Monday, July 20, 2009

Learning on the 'outside'

This years Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in Grand Marais, MI was not the usual balmy affair that it has been in many years past. A three day northwest blow brought low temperatures, building seas, and a bit of rain from time to time. It also altered the class and tour schedules dramatically.

Saturdays tours were all canceled. 50F (10C) temps and a northwest blow of 20-25 knots meant that the waves had a solid hundred plus miles to build to the 3'-5' range before hitting the south shore of Lake Superior. All of the various strokes, rolling, rescue, and towing classes pretty much switched to Wind and Waves I, II, or III. Everyone divided up and when the sorting was over my friend Racin'Rick and I were the lone 'W&W III' guys, along with 3 instructors, including fellow blogger and surf guru, Keith Wikle. We both confessed that we were far from 'advanced' surf guys but we were really curious about what advanced surf guys did and wanted to learn the skill set. We both remarked that we liked that 1.5 instructor to student ratio. We also immediately observed that we were the two guys without the helmets.

The plan was to head to the 'outside', the area outside the breakwater and spend time paddling up into the waves and then spinning around and surfing back down. Since I planned on going over at some point, I decided to get wet right off the bat and got an immediate lesson. I did my 'bombproof' sweep roll and didn't come up. The combination of my touring pfd (I've been practicing all summer with a small inflatable under my tuliq) and the fact that I had gone over down wave kind of screwed up my lift. I got up into a sculling brace and by that time Keith was over next to me. It was a wakeup call for sure. The actual surfing was great. I'm just not used to going that fast in a kayak and it required really being tuned in to body and paddle position. Things happened very quickly and the paddle needed to be in constant position for a low brace or quick sweep if the boat began to broach. I chickened out a couple times and back paddled off the wave but the learning came quickly. 10 to 15 yard rides on the first run turned into 30, 40, and 50 yard rides on subsequent runs. Exhilirating, exciting, and crazy fun all at the same time. It was also exhausting paddling up into the seas for us two AARP eligible gents. We all agreed that we were in pretty consistent 3 footers with the stray 5 footer from time to time. When we were all in the trough I couldn't see the other guys paddle tips so I figured about 4.5' or so. Note the top of my head on the left in the image below.

One of the many techniques that Keith showed us was to maximize our stroke efficiency by grabbing the top of the wave with the paddle as it passed underneath. This tended to propel the boat down the back of the wave and use less energy. Even with that tip, Racin'Rick and I both agreed that we were more whipped than after our 12 mile paddle the day before. The combination of working hard to get to the top of the run and probably being overly tense on the down run made for an Ibuprofen kind of day. After playing in the surf a bit, side slipping and low bracing, I decided that if I was going to do any classes that afternoon and, more importantly, any dancing that evening, that I needed to call it a morning. Keith paddled back with me for a bit until he decided that I probably had things under control and then he headed back for more surfing fun. Ah, to be young again!

Two Ibuprofen, a pint of ESB at the Dunes Saloon to wash down my burger, and a 20 minute power nap had me warmed up and ready for the afternoon. While we were 'outside' the VOR had wandered out on the breakwater and shot most of the images on this post. It was a great learning experience and a really fun morning. The quickness of the action really made paddling fundamentals important because any little 'twitch' or error and a swim was likely. It was a tough day for Greenland sticks however. Keith had a wave break his while it was under his back deck bungees and I broke my old Sitka spruce paddle while demonstrating a forward finishing reverse sweep roll. I should know better. Even with that minor disappointment, it was a great day to be on the water and a great environment for accelerated learning and furthering our kayak skill set. I can't wait for some more big water to get out and play!

1 comment:

JohnB said...

Sorry I missed it! Too many symposiums and not enough vacation time!