Monday, December 21, 2015

Keen Gorgeous Boots

I loved Keen's Gorge Boots and was hugely disappointed when they discontinued them.  Mine lasted for over 3 years (probably over 400 days on the water).  Fortunately I managed to buy another pair before they were discontinued.
Keen Gorge Boots showing some wear but still holding up after 3 years of heavy use.
When the 2015 Gorgeous Boots were released, I had to get a pair.  At first glance, one realizes that these are 2 very different boots.  The Gorge Boot is more of a hiking water boot, and the Gorgeous Boot is more of a neoprene booty.
Keen Gorgeous Boots
Review of Keen Gorgeous Boots
The Keen Gorgeous Boots have thick soles for watersport booties and a toe guard that protects the front of the toes. This are important features for those of us who have tender feet and are often climbing around on rocks in the water environment.  The Gorgeous Boots are highly adjustable with a cinching strap system and they appear to be well made (no loose threads or splitting seams).  Traction on the soles seems adequate for walking on wet surfaces - walking on kelp is slick no matter what shoes one is wearing.

Keen makes the Gorgeous Boots in sizes 8-14.  The size 8 is definitely a size too big for me.  I make it work by wearing wool socks and neoprene socks in them.  The adjustable straps accommodate different thicknesses of neoprene socks and when I only wear wool socks in them.

On the Water:
The slimmer profile of the Gorgeous Boots fits in most of my kayaks.  I wish that the heel was slimmer, but I wish this about most boots that I wear in kayaking (except for the Astral Hiyak).  The snug ankle fit keeps sand and gravel out.  They are surprisingly warm for only a 2mm neoprene (couple that with wool socks and neoprene socks and they are down right toasty).  My favorite use for the Gorgeous Boots has become Coasteering and abalone diving.  I like the thick soles for protection from rocks when we are traversing along rocky reefs.  I don't find that they have enough support for teaching days when I am schlepping kayaks or for trips that involve a bit of portaging or hiking.  (perhaps my opinion on this might be different if I had a smaller size).
Coasteering on the Mendocino Coast in the Keen Goregous Boots
We will see.  After 8 months, they have faded a little but otherwise don't show much sign of wear.  I expect these boots to hold up for several seasons like my old Gorge Boots.

I think that these are worthy booties for paddlers who are not doing a lot of hiking and for those with a size 8 foot or larger.  For the price, I am not sure that I would purchase them again especially since they are not available in a size 7.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Astral Hiyak

Our whitewater kayaking friends have been raving about the Astral Brewer.  In particular they have been raving about the sticky/grippy rubber soles and comfortable fit both in the kayak and on land.  Since I launch and land on sandy and gravelly beaches most of the time, low tops like the Brewer don't work out well for me because they are always getting gravel and sand in them.  I was excited when Astral started making  The Hiyak - a hightop kayaking shoe.

Review of Astral Hiyak:

First Impressions:
Geeez these things are lightweight.

Astral makes the Hiyak in men's sizes 7-13.  For me as a women's 8, the size 7's are a bit on the big side.  Fortunately the laces make them extremely adjustable and I can snug them up enough to wear them with socks.  The best fit that I get with them is when I wear a pair of wool socks, a pair of thick neoprene socks and SuperFeet insoles or when I am wearing a drysuit with several pairs of wool socks and SuperFeet.  The soles on the Hiyak are very flexible and intended to be responsive.  My tender feet found them to give a little too much feedback so I added the SuperFeet.

On the Water:
These are the most comfortable shoes that I have ever worn in a kayak!!!  The key I believe is the extremely low profile heel.  Lightweight and quick drying are other features that likely contribute to the Hiyak's comfort.  I love that they actually dry over night - even on the coast.
The low profile Hiyaks are comfortable in the kayak (even little kayaks)
The Hiyaks are not the warmest shoes nor would one expect them to be given their lightweight material.  In our 54 degree water, I find that I need to wear wool socks and thick neoprene socks with them to keep my feet warm.

On the rocks, the soles are definitely sticky.  I have been impressed with their grip in both the river and ocean environments.  The flexibility of the sole also contributes to that grippiness and feeling like one has a good connection to the rocks.
The sticky soles are great for scrambling on slick rocks.
I wore these almost daily for several months this summer.   My summer working environment involves a fair amount of walking on gravel.  The heels of my left foot wore through but I think this is due to some issues that I have with pronation and alignment with my left foot and the particular version of superfeet that I was wearing.  Jeff aquasealed it, and it has been fine since.

I think that Astral Hiyak is the most comfortable kayaking shoe on the market.  At times, I wish that it was a little bit warmer and had a little bit thicker sole; however, the comfort in the boat, lightweight and quick drying material, and sticky soles have made this my favorite everyday kayaking and guiding boot on both the sea and the river.
Sea Kayaking on the Mendocino Coast of California

Friday, December 11, 2015

P&H Hammer

I got my first spin (literally a quick spin) in the prototype  P&H Hammer at the 2013 Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium.  The idea of a 13-14 foot keel-less kayak built for ocean play was very appealing.  After the symposium, the prototype Hammer journeyed with us to the Mendocino Coast and I got to witness Paul Kuthe and Jeff Laxier rock it (granted both Jeff and Paul are phenomenal kayakers that can make any kayak look good but these guys showed off the potential of the Hammer).
Jeff Laxier surfing The Hammer on the Mendocino Coast. Photo by Bryant Burkhardt
In the spring of 2013, the production Hammer came out.  According to the website, it is 13' 4"", 23.25" wide and 61.7 pounds and doesn't give a depth.  I would venture that it is more like 65-68 pounds and the depth is in the 14-15 inch range.  Over the past 2 years, I have seen the Hammer in various venues and in the hands of paddlers of various sizes and skills.  Only this summer did I start paddling one.  My review is going to reflect my paddling experience with the Hammer as well as my observations of others in it.

Review of P&H Hammer

First Impressions:
This is a ridiculously deep and heavy kayak.  When I sat in it, the cockpit combing was about at the bottom of my ribcage.  I initially had no desire to paddle it.  This summer I decided to take it for spin.  I was more than pleasantly surprised by its performance in the rock gardens of the Mendocino Coast.
P&H Hammer in the Ocean Rock Gardens of the Mendocino Coast
The Hammer is very deep with a long cockpit - my 2 biggest issues as a smaller paddler (I am 5' 4" and 120 pounds).  To paddle it, I put Jackson Sweet Cheeks 200 on top of the stock seat.   This brought my butt up about 2 inches which made a huge difference.  My elbows cleared the side of the kayak and the sprayskirt and cockpit were no longer pushing up on my life jacket.  This also brought my center of gravity up which gives better leverage for strokes.  The problem is that I am sitting way up - high away from the water.  This necessitated that I use a longer paddle so I switched to a 200cm paddle.

The Hammer has a long cockpit.  I end up using an Immersion Research XL sprayskirt or a Seals Sprayskirt 1.7.  I would like to wear a snugger fitting spray skirt; however, my arm length (which is actually on the long size for my height) and strength necessitate that I use a looser fitting skirt.

I was pleased that the stock bulkhead had plenty of adjustment and could be adjusted to fit my short legs without modification.

On the Water:
Most of my trips with the Hammer have been in teaching or guiding situations so I have not had the opportunity to really push its limits in meaty conditions.  I have surfed it in rock gardens but have not had the opportunity to surf it on nice peeling wave.

As soon as we got the Hammer on the water (I say we because this is not a kayak that I can carry on my own), I was amazed at how comfortable it was.  I love the solid feel and support of a bulkhead (versus foot pegs in many sea kayaks).  With the Sweet Cheeks, this was an all day comfortable kayak.  I was also surprised how well the kayak glided on the water given its weight and extreme rocker profile.

Stability - The stability of the Hammer was unreal in all conditions.  It felt super solid as I rode pour-overs, swooshed along rocky walls, and paddled it through washing machine like chaotic water.  I played with it sideways in some suck holes and never felt like I was going to get window-shaded.  I only capsized it when purposefully dropping an edge to get off of a wave.
Rock gardens and  whitewater is where the Hammer excels. Photo by Deb Volturno
Maneuverability - The Hammer is extremely maneuverable.  I love that it is a "sea kayak" that handles like a whitewater kayak.   One of the key skills in whitewater kayaking is learning to utilize the spin momentum of the keel-less hull.  Many sea kayakers are not accustomed to kayaks with spin momentum and tend to use the skeg at all times with it.  I like using the skeg when paddling in open water but found the looseness of the hull to be ideal when playing in rock gardens.   I liked that I could spin the Hammer on a dime to turn and catch a wave but also to make turns on and in features.

Rolling - The Hammer is not an easy kayak for me to roll.  I can and do roll it but due to its depth and my elevated seat position it is not a quick snappy roll.

Multiday - I paddled the Hammer on the Tsunami Ranger's annual retreat on the Mendocino Coast.  We don't pack light for these trips of luxury camping by the sea, and I was pleasantly surprised how much I could fit in the Hammer.  This made it really heavy though, and I was thankful to have the skeg to help with tracking.  It was awesome to have a kayak that could pack a lot of camping niceties yet once unloaded be maneuverable and playful for rock garden play.
P&H Hammer out with the Tsunami Rangers. Photo by Captain Jim Kakuk
The plastic on the Hammer seems very solid.  It doesn't nick at the slightest offense.  The Hammer in our fleet has definitely seen some use and is holding up well.

I really like paddling the Hammer in ocean rock gardens because it performs like a whitewater kayak yet is capable of light touring.  I think that the Hammer is best suited for paddlers who have a whitewater kayaking background and are looking for a kayak that will comfortably paddle 5-10 miles in a day of ocean play and touring.
Paul Kuthe styling a pour-over on the Mendocino Coast in the Hammer.
I see many sea kayakers and beginning paddlers frustrated with the Hammer because of its keel-less hull.  This makes the boat less likely to track straight and more likely to spin.  For sea kayakers who want to paddle the shorter more maneuverable kayaks like the Hammer and Jackson Kayak Karma RG,  I recommend getting whitewater kayaking instruction to build the skill set specific to paddling whitewater kayaks.

I do not recommend the Hammer for smaller paddlers (my size and smaller). It is just too much kayak both on and off the water.  I really wish that P&H would revise the Hammer and/or make a smaller version.  It seems that it could be lightened up by pairing it down to 2 hatches/bulkheads, going with carry toggles or carry handles, simplifying the outfitting, and getting rid of the pod and the extra deck grommets.  I think that a smaller, lighter version will appeal to a wide range of paddlers looking for a playful ocean kayak.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Women Rock!

Liquid Fusion Kayaking's Rock n Surf Safari last weekend was a blast.  Two women joined Jeff and I for some kayak surfing and whitewater of the sea aka ocean rock garden whitewater kayaking.  These women rocked!  We created Liquid Fusion Kayaking's Kayak Surfaris to share the fun of paddling, surfing, and exploring different locations with the same crew of paddlers.  Last weekend we pegged the fun meter again!

Over the 2 and a half days, we surfed 4 different surf breaks and rock gardened on 3 different stretches of the Mendocino Coast.
Preparing to launch an hp surf kayak at a break on the Mendocino Coast
The idea of the weekend is strictly play; however, our students were eager learners, and we are teachers so we shared tips for them to improve their performance.  Specifically, we were working on performance surf kayak skills and whitewater kayak skills that would transfer to whitewater river kayaking.
Whitewater Kayaking in Ocean Rock Gardens on the Mendocino Coast
The beauty of the whitewater kayak is its versatility and maneuverability.  It is not a craft to go fast or far with on the ocean but affords the opportunity for maximum fun.  We have a couple of tricks up our sleeves as well for making the most of whitewater kayaks on the sea.  Every day on the ocean in a short boat puts a smile on my face, and we find that smile to be contagious.  
Running a Pour-over Feature on the Mendocino Coast
Our surfari wasn't all about waves but also embraced the wonder of the sea.  The Pacific gray whales are starting their migration to Mexico.  One cruised in close to the rocks that we were playing on as it made its way south.  A highlight for me was encountering a family of river otters in a sea cave.  I think they were as curious about me as I was about them.  I would say that the wow and wonder factor for everyone over the weekend was the dynamic ocean conditions that we encountered.  Some of them we played on and others we admired from a safe zone.
Kayaking and Playing in Dynamic Water - Sara gets a ride on a zipper wave
The surfari started out with small surf and swell conditions and built through the weekend.  Sunday concluded with a large, long period swell moving into the waters of the Mendocino Coast.

Mendocino Kayak Surfaris are definitely my favorite Liquid Fusion Kayaking events.  I am getting excited for our New Years Whitewater n Surf Safari where we try to hit the Triffecta of Mendocino Whitewater Kayaking Fun - whitewater river kayaking, surf kayaking, and ocean rock gardening.

Whitewater kayaking on Mendocino's Eel River