Monday, March 17, 2014

Rumors of a New Rock Garden Kayak

The rumors that Jackson Kayak has a new rock garden kayak are true.  Last week, we got to take the first ones out for a 3 day demo and video shoot on the waters of Mendocino County.  The boat is called the Karma Unlimited RG.  We ended up calling it RG for short.  RG stands for Rock Garden and River Guide.  It is based on the design of Jackson's Karma whitewater creek race boat.
Jackson Karma Unlimited RG on Mendocino's Eel River photo by Sean Morley
Here's a video about the creek boat version.

Basically the RG has all the features of the Unlimited and also has a rear bulkhead and hatch, decklines, and a drop down skeg to make for a versatile ocean play boat or whitewater river expedition boat.  More details and a promo video about the RG will be coming out soon.
The Karma RG has all the features necessary on an ocean rock garden play boat.
We got to paddle the RG in the rock gardens and surf of the Mendocino Coast and on a class III whitewater stretch of the Eel River.  I was prepared to put my game face on and just paddle the boat for the promo video; however, I fell in love with the boat and am excited about its possibilities for both rock gardening and ocean play as well as multi-day river trips.
The Karma RG is a blast on the river!!! Photo by Sean Morley
Stay tuned for more videos, photos and a full review.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Working at Play and Playing at Work

"Working at Play and Playing at Work" was the title of my presentation last week at Fort Bragg and Mendocino High Schools' career day.  The lines of work are often blurred in the kayaking business.
Riding a fat pour-over.  Photo by Matt Nelson
Our friend Paul Kuthe describes it well in his blog post "Strictly Business."  I highly encourage you to read Paul's post - it tells the tale of our adventures after the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium.

I have to admit though that this week the kayaking business feels like work as I get all of our accounting together for taxes and work on catching up on office work from when I was out "Playing at Work."  I definitely need to schedule some time to PLAY!
The quiver is ready to PLAY!!!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


The past 2 weeks have been a whirlwind of teaching and paddling and all of the energy and logistics that go into teaching and paddling.  I have to admit that my mind and body are a bit tired but my spirit is soaring.
Cate Hawthorne diagrams the surf zone.
My 2 week whirlwind began with hosting Ocean Camp Northern California.  This was a 6 day sea kayak training camp taught by the team of Ryan Rushton of Geneva Kayak Center and Jeff Laxier and I of Liquid Fusion Kayaking.  We rented a vacation home in Fort Bragg, planned meals and instruction, and rallied 8 students to come improve their sea kayaking skills on the Mendocino Coast.
Peter and MaryAnn applying their strokes in rough conditions.
It was an AWESOME week!!!  We had sunshine, whales, surf zones, dynamic ocean conditions, and 8 eager students.  Many skills were developed, limits were pushed, FUN was had, and lifelong friendships made.  The primary physical complaint of the week was abdominal muscles being sore.  It is debatable whether this was from paddling or laughing.
Kat and Keri (aka Sunshine and Zippy) working together as a team.
Following Ocean Camp, we journeyed to San Francisco for the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium (GGSKS).   I have to admit that traveling to a symposium is a bit of a stretch for me.  Teaching in unfamiliar venues with different instructors and being surrounded by lots of people challenges my quiet nature.  However, this year I was excited for the symposium.  I felt honored to be selected as a lead coach and excited be reunited with paddling friends and colleagues.
Practicing sea kayak rescue skills outside the Golden Gate Bridge.
This year's GGSKS was exciting as there were many new faces in the crowd and some new courses.  I was super stoked to be teaching Whitewater of the Sea (rock gardening in whitewater kayaks) with Jeff Laxier and Surf Kayaking (in short boats) with Kate Hives of The Hurricane Riders.  

The rock garden class went well.  We had a group of skilled whitewater boaters who were keen to learn the nuances of whitewater paddling in the ocean.  They were quick learners and we had a fantastic day of exploration and play - complete with a close encounter with a gray whale (sorry no photos of the whale).
Leah with great timing in the GGSKS whitewater kayak rock gardening class.
A storm came through on Sunday making surf conditions poor so the decision was made to cancel the surf kayak class.  Coaches Kate Hives, Mathew Hoff, and myself put our heads together and offered the students the option of switching to another class or doing a classroom/dryland session with us.  We were excited to have 6 students join us for a day of in depth instruction on surf zone topics including etiquette, waveology, and skills for performance surf kayaking.  Lots of "ah-ha" learning moments occurred and everyone left the class excited to try some new techniques in their next surf session.
Kate Hives and Matthew Hoff start a self-assessment exercise at GGSKS.
Decompressing from an active 10 days of teaching, began on Monday with our annual post GGSKS coaches paddle.  Matt Nelson, Paul Kuthe, Bryant Burkhardt, Jeff Laxier and I enjoyed a 2 hour play session on the Mendocino Coast.  Our rock garden session included riding some fun pour-overs, shooting through slots, and threading the needle through some dynamic and technical rock garden passages.
Matt Nelson styling a pour over.
We all appreciated a post paddle hike in the forest and along the coast - stretching out our paddling muscles, enjoying each others company and marveling at the beauty of the trees and waters of the Mendocino Coast. 
Coaches appreciating the beauty of the Mendocino Coast.
The speed of the whirlwind has abated but I still find myself in motion as I catch up on correspondence, upload photos, blog, catch-up on homework in my fern and wildflower class, prepare for Friday's presentation at the local high school's career fair, and do the final organization for Sunday's Valentine Tea (a fundraiser for Books for Babies/Kits for Kindergarten).

But you know the saying - a rolling stone gathers no moss . . .

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Valley Gemini SP - Poly

Both Jeff and I really like the composite version of Valley Sea Kayak's Gemini SP and were really looking forward to trying out the plastic version.  (Here's a link to my review of the composite Gemini).  At Lumpy Waters, Jeff got to paddle the plastic version of the Valley Gemini SP  He liked the boat so much that he bought it, and it journeyed home with us to the Mendocino Coast.

Over the past 2 months, I have had her out on sea kayak rock garden play days, coastal exploration tours, kayak crabbing, and BCU 3* Training Sessions.  Here are my thoughts and recommendations.  (I am 5'4", 120 pounds and a skilled paddler who likes a responsive boat).

Review of the Valley Gemini SP - poly:

Lightweight: The plastic Gemini is light for a plastic boat.  Having hefted around many a plastic sea kayak, I was instantly impressed with the weight of the Gemini.  I guess I was expecting a beast like many of the newer plastic sea kayak play boats but was pleasantly pleased.
Valley Gemini SP at home among the rock gardens and sea caves of the Mendocino Coast.
Comfortable: The Gemini is comfortable and easily adjustable.  I am pleased that I am not on the shortest setting for the foot braces but have 2 more clicks.  The cockpit and deck height seem a little bit snugger/lower than the composite version.  Here is a link to a blog post by Dave Dalby at Alder Creek Canoe and Kayak about outfitting adjustments to make it fit better.

The cockpit is a little bit long to my liking and I find getting my snug fitting spray decks on a bit cumbersome.  For teaching, I have switched to using a larger spray deck that is easier to put on.  When heading out to play in the surf or rock gardens, expect to see my contortion act of getting a snug spraydeck on (or perhaps give me a hand).

The hatches are well configured.  YEAH - it has a day hatch!!! I found the day hatch to be accessible while on the water.

Stability:  Right off the bat, I noticed the primary stability of the Gemini.  Students who have paddled the boat have noticed the same thing - "Its not as tippy" (compared to our Avocets).  After paddling the soft chined poly Valley Avocet for years, I am still getting used to the hard chines of the Gemini.  The Gemini definitely responds to skilled paddling and loves to be edged for turns.

On the Water:  The Gemini is a comfortable, stable craft that feels nimble in dynamic waters.  The bow volume, stability, and looseness of the stern make her quite playful in bouncy waters and really fun for rock gardening.  She feels like she was designed for rock gardening.
sea kayak, rock garden, valley gemini, mendocino coast
Sea Kayak Rock Gardening on the Mendocino Coast photo by Bryant Burkhardt
The Gemini handles like a play boat but paddles like a sea kayak.  (Many of the newer play sea kayaks don't require an edge to turn efficiently and actually can be a bit difficult for us smaller paddlers to edge to turn).  I enjoy the nuance of edging a sea kayak to carve turns.  The Gemini responds well to edging and handles well when paddling backwards.

The poly Gemini isn't a speedy boat.  I was surprised by the speed of the composite Gemini and a little disappointed that the plastic version isn't a little bit faster.  Although, she isn't any slower than the other plastic sea kayaks made for play (P&H Delphin, P&H Hammer, and Dagger Alchemy).

Edging and speed aren't the top priority when kayak crabbing.  A flat deck that one can attach crab pots to and a day hatch for transporting dinner are nice features on the Gemini for those of us who use a sea kayak to get dinner.
kayak, crabbing
Crabbing in the Gemini SP sea kayak.  Photo by Bryant Burkhardt
Conclusions and Recommendations:  I definitely think that Valley has a winner in the playful sea kayak category with the Gemini SP.  For those looking for a durable plastic kayak for rock garden play, I would highly recommend the Valley Gemini SP.  I especially think that it is a good option for smaller paddlers who want a lightweight yet capable plastic boat.

The poly Valley Gemini SP has become my go-to sea kayak for rock gardening.  I foresee the Valley Gemini SP joining our fleet as an instructional boat. I like the primary stability for inspiring confidence in beginners yet it is a boat that responds to dynamic and skilled paddling.  It will be a good "school boat" for teaching sea kayak skills like edge control, carving turns, and paddling backwards as well as a great boat for rock gardening classes.

If you are looking for an opportunity to demo Valley Sea Kayak's Gemini SP, they will be available at the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium.  We will also have a couple in the Liquid Fusion Kayaking fleet for our rock garden and sea kayak classes.

If you have any experiences or questions about the Valley Gemini SP, please post them in the comments below or contact me through Liquid Fusion Kayaking.  I anticipate adding more to this review when we have more experience paddling and having students paddle the Gemini.