Monday, May 22, 2023


Do you get cold water vertigo? 

Do you paddle in windy conditions?

Do your ears get plugged up after rolling or swimming?

Do you get ear wax build-up and/or ear infections?

Do you value your hearing?

If you answered YES to any of the above questions, you should consider wearing earplugs when paddling.

I am not a doctor and you should consult your doctor for health advice.  I am sharing my personal experience with "surfer's ear," and how I have found ear plugs to be helpful in preventing cold water vertigo and improving comfort on and in the water.

Early in my paddling career, I went in for a physical and the first thing the doctor commented was on my surfer's ear.  HUH? She explained to me that I had bone growths in my ear canal and that the condition is often called surfer's ear. With a bit more research, I discovered that surfer's ear is common in kayakers as well as surfers.  Cold water is not the only culprit.  Wind is also a significant factor.  

After my appointment, I realized that in the past year I had been experiencing more wax buildup and instances of water being trapped in my ears (even after showering).  I asked around the kayak community and found that many in the whitewater kayak world knew about surfer's ear, many experienced it, and many had started wearing earplugs.  In the sea kayak community, I was surprised that only those that were avid surfers knew about surfers ear.  Today, I am still surprised not to see more paddlers wearing earplugs.

One of the biggest issues is that some ear plugs impede hearing.  The trick, I found is to find plugs that fit and also allow you to hear.  All ears are shaped differently so it takes a bit of shopping and trial and error.  Many paddlers like Doc's Pro Plugs.  I have never been able to get them to fit properly.  I found that they were great at blocking the wind but trapped water in my ear when I rolled.

Mack's Ear Seals have become my go to earplugs.  I find that they keep the water out and allow me to hear.  I also like that they are relatively inexpensive and easily accessible - you can often buy them at your local drug store and even some grocery stores carry them.  I find the strings pop off easily unless you glue them to the plugs with aqua seal.  In recent years, I have ditched the strings and just use the plugs.

If I am not rolling but am paddling in cold or windy conditions, I lightly put the earplugs in my ears.  It is amazing how much warmer and more comfortable I am on windy days with the wind not whistling through my ears.  If I am going to be surfing, rolling or swimming, I insert the plugs further into my ears.

I also discovered that wearing ear plugs helps prevent cold water vertigo which is caused by cold water in the ear canal and on the ear drum.

Have you used earplugs for paddling? If you have any success stories to share, please share them in the comments.


Monday, May 15, 2023

The Eel River

Are you curious about the Eel River?

In recent years, we have been getting more and more inquiries about kayaking, rafting, and canoeing on the Eel River.  It has been exciting to see more boaters on the Eel.  It is almost as exciting as seeing other wildlife along the river.  Perhaps some of the recent interest has to do with publicity and planning of The Great Redwood Trail.

Trestle and Tunnel at Island Mountain on the proposed Great Redwood Trail.

Yesterday, I was kayaking the Outlet Creek Run on the Eel with our local crew and we were chatting about the misinformation out there about the Eel.  We are stoked to see other boaters and want them to enjoy the Eel.  However, there seems to be a bit of misinformation out there so I was inspired to write this post and plan to follow up with YouTube Videos and informational posts on the Eel to help people plan and enjoy the Mighty Eel River and hopefully avoid misadventures.

Bear print in the sand on the Eel River.

Four key things to know about the Eel -

1. It is AWESOME!

2. Figuring out the flow is the greatest challenge.

3. The Eel has some amazing whitewater and is often underrated in guidebooks and write-ups.

4. Shuttle and parking information for multi-day trips.

The Eel River is AWESOME!

The Eel River is the 3rd largest watershed in California.  It has 4 main forks and the character of the river varies greatly depending upon the section and depending upon the flow (discussed further in section 2).  My two favorite aspects of the Eel are the whitewater and the wilderness.  The Eel has options for mellow and scenic float trips or exhilarating and potentially challenging whitewater trips.  Jeff and I just completed a 70 mile self-support whitewater kayak trip from Dos Rios to Dyerville.  We have numerous trips on the Eel under our skirts including a 169 mile Source to Sea Run.

Kayak camping at a creek along the Eel River.

Flows on the Eel River

Everyone agrees that the greatest challenge of running the Eel River is the flow.  Having flow, knowing what the flow is, and predicting the flow.  

Below Dos Rios there is a train engine in the water that is only visible at lower flows

Traditionally the flow of the Eel River is rain-fed so it is a rainy season run.  Predictors are not very accurate.  The first couple of rains of the year are not usually worth getting excited about.  The water quality is not good and the ground is not saturated.  As the rainy season progresses and the ground becomes more saturated, the forecast models are a little more accurate.

When there is a good snow pack in Mendocino National Forest, we can usually count on a longer season for the Middle Fork Eel and the Main below Dos Rios.  This year is one of those good snow pack years.  I expect the Middle Fork and Main Fork runs below Dos Rios to be good through Memorial Day and possibly into June.  It is hard to predict though not knowing how fast the snow is going to melt and run off.  Last month, we hit a heat wave that triggered a large snow melt run-off.  It tapered off but seems to be picking up again.

Snow on Sanhedrin Mountain above the Main Fork Eel.

We are also seeing more flow on the river above the confluence with the Middle Fork (Pillsbury Run, Hearst Run, and Outlet Creek Run.  This is because PG&E has decided not to put the upper level boards up on the Scotts Dam and any snow melt that is coming into Lake Pillsbury is flowing into the Main Fork of the Eel River.

Whitewater kayakers choosing their line on the Split Rock Rapid.

Whitewater on the Eel

The local whitewater kayakers agree that many of the write-ups (online and in books) tend to underrate the whitewater of the Eel - in particular the 3 main runs on the main fork.  The runnable flows of the Eel  River is large dependent upon the skill level of the paddlers.  As the water level and flow increase so does the potential difficulty of the river on each of the stretches.  It is very fun to run the Eel at different levels - it is almost like running a different river.

Liquid Fusion Kayaking's Jeff Laxier in his happy place - running the Eel River.

Here is American Whitewater's Safety Code.  This is a good resource for river runners.  Reading the descriptions of the river ratings for each of the classes makes me wonder why the authors rated the runs as Class II.  Here is American Whitewater's Description of Class III -

Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. 

According to the description, most of the whitewater sections on the Main Eel are Class III.

Local Eel River Boater Paul Futscher riding down the Eel.

The Hearst Run is primarily Class II with a couple of Class III rapids.  One of the challenges of the Heart Run is that it is 18 miles of wilderness.  Once you put on, there is no easy getting off.  Winter days when the flow is good are often chilly and gets dark early.  As the water flows increase so does the difficulty.  It is a gorgeous narrow gorge that gets quite squirrelly as the flows increase.   It is similar to the boils of Mule Creek Canyon on the Rogue River.  Here is a link to what is currently the most accurate description of the Hearst Run.  Here is a link to a new gage at Hearst. 

Entering Shotgun Rapid aka Ramsing Corner on the Hearst section of the Eel River.

The Outlet Run is the 7 mile stretch of the main for Eel that runs along Highway 162.  The put in is at the confluence of the Eel with Outlet Creek.  The take-out is just above Dos Rios.  Old-time boaters used to call it Chili Bar of the North because is comparable to the Chili Bar Run on the South Fork of the American River.  It is a fun class III whitewater run at flows from 2.5 feet to 5 feet (500ish to 2500ish cubic feet per second - cfs).  For details on the run, check out this write-up.  

The Final Drop on the Outlet Run of the Eel changed in 2019 high water event.

There is a new gage on the Eel near Hearst.  We have found the gage to be correlated to the spray painted gage on the bridge at the put-in for the Outlet Run.  Here is a link to the Dreamflows Hearst Gage.

Spray painted gage on the bridge at the confluence with Outlet Creek.

The Dos Rios to Alderpoint Run - 45 mile multi day.  The character of this run is quite different from low flows (below 4000 cfs) and high flows (above 8,000 cfs).  At the lower end, it is a fun run with many class II and a couple of class III rapids.  On the lower flows, you have time to see and make your moves.  At higher flows, the river has very squirrels eddy lines, whirlpools, and large boils.  It is similar to big volume river running like the Grand Canyon.

Big water wave train on the Eel River at Rapid 201.

One of the fascinating features of the Dos Rios to Alderpoint Run is the remnants of the Eel River Railroad.  The Eel River Canyon has the highest erosion rate in the United States and plagued the railroad from its early days until its final run in 1997.  Talk of reopening the railroad line or even creating a trail seems pretty far out there when you see how untamed the Eel River Canyon is.

Another railroad car off the rails and on the bank of the Eel River.

Here is a Dos Rios to Alderpoint to a writeup.  In this write-up, the photos are definitely from a low flow run. The river is quite different as the flows get higher.  I am working on a YouTube Video from our most recent run which was in the 8000-9000 range.  I also am thinking of writing a more comprehensive description and guide to the run.  Please let me know if you have any input to share.

Blue sky peaking through on our campsite on the Eel River.

4.  Shuttles and Parking.  Below are 3 options for shuttle drivers.  If you decide to run your own shuttle, we do not recommend parking overnight along Highway 162 or in the Alderpoint area. 

Black Butte Ranch

Donna - (707) 613-1292 (text)

Zak - (707) 391-2008 

Are you still Eel - Curious? 

If so, I have started reviewing footage from our trips this spring and am working on putting together some videos for YouTube.  Be sure to subscribe to the Liquid Fusion Kayak YouTube Channel to learn and see more of the Eel.

Also, please let me know if there are any topics you would like for me to write about regarding the Eel River.  I am going to create a special page on my Woman on Water Blog for the Eel River to share trip reports and stories and information.

Hiking along the rails on the proposed Great Redwood Trail.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Kayaking on the Van Duzen

Last week, we had just finished a 9 day self-support whitewater kayak trip on the Eel River (video and blog coming soon) and were visiting some friends in Humboldt County.  We were debating going to the Smith River or back to the Eel for the last few days of our Spring Run Off Trip.

Dreamflows is our favorite source for California Whitewater River Flows.  We were scanning Dreamflows and kept seeing rivers running in the red (above recommended) and kept seeing the Van Duzen running in the green (recommended range).  We read the write ups online and in Dan Menten's book The New School Guide to Northern California Whitewater and were enticed to go paddle the Van Duzen.

Kayaking past gigantic sandstone cliffs and redwood trees on the Van Duzen River

The flow was approximately 1,100cfs.  We put in just above Grizzly Creek Redwood State Park and took out at Swimmer's Delight County Park.  The first couple of miles of the run were busy boulder garden class II rapids.  We were a little underwhelmed by the whitewater but definitely stoked on the scenery.  We could envision this being a funner whitewater run with 1,000 or more cfs.

Class II Whitewater on the Grizzly Creek Run of the Van Duzen River at 1100 cfs.

We were paddling our self-support whitewater kayaks - Jeff in the Pyranha Scorch X and me in the Pyranha Fusion Medium.  These weren't the most playful for the class II sections but their speed was nice for the flat scenic sections.

Kayaking by a waterfall on the Van Duzen River.

The scenery was stunning with gigantic redwood trees and towering sandstone cliffs.

Kayaking on the Van Duzen at Swimmer's Delight Park

After our paddle, we went for a stroll in the Cheatham Grove which is where some of the Star Wars Return of the Jedi scenes were filmed. 

Jeff gazing up at the gigantic redwood trees in the Cheatham Grove.

Check out our 1 minute YouTube video of our trip on the Van Duzen. The formatting here is a bit wonky so best to watch it on YouTube.

If you are in the neighborhood and looking for a scenic river run through the redwoods, I would recommend a paddle on the Van Duzen.  At 1,000 cfs or lower, putting in at the low water bridge off of Highway 36  and taking out further down stream is a scenic float for most skill levels who are comfortable paddling in moving water.  For whitewater, I would be interested in checking out the Grizzly Creek Run (the stretch above the low water bridge) at a higher flow (2,000 cfs or higher).

If you have experience kayaking the Van Duzen, please share in the comments.



Monday, May 1, 2023

Spring Mendocino Sea Kayaking

 On the Mendocino Coast of California, we typically have 4 seasons - 

Summer - Fog

Fall - Indian Summer

Winter - Rain

Spring - WIND

Sea kayaking in a protected cove on a blustery day

A windy spring is normal and critical for deep water upwelling in the ocean.  As the spring winds blow, they bring nutrients up from the bottom of the sea to fertilize the kelp.  Often we get days and days with strong winds which creates healthy ocean conditions but are not my favorite kayaking conditions.  Often I migrate inland in the spring for whitewater river kayaking and for a break from the wind.

Occasionally, we rally and get out for a windy romp on the sea. Here's a video of sea kayaking in our typical spring conditions.

For the best viewing experience, watch on YouTube and select the highest quality your device will allow.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Kayak Camping Tip

Don't Camp with Cows (or Bulls)

When kayaking down rivers in North America, it is not uncommon to encounter cattle grazing in the hills and along the river banks.  They may look cute and peaceful but they are not good campsite companions.  Most wildlife will avoid humans and campsites. Cows are not wildlife. They will wander into campsites and can be quite disruptive.

One year Jeff and I were doing a self-support whitewater kayak trip on the Eel River.  We had a longer than usual day on the river with lots of headwind.  When we rolled into camp, there were a few cows grazing in the hills above the beach.  There were no signs of cows on the beach (no tracks and no cow pies).  In our wind-blown, tired, and hungry state, we decided to set up camp on the north end of the beach where there were some boulders to block the wind.  We dug a pit in the sand and got a fire going and enjoyed a tasty dinner and some choice beverages.  

campfire and kayak camp on Eel River
Kayak camping on the Eel River

After dinner it was still too windy to set up our tent so we set up our sleeping pads, bags, and bivy sacks behind the boulders.  The fire was at our feet.

That night, I awoke to a large creature sniffing around the dry bags by my head.  I nudged Jeff awake and he shot straight out of his sleeping bag with a ROAR!

The bull jumped back, ran over the remnants of our campfire and bellowing up into the hills. (we suspect he scorched his balls on our campfire).

Lesson Learned - don't camp with cows or bulls.

An angus bull resting along the Eel River.

Monday, April 17, 2023

P&H Leo Sea Kayak First Impressions

This spring, we added a P&H Leo Sea Kayak to the Liquid Fusion Kayaking Fleet.  We will be using the Leo for students who want to learn touring sea kayak skills.  Personally, I am planning to use the Leo for kayak camping trips, sea kayak touring, and kayak sailing.  We recently had the Leo out for a couple of paddles on the Mendocino Coast.
Sea kayak rock gardening Mendocino
P&H Leo Sea Kayak at a Blowhole on the Mendocino Coast of California

Before paddling the Leo, we moved the seat and the thigh hooks.  Both Jeff and I found it to be quite comfortable.  Jeff is 5’11” and 145 pounds.  I am 5’4” and 122 pounds.  I had the foot braces adjusted to the shortest setting.  Paddlers with shorter legs than mine might need to make some additional accommodations to reach the foot braces. (My inseam is about 28”).

Jeff and I took turns paddling the Leo.  The other sea kayak we were using was the P&H Virgo.  Both kayaks were the medium volume core-lite models.  

sea kayaking mendocino
Side by side look at the P&H Virgo and P&H Leo

My first impression of the Leo was how stable it is. I was pleased that it had a bit more glide and hull speed than the Virgo.  The extra hulls speed was nice when riding surges through rock garden channels.  I did not feel that it this increased length sacrificed maneuverability.  Of course, one needs a little more room in a sea cave to turn the 15’11” Leo in compared to the 14’5” Virgo.  Both Jeff and I did bump the stern a few times turning around in tight spaces.
Mendocino sea cave kayaking
Jeff Laxier taking the Leo for a spin in the sea caves of the Mendocino Coast.

The Leo definitely rewards a skilled paddler who edges their kayak to turn.  As sea kayaks are becoming shorter and more maneuverable, we see paddlers not using this key skill that really makes a sea kayak sing.  A slight edge freed up the hull of the Leo to dance about.  I will be following up with another video experimenting with the different amounts of edge and the edging effect on maneuvering the Leo.
edged sea kayak turn Mendocino California
Edged Turn in the Leo

The Leo doesn’t have a lot of bow rocker which inclines it toward tracking in a straight line.  I think it is going to be a ton of fun surfing following seas and kayak sailing.  In a skilled paddler’s hands who is comfortable edging to turn, I think the Leo’s maneuverability is comparable to the Virgo and perhaps a bit more nimble; however, neither boat would be my first choice for rock gardening, sea kayak surfing, and coastal play.
sea kayak rock gardening mendocino
Sea Squirting the Leo.

In terms of first impressions - I think the Leo is a fun touring sea kayak.  It is remarkably stable and ideal for paddlers of all skill levels that are looking for a general purpose, durable, low maintenance sea kayak.  Compared to the Virgo, I would most likely choose the Leo over the Virgo.

Here is a video of our first journey in the P&H Leo.  We will be posting more reviews and content on the Leo and instructional contacts on the LFK YouTube Channel so be sure to subscribe to get the goods.

We will be paddling the Leo more later this spring.  If you have questions or would like to see something in particular, please let me know in the comments.

Best of days on the water,

PS While the Leo is not designed as a rock gardening kayak and is not my first choice for coastal play, I still couldn't resist running a few pour-overs with it.

sea kayak rock gardening mendocino
Cate Hawthorne rock hopping on the Mendocino Coast.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Paddle Care Tip

Don't be left up the creek without a paddle!

Broken paddles are no fun, can be a safety hazard, and impact your bank account.  Being mindful of your paddle can go a long way to preventing it from breaking.  One way to protect your paddle is don't put your paddle on the ground.

Sea Kayak Paddle on Ground
Don't put your paddle on the ground.

Paddles on the ground can get stepped on or run over.  I regularly see paddlers javelin throw their paddle onto shore when landing.  Then the paddle gets left on the ground as people step on it and even drag kayaks across it.  The impact from hitting the ground and/or getting stepped on or drug over will stress the paddle.  This can create tiny cracks that you don't see but may crack further when you aren't expecting it.

Paddle Care Tip - 

Get in the habit of never setting your paddle on the ground.  

Here are 3 ways to protectively stow your paddle when you are on shore.

1. Put the Paddle in the Cockpit

Stow Lendal Paddle in Cockpit of P&H Sea Kayak

2. Stow the Paddle Under the Decklines or bungees.

Stowing Lendal Paddle Under Deck Lines on P&H Sea Kayak

3.  Secure the paddle with a paddle park.

Paddle Park for Lendal Paddle on P&H Sea Kayak
Paddle Park

Happy Paddles make Happy Paddlers :)

Monday, April 3, 2023

Join the Journey

Happy Spring!  Are you getting excited about spring/summer kayaking adventures?  Jeff and I are and have adventures and projects that we would like to share with you.

Liquid Fusion Kayaking's Cate Hawthorne in her happy place - on a wave!

On the Mendocino Coast, we have had a wet and chilly winter.  After 3 dry years, it is nice to have a proper winter with lots of precipitation.  Nothing record breaking here on the coast except for colder than average temperatures and what seems to be daily hail storms.  Elsewhere in California has been a different story - including inland Mendocino County.  Our inland paddling playground of the Eel River has been frozen, flooded, and even snowed in.  Mudslides, down trees, and significant snowfall have impeded travel in the county.  We have been happily hanging out at home on the coast working on projects, surfing, rock gardening, and dreaming of the spring whitewater season.  

Hail! Hail! Hail!

We have been working on revving up Liquid Fusion Kayaking's Instructional Program.  In December, we moved out of our rental and tour location on the Noyo River.  We are currently operating the business end of LFK from our home office and then meeting our students at the water (river, harbor, beach, pool, ect.).   This change has enabled us to have more availability for kayak lessons and for instructional projects.


As we evolve LFK back to its roots in kayak instruction, we invite you to join in the journey - on the water with us and/or virtually.  

Sea Kayak Rock Gardening Lesson on the Mendocino Coast

To join us on the water, here is a link to information on our custom private lessons.  Our schedule has a bit of flexibility to accommodate your interests and schedule so hit us up with your dreams and let's make it happen.

You can also join us virtually.  We are creating more instructional and educational videos and blog posts.  We will post some teasers on Instagram and Facebook but be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel and my Woman on Water Blog to get the goods.

If there are any skills or topics that you would like to see from us in a video or blog post, please let us know.  We have some ideas but would also be stoked to hear from you.

Best of days on the water,


Whitewater of the SEA!