Friday, December 23, 2016

Solstice Surf

A long period swell rolled into the Mendocino Coast for the Winter Solstice.  I could hear it rumble and roar as I plugged away on the computer working on website revisions for Liquid Fusion Kayaking (and occasionally glancing at the buoy readings).  The day was warm and sunny and after a morning of office work, I was ready to get wet.  Jeff and I went on the search.  We checked a couple of spots, but the tide wasn't right or the swell was too big.  We settled on a spot that we thought might get better as the tide filled in.  It didn't look promising but there were waves.
Little me in the Big SEA! Photo by Jeff Laxier
Being out on the ocean in a "little" kayak on a "big" day is exhilarating.  The energy is intense as mountains of water collide with the off shore rocks and headlands.  The explosions are spectacular and mesmerizing.  On the Mendocino Coast, we are fortunate to have protected coves that dissipate the swell so it is possible to paddle out on a big day.
Mountains of water. Photo by Jeff Laxier
I have been primarily surfing in my surf kayak but didn't see any surfable faces so I opted for my Jackson 2 Fun (whitewater kayak).  The 2 Fun is a blast in bouncy surf.  It likes to slide down the face and then squirt out in front of the foam pile.  My freestyle repetoroire is limited but I have fun bouncing, spinning, and back surfing it.  
2 Fun in the surf. Photo by Jeff Laxier
I did find a fun wave to play on.
Trying to make it down the line. Photo by Jeff Laxier
My little boat wasn't fast enough to make it down the line.  If my timing and positioning were precise, I could drop in, climb back to the lip, turn to float down on the cascading foam, and then surf along in front of the foam pile.  However, it didn't always work that way.  Sometimes the lip crashed on my head and other times, I bounced out in front of it.  
Bouncing out in front of the foam pile. Photo by Jeff Laxier
It was always fun and had me going back for another and another and another . . . . until the sun started dipping behind the headlands and it was time to surf in.
Surf until the sun goes down.  Photo by Jeff Laxier

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Mendocino Trilogy

Sea + River + Surf = The Mendocino Trilogy

When it rains (typically winter and early spring), Mendocino County has whitewater river kayaking, surf kayaking, and world class ocean rock gardening.  It sets up perfectly for whitewater kayakers who want a sampling of all 3 - sea, river, surf.  I am getting excited for Liquid Fusion Kayaking's Holiday Whitewater n Surf Safari.  This is an annual event that Jeff and I host during the Christmas - New Year time period.  
Kayak surfing on the Mendocino Coast during LFK's whitewater n surf safari. Photo by Mark Boyd.
The Whitewater n Surf Safari is my favorite events because it is all about playing in whitewater kayaks.  I enjoy teaching but when we take people on safari, it is all about guided play.  I get to coach students on surfing, riding rock garden features like pour-overs, and playing down the river.  Of course a bit of coaching involves demonstrating - demonstrating how to play.
Whitewater river kayaking on Mendocino County's  Eel River.  Photo by Mark Boyd.
Things are looking good for this year.  Regular rains have the rivers flowing and large period swells have shored up the sand bars at a couple of our favorite surf breaks.  So far, we have 2 participants coming for their 3rd Whitewater n Surf Safari with us and two newbies to be initiated.  We have space for a couple more.  If you have class III whitewater skills, a reliable roll, and know how to play nicely in the surf and rock gardens, you can put your playground application in with us.
Playing in a blowhole off the Mendocino Headlands . Photo by Mark Boyd
Check out this photo gallery of Mark Boyd's photos from LFK's 2015 Whitewater n Surf Safari.
Exploring Mendocino's sea caves and rock gardens in whitewater kayaks.  Photo by Mark Boyd

Monday, December 12, 2016

Best Gear of 2016

I guess I am a bit of a gearhead.  In the past, I have felt a bit frustrated with the offerings in kayaks, kayaking apparel and equipment for smaller paddlers.  I often felt that what I wanted either wasn't available in my size, was too expensive or not just right.  This year, I feel that I am getting closer to the "just right" in my kayaking gear.  Here is a list of my current "go-to's."
Dry, warm and comfortable in my Immersion Research Shawty Drysuit and charging down the Eel in my all purpose Jackson Kayak Zen. Photo by Jeff Laxier
Immersion Research Shawty Drysuit - Shawty is urban slang for hot woman.  Of course I need a drysuit that makes me hot!  Colorful, comfortable, and dry is how I would describe both my Shawty Drysuit and Shawty Drytop.  The purple color is fun and bright on the water.  Everyone asks about breathability.  I find it to be as breathable as any other top of the line drysuit/drytop.  For sizing purposes, I am 5' 4" and 120 pounds and wear a size medium.  New in 2017 is a electric blue color.  If you are attached to purple, get them now while they are on sale and in stock.

Immersion Research Shawty Drysuit comfortable and functional off the water.  Coaching throw bag techniques on the Eel River. Photo by Jeff Laxier
Dagger Stratos 14.5S - The Stratos is so much fun to paddle!!!  The performance hull has me keeping it as my go to coastal play sea kayak - and has it in Liquid Fusion Kayaking's fleet for students.   There are quite a few things that I don't like about the Stratos, but it performs so well.  The stability is confidence inspiring, it accelerates quickly, and is extremely maneuverable - especially when edged.  I paddle the small and would recommend it for most paddlers under 200 pounds and under 6 feet tall looking for a sea kayak for rock garden and surf zone play.  If the fit is a little tight, there are outfitting modifications that can be done.  There is a larger size for taller, heavier paddlers.
Rock gardening on the Mendocino Coast in the Dagger Stratos. Photo by Jeff Laxier
Jackson Kayak Zen Small -  This is the best fitting and most comfortable whitewater kayak that I have ever paddled.  It seems to be sized just right for a paddler of my size.  The narrow bow and narrow fit are well suited for performance paddlers who like a vertical stroke and like to use their legs to power their strokes. I find this boat to be all day comfortable whether I am teaching out of it or doing a longer river run.  It has enough volume for carrying a bit of gear - for an overnight trip or for guiding.  It also has the volume and speed for running big water and challenging rapids.  It is super easy to roll and surf and has enough of a rail/edge to carve into eddies.  I also like that it is relatively lightweight for carrying and has a smaller size cockpit so that I can get a dry, snug fitting skirt on my myself.
Jackson Kayak Zen Small - a great all around whitewater kayak for smaller paddlers. Photo by Jeff Laxier.
Jackson Kayak 2 Fun -  It is TOO FUN!!!  The 2 Fun is almost my do it all whitewater kayak.  I feel fortunate to have a nice quiver of kayaks but often fantasize about having just one kayak (or realistically two - a short and a long boat).  The 2 Fun would fit my short boat needs for play.  It is fun and performs well on both the river and in the surf.  In addition it is lightweight, has simple outfitting, and fits in the back of our car.  Paddling a boat like the 2 Fun on both the river and in the surf has made me a better paddler.  It doesn't have the speed or forgiving volume of classic river runners so I have to make sure that my technique and positioning are precise for catching eddies and catching waves.
Jackson Kayak 2 Fun is fun river running whitewater kayak.  Photo by Jeff Laxier

2 Fun in the surf!  360' flat spins like a dream. Photo by Jeff Laxier
Mega Bullit Xs -  The Xs is categorized as a high performance surf kayak.  There is definitely a learning curve to hp surf kayaks.  The Xs seems to be a bit more on the friendly side than other hp boats.  Being a smaller paddler, I appreciate the overall low volume.  The Xs is narrow compared to many surf kayaks.  In particular it has a narrow bow and a low stern and back deck. Being 8 feet and 11 inches long, it is on the long side for an hp surf kayak.  However, it has lots of rocker which makes it very responsive.  The length of the hull makes it quite stable and fast.  It excels on low angle waves and days when the surf is a bit on the mushy side.  I am so excited to paddle my Xs.  Every time I paddle it, I feel like I learn its nuances more and surf it better.
Mega Bullit Xs, Oneil Mod Wetsuit, Immersion Research Top and Spray Deck, - my go to surf kayak kit. Photo by Jeff Laxier
Jackson Kayak Sweet Cheeks - Keep all your cheeks happy!  Jackson's Sweet Cheeks are so comfortable that I have put them in all of my kayaks.  They are basically bean bags that you inflate and then deflate to get a comfy custom fit for your butt in your kayak.  They are handy if you want to add some extra height to your seat or change your seat position while in the boat.  I also think that they are warmer than typical kayak seats.  I typically use the 100 but will use the 200 in boats that are too deep for me.
Jackson Sweet Cheeks - yep they are in all of my kayaks.  Photo Jackson Kayak

Oneil Women's Mod Wetsuit - In Northern California, a good wetsuit is a must for ocean play - surfing, coasteering, snorkeling, abalone diving, swimming, body surfing, ect.  A huge thank you to Dylan at The Lost Surf Shack in Fort Bragg for turning me on to this suit.  It is a warm 5/4 with super flexible and relatively quick drying neoprene.  This suit is super comfortable, warm, and versatile.  The neck on the Mod wetsuit is interchangeable.  I like using the hood for diving and surfing and the suit without a hood for kayaking.  I pair my IR shorty top with it for kayaking to block the wind and to keep water out of my kayak.
Coasteering on the Mendocino Coast in the Oneil Mod wetsuit. Photo by Jeff Laxier
Immersion Research ShockWave Plus Spray Skirt - For 3 seasons, this has been my go to skirt.  I have a Large and Extra Large to accommodate my different boats.  After 3 years, they are still dry and look almost like new (despite many days of use).
3 year old Immersion Research spray skirt still dry and looking good.  Photo by Jeff Laxier
Maui Jim Pipiwai Trail Sunglasses -  Sunglasses are a necessity on the water to protect your eyes from glare and UV rays.  Polarized are a huge benefit for those of us who like to see what is under the surface.  It is always a trick finding the right glasses - ones that have good optics, are comfortable under a hat or helmet, and don't fog up.   I have found the Pipiai Trail to be just the right fit for my small head and on water needs.  The MauiPure lenses are super lightweight and comfortable.  HCL Bronze tint good contrast in all but the lowest light conditions.  These have become my go to glasses both on and off the water.
See your wave, surf your wave!  Thanks Maui Jim for comfortable, functional, and stylish sunglasses. Photo by Jeff Laxier
Ear Plugs -  I finally found my go to earplugs - Mac's Ear Seals.  Here is a link to my blog on protecting your ears and my experience and recommendations on ear plugs.

Warm Gloves - Winter whitewater kayaking requires gloves (and pogies too).  I actually will wear glove and pogies.  This year I discovered Patagonia's R1 Fly Fishing Gloves.  The XS fits great.  The R1 gloves are warm and have good dexterity and grip for paddling.

Huppy Bars - Yummy, gluten free energy bars.  Huppy Bars are made in Flagstaff, Arizona.  The company was started by Lindsay Hup who is a Grand Canyon raft guide.  She has been making her own delicious and nutritious bars for years in her home.  Her bars became such a hit on the river that others nudged her to start her own company and make the bars for others.  My favorite flavor is pecan orange spice.  It might sound weird but it is not and is delicious.  Check them out and definitely follow them on Instagram.  Lindsay posts some awesome photos of outdoors and Huppy Bar athletes.  And often has specials on her bars.
Grab a Huppy and Go!  Perfect snack to keep me going on the water! Photo by Cate Hawthorne
Changing Station - A few years ago, a friend made a fleece poncho for me to use to change in and out of my wetsuit.  I love it and take it just about everywhere with me.  Peeling off a wet wetsuit on a chilly day is no problem with the fuzzy warm fleece blocking the wind and cold.  It is also a discrete way to take ALL the wet stuff off in mixed company or in public parking lots.  Also it is a warm extra layer for lunch time breaks.  On camping trips, it functions as an extra blanket and as an extra warm layer for chilly evenings or mornings in camp.

Relief Zippers in Wetsuits -  I like wearing a wetsuit for surfing and playing in the ocean.  When playing, I can take a break and peel my wetsuit off to answer mother nature's call.  When I am teaching and guiding, I only have moments to take care of business.  I really don't like peeing in my wetsuit so I am super fond of relief zippers in wetsuits.  My NRS Farmer Jane Ultra has one and it works great.  Unfortunately, I like wearing a surfing fullsuit for teaching in the surf and they don't come with relief zippers.  Then I discovered Chris at Terrapin Wetsuits.  She makes custom wetsuits and does alterations and repairs to wetsuits.  She put in an awesome relief zip in my wetsuit.  Now answering the call of nature is a breeze.

Girl Stuff - On another note about the call of nature - girl stuff isn't always fun in the outdoors.  I have to share that I have become a fan of menstrual cups.  Menstrual cups are a healthy, no waste way to deal with one's period.  No more packing in and packing out tampons.  With a little research, you will find that there are quite a few options out there.  Ladies and concerned guys, feel free to contact me privately for more thoughts on girl stuff in the outdoors.

And what I am still searching or hoping for - 

A whitewater helmet with good coverage that fits a small head and has a dial for an adjustable fit - so that I can potentially wear a hood or hat under it.

Hoping for the Immersion Research Shawty drysuit to sport a drop seat.

Outfitting and structural changes to the Dagger Stratos - better plastic, stiffer hull, shorter cockpit, better hatches and more secure foot keepers.

A girl can always dream right?

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Communication is a key skill in paddling (and all aspects of life).  There are many means and needs for communication on and off the water.  One is to check in with someone.  Sometimes, a paddler has taken a spill, is swimming, or is just a little bit spaced-out.  A common way to see if that person is okay is to use signals.

When using the okay signal on the water it is a question and answer.  One gives the okay sign and if the others are okay, they give the okay sign back.  Close up, we use the universal hand signal for okay.

This tells us a couple of things.  First being that the person is okay.  Second that maybe they really are or aren't okay.   If the person is slow to respond or doesn't make a clear okay sign, we need to investigate a little bit further.  When someone doesn't make a clear okay sign, they could be a little bit shaken or could possibly have issue that they are unaware of.  For example, one of the signs of hypothermia is a decrease in fine motor skills.  If they aren't making their index finger touch their thumb, hypothermia could be a concern.

From further away, we use one tap or a fist on the head.  Again, we make sure that we close off the "O."  The fist on the head forming an "O" is a universal sign for okay among the US Coast Guard and other Search and Rescue teams.

From larger distances or when view may be obstructed by swells or waves, we make a big "O" over the head with both arms meeting above the head.

Many paddlers use a tapping motion on their head to signal that they are okay.  This is often understood in the boating community but is not universally recognized.  It also can look like a signal for help.  We encourage paddlers not to use the head tap but to make closed "O" with a fist on the head, a hand signal, or arms overhead.