Friday, March 16, 2018

Drying Out

Even water people need to dry out from time to time.  Jeff and I had a few days free and decided to meet up with some friends in the Sonoran Desert for some mountain biking and camping.

On our journey to the Sonoran Desert, we stopped in the Mojave Desert.  I am always fascinated by the desert landscape and geology.  Someday, I am going to delve back into studying geology - especially geomorphology. 

We stopped at a place called Hole in the Wall.  The holes in the wall are formed by air pockets in volcanic ash.  When the ash cooled, these holes were left in the rocks.

The area where we were camping and mountain biking had lots of interesting geology and scenery.  It also had interesting plant and wildlife and fun mountain biking. 

We camped among the gigantic Saguaro cactus.  In one of the cactus, we found a great horned owl nest.

A place called Jackass Junction we met an interesting fellow. 

Jackass Junction is not an oasis but a shady spot for good times.

I am continuing to shop for a new mountain bike.  I of course was eyeing what everyone else was riding and stopped in a couple of shops on our journey.  Some of the bike shops were helpful and some were not.  I would like to give a shout-out to McDowell Mountain Cycles in Fountain Hills, Arizona.  Jeff stopped in to buy brake pads.  The owner was extremely helpful.  We stopped in a second time with some friends who wanted to check out the shop.  The woman who answered our questions was very knowledgeable and helpful.  She is a shorter rider and her insight into what might be a good bike for me was invaluable.

We are now back home, and it is raining.  We are going to have great flows for our Precision River Running Class this weekend.  Next week's forecast looks wet too so it is time to hang up the mountain bike and get wet!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Coming Up Short

This blog post is a bit of a rant about being short.  If you would like some perspective on the challenges that those of us under 5'5" have, please read on.  If you are a smaller person and have thoughts and advice, please post in the comments.  I especially would love to hear about companies that are offering quality outdoor gear for people of all sizes.

I realize that everyone at some point falls in between sizes - something is just a little too big or just a little too small or along those lines.  However, I feel that those of us on the shorter end or taller end experience these challenges more often especially when it comes to finding performance oriented outdoor gear.

I am 5'4".  A google search tells me that 5'4" is average for American women.  So really, I'm not that short.  I wish this would be the case when I am shopping for outdoor gear.  I have ranted about whitewater kayak companies not making kayaks for smaller paddlers (a huge shout out to Jackson Kayak who continues to produce top designs for smaller paddlers).  I understand that they don't believe that the market is there.  I think the market is there and believe that if you build it, it will come.

I have been simmering on this topic for a bit but 2 recent slights have brought about this not so short blog post about being short.

I am shopping for a new mountain bike.  Understandably selection is limited in my small community.  My local shops are willing to order a bike for me.  Given the price of modern day mountain bikes, I am not willing to order a bike without trying it - or at least throwing a leg over it and taking it for a spin around a parking lot.

Last week, we journeyed to the bay area to visit Jeff's family and do some bike shopping.  Of 17 bike shops that I visited or called, only 4 had a size small full suspension 29er mountain bike in stock.  (About 50% of these shops had small 27.5 bikes which I am finding out are more popular among shorter riders - or are they just more available).  These were not small shops and most of these shops had a significant inventory.

One of the shops told me to come to their demo day.  They would have a trailer load of bikes available to demo.  At this point, I was frustrated about not finding anything and was willing to drive 2 hours one way to demo a bike.  I arrived at the demo, and they didn't have any bikes in size small.  FRUSTRATING!

My other beef is one that continues to resurface. It is frustrating when well meaning, big, strong individuals make kayak or gear recommendations to petite women.  Size does matter.  What works for a 6'2 200 pound man is not necessarily going to work for a 5'2 115 pound woman.  Too often, women show up for our classes with paddles that are too big or long, kayaks that aren't appropriate, and quoting techniques taught by stronger paddlers that work if you have lots of strength and mass.  Ladies - reach out to industry professionals that are in your size range for recommendations.  There are quite a few of us out here.  We are an email or phone call away.

Instructors and outdoor professionals, please be sensitive to size issues when making recommendations.  When in doubt, it is ok to say that you don't know or refer questions to other instructors.  Whitewater instructors - Mary and Phil Deriemer are excellent at accommodating and instructing paddlers of all sizes.  Jeff Laxier of Liquid Fusion Kayaking also works well with paddlers of all sizes in sea, whitewater, and surf kayaking (I admit to a bit of bias but ask anyone who has worked with him).  I am sure that there are others out there but have worked with these 3 and highly recommend them!

I am still shopping for a full suspension 29er trail bike.  If you have any recommendations, PLEASE share them.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Long and The Short

The Long and The Short - how paddling a longer kayak and a shorter kayak has improved my over all kayaking skills.

In the spring of 2014, I was in a slump in my whitewater paddling.  I had become too comfortable on the river.  I always admired whitewater kayakers who made river running look easy by using the current and minimum paddling effort to make moves and run down rapids.  In my quest to work with the water, take the fewest amount of strokes, and use minimal effort, I became a lazy river kayaker.

When we paddled the Jackson Karma RG's on the Eel River for the promo video, I realized my slacker ways.  The Karma RG is a 12 foot whitewater kayak.  My usual river running kayaks are in the 8 foot range.  The RG is FAST and bullies down river.  When I paddled the RG with my minimalist effort technique, I flew down the river but missed the eddies that I was trying to catch.  It took about half the run for me to realize that I needed to plan my moves much sooner and paddle more aggressively.  When I did this, I was whipping into eddies and making my lines.
Paddling the long boat on the Smith River. Photo by Jeff Laxier
Fast forward to my next run in my regular river runner.  I transferred these skills - planning my moves sooner and paddling more aggressively.  BAM! My river running skills progressed.  Jeff had been telling me that I needed to paddle more aggressively, but it took feeling it and learning it in the longer boat to get me to do it.
Becoming more proactive and aggressive in making my moves on the river.  Photo by Jeff Laxier
On the short end of the spectrum, many of you know that a whitewater kayak is my favorite boat for rock gardening.  To me rock gardening is like going to a playground or skate park with a variety of features.  I find a 8-9 foot whitewater kayak to give me the best options for maneuverability, play, and surfing.  A fun rock garden move that Jeff and I do in a whitewater kayak is to ride a pour-over then do a 180 and ride back over the pour-over using the water from the same wave (and sometimes then catching the next wave back over and repeating).  This move is all about timing and being able to efficiently spin the boat 180 degrees in time to ride the water back over the pour-over.  I learned this move in my whitewater kayak and last week did it for the first time in my 14.5 foot Dagger Stratos.  It was a slower, lower angle pour-over but the skill of reading the water, timing, and maneuvering with the water was the same.  It was pretty cool and fun how the shorter boat taught me a trick to try in the longer one.  Here Jeff demonstrates the 180 to get a  triple pour-over ride in his Dagger Katana.

On the very short end of the spectrum, I have been playing in a whitewater freestyle kayak (about 5 1/2 feet long) on the river and in the surf.  I thought I might learn some playboating moves but am not there yet and am having a blast learning to use the little boat to catch micro eddies on the river and bouncing around in the surf.  I love that the freestyle kayak is so small and light and easily fits in the back of the car.  It is great for a quick surf session and is fun in even the smallest of waves.  It is has been good for technique because it doesn't fly down a wave unless you have it in perfect position.  I have learned how to maximize my position on the wave to push it down the line for a diagonal run.  The slower speed gives my time to work on strokes like the precision of my stern rudder.  I also am having fun doing flat spin 360's.
Cate using the wave's energy for a diagonal run during a sunset surf session on the Mendocino Coast.  Photo by Jeff Laxier
I share this with you so that you think a little bit out of the box and try something new.  There is a good chance that it will challenge you, you will build your skills, or find another way to play on your local waters.  Your local kayak shop may have a demo program where you can try out different boats, or maybe you can organize a boat demo day or boat swap with your local paddling club.

For paddlers that aspire to surf sea kayaks, I can't encourage you enough to get out and build your surfing skills in a whitewater kayak.  This is a post for another time.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Stoutside Ball

My favorite part of the Paddle Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium is the post symposium shenanigans.  Often a crew of paddlers stop by Liquid Fusion's headquarters on the Mendocino Coast to decompress from the symposium.  Of course rock gardening is part of the adventure.  This year we had 2 groups stop by. The first was a crew of whitewater kayakers.

What happens when you get a crew of "sea-curious" whitewater kayakers out in sea kayaks for a rock garden expression session?  You get the Stoutside Ball.

The ocean was rowdy.  Our team of whitewater kayakers have the strokes and skills.  Today was seeing if they could put them together to dance with the sea.  Jeff shares the Plan, Position, Perform concept with them as it applies to timing pour-over rides and surfing through the rocks.

We reviewed the safety concept of "Outside" and went off to play.  "Outside" is a term that we use when a bigger wave is coming.  When a big wave is spotted, we yell "Outside."  Everyone yells it to make sure that everyone on the team knows.  Individuals then are responsible for making sure they are in a safe spot.
Jeff Laxier teaches the "Outside" strategy.
The day started off with some class fun pour-overs in the bay.  The guys were getting their sea legs and working on their timing on pour-overs.

Demshitz Dave Fusilli getting his rock garden boof stroke down #seaboof.
After a warm-up, we threaded the needle through some technical rock garden passages - surfing through sea caves and tunnels and dancing in slosh-pits.
Through the Tunnel of Love.
Snowy Robertson surfs through the slosh pit.
Our journey took us to an area with several pour-over options.  The medium tide and chunky swell made for fluffy pour-over rides with gaping hydraulic landings.
Jeff Laxier looking good on a pour-over ride in his Dagger Stratos.
Jeff and his 14.5 foot kayak swallowed by the hydraulic. Then the sea spit him out.
After several rides, the gang started to get the feeling for timing the waves and were looking for the bigger waves to get bigger rides.  When the larger sets would hit the outer reefs, the gang started calling "STOUT!"  Hence the term "Stoutside" was coined.
Max Blackburn on the pour-over with perfect timing.
Dave rides a fluffy stout. #stoutside
Snowy with a well timed boof stroke. #seaboof
During our play session, many "Stouts" were ridden and many were watched with awe.
Cate Hawthorne riding a Stout! #stoutside
Going to the ball isn't all about showing off your dance moves but sharing the dance with others.

Jeff Laxier surfing his sea canoe.
Thanks so much Dave, Max, and Snowy!!! It was so much fun to be on the water with yinz and share your energy and stoke. Check out a video short of our adventures on Immersion Research's Instagram and Facebook .

Instagram users share your whitewater of the sea inspired photos and videos with hashtags #stoutside #seaboof and #whitewaterofthesea. And watch for more from @womanonwater @jefflaxier @liquidfusionkayak 
Sea kayak rock gardening on the Mendocino Coast of California.