Saturday, November 15, 2008

Paddling the great indoors

The outdoor paddling season is far from over. We'll still be on the lake for another month or so (and, we hope, the annual New Year's Day paddle on the Chicago River). But the indoor paddling season has begun. It's a delightful period of overlap, when we can paddle in water that's 70 degrees one day and 50 degrees the next.

Dave Olson (left) visits with paddlers at the UIC open pool session.

Wednesday nights are open pool sessions at the University of Illinois at Chicago, thanks to Dave Olson of Kayak Chicago. Dave rents the pool for 40+ weeks and welcomes paddlers to pay by the night or by the season to use it. He also rents boats for those who arrange it in advance, and he offers lessons.
We mainly come to work on skills and enjoy weekly time on the water in the dead of winter. This past Wednesday was the first pool session of 2008/09, and most people just seemed happy to see one another again.

Wendy Madgwick and Hannah turn a single into a double.

Alec demonstrates a C-to-C roll.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Yep. Good decision.

Can't say we feel really sorry to miss out on that!

The hard decision not to paddle

We were supposed to paddle on the east side of the lake today with Keith Wikle, Doug Van Doren and Lori Stegmeier--kayaking friends we mostly see during the summer at various midwestern symposia.
But the weather had other plans. Over the past few days, we watched as the forecast grew increasingly unfriendly. Winds of up to 30 knots. Waves of 5 to 8 feet building to 8 to 12. Air temperatures in the lower 40s. Rain. Snow. Sleet.

The marine forecast this morning.

Webcam above the pier at South Haven at 10 this morning.
Keith says waves that go above the pier are 8 footers.

It's hard to decide not to paddle, especially when we've set aside the time and made arrangements with people we'd really like to see.
We're pretty sure Keith will hit the waves in his surf boat. We'll be thinking about him today and checking his blog tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Paddles up!

Justine Curgenven. (Photo courtesy of Justine Curgenven.)

Over the course of two evenings, we watched This is the Sea 4. This is a generous package: one disk of shorter profiles of remarkable paddlers and locales; one disk with two longer expeditions.
Disk one follows Justine's now-familiar approach of documenting outstanding kayakers who collectively define the sport. But whereas This is the Sea 1, 2 and 3 were like a kayaking Who's Who and Where's Where , This is the Sea 4 widens the lens to explore the variation and diversity of what can be done with sea kayaks themselves. We meet kayak fishermen off the California coast, whitewater paddlers tackling the Ottawa River in sea kayaks, and a Norwegian father-and-son team who hop around on the tops of their boats in the fjords. We also meet a woman who nurses injured wombats back to health, and see Hadas Feldman on her home turf. The message of disk one is something like, "All over the world, people are pushing the bounds of what they and their boats can do. Don't be narrow-minded about what sea kayaking is about."
Disk two contains two expedition narratives that, like her earlier ones, show why sea kayak trips are so enticing but don't disguise how hard they can be. The Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) circumnavigation with Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme manages to be a loving portrait of a remarkable place, a profile of the whimsical and knowledgeable owners of Body Boat Blade, and a story all in one. (Those of us who met Shawna and Leon at the West Michigan Coastal Kayakers Association symposium last year got a preview of this trip.)

Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme. (Photo by Justine Curgenven.)

The circumnavigation of the south island of New Zealand with Barry Shaw is considerably more challenging. The two paddled 2,400 kilometers, many of them into stiff headwinds, with limited landing options that were further complicated by punishing surf. At one point, Justine develops an infection and has to be airlifted to a hospital. They often look exhausted and sometimes almost defeated, and share all of that in the footage. At some points, Justine is even too tired to laugh. It's really a brutally honest documentary; she shares the tough decisions, the discouragement and the fear as well as the elation and excitement. That's something we've always appreciated about Justine's work, and it's very much in evidence here.

Barry Shaw landing through surf. (Photo by Justine Curgenven.)

We've found, over the years, that we return to each of the This is the Sea DVDs to review segments we love. The same will be true with this one.
Justine and Barry will be showing a one-hour condensed version of This is the Sea 4 and talking about their circumnavigation on Friday, November 14 in St. Charles, IL. Admission is $10, half of which goes to support Chicago Adventure Therapy. There will be an after-party nearby. For tickets or more information, visit Geneva Kayak Center or call 630.232.0320.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An unexpected delay

This is the Lake.
We got home too late Sunday night to watch disk two, and now we're swept up in election-day mania. We'll write our review tomorrow and post it promptly....promise!
So don't sit there reading blog postings. Vote!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Night at the movies

Yesterday we received our advance copy of This is the Sea 4, Justine Curgenven's anxiously awaited sequel to the sequel of the sequel of This is the Sea. Consider her the J.K.Rowling of the paddling world, with lots of great characters, loads of adventure, plenty of magic, but less of the teenage angst.

We watched disk one last night and will watch disk two tonight after the Chicago Whitewater Association pool session, so if you were hoping to hear what we think, check back tomorrow. Meanwhile, call Geneva Kayak Center at 630.232.0320 to reserve your tickets to her Nov. 14 midwest premiere.
How's that for restraint?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Do lakes get lonely?

We gently paddle the surface of the lake, leaving no trace behind.

As soon as we unloaded out boats near the 59th Street Harbor this morning, we could tell how dramatically the season has changed. The sun angled low through the crisp fall leaves still clinging to twigs overhead; the algae that made the ramp slippery during the summer was gone; fishermen were casting from the barren piers in the outer harbor; there was only one boat left in the inner harbor, and it looked forlorn. We paddled out in the middle of the channel with no concern for traffic because there were no boats in sight.
The wind was about 10 knots out of the northeast, causing waves mostly in the two- to four-foot range, which collided with one another and built a little higher off the breakwater that protects 63rd Street Beach. The surface water temperature is in the mid to upper 50s now--poagie weather.
We didn't have a lot of time, so we paddled south toward Rainbow Beach, enjoying the crashing of waves hitting the boulders along the shore, and then back north to 63rd Street Beach, where we caught a few nice rides on fairly gentle surf. We saw three boats in the distance headed for dry dock, and interrupted a gaggle of geese floating near the harbor mouth.
Lake Michigan must get lonely in the autumn. Perhaps that's why she thrashes her shores in the fall before subsiding under a blanket of ice in the winter. Either that or she revels in her solitude after a summer of assaults by jet skis, motor boats, tour boats and yachts. We like to think she enjoys our company, at least, as we gently paddle her surface, leaving no trace behind.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Knot a good situation

On Friday afternoon, while we were paddling, someone broke into our car and stole both of our wallets. We returned to a broken car window and a rash of urgent tasks: cancel the cell phone and credit cards, rekey the house locks, replace the drivers' licenses and a myriad other cards.
Since then, every day yields a new realization of something we no longer have: library cards, ACA instructor cards, insurance cards, a favorite green pen.
Today we realized the thieves also had the cool set of knot cards we bought with our paddle perks and the rope we used for practicing clove hitches and bowlines.

Somewhere, some thief is practicing tying beautiful bowlines.

Note to selves: Bring wallets in boats. Keep house key away from IDs with home address. Renew membership.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Not terribly lost in translation

For those of you who read yesterday's post and thought, "That's cool, but I wish I could read about it in French," we have good news!
It was picked up today by "Le Kayak et la mer."
Here's what they wrote:

Fabriquer son bout de remorquage court

Publié le 27 octobre 2008

Bout de remorquage court pour kayakEn principe tous les kayakistes ont déjà un bout de remorquage long, c’est obligatoire en 6eme catégorie.
Mais plus rares sont ceux qui possèdent un bout court pourtant bien utile pour sortir rapidement un kayak d’un endroit difficile, assurer une pagaie ou même servir de leach. Vous trouverez sur le site Have kayaks, will travel une méthode très détaillée pour en fabriquer un de très bonne qualité ainsi qu’une méthode d’utilisation. C’est en anglais mais les nombreuses photos sont très explicites. Je crois bien que je vais m’en construire un sur ce modèle.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

How to make your own short tow

When I was preparing to go out to Sea Kayak Georgia a few years ago to do some training before my Instructor Development Workshop, I needed a short tow setup. So I went out and bought a good-looking one for about $40.
During the second day of training, Ronnie Kemp and I were working on rescues. I was required to quickly release my tow belt and attached short tow in surf. The brand new short tow slid off the belt and sank.
Ronnie later showed me a type of short tow that can be made for a fraction of the cost of a commercial system. The parts are available at many outdoor sporting goods stores (or online--I've placed links below). The set-up connects to the deck lines in front of the paddler, where it's easy to reach, and uses an ingenious quick-release highwayman’s hitch, which allows it to be disconnected from the boat easily and quickly (essential for any tow system).
This is one of the first pieces of gear Sharon and I have made for ourselves; we find that the more we create and repair our own gear, the better we understand it and can make it suit our needs and the conditions we paddle in.
So here is the short tow system we use and how we put it together. Make sure you have the training to use it appropriately, and let us know what you think or what modifications you make.

Approximately 5 feet of 6 mm. braided nylon line ($2)
11 cm. Petzl runner ($4)
Petzl spirit straight gate carabiner ($9)
Or Stohlquist paddle biner ($20)
Rope end stopper with 1/4" hole ($4 a pack)

All the materials you'll need to create a short tow set-up.

First, seal the ends of the rope (if you had to cut it) using a flame:

Next tie a figure-of-eight to connect the rope to the runner:

Figure-of-eight follow-through connecting the rope to the runner. For instructions on this knot, click here .

Now connect the runner to the carabiner.

The runner prevents the rope from slipping off the carabiner.

Attach the rope-end stopper to the other end of the line. (Or, if you prefer, use any small ball or a monkey's fist knot.)

Your short tow is complete! Now it's time to attach it to your deck lines. Here is one way to use a highwayman's hitch to connect it. This is, essentially a series of slip knots, but they need to be done correctly in order to work properly.

(You can also check out this site for an excellent video on tying a highwayman's hitch .)

It's really strong. It can hold a lot of weight on the carabiner end:

And it can be released quickly and easily under tension by pulling on the ball end:

Monday, October 20, 2008

A dam good day

Saturday was the annual Geneva Kayak Center Kayak Fest, a day of free classes and an evening of socializing--sort of like a mini symposium but with boats and gear on sale and without the sleepover or registration fee.
We taught many classes at Geneva this year, so we were psyched to see some of our students again. We were also eager to see some of our fellow instructors, though we anticipate seeing them in the surf on Lake Michigan in the coming weeks (fall is surf season in Chicago) and then in the pool on Wednesday evenings during the winter.
It was a beautiful fall day. Some of the trees along the banks of the Fox River were rich hues of orange and gold; geese and herons adorned the water and banks. But best of all, the river was full of kayakers, many of them beginners or near-beginners, eager to learn new skills before the end of the paddling season.
Students who attended Kayak Fest were rewarded with free classes and lovely weather.

For us, the season isn't quite over. Dry suits and sufficient skill enable us to safely paddle into November and December. In the coming weeks, we'll chronicle some of the beauty of Lake Michigan settling into the solitude of its colder season.
But for now, we're enjoying looking at the photos from Saturday. Funny, but people are smiling in all of them!
Paul Doughty in a rare moment on the other side of the camera.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The blog is back

We've been a bit postless for the past two months. Sorry. We were (obviously) busy. (Know anybody who isn't?)
In fact, taking a break helped us clarify why we blog. Over the summer, we used the blog to share our thoughts about kayaking, teaching people to kayak, and the paddling community. We used it to publicly ponder ideas, poke fun at ourselves and sometimes others, call attention to people and places and sometimes problems, and celebrate what we've learned and what we've done.
We were surprised and pleased by the response we got. In one month, more than 1,000 people visited our blog, even though we did little to promote it. We received thoughtful comments online and in person from people near and far, including some of the students in our classes. Clearly, something we were doing was entertaining, useful or both.
We continued padding after our last post, though not as intensely as during those two months, when padding was nearly a daily activity. Even now, with the air and water temperatures dropping, the days growing shorter and the shadows growing longer, we're out there in our dry suits, enjoying the relative solitude of Lake Michigan in the fall.
The days get shorter, the shadows get longer, and we get taller!

Starting now, we will do our best to post weekly. This blog will stay kayaking-focused; we won't subject you to random musings about life, the universe, brownies and all that. Rather, we'll continue the journey we began back in June, when we asked you to come with us on our quest to become better paddlers, better instructors and better bloggers.
So welcome back. We hope you visit weekly, comment occasionally, and benefit from what you find here.
--Sharon & Alec

An impromptu slalom course near a Chicago beach.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Join the club!

A photo from Montrose Beach on a calmer day. We weren't able to take any photos during the surf session.

Last Saturday, Tom Bamonte, the overachieving president of CASKA (Chicago Area Sea Kayakers Association), organized a club teach-in at Rainbow Beach on Chicago's South Side. Five instructors and about a dozen students showed up at 7 a.m., open to whatever the day might bring.
As it turns out, the day brought wind and waves--impressive ones. Two- to four-footers, depending on whether you partially hid in the lee of a breakwater or took your chances exposed to the full fetch of the lake. Either way, it was a day to learn to surf, to practice landing under control, and to try out rescues and rolls in "conditions" (i.e. waves).
Something we learned the hard way a few years ago: Don't let anybody on the water in surf conditions without a traffic pattern. Since we were dealing with less experienced paddlers, we also reviewed the rules of padding in surf: Anyone on a wave has the right-of-way, anyone down-wave has right-of-way over anyone further out, and if you're on a collision course, flip!
Out we went. The first thing we discovered was that we had two groups: those ready to brave the waves, and those who were terrified. Alec and Jim Tibensky took the braver souls; Tom Hieneman, Tom Bamonte and Sharon took on the sensible ones.
What fascinated me (Sharon) was watching the beginners discover that they didn't know how to brace after all. Sure, they had slapped the water with the backs of their paddles in various classes, but they had never truly needed a low brace, and now that they did, it didn't work. Over they went. Over and over. We quickly ducked behind the breakwater for a refresher course on bracing.
To me, this illustrates the limitations of learning and practicing braces and support strokes on calm water. It's like a fire drill--useful for rehearsing, but a pale approximation of the clearheadedness and technique you'll need for the real thing. An hour or so in the surf proved more productive than days in class, and far more tiring. By 11 a.m., everyone was exhausted.
The other group headed out to practice rescues beyond the surf zone. Again, these are skills we nearly always teach in calm waters, reassuring students that they work well in conditions, too. In wind and waves, students discover why it's so essential to maintain contact with the boat and paddler, and why excess gear on the deck is undesirable. All the students succeeded in their rescues, but they got some real-world experience in why it's important to pay attention to the details when executing rescues. (As Leon Somme, says, "Perfect practice makes perfect." Or at least, that's what we think he says!)
Joining CASKA costs $12.50 a year. For that, you get discounts at local paddle shops that quickly surpass the cost of membership. You also get friends to paddle with, the wisdom of the crowd, and sometimes, four hours of free instruction.
If you're a Chicago-area paddler, consider this your invitation to join CASKA. If you're elsewhere, check out your local club. There's no better deal in town.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sorry about the blog withdrawl!

Medieval torture? No, just some wrist gaskets being glued into place.

OK, we've heard from enough people that we feel guilty. Yes, we've been too busy to blog lately. Yes, we've been on the water. Tomorrow for sure....we promise!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A mass demotion

There are no PFDs here.*

Yesterday we called an emergency meeting of all our paddling gear, poured a few drinks, and broke the news as gently as we could. All the PFDs are now lifejackets**, we explained. We're sorry, but this wasn't our decision, we told them. We're only following orders.
The MsFits took it well. One of the Lotuses shed a few tears. The Locean asked for another shot.

* with apologies to Alex Kotlowitz.
** see the italicized portion at the end of the previous post.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Teach early and often

After several days of paddling for fun -- something that goes by the term "personal paddling" in our kayak logs -- we were scheduled to teach a Level 2 class yesterday at Geneva Kayak Center. The class began at 9 a.m. at the Big Rock Quarry in Sugar Grove, but we had to leave our house pretty early to drive to Geneva; hitch up the trailer; load the spray skirts, life jackets*, paddles, pumps and paddle floats; stop for more coffee; and get to the quarry before the students arrived.

Time to get on the road. That's a.m., not p.m.

On the drive out, we reviewed our lesson plan, making a few modifications based on new ideas we'd been thinking and talking about. We wrote an outline on an index card and put it in a zip-lock baggie because we were too sleepy to keep more than one idea in our heads at a time, and right then, that idea was the need to drink more coffee.

Boats and gear are loaded up, and we're ready to head for the quarry.

Shortly after we arrived at the quarry, our students began showing up. They were excited, and their mood was infectious. Before long, the five-hour night was forgotten and time began to fly.

This is what makes it all worthwhile.

Six hours evaporated. We aren't even sure where they went. We worked on wet exits, strokes and rescues. We talked about safety and local paddling opportunities. And in the process, a group of strangers began to feel like a group of friends, and a group of beginners gained considerable skills. At the end, it was hard to say "good-bye," and many of them lingered, helping us strap down the boats and chatting.
Teaching is rewarding on many levels. Students force you to think about why and how you do the things that you do without thinking. They require you to figure out how they learn so you can effectively teach them. They remind you how far you've come as a paddler. And they reinforce your conviction that kayaking is a blast.

* Yes, we know. We wanted to write "PFDs," but we just got the following note from the American Canoe Association:
"USCG says 'Lifejackets'
"It has been clarified by the USCG that the use of the term
lifejackets is back and should be used when discussing the essential
piece of equipment all paddlers should have and should wear.
"The only time the term / acronym PFD is being used is when discussing
the types of lifejackets and/or regulation issues.
"It will be a challenge for many of use [sic] to change the terminology that
we use, but to keep with the winds of change we thought you should
know that the USCG will be using 'lifejackets' for general terms
and PFD for regulatory reference."
A challenge, indeed!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Crosstraining redefined

The BCU (British Canoe Union) recently revised its requirements for certified coaches, requiring more interdisciplinary skills. It's no longer sufficient to be able to teach one type of paddlesport; coaches are now expected to be able to teach students to paddle a variety of boat types.
We've begun an interdisciplinary approach of our own, too, though mostly in jest.

Stand-up paddling. Harder than it looks!

Skin-on-frame boat with Euro paddle. Sillier than it looks.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ready, set, surf!

Yesterday, Hannah, Alec & Sharon took Clare (8) and her mom, Karin, to 63rd Street Beach.