close together, head pointed forward, chin up.  A rudder provides all directional movement and must be available at all times.  Surfski designs increased rudder availability by relocating the rudder forward of the stern to keep it in the water on steep waves that often lift the stern.  Unlike kayaks, surf skis have not attained a payload capacity and serve a short duration paddling purpose.  Surfskis are very different from a kayaks and demand a different skill set and paddling style.  Surf ski Discipline, and technique has evolved into two primary goals: keeping upright, and maximizing forward thrust.  Sprint kayaks share a similar technique with surfskis on flat water.  A proper stroke is crucial: Blade entry, catch, and follow through.  Also important, is a technique to maximize the efficient transfer of energy to the hull.  Surfskis are paddled with a wing paddle.  Forward lean with strong torso rotation is needed to utilize the core muscles for a sustained strong drive.  Good technique will propagate the rotation to the seat and transmit the energy through the legs which pump up and down to deliver energy to the hull through the foot pegs. Surfskis are not rolled, but are easily remounted from deep water.

As the relentless persistence of science sculpted the kayak,  new designs took shape along the same path of technological optimization as the surfski.  However, the purpose of the kayak is very different.  Not primarily designed for speed, the kayak was created for much more practical purposes and survival, including transportation, hunting, and fishing in rough waters, requiring maneuverability, stealth, and high degree of seaworthiness.  The Inuits solution: a highly rockered, upward pointed hull ends kept the kayak from diving into large waves, but reduced the waterline of the craft which was not that important.  The pronounced "V" shape of its hull and chines had little primary stability, but added a reliable secondary stability. The pronounced rockered "V" shaped hull also helped these kayaks track straight, and turn easy with edging.  Greenland kayaks have no skeg or rudder.  However, the pronounced "V" adds wetted surface and water friction to the hull which is not a problem for the Inuit style kayak.   East Greenland kayaks were flatter with little rocker giving them more speed with a longer waterline, but were less suitable for rougher waters as the rockerless pointed bow did not have enough buoyancy to lift above the waves.  Greenland kayaks fit snug to the paddler allowing a more symbiotic relation between paddler and craft for easy, quicker edging control and rolling in the event of a capsize. However, they had little room for gear.  Unlike surfskis, kayaks do not require a highly disciplined posture and steep paddle angle.  A lower paddle angle allows a wide unobstructed view angle for hunting, fishing, and keeping other paddlers in sight.  Kayaks can be righted with a brace or a roll.  Historically, the Inuits had no method for reentering their kayaks, since being separated from one's kayak meant certain death in the ice cold waters.  Their very lives relied on their rolls and other righting skills.  Modern kayaking allows the wet exit as a last line safety measure, in turn several methods for kayak reentry were added.   British style kayaks brought the kayak to the masses, while attempting to retain the spirit and characteristics of the original Greenland design.  The symbiotic fit is exchanged for a high volume hull to accommodate a generous amount of gear and paddlers of all shapes and sizes.  Thigh braces restore some of the body extension fit of Greenland kayaks.  West coast kayaks from the western American coast similarly retain the pointed bow and rocker, but add a rudder to a flattened stern to reduce weather-cocking in the high winds of the western American waters.

The designs and techniques of kayaks and surfskis evolved separately and are very different.  As they differ in their purpose, their benefits are mutually exclusive to each other.  Paddlers are left at a fork in the road to decide what they want and what they are willing to live without.  Similarly, their circles of paddlers are divided along the same lines.  Slowly, kayak manufactures started dabbling with design aspects of both paddle craft, adopting bits and pieces at a time.  To make a truly hybrid design was a difficult task fought with several technical challenges.  Moreover, they each require different skill sets and disciplines.  Kayak manufacturers began to adopt a very limited number of surfski features, yielding limited gains since these features on a kayak could not be paddled in the manner for which they were originally designed.   At Epic Kayaks, the two founders,  both surf ski champions, over a period of years, ventured so far as to entirely do away with the kayak hull in favor of a swede style surf ski hull in their 18x and 16x models, resulting in kayaks that bare little to no resemblance to their traditional roots, and perform far different than kayaks of Greenland lineage.  They were not the first to try this, but they went further by designing every facit of the craft to give surfski and kayak paddlers what they need to paddle the kayak in the manner befitting both crafts.
To satisfy surfski paddlers a reliable rudder that stays submerged and engaged in heavy waves was needed.  While a bottom mounted rudder works quite well for both uses, it cannot be retracted and is therefore unsuitable for most kayak purposes.  The most difficult task for Epic was coming up with a rudder design that would satisfy surfski requirements and fold away to preserve a kayak experience.  Their solution led them down a path to a rudder design unlike any other.  The stern of the hull was severed and turned into the movable portion of the rudder, housing a retractable spring loaded surfski blade, which could be extended from the bottom, forward from the stern.  When not used, the blade retracted into the stern section which in turn, locked into the center position to become the ridged stern of the kayak.  Their solution raised eyebrows in the industry.  While not a perfect surfski rudder, it went a long way to satisfy requirements of a hybrid craft and solved a long standing rudder problem of surfskis and kayaks with a spring retractable blade that moves out of the way when hit by an obstacle, and returns to place when the obstacle was gone.  Obstacles cause standard kayak rudders to kick up and not reset.  Standard surfski rudders just break off unless a stern mounted surf rudder is used.

Epic also did away with the iconic pointed bow and stern of a kayak in favor of the swede surfski hull with an elongated water line and a large  buoyant bow to keep it from burying under the waves.  The large single continuous foot brace facilitates energy transfer through the legs, and elongated cockpit coaming to allow the paddler to easily paddle the kayak like a kayak or surfski/racing K1 with plenty of room to extend the knees through the opening of the coaming enabling the paddler to pump energy into the hull with the legs and rotate down to the seat.  Padded knee holds just under the coaming sides allow the paddler to quickly switch from a surf ski posture to brace for a roll in the event of a capsize.  For a more kayak feel, the seat could be slid forward to allow a smaller paddler's legs to go further under the deck to better contact the hull for bracing and rolling.   Epic designed the seat to retain the functionality and feel of both a kayak and surfski, with smooth bare contoured fiberglass, allowing the surfski paddler a smooth surface to rotate on the seat to engage the lower back muscles and drive energy through the large foot brace.   Like many greenland style kayaks and surfskis, the back is low with little back support.  There is a lumbar pad for the lower back that does an adequate job of support while allowing a good layback roll.   Paddle blade cut-outs on the forward deck were added so the surfski paddler can initiate the catch phase with a vertical stroke close to the hull.  For the kayaker, the craft performed like a kayak responding well to edging, and very easy to roll.  However, as the large coaming provides the surfski paddler with extra room, this further reduces the symbiotic relationship kayak paddlers have with their kayaks, leaving the kayak paddler to alter their bracing technique to grip the undersides of the large coaming with the knees.  The large coaming may also let the paddler come out of the seat during a roll if the paddler does not sufficiently brace their knees against the sides of the cockpit.  To compensate, Epic heavily padded the underside of the deck around the front and sides of the cockpit.  They also put the seat on an ajustable track.  With the lower wetted rounded hull design, the kayak does not hold its course as well with the rudder up, but the rudder is extremely effective in all conditions.  The surfski paddler has what is needed to assume a proper posture, paddle stroke, plus a  reliable forward mounted rudder.  The hull responds like a surfski hull in the sea as it is able to catch waves and not bounce from the bow in rough seas like a high rocker kayak.  The rounded swede hull will likely unsettle beginner and intermediate paddlers initially in rough conditions with its much lower primary stability.  However, when loaded for an expedition, the kayak is quite stable, and rides comfortably at the expense of much of its blazing speed when riding empty.  To capture a little more secondary stability, Epic flared out the gunwales above the waterline behind the cockpit at the widest point of the kayak where the secondary stability emanates.  If the kayak does capsize,  it rolls very easily.  Paddlers of all types will enjoy being placed closer to the water as surfski paddlers expect for their vertical stroke since the cockpit is at a narrower point in the hull.  The 18x is not a beginner kayak, but is one a paddler can grow into and not outgrow.

For expedition use, the kayak rides very stable in the water.  The elongated cockpit makes it very easy to exit and enter.  The newer latch style hatches hold tighter and keep the compartments dryer.  They are also very easy to open and secure shut.  The hinged day hatch is especially convenient which stays fastened and has only one latch.

In an industry with hundreds of kayaks of different shapes, sizes, and specializations, the introduction of a new quirky looking design hardly raises much notice.  However, in 2009, paddler Frya Hoffmeister circumnavigated the continent of Australia (8570 miles) in an Epic 18x sport, and shaved more than a month off the time of the only other previous successful attempt by Paul Caffyn.   The paddling community finally accepted the Epic 18x as a serious expedition kayak and began to debate the merits of fast expedition kayaks.  Epic later went full circle and introduced the V8 surfski which adds a surfski top to the "18x Sport" kayak hull.  While this new kayak could never be the perfect solution or satisfy all the intricate demands of both types of craft, it did integrate the spirit of both a kayak and a surfski in an interesting way.  Harnessing all the benefits of this design will place extra demands on the paddler to expand their skill set to encompass at least a subset of kayak and surski techniques.  For their efforts, the paddler can wield a full featured kayak with the speed and prowess of a surfski when empty that settles down to a stable serious expedition kayak when loaded.

These are exciting times to be a paddler with advances in water dynamics and the melding of kayak and surfski technologies.  Only the future will tell if the Epic design will stand as a milestone in the evolution of the kayak, or be seen as a first deep foray into the realm of a true hybrid craft.  Several kayaks have penetrated the market utilizing aspects of both technologies in their own creative ways.  With the success of the Epic 18x, we will certainly see manufacturers committed to produce more hybrid type craft to take paddlers farther and faster.  Along this journey, paddlers will find they too must evolve to meet the skill set demands of these new craft.  Farther down the road refinements will likely mainstream hybrid design kayaks and push kayakers farther away from a 4000 year old legacy and discipline into one created for the modern age.  Only the future will tell if the traditional kayak will fade into irrelevance and be relegated to the romantic fascination of a few.

Copyright 2012 Lyman A Copps

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kayaking with the Big Kids

Several years ago, I wanted to skill up so that I could do more open water paddling, I ran in to a Catch-22. Most of the recreational paddlers I started paddling with weren't interested in ocean paddling, and the more skilled paddlers I knew routinely closed paddles to those they determined to be "less skilled." I don't think it helped that I was a woman and that most of the sea kayakers were guys. For a while, I felt like I had to drag my husband out on every paddle with the "serious" guy paddlers as some sort of chaperone to prove to the guys and their significant others that I was actually there to kayak.* I found it to be a truly miserable time. I tried to recruit folks from my rec kayaking community to skill up without success and I had limited success "breaking in" to what began to feel like the "big kid" paddles. 

So how did I blast through the impasse? Well, two ways. First, I went out and skilled up the best way I knew how: I routinely invited those paddlers I knew to be more skilled on paddles that I planned. A lot of the time, I didn't know what I was doing. Some of them very rightly told me that, but I was not to be deterred. Once some folks determined that I was determined to get on the ocean, others took the time to correct me AND to offer the resources on where to obtain the correct information. They referenced great resources like, leant me nautical charts, and offered insight on the local knowledge they had gained over the years. Most importantly, a few excellent kayakers even began going out with me on the water, then the trips I planned, and supported me in ocean trips even before I knew how to roll. 

The second thing I did was actively work to develop my skills in more formal settings. I found instructors I worked well with and sought out their knowledge. I found that I worked very well with teachers who could clearly demonstrate, who did not overwhelm me with excessive talking, and who had a kind and gentle good humor that kept a nervous learner eager to learn. I almost gave up kayaking after a negative first experience, but Lamar Hudgens at Barrier Island Kayaks showed me that I could do the things I wanted to do AND have a great time. As a result, I've bought two kayaks from him and gone to numerous symposia at his shop.

One very important lesson I learned was that the more skilled kayakers weren't shutting me out of fun trips and adventures because they were cliquish. They were shutting me out because they feared for their safety and the safety of the group. A solid, skilled group of paddlers can only support a few who are less skilled--it's simply a matter of safety. For instance, I planned, or tried to plan, a trip to circumnavigate Bald Head Island in 2009. It was tough for me, even once I got more skilled paddlers to come along; the strong personalities of folks and what I interpreted at the time as an "officious" tone nearly drove me to cancel. But I stuck it out, and as a result, I got to do my first real ocean journey of 20 miles around the Cape of Bald Head.

So where does safety come in to the story? Well, in lots of places. I discovered on that trip that even the skilled paddlers had limits and they (and I) weren't yet aware of mine. They sometimes capsized during surf landings; they didn't always adhere to plan and sometimes took off on their own; some didn't pack enough water. On this trip I discovered that I become violently seasick in ocean swell. I also learned that I could paddle through 5 foot swells, vomit 20 times, and paddle ten miles without bailing out. (Now, seasick medication keeps me happily afloat.) I can't say what the others learned, but I learned I was a lot tougher than I thought and that the "big kid" paddlers still had plenty to learn too. That heartened me considerably. They didn't know it all. They simply knew more than I did and had more practice. With classes and people to practice with, I knew I could learn what they had.

So, if you're new to skilling up, take heart and be persistent. And if you're more skilled, remember what it felt like when you weren't and invite those who are lesser skilled on some of the more challenging, technical paddles. That way, our community continues to grow and to flourish.

Dawn S's account of the Bald Head Adventure is here:Bald Head Island

*My husband became an excellent kayaker in the process. :)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Who Are You?

Guest Contribution:

Kayakers kayak for different reasons: some of us love to kayak on glassy water and drift along quietly;
some of us like to kayak down rivers; some like to cover lots of miles; some of us like a bit of whitewater; some of us like surf and swell.

In a big community like CKC, it's important to remember that what often works well for one paddler might not work at all for another. Luckily, we mostly know one another from trips, symposia, or the CKC forums and so we are respectful, generous, and kind.

Whatever your kayaking interest, you'll often find at some point you want to “skill up” a bit. Before you sign up for a class or symposium, do some homework on yourself and some fieldwork on your chosen venue and instructor. This can help you spend your hard-earned money wisely and emerge more satisfied with your learning experience.

First, ask yourself what sort of student you are.

Do you do better one on one than in a large group? If so, individual lessons might work better at first than a symposium class with 8 students.

Do you tend to be a thinker and need to understand things theoretically prior to attempting to execute them? Or do you tend to just want to watch and then do? Make sure that both you and your instructor know this in advance. Then you can help your instructor create the best class for your needs.

Do you have any fears? This is important and often overlooked.
For me personally, I wasn't told by the first company I trained with that I was going to learn wet exits with a sprayskirt on. I'd been bullied and trapped underwater as a kid and the idea of being upside down in a skirted kayak seemed overwhelming. Luckily, my instructor (Robert Smith) just sat with me through it, and was reassuring, so it all worked out. But it would have been better if I had known to get details on what would happen that day and to clearly disclose my fears. Now, I'm happy as a clam underwater, but it took me a long time to feel at ease. I need instructors who are patient and not punitive. Now, I seek out those I have heard are patient and encouraging and quickly discard those that are not. It's just what works for me.

Do you have any physical limitations? If so, let your instructor know. Many instructors also have adaptive skills training.

Then, ask yourself what, specifically, you hope to gain from the class. It helps to clarify your goals.

Perhaps you want to be able to turn your kayak with ease in the wind.  Perhaps you want to learn to climb back in your kayak. Perhaps you want to learn to roll. Perhaps you want to learn to surf.

These are all great things to learn and all of them take some time to master. You might dip your toe in at a symposium and get a taste of each. You might take one class a time, then go off and practice with your kayak friends from CKC. For me, I like to learn one thing at a time.

Finally, get some local knowledge. Ask others who know you and whose skills you admire which instructor they think would be a good fit for you.
Look at the kayak forums and websites. Who is more structured? Who tends to be gentle and soft spoken? Who tends to demonstrate strokes clearly and effectively? Who is excellent at navigation? Who is an excellent rolling instructor? Once you've selected a teacher, try to talk with them a bit beforehand.

Teachers and students are individual. A great fit is key to both developing your skills and enjoying learning.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Campfire Stew

This is a tradition with me, as long as I have been camping.  It involves me tossing it together while I pack my gear, boats and car the night before a trip.  By the time the car is packed, the stew is ready to head off for the first night of camping.  Usually, the first night involves settingup camp, possibly unloading a boat, finding out where things are.  This is the night for something that can be heated up and eaten right away.  When I have brought this, it seems like many people have a variation on this theme, and tell me about their ideas.  Here is mine.
Saute 2 pounds of hamburg.  Drain well. Saute one huge Vidalia onion up in the leftover oil.
Add 1 bag of frozen green beans, one bag of peas, 2 bags of corn, two large cans of diced tomatoes,
When adding herbs, I always prefer fresh, but use what you have.  Add 1 1/2 tsp. of thyme, oregano, basil, margoram, black pepper and salt. Simmer and adjust seasonings. 
This is very simple, but everyone always eats it--hearty and practical, and good for camping.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lessons Learned from Surfing


There's probably nothing more fun (to some of us adrenaline junkies) than surfing the perfect wave.

That said, and after a surf day that was chock full of lessons learned from observation, I'd like to share these pointers.  Please feel free to add your own comments and knowledge!

·        Assess the waves when you arrive first.  Are they dumping?  What is the timing between them?  What are the conditions?
·        Assess the beach –
a.      Piers? Jetties? Obstacles?
b.      Crowded with people?  Is it safe for them if you surf?
·        Assess the weather
a.      Wind – which direction and where will you get blown
b.      Rip current formed by strong wind?
c.      T-storm likely?
·        Assess your kayak surf group
a.      Skills
b.      Safety
c.      Courtesy
·        Rules
a.      No ‘parking’ down wave of another kayak
b.      No rescues in the surf impact zone
c.      After riding a wave, turn and make a loop out of the ‘flight pattern’ of other kayakers
d.      Be alert for swimmers and surfers on the wave, and do not snake their wave
·        Surf  exit
a.      Stand ocean side of the kayak
·        Getting dumped in the surf
a.      Get on the ocean side of your kayak, not the beach side
b.      Do not put fingers in the toggle loop
c.      Let the kayak go  – you’ll dislocate or injure your shoulder or hand attempting to hang onto it
d.      Do not attempt a ‘pole roll’ near the beach…another good way to injure a shoulder
·        Rescues in swells or at sea
  1. Be Careful!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fall brings Falling temps = Hypothermia Risk

Each year, needless deaths occur from hypothermia.  The ACA states that 70% of drownings could have been avoided if the victim was wearing a PFD.  This doesn't reflect the number who may not have died of cold shock or hypothermia had they been properly dressed for immersion.

So here's my general rule:  If you do not wish to swim in the water as you are dressed, then you should not be kayaking (or SUP) in the water....doesn't matter how experienced you are.

Capsizes happen... kayaking is a wet sport... if you are not dressed for the water temps, you are risking your life.  Hypothermia robs your body of heat, mental acuity and physical dexterity.

Try this test.  plunge your hand into a bucket of ice water for up to 5 minutes and see if you can still pick up a penny....sounds so simple, right?  Most heat loss occurs from head, neck, hands and torso.  Know the H.E.L.P position.... better yet... don't put yourself at risk.

Options to wear based on water temperature :
• Drysuit
• Wetsuit
• Paddling Jacket or Drytop
• Neoprene hood, gloves, socks
• Heavy neoprene boots
• Fleece undergarment for Drysuit
• Warm paddling hat
• Rashguard or wicking under layer

You may also wish to carry a cag, bivvy bag, or shelter, matches or lighter, thermos of hot tea, and warm change of clothing.  Knowing how to help someone else who is showing symptoms of hypothermia may help save their life.

Need more information?  Almost every kayaking website like ours, has informaton devoted to cold weather.  You'll find a helpful temperature chart and compelling video on the above link.  Feel free to post references to share!

Sunday, November 4, 2012


If you love islands, visit this one. It is the jewel in North Carolina's crown.

Ocracoke Island is the next island south of Hatteras. But it's very different: no beach houses. None! All of the island's population -  the 700 or so year-rounders and the thousands of summer visitors -- are clumped around the picturesque harbor, Silver Lake, on the soundside. The gorgeous Atlantic shore is part of the Hatteras National Seashore. Nothing but dunes, sea oats, and breaking waves for miles and miles. In Ocracoke village there are modern structures alongside old ones but no highrises and no McMansions. And this is the magic: there is NO road access. You take a car ferry to Ocracoke -- or your own boat -- or you don't go. If you take the ferry from Cedar Island or Swan Quarter on the mainland, you'll ride for more than 2 hours and lose all sight of land. When you arrive at Ocracoke on its thin sliver of sand, you know you've reached the end of the New World. Next stop, France! (In fact, there's a famous story of a North Carolina kayaker who capsized in Oregon Inlet farther north; months later his kayak did wash up in France with his wallet still aboard! CKC member Dawn was there; ask her to tell the story!)
Here's the car ferry turning in Silver Lake.

The best time to go to Ocracoke is October, in my opinion. We were there the weekend before Hurricane Sandy drove a couple of feet of water up into Ocracoke village. For us, it was all warm water, blue skies, no crowds. We rented a pet-friendly cottage, quaint on the outside, modern enough within.

And here was a piece of yard art that hurt to see -- a beautiful, well-built wooden skiff. It was last registered in 2001.  Lovely sheer line. The bottom has some rocker too. On Ocracoke these wooden skiffs have been replaced by flat-bottomed fiberglass Carolina Skiffs -- great commercial fishing platforms for the extremely shallow waters 
of Pamlico Sound. But strangely enough, over on the mainland, from Cedar Island down to Harker's Island you still see these wooden skiffs floating on their moorings. They're in use even today. It pains me to see a great old wooden skiff left to rot. Better to give it a Viking funeral, I say, and send it up in flames. But I'm a landlubber and I'm in love with the beauty of wooden boats. Those watermen are not nearly so sentimental about the tools of their trade.

I went kayaking only one day during our 4 days on the island. The soundside was calm as glass on our first day, so that was my window of opportunity. North of the big pine hammock at mid-island, Hwy 12 crosses 5 salt creeks in quick succession. 
One of them, Parker's, has a small sand landing by the bridge. That's where I launched. (Note:  This is public land, but a commercial fisherman constructed the landing. If you go to Ocracoke, never block any water access, any sand road, with your car. Always park out of the way. We're visitors; the Ocracokers need water access to make their livings.)

It was early morning when I launched my light skin-on-frame kayak and began a slow paddle back down the sound to our cottage. The mirror-like water was light gray and the clouds were the identical  color. There was no horizon line. The sound of voices from distant boats floated over the water to me, though I could barely see the boats. It was a great paddle that day.  I saw one Peregrine Falcon up close as it flew low over Hwy 12, heading south. Falcons migrate with their prey, the shorebirds. I saw 3 Diamondback Terrapins and 1 sea turtle (species unknown) in the water. I also saw a greenish needlefish and 4 rays -- maybe stingrays but I'm not sure. My kayak floated just inches above the rays but they didn't move. Only their gill covers pulsed open and shut. For much of my paddle the water was barely a foot deep. For large stretches behind Ocracoke Island that's the depth for a mile offshore. You could get out and walk if you wanted. In fact, the Pamlico Sound is shallow overall; the deepest spot is 22 feet. The car ferries have to follow narrow dredged channels in and out of harbors. 

Later we walked on the Atlantic beach where large swells crashed in. But the utter tranquility of that soundside paddle stayed with me for the rest of my time on Ocracoke.