Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cowboy Scramble up the Maelstrom Vital 166 - Find its sweet spot!

Does a boat have a sweet spot? I think so. Especially when you are doing the cowboy scramble.

Ok, I'm in the water in a nice warm Canadian lake in July in my cute new Maelstrom Vital 166 that I bought in May without really testing if I could get back into it unassisted. I just assumed I could. "Of course I can, I can do it in my Boreal Baffin in 5 seconds." I count. It's a game in warm flatwater when I'm doing it for fun and rescue practice.

In the first pic above, look how far the nose is sticking out of the water. This boat has one very upturned kayak nose!

 The Malestrom Vital 166 is 21 inches at the beam and is 16 feet 6 inches long. The beam is the widest measurement across the kayak. That has to be at the cockpit. It's where we sit. Makes sense, especially after the Christmas holidays, we need to fit in there. Everything gets skinnier from there. Yes, after Christmas we work to get rid of what we gained, and from the cockpit, everything gets narrower. So when you think beam, think widest part. In a sea kayak, it's somewhere around the cockpit, the middle. On us, let's hope our middle is not our widest part!

The wider the kayak, the more stable it can feel. And, at 21 inches at the beam, the Maelstrom Vital 166 is starting to get skinny and very responsive. Which is what I wanted, and it is designed to be that way. But getting back into it from the water as a 5'6", 125 pound vertical being hanging low in the water and trying to hoist yourself up onto a light, floating, horizontally oriented sea kayak is starting to feel a little different! Like tippy and I have to think about it. I'm not complaining. I'm going to figure it out.

Let's see. Each time I try to get up on the back deck of the Malestrom Vital 166, I pull the kayak on top of myself. A common problem with a lot of people who try this manoeuvre with their kayaks. And a problem I got past with the Boreal Baffin with the help of an instructor.

Now what did he tell me? "Try it farther back on the back deck, away from the cockpit, over the back hatch." Well, I was trying to come up over the back hatch of the Vital, but I needed to find its sweet spot a little further back. And once I found that sweet spot, I could cowboy scramble up it each time (in calm water). If you can't do it easily in calm, warm water on a nice sunny day . . . it could be stressful in other conditions. Practice is fun.

So here we go, grab a breath, pull yourself up and kick those legs at the same time to get horizontal with your boat.
If you make it up and over the back deck, it's the first moment of truth in the cowboy scramble. Getting up on your boat without tipping it over. Not cute, but this is a skinny boat to balance over. Now all you have to do is swing your leg over your boat and ride it like a horse. That's why they call it the cowboy scramble, right?

This is a nice moment. Up on your boat. Wow. I'm a pretty light, small paddler at 5 foot 6 inches and about 125 pounds sitting on the back deck of the Vital. Look how high the nose is!

Next is what I call the "grunt work". Pulling yourself up the back deck of the boat to the cockpit. Normally I would be low pulling myself up from the decklines, but I'm finding I get stuck on the fiberglass and don't slide easily along it like I normally do on my plastic Boreal Baffin. And those skinny edges of the Maelstrom Vital 166 on my thighs feel very hard. I'm thinking "Ouch". I'm also thinking, this is so much easier and more comfortable in my Boreal Baffin. But I like the Vital, so I'd better get used to it and make it quick.
When you make it to the cockpit and slide yourself in, it's a great feeling! And before I do, I can't help but take a moment to claim victory with my beloved GP (Greenland paddle) and do some nice torso rotations and stretch out a bit.
Now it's time to play and do it all over again!

Happy cowboy scrambling and figuring out your boat!
The BaffinPaddler

And you can watch someone else do it in another boat on YouTube who will make it look easy, but nothing beats practice. It's all about you and the boat you are paddling!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Top 50 Kayaking Blogs - BaffinPaddler made the list!

Wow! It really pays to pay attention to your Web stats and see where your traffic comes from.

I just noticed that BaffinPaddler made the list of  Top 50 Kayaking Blogs on and Guide to Online Schools.  How cool!

Hey thanks! It's an honor to be reviewed and ranked. And a great motivator for a blogger. I'm a big fan of blogs and bloggers. And now I've just discovered yet another great resource of some kayak blogs I didn't know about that I can also share on my blog. Some of my favorite kayak bloggers are listed on my blog roll in the right column of my blog.

There is a kinship amongst kayakers in general and with kayak bloggers in particular. It is great to stay connected to other kayakers this way. They are the ones who motivate me to get out there and discover something new and maybe paddle with some of them one day.

This review is great for us bloggers..Looks like great photos and videos are an expected hit along with the stories and adventures that we all manage to find and share along the way. And readers do appreciate the balance of including the mention of safety aspects and technique when it comes to our sport. I'm glad to hear that. That's what makes our sport more fun! When we come back safe, sound, and in one piece so we can head out time and time again.

People want to know how much fun we're having, where we're having it, and what kind of gear we like. We love our gear! We need our gear. We rely on our gear as much as we rely on ourselves. When you think about it, we're a team.

It's winter, and in Canada and a lot of other places around the world, winter means cold! Which can also mean fun or freezing your butt off whether you are on or off the water.

Gear is really on my mind right now. The freezing wind running up my belly early in the season made me stop and think in between shivers. So, I indulged in one of my other favorite sports - shopping (at gear stores of course)! I'll be talking about some pretty simple gear soon. The most important gear to think about first, but we often think about last, is the foundation. The base layer! A good base can keep you warm and dry, or cool and comfortable if you get it right.

Happy blogging!
The BaffinPaddler

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Let’s talk yoga, a Greenland paddle and healing a wrecked shoulder

Wrecking yourself is pretty easy. It can be sudden or come upon you over time from chronic overuse or stupid abuse. I’ve done all of the above with yoga and paddling . . . all things that are supposed to be good for you, right?

All of the wrecking part was my own fault though. None of it was an accident.

I’ve wrecked my back with yoga and I’ve rebuilt myself with yoga.

I’ve wrecked my shoulder paddling and later found a path to rehab and prevention that included a Greenland paddle and yoga. A good combo!

Don’t you just love sports!

According to all the physios I’ve frequented, it’s those of us who do sports that they see most often. And it seems that shoulders and knees could win an award for being the parts of our bodies that we mess up the most often.

I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. The path to learning is sometimes long and painful. Some may say, “always!” But, it’s amazing what you can discover when you really need to.

Misery does not love company – you will hang out there alone.

My perception - how I viewed my injury and how I learned to deal with it had to change for me to get well and stay well. It is really easy to reflect back on a hard-to-heal injury and talk about it in a positive way when you’re well. It’s a lot harder being there – injured – for a long time and wondering if what you wrecked will ever heal. It always seems like forever. And one year seemed like a very long time for me to heal a wrecked shoulder, but it’s amazing how many people will help you along the way.

I’ve been reading a few chat posts from paddlers near and far talking about injuries, especially shoulder injuries, as they wonder about recovery times and treatments, and what they’ll do with themselves in the down time while all their buddies are out there having all the fun.

When it happens to you, you need support. Not just medical support. It can be a long road to recovery, and people without the same injury can get tired of hearing about yours!

Keeping a positive attitude can be tough when you don’t feel like you’re making much healing progress, suffer a few set backs, and start to wonder if the injury and the pain it’s causing you may become part of your everyday life. It is difficult to be patient, but I learned that finding ways to keep a positive attitude and not giving up was one of the most important parts of healing for me.

Everyone is different in their path to recovery or not recovering, but sometimes it just makes you feel better to hear someone else’s story. Here’s mine.

How I wrecked myself with yoga

You know the drill, “Hey, I’m athletic and in good shape. I used to do those full back bends all the time a few years ago. I’ll buy a power yoga video and go for it.”

Rip, tear. “Uh, oh, this can’t be good!”

No, it wasn’t. It was the sound of my back muscles ripping out. I was pretty wrecked for three months, could barely move or get out of bed without pain, and had to take a lot of heavy duty anti-inflammatories and pain killers.

I learned (kind of but not totally) that over-estimating myself and trying to learn yoga from a TV screen and a video wasn’t a very good idea. Sounds obvious.

I didn’t know much about yoga and figured it just wasn’t for me. There were lots of other sports and activities I could do. So, when I healed, I left yoga alone for a few years.

The next time I really wrecked myself was paddling and it was my right shoulder

I brilliantly combined trying to learn how to roll (incorrectly by pulling my head up first instead of my shoulder, a common beginner mistake), with being seduced into paddling distance in wind with big powerful Werner Cyprus spoons. And if you paddle with guys, it is harder to keep up. So you work harder. But I like that anyway. Girl paddlers can relate! I likely used more shoulder power than torso rotation for stroke. So many of us paddle this way, even when we know better. It can become a habit you don’t even notice until you start to get sore.

I could feel things were straining in my neck and shoulder on both counts – from the rolling practice mistakes and paddling distance with the big spoons, so I gave up trying to learn how to roll that summer, took a little time off, then kept right on going . . . paddling distance with big spoons.

By the end of the paddle season that year, I couldn’t use or raise my right arm. The muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff of my right shoulder were extremely strained and inflamed.

The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and tendons that help move and stabilize the shoulder joint. Unless you’ve had this injury, or a good case of tendonitis, you can’t believe how painful it is and how difficult it is to treat and heal. The shoulder is a complicated joint!

Somehow, when all the practitioners who helped me heal told me that shoulder injuries are very common for paddlers, I felt better. It’s amazing how stupid you can feel in hindsight.

You fluctuate between the dull and annoying deep ache to the more painful muscle spasms, and the hard knots that don't seem to go away, especially in the muscles that run from your neck to your shoulder. The rotator cuff muscles and what they connect to do not seem to want to heal, despite time off, rest, drugs, and a lot of expensive physiotherapy. And set backs or relapses to recovery seemed to come along often enough for me. The pain was always worse at night. So you miss out on sleep too. That’s always fun when you are feeling pretty miserable - it gives you even more awake time to feel your discomfort!

The problem with an injury to one part of your body like a shoulder is, that the rest of you is well and ready to go. You are not sick. You need to figure out what to do with yourself, especially when everyone else you know is out there enjoying all the things you normally love to do.

The next thing I did wrong – immobilize myself

When my right shoulder was completely unusable, I stopped activities and didn’t raise or use my right arm. I just left it alone and took some pain killers. “I’ll just wait until it heals,” I thought.

Then, a few weeks later as I was dropping someone off at the physio for knee rehab from a basketball injury, the physio said hi to me and reached out to shake my hand.

“I can’t do that,” I replied.

“Why not?” She asked.

“I can’t move my arm.” I said.

She asked me a few questions, then gave me an order.

“You go see the receptionist right now and make an appointment with me tomorrow. If that shoulder freezes up you’ll be in real trouble, and I’ll have a heck of a time trying to fix you!”

“Ummmm, yes maman.” I replied.
You could not say no to this woman. She was absolutely sure of herself, and that’s just what I needed at the time.

I’m very lucky I ran into her. Luck is on your side sometimes, and timing is everything!

So I was off to a long race with all types of treatments to reduce inflammation and pain, heal what I wrecked, rebuild strength and flexibility, and then wise up and plan to not make the same mistake twice!

Types of therapies I used to get to the recovery stage

I decided to go for everything that might help

Regular trips to the doctor

Proper diagnosis is important and getting the right types of medications if you need them. I had to take a lot of meds for awhile. If homeopathy works for you, great!

I worked with qualified physiotherapists

I had to work with therapists and listen to what they told me. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes we forget or don't realize how important simple things like icing or doing an easy exercise for 5 minutes is. A good therapist is good at scolding and reminding you to do your homework! Ever wonder why, at each visit, that they always ask you if you're doing what they told you?

They’ll discuss the options for treatment of the trauma and exercises to incorporate along the way as you recover. They give you lots of moral support too! You’ll be treated in a place with lots of other people at different stages of recovery from injuries. It made me feel better and less alone with my injury, as there were lots of people going through the same thing I was.

Listed below are the treatments my licensed physio administered to me and that I found helpful
  • Ultrasound
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Manual manipulation
  • Acupuncture
I had to request the acupuncture. Although, in North America, acupuncture is becoming more and more mainstream, I was actually surprised that my “traditional” physiotherapist had also studied acupuncture. I thought I would have to go elsewhere for that. But like any practitioner, some are better than others, and the results you get usually speak for themselves.

Diet and fluids
Eating healthy foods is pretty much a year-round practice for me (I’m not perfect, I dive into cookies often enough), but when I am injured and trying to heal, I start to think about foods and fluids that can help me rebuild a little faster. I made sure that protein was not forgotten in my diet, along with all kinds of fresh vegetables and carbohydrates. But I added some natural fresh fruit like pineapple, which contains the enzyme Bromelain, that is said to have potent anti-inflammatory properties.

I also had to remember to drink lots of water to help flush out the extra toxins I was ingesting as I had to take a lot of medication for awhile to get me through the “pain I couldn’t stand stage”. This can be a tricky stage for your stomach and digestion to handle. I’m a big fan of herbal teas too. Lucky for me, as I had to give up coffee for a bit. I’m not here to recommend anything to anyone, I’m just recounting my own experience. Everyone is different and has to listen to their own body.

Icing my shoulder helped reduce the pain and inflammation. It just felt good. I used a bag of frozen peas or corn, which fit nicely over my shoulder and stayed put pretty well. Then I re-froze and reused the bag 2 or 3 times a day for 20 minutes of icing. I marked the bag, “DO NOT EAT” to make sure no one used it for food, as you can’t eat foods that you have thawed and refrozen.

Weaning myself from spot therapies and going more holistic - treating the whole body and self

As I started to progress in my healing, which seemed really slow and included several painful set backs, I also felt I was stalling in the same cycle with my neck and shoulder muscles tightening up and getting painful.

What the physio called a set back, was a big and sudden flare up. It felt like I was right back to the beginning and all the healing progress I had made over months of time was lost. But when the physio calmly said, “It’s only a set back,” it made me feel better and changed my perspective from “this is hopeless”, to “ok, it’s just temporary”.

And my physio was right. I recovered more quickly from the set backs, and kept on healing. There are lots of reminders from your body that you are trying to do too much too fast, even when you are being careful and seemingly not doing much at all.

Physiotherapy treatments can be time consuming and they do get expensive over time. After five months I began to wonder if just treating the traumatized area was the best approach. I knew there would be a break point, where I would have to stop physiotherapy and find a way to continue healing, avoid relapses, and practice prevention.

When I felt I was in the recovery stage these are the therapies and activities I moved into carefully

Active Release Therapy (A.R.T)

A friend who worked for a chiropractor who practiced ART recommended I give this therapy a try. It seemed to help me continue healing. ART is related to deep tissue massage and myofascial release, which is the release of the network of soft connective tissue in the body. It is a technique that treats tightness and problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. ART is based on the fact that muscles do not work in isolation. Muscles only work properly if the surrounding connective tissue is healthy and functional, and vice versa.

My shoulder injury from overuse and misuse caused me extreme tightness in particular muscle groups, which in the long term could also mean scar tissue in the problem area. And when you are very tense and sore in one particular area, this affects other parts of your body, both mental and physical.

Other Sports and Activities

Elliptical Trainer

My shoulder was still not up to par for much use but the legs still worked. So I used my elliptical trainer to work the legs and lungs, ignoring the upper body handles of my machine. Doing some form of cardiovascular workout really helped me feel better physically and mentally, and I figured improving my circulation and taking in more oxygen would also be good for healing my shoulder. This also got me in shape for the winter season and cross-country skiing.

You can usually find elliptical trainers at most gyms. They are super popular. But if you buy one, it is really important to research and test them out before deciding.The good ones can be pretty expensive, but can be a worthwhile investment in time and money. I learned this by experience.

Cross-country skiing

Over the winter I took up cross-country skiing on hilly green trails using only my legs. I was the armless skier that season. I worked my legs, glutes, and improved my cardiovascular health. It made me feel great and has became part of my normal winter routine. Although, when my shoulder was still healing, I did worry about the risk of falling on it and causing another painful set back. I was careful and very lucky that no harm came of it, and it was the risk I decided to take.


After the winter season, and spring was on it's way, I took up beginner Hatha. Actually, at first, I jumped right into a rigorous Ashtanga class before I was ready and it was too much for me. Old habits and bad habits die hard. I started to reinjure my shoulder. Ouch! I still couldn't raise my right arm over my head. I could only move it half way up. All those downward dogs hurt my shoulders and wrists which hadn't done much all winter and seemed to be atrophying at a surprising rate in just a few months. I loved the Ashtanga teacher and the class, but had to leave it behind and start with beginner Hatha.

It was April at this point and I wanted to be back on the water by June. I didn’t like beginner Hatha at all for at least two months. I wondered how these simple poses and all this breathing could possibly be doing anything for me, but it surprised me. I saw results in the tone, strength and flexibility of my body. I gained better lung capacity and my posture improved. Little by little, with some wincing along the way, I could start to raise my right arm over my head. And today, I can do it with no pain, and have regained strength and flexibility in both shoulders.

The mental aspect of yoga is very holistic. And it is said that a person’s search for more holistic healing approaches and a way of life often comes from the experience of physical discomfort. How true for me!

From this point on, yoga became part of the rest of my life. And I love it! All yoga classes in a studio are an hour and a half though. It takes some time-management to work it in sometimes, but once you learn the basics, it is really easy to make your home practice or away from home practice flexible to your own needs.

Knowing how to practice is one thing, knowing when and where to practice is another matter!

My ongoing rehab and prevention strategies

It seems that once you wreck something, it becomes your Achilles’ heel. It is more prone to reinjury. It may be a part of your body that you don’t use properly due to bad habits or how you are naturally built. My right shoulder is my Achilles’ heel.

Now I use yoga more wisely and a Greenland paddle for ongoing rehab and prevention.

I find combining different forms of yoga give me better mental and physical balance, flexibility, and health. And a little variety always rocks! Finding the yoga forms you like, and the yoga studios and instructors who can teach and motivate you may take a bit of time and patience. It took me awhile, but I found it very worthwhile.

And it’s the same thing with Greenland paddles! Not all Greenland paddles are made the same! They are made from different designs and materials. And if you are trying one that is custom designed for someone else, (or one of their mistakes that they are trying to get rid of!) you may not like it at all. You may need to build or try several before you find one you really like, then learn the techniques to get the most out of it. Well, that’s what I did. I’m still learning and I like it!

Hatha yoga

This is the base and heart of yoga. It’s good to start here at a beginner level and properly learn the poses, breathing techniques, and philosophy of yoga. From a good and safe beginning you can tailor your practice to your needs and wishes. Hatha is my base.

Ashtanga yoga
Ashtanga is a very athletic flowing form of yoga. If you don’t have a good base and knowledge of the yoga poses and breathing techniques already, and some core strength and balance, it can be very tough, if not impossible to keep up with an Ashtanga class! And Ashtanga practitioners chant at the beginning of the class and at the end of class. The opening chant is only 8 lines of Sanskrit. When I was new to Ashtanga, it made me uncomfortable, but now I’m trying to learn it. And the way the chant sounds in each class is so different, I find that interesting. The chanting has its own purpose and benefits as well. You can feel it. If you're not already an avid chanter, you may want to research the benefits of chanting and give it a try. Some family members may think you are odd, though.

I always warn newbies to yoga if they want to tag along in a class with me. I say, "I think you'd be better off starting with beginner Hatha, but ok, come along. They're going to chant. Are you ok with that? Will that freak you out? Also, please make sure to tell the teacher this is your first yoga class so he or she can look out for you."

Ashtanga pushes me a bit but I like the challenge.

Yin yoga

Yin yoga uses longer more deeply held poses (usually 3-5 minutes) that helps to stretch and release the deeper connective tissues of the body, the fascia, among other benefits. Breathing techniques are part of every form of yoga. Yin yoga is harder than it looks and may surprise you. I sometimes gravitate to certain yin poses that I like to relax and gently and carefully stretch out some body parts that can feel stiff or sore after doing some other sports like paddling, cycling, hiking, or cross-country skiing.

Yin yoga seems to focus a lot on opening up and stretching the hips and shoulders, and these can be good spots, especially for paddlers, to work on.

Greenland paddle

Now I paddle mostly with a skinny stick that puts less strain on my shoulders as the resistance from the water is spread out over a longer thinner area than my big Werner Cyprus blades, which grab a lot of water all at once and sometimes wind! I still love the power of the big spoons. I just use them a lot less now.

It took me time, patience, dedication, and a number of conversations with myself to figure out how to get yoga right for me, but the less straining Greenland paddle had a nice conversation with my shoulder and the water every time I used it.

You can also visit Adanac Paddles, Dover, Ontario, Canada. They are GP paddle makers and provide a lot of information about GPs. They also talk about how a GP might be of help to you if bladed paddles are causing you some pain. 

Impromptu yoga

Yoga training can be very disciplined and systematic. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be flexible and fun. Yoga is always there for you, wherever you are, whenever you need it. It's in a class of its own.

Paddlers who do yoga have a lot of advantages, both physical and mental. Plus, we can get out of the studio to some of the neatest places on the planet to strike a pose in the great outdoors!
I'll be looking for some yoga/paddle trips next season. Some outfitters incorporate this combo into trips.

One of my favorite things is what I call Impromptu Yoga.

Find a moment.

Find a place.

And strike a pose!

It doesn’t have to be perfect. There won’t be anyone there to adjust you, unless you’ve brought your yoga instructor along!

And if you’re stuck in the city, you can still grab some mall graffiti and have a yoga moment.

Best wishes for your rehab if you’re on that path, and learning how to prevent injuries that you don’t deserve.

Whew! This is a monster post and popular in my Web stats. So hopefully, it is helping some of you out there. And, it will serve as a reminder to me to be more careful about wrecking stuff!
The BaffinPaddler

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Maelstrom Sea Kayaks, About the chines from the maker

I was looking for a little more information about the chines on the Malestrom Vaag 174 and the Malestrom Vital 166.

I own a Vital.

I was seeing different descriptions on the Web from a variety of sources about the chines of the Maelstrom sea kayaks, so I contacted the maker, Maelströmkayak, and got a nice response from Charles-Alexandre Desjardins, President.

If you're interested to know more about the Maelstrom Vital 166 and Vaag 174's design, here it is from the source:

"The Vitäl's chines are on the hard side. I personally say it's semi-hard chines. It's not a pure hard chine like the Nigel Foster's Legend for example, where you see the sharp angle between the hull of the kayak and its side. On the the opposite of the hard chine, there is the soft chine, where the transition is very gradual, no sharp angle, like the P & H Capella.

The Vitäl 166 and the Vaag 174 have semi-hard chines. It's not a sharp angle but it's way more sharp than a soft chine. It gives you the support of a hard chine but on a larger range of tilting angles. It also makes carving more crisp, which can be really nice in the surf for example. And the primary stability is really good with the Vitäl's hull design.

The Vitäl is more trimmed for surfing with the factory placement of the seat. You can put it more forward for more maneuverability on calm waters. Feel free to explore different trimmings to best suit your paddling style."

Thank you so much for the response Maelstrom!

Are you confused about hull design and chines?

I'll admit that I needed to do a little research. Especially when you own a Maelstrom Vital 166 and an outside source of merit says that the boats have hard chines, another website says the boats have soft chines, and yet another website selling the boats say they have medium-chines. I was a little confused. So I was happy to have a response from the designers of the Maelstrom sea kayaks.

The reason I started to really think about the chines on my new Maelstrom Vital 166 was when I first tried to cowboy scramble up its back deck last summer while practicing self-rescue techniques. It felt quite different from my Boreal Baffin, which has a different hull design.

The Baffin has two nice set edges that you can easily feel and lean on securely without much effort. Both for edging, and I'm guessing now that these edges can also be helpful to you when you scramble up its back deck from the water. They seem to provide some support. And the Baffin is a little wider at the beam at 22 1/4 inches, while the Maelstrom Vital is a little narrower at the beam at 21 inches. My, what a difference design and an inch or two can make!

I had the cowboy scramble so down on my Baffin. I'd found it's sweet spot over the rear hatch, and from the water could scramble up the back deck and get back into the cockpit unassisted in a few seconds. It became so automatic knowing how to get back into it quickly. I practiced it each time I paddled in warmer temps. I actually find it fun and good sport. I forgot all about the paddle float thing. I didn't need it anymore. That was the goal. It's so much easier and quicker to get into your boat without having to fiddle with a paddle float!

And if you can roll, even better. But I'm not quite there yet, I'm slowly crawling along on that score and just starting to learn a half roll. So I really have to get the re-entry from the water thing down.

I just assumed the cowboy scramble would be the same ease with the Vital 166. Well, not at first, I hung out in the water a bit at the Vital's beautiful side after a few failed attempts and had to float around and think about it before I figured it out. A few canoes paddled over and asked me if I needed help. "No, but thanks for the offer," I replied. "I'm going to figure this out." And I did. So here's my advice on doing the Cowboy Scramble in your Maelstrom Vital 166 - FIND IT'S SWEET SPOT!

As you paddle with different boats in different conditions, you start to notice and care more and more about the details of your boat's design. And it starts to become more interesting because you can feel the difference design makes.

2012 Update: Maelstromkayak and Boreal Design are no longer manufacturing and distributing the Vital 166 or Vaag 174 sea kayaks. Boreal Design declared bankruptcy in 2012. The company was sold to another manufacturer along with the Vital and Vaag designs, which are no longer manufactured in Quebec or in Canada. Maelstromkayak has two new high-performance kayak models with new design features: the Forvag and Flod.

Happy paddling and learning more about your boat's design.
The BaffinPaddler

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Your Dam River

What is a “dam river?”

A river with dams on it. Most rivers are dammed, and if they aren’t already, they likely will be one day.

What is "your" dam river?

Your dam river is a river you paddle on with dams.

You need to know how many there are, where they are located, what kind of flows are coming out of them and how they might affect the stretch of water you’re planning to paddle on.

You may have more than one dam river.

There are many rivers that I regularly paddle in Canada: the Ottawa, Madawaska, Gatineau, Rideau Canal system, Mississippi, and St. Lawrence rivers. And, there are other rivers I hit up and need to learn about when I travel.

Every time I want to paddle a river, especially a new stretch I don’t know, it takes research.

Where are the dams? Where are the rapids? How paddler friendly is it? How hard is it to navigate? Where is the put in and take out? What else do I need to be aware of? (There are alligators in some Florida rivers, and others affected by tides, or cruise ship activity.) How much gear do I need to bring or wear? What’s the weather report? How beautiful will it be? How much fun can I have?

You may even ask yourself sometimes if it is worth all this effort to paddle at all and take up cycling instead!

Now, where can I find all this information in one simple place or who can I call? Sometimes, that can be a reliable outfitter or another paddler who knows the area.

One of my dam rivers around home is the Ottawa River.

The sudden rise in the water levels on the Ottawa River really surprised me this past September when I was cycling past a favorite spot in Aylmer, Quebec. (See, I opted for the bike a lot this year.) All summer it had been a low dry stretch of river rock in this particular spot. Then, overnight, it became the exciting and dangerous roaring rapid you would normally see in the spring. I was wondering what the scoop was, and now just found the answer in an article about rainfall and dam behavior that I’ll share below.

And as I continue to research dams and explore just how much Paddling with dams is damned!, I’m discovering alarming things about dams. Things that include questions about public safety, environmental concerns, and of course the always forgotten socio-cultural aspect of what dams do to people! Not everyone and few other living-things benefit.

But, my focus will remain on dam information for paddlers. It is complicated and time consuming to find out what is happening with dams: finding maps of dam locations by river, dam flow rates and predictions, and someone to contact for real-time information.

The reason - dams are not owned and operated by any one authority. You’ll have to shop around on the Web to try and figure out who is responsible for the dams on your water, and surrounding land that they totally control with these things. Land they don't own or are responsible for can and is affected by dam behavior. Then see if the dam owner/authority has posted information you can find and understand, and decide if it might be safe to launch, paddle and take out on that water. I’m researching dams in Canada and the United States. This topic could be a full-time job for an army.

In this particular case on the Ottawa River in September 2010, it looks like heavy rainfall and dam releases caused the sudden and more obvious change in water levels. But when it comes to dams, especially hydroelectric dams, the bigger monsters that can open up when the demand for more power peaks, it can be even harder to know what to expect and when. This is something I didn't know or think about before.

Do you know where to go to get dam release news and alerts on waterways you paddle? Can you sign up for RSS feeds and email alerts? Do you know how many dams are on the river you paddle and where they are located?

Find a good resource, call someone, then post the useful links for your river(s) on your paddle website or blog so it becomes an easy reference for yourself and others.

Resources for you on one of my dam rivers – The Ottawa River (Ontario/Quebec, Canada):

Ontario Power Generation, Ottawa River dams

Ottawa Riverkeeper, information about dams on the Ottawa River

For more information about dams and the impact of dams worldwide see:
International Rivers - About Dams

Below are excerpts from the Ottawa Citizen/Yahoo news about the sudden surge on the Ottawa River in September 2010:
Wet weather, dam release creates sudden rise in Ottawa River, wreaks havoc with docks and boats
A sudden change in water levels on the Ottawa River (Ontario, Canada) in September 2010 surprised residents along the shore lines. They wound up with damaged docks and boats. September rains pushed just short of a record, and caused a sudden rise in the Ottawa River that surprised homeowners, boaters and even the experts.

The 90 millimetres of rain that fell upriver last weekend came downstream just in time to meet more rain falling here, raising the Ottawa River to spring-like levels from extreme lows.

Meredith Brown from the Ottawa Riverkeeper said the water rise was “not that inconsistent with how the dams operate. I’ve seen water levels go up twice (or) three times that much overnight because of dam releases.”

“Of course, nobody tells you, eh?” remarked a marina manager near Constance Bay.

The Ottawa River Regulating Committee posted this warning Tuesday evening on its website:

“As a result of significant rainfall, water levels along the Ottawa River are expected to rise for the next few days. Officials of the Ottawa River Regulating Committee would therefore like to alert residents along the river, particularly those that have wharves, docks and boats, to expect significant increases in water levels.”

But the “drastic” rise surprised even the committee, said spokesman Fergus McLaughlin.

“This year because it was so low and so dry, the (river) just shot up so fast that it was impossible to get a warning out.”

That’s because the computer can’t just add up the rain and spit out a perfect prediction, he said. There are too many variables, such as actual rainfall that doesn’t match the forecast, and a river that changes width and depth for every kilometre of its journey to the St. Lawrence.

More proof for my research on dams, that even if you can get data on dam locations, flow rates and predictions, and rainfall estimates, you can’t count on it. It’s a complicated network that can fool even the experts.

Ontario Power Generation put a warning on its website Wednesday about high levels and fast water in the Ottawa and Madawaska Rivers.

Isn’t that a little too late?

Early reports said Ontario Power Generation caused the change by opening up its Chats Falls dam at Arnprior. But Ontario Power Generation spokesman Ted Gruetzner said there was no major change there.

Passing the buck. Who does know what’s going on then?

Enough dam research for today. I’m off to plan something fun!

Seriously, I'm thinking skiing and I'm going to take some time to explore the paddlers that must paddle winter while the rest of us are happy for the time off to park and repair our boats! And I'm going to talk about yoga and cross-country skiing (maybe even snowshoeing) for paddlers who find winter tough. All things I was once convinced I hated!

Paddlers who don't know they love cross-country skiing yet . . . but will!
Let's talk yoga, a Greenland Paddle and healing a wrecked shoulder Happy and safe paddling to those of you who must paddle in winter!
The BaffinPaddler

Thursday, November 18, 2010

North Carolina Instructor Reviews the Maelstrom Vital 166

Here's more news on Maelstrom sea kayaks provided by a paddler and sea kayak instructor who recently headed out to coastal waters to give the Maelstrom Vital 166 a try.

Fern, from in North Carolina, U.S.A., contacted me a while back with some questions about the Maelstrom Vital 166. Several paddlers have, as they have been looking for more news and reviews from other paddlers on the new Maelstrom sea kayaks, the Maelstrom Vital 166 and the Vaag.

Also my BaffinPaddler Web stats show I'm getting the most Web traffic overall for my news on Maelstrom kayaks and Greenland paddling posts. Web stats are so great! So share your news. People are looking for it.

I fell in love with my Maelstrom Vital 166 on the first try and have been posting some of my own reviews and following the news and reviews from other, more experienced paddlers like Alex Matthews. Of course, no love story is perfect forever. But it's a great feeling when it hits! I was anxious to hear back from Fern after her recent trial and I asked if she would send us back news of her test paddle. Here it is.

Maelstrom Vital 166 Review, November 2010

I went to Sea Kayak Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina, United States to demo the much talked about Vital 166. The kayak is 16'6" with a 21" beam. First, I took the kayak out to the protected water to play with the edging, turning and rolling (it was quite good!). The next day, I took it in the open water and surf and it surpassed my expectations.

I found no inherent issues with the hatches - all components were secure. The kayak surfed beautifully. It held to expectations of consistent turning ability and was responsive whenever demanded.

About me - I've been kayaking for about 15 years, and am an ACA certified Instructor. I've owned a Valley Anas Acuta and P&H Sirius S. I presently own an NDK Pilgrim. I also have a Riot playboat for surfing - I didn't think I was looking for another kayak - but, the Vital changed my mind.

As a matter of fact, I fell in love and put in an order for one... perhaps it will arrive in time for my birthday. If you see a paddler in a kayak that looks like an Orca, it will be me.

This kayak proves that a kayak does not have to be short (14-15') to be suited to the smaller paddler, and provide outstanding all-around performance. Bravo Maelstrom! I will be posting an article with more detail on our website in the coming months - check in with us at soon.

Thanks for sharing your review Fern

And hey, Happy Birthday and congrats on your new boat! I'm so happy for you! It's so great to find a boat you love.

2012 Update: Maelstromkayak and Boreal Design are no longer manufacturing and distributing the Vital 166 or Vaag 174 sea kayaks. Boreal Design declared bankruptcy in 2012. The company was sold to another manufacturer along with the Vital and Vaag designs, which are no longer manufactured in Quebec or in Canada. Maelstromkayak has two new high-performance kayak models with new design features: the Forvag and Flod.

Happy Paddling and finding your perfect paddle mate(s)!
The BaffinPaddler

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Magic spots. Simple, small and not so far away

Ever find a little out of the way magic spot that you normally wouldn't notice and not understand why?

Some place so simple, so small, and not so far away. But you could feel something there and not know what it was? A spot along the trail, or the water that makes you want to stop and linger while others pass by?

There are lots of spots. You can travel far and wide and be amazed by something so obviously spectacular, but at the end of the day, it's about what you feel.

I was surprised to find a little pond in New Hampshire that I would not normally even consider with a 16 or 17 foot sea kayak. It was only two miles long and one-half mile wide at the widest point. Not an exciting place to paddle. But a place to relax. The water glows at dawn and dusk. The stars dance off your paddle. Something magic.

Swim in it. Your skin will tell you the same. There is something special going on in a small pond, without all the development you find in so many once-nice places, no speed boats, only a few cottages, and lots of green things allowed to grow.
Find your pond.

Happy paddling and finding your special spots.
There are so many you can find with a kayak, but you may need to protect a few.
The Baffin Paddler

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Alex Matthews, Adventure Kayak Magazine Reviews the Maelstrom Vital 166

Timing is everything!

I was at an outdoor store buying some new waterproof Merrell hiking boots (please don't ask me the model, I go by look and feel) and likely to be late for my next appointment where I'd have to sit and read something for a long time.

Yes, the totally vain Baffin Paddler was off to the salon to get highlights. I dread that stuff! So I grabbed my new boots and the Adventure Kayak mag that was staring at me from the rack across the room without looking at the cover or the (very brief) stories inside.

A few minutes later, covered in foil and smelly highlight stuff, I glanced at the cover of the magazine I'd just bought on impulse. Hmmm, Alex Matthews on the cover. I'm a fan. I like his articles, reviews and book on Sea Kayaking Rough Waters­.

Great, in the Adventure Kayak 2010 summer/fall issue, he reviewed the new Maelstrom Vital 166. Hey, that's my new boat!

I got a little nervous. I just posted my reaction to how the Maelstrom Vital 166 handled heading out into bigger wind and waves, and I was wondering how a man would find it. Maybe I'm too light. I was especially interested to find out what Alex Matthews thought about it. I was disappointed in the way the Maelstrom Vital headed into the waves. I thought I spent too much time rising up on the waves and crashing down on them, making headway difficult.

His take, ''When we were out in conditions reported as 30 knots gusting to 42, we found the Vital to be a wet ride, and it had a tendency to throw its bow high when riding over waves. This results in the bow deflecting and being blown off course. Speed seems average for a sea kayak of this length and design - a good compromise between speed demon and not damnably slow.''

There is more in Alex Matthew's review of the Maelstrom Vital 166 in Adventure Kayak. But they are pretty brief in their articles. I find I need more.

I'm a fan of Sea Kayaker Magazine. I hope they also review the new Maelstrom sea kayaks. If they do, or have already done so, please let me know.

Happy paddling and finding your perfect paddle mate(s)!
The Baffin Paddler

Friday, October 22, 2010

Comerford Reservoir, Connecticut River, New Hampshire: Paddling with Dams is Damned!

Looks nice doesn't it!?

The Comerford Reservoir, on the Connecticut River, borders New Hampshire and Vermont, in the United States.

Plenty of water, a nice sandy beach, easy boat launch, grass with picnic tables, lots of free parking, not much development along this stretch of the river towards the Moore Reservoir, and mountain views.

But what did I leave out of this shot just off to my left of the beautiful public access to the water?

A major development. The big monster. The dam monster. The Frank D. Comerford Dam.

There are much bigger dams of course. But they are all monsters for "us". Those of "us" who want to use the water once in a while, and know, "When is it safe for "us"? When can "we" use the water that you control? Could you let us know when it's OK?"

And guess what. I was paddling towards an even bigger dam, the massive 178 foot high Moore Dam on the Moore Reservoir.

"During boating season, water levels could vary from up to nine or ten feet."

Hey wait a minute! Isn't that when "we' want to use the water?

Isn't nine or ten feet a pretty significant change in water levels?

I'm only here from Canada visiting for one week with my 17 foot sea kayak. How much research do I need to do if I want to paddle this river, or any river? Where can I find the information I need to know about dam locations and flow rates? The uber friendly tourist centres around here provide me with maps of the area and tell me where the launch sites are, and some of them are very near the dams, danger signs, and very much in between dams.

"TransCanada hydro Northeast provides many day-use public access ramps and picnic areas around the reservoirs."

Gee thanks! Aren't you nice! And all this, at my own risk, according to your DANGER signs. Such a deal.

Paddling with dams is damned!

Here's a link to some flowcast information from Waterline. It is a national electronic publication that provides river flow forecasts and water level reports over the telephone and on the Web. Reservoir and hydropower control centers supply this flow data to Waterline, and all published flows are approximate.

But if you look at the numbers, they can really fluctuate throughout the day. I don't know what CFS means (yet). And forecasts are estimates only. "Actual flows will often vary and can change quickly at any time. Always be alert and wear an approved flotation device. Never go in or near the water until you know and accept the risks you are assuming by being in this area.

Ummm, really. What you are telling me (us) is that I can never go into "your water." How did you take it away from us so easily and in so many places?

No matter how much information is provided to the public, it's still hit or miss for us when dams are nearby.

On rivers we have to learn where and when it might be safe to paddle in between dams. I find it a lot of work and worry to research. Do you? And it keeps me off of some stretches of water I'd like to paddle more often.

On lazy summer or beautiful fall days, I never know what to think when I launch from public places they've created "for us" near one of their dams, and some of them can control a pretty wide berth of water and land. And there you are standing underneath one of their giant DANGER signs, far from the dam or right next to it. The ones that warn you that the water levels can suddenly change without warning. What kind of message does this send to the public, boaters, and paddlers?

For example, when you arrive at the "launch by the dam on the Comerford Reservoir", people are sitting on the picnic table. Families with children and dogs are swimming in the water right next to the dam with the big Danger sign next to their picnic table on the little sandy beach.

This bothers me!

How do we know when we can paddle or swim on our rivers? It seems that dams are controlling most or all of them. They are a necessary evil, and they are here to stay. So we need to know more about them. Where are they located? What kinds of flows are coming out of them at any time of year.

And, it's not easy to find out.

Is it really fair and reasonable to us, the public, boaters and paddlers, that water flows can change suddenly without warning because of them?

"If something happens to you, It's not our fault. We put up warning signs in some spots. On other parts of the river affected by what we do, well, that's your problem. Good luck! And, just try to contact some of us to find out about daily flows, predictions, or recommendations for the paddle you planned on "our river" and again, good luck! On most days, you'll be OK, except spring, other times of the year like summer and fall when you really want to paddle, you just never know. Maybe try cycling instead! We own the river now. Why don't you just boat or kayak on a lake or the ocean?"

That was my mock conversation with dam owners and operators, that I can't get a hold of or talk to when I want to plan a paddle on a river with a dam. Can you?

Looks pretty, doesn't it? The Comerford Reservoir. Yes.
And it was a nice calm paddle the day I visited the Comerford Reservoir with no problems at all on a beautiful September day, despite the warning sign at the dam launch. And because of the dams, there was a lot of water for me to paddle on.

What's next for the BaffinPaddler?

The BaffinPaddler is researching dams in Canada and the United States.

It hit me at the Comerford Reservoir on the Connecticut River in New Hampshire, launching from the sandy beach and park with picnic tables and a parking lot for the public, next to the dam and a giant danger sign.
I've been thinking and wondering about dams for awhile as a paddler. I need to learn more.

I think we need better resources on the Web for the public and paddlers with information about dams that are useful to us when we want to plan a paddle or visit the water controlled by dams. Dams are a pain, and we're stuck with them! Researching a paddle is so much work!

A few paddlers have told me about hitting some scary or difficult water in between dams on rivers that would normally be quiet on lazy fall or summer days and they stopped paddling certain parts of rivers they liked.

We need a reliable Web resource about dams for paddlers with links to information that will make our paddle planning easier.

How do you feel about dams?

Happy and safe paddling.
The Baffin Paddler, Hydroelectric Dams, Stay Clear, Stay Safe

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Maelstrom Vital in Wind and Waves

I finally got my new Maelstrom Vital 166 out in some wind and waves to test it in something other than calm lake water and compare it with my Boreal Baffin.

This pic is from the launch in a protected bay. I couldn't really take a shot in the bigger waves and wind. I forgot to attach the float to my waterproof Olympus Stylus Tough camera (they sink without it), and the boat turns sideways too quickly on windy days before I can grab a pic. And I still can't roll yet. A head cam or a cam mounted on the boat would be great! I'm checking them out.

When there are whitecaps and lots of kite surfers out moving at speed on a big stretch of water, it's a good sign for boat play. And when you have a shallow protected bay without too many rocks to launch from on a sunny fall day, it's just perfect!

To be honest, I was disappointed in how the Maelstrom Vital headed into the bigger waves. It's one of those boats that jumps up and crashes down on the waves. It's annoying and doesn't let you make much headway against a strong wind.

I quickly found myself thinking about my Boreal Baffin. It cuts through the waves nicely and doesn't waste your time bashing and crashing on waves that you shouldn't have to bash and crash on. The next time the wind and waves kick up, I'm bringin' out the Baffin, I thought.

Another thing I noticed was, that when I wanted to turn into the wind with the Malestrom Vital 166, I had to work harder. The Boreal Baffin will turn into the slightest puff of wind, almost without effort. But try to convince the Baffin to turn away from a strong wind, and you may have an argument!

Once I turned the Maelstrom Vital into the wind, it was true. No problem. It does well in a cross wind, whereas, the Boreal Baffin weather cocks at an annoying level and almost always needs the skeg. Could we get these two boats to breed and make the perfect boat to play with!?

Turning the Malestrom Vital away from the wind was quite easy. It seems to like to surf. "This is what I'm made for!" OK, I get it. But you aren't much fun heading into the waves, and I REALLY LIKE THAT IN MY BAFFIN!

The Malestrom Vital will take you far and away quickly in wind and following waves and it stayed pretty true without much effort or skeg in 20 km wind. The Boreal Baffin will usually twist me sideways much faster.

All in all, I find both boats very stable and fun paddle mates. And it begs the question, "Who do you choose to paddle with on any given day?"

The next time the water gets bumpy, I'd love to haul the Malestrom Vital 166, Boreal Baffin, and find a Valley Avocet to play with in the same water and compare.

It looks like I'm still looking for "my" boat!

Happy paddling and finding your perfect paddle partner(s)
The BaffinPaddler

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Love the Valley Avocet!

I love the Valley Avocet . . . for fun. But didn't buy one . . . yet.
I'd like one . . . if they make improvements to some basic design elements!

I'd like Valley to work on making their seats something I'd like to sit in!
So far, I don't know anyone who likes their seats! And it's a well known complaint. Come on Valley! When I buy a new boat, I shouldn't have to redo the seat before I can paddle the boat, although lots of high end paddlers do just that with every boat they buy.

Read what Gnarlydognews in Australia has to say about problems with Valley seats and how he "fixes" them.
DIY: Replacement carbon-fiber seat in Valley kayak - August 7, 2012

I already have two boats: The Boreal Baffin and Maelstrom Vital. And I'm perfectly happy in the factory installed seats in each one. Although in the Boreal Baffin, I had to add a bit of foam for a tighter fit. The Baffin is a bit big on me. I'm a 5'6", 125 lbs. girl.

I also didn't like the short awkward coaming around the cockpit of the Valley Avocet.
It was next to impossible for me to get my skirt on this thing. Not something I have time to fiddle with in bigger water, or that I care to waste my time on.

The handling of the Valley Avocet is insanely sweet!
You can put the Valley Avocet on insane edges and it's so easy to manoeuvre. Put it on an edge, and you can easily spin it like a top! It feels so light. I like boats that are great at getting sideways and quick to move when you want to. When you don't have bigger or faster water to play in, it's great to have a boat you can easily amuse yourself with in calm water. As of the 2010 paddling season, I still can't roll my Boreal Baffin or new Maelstrom Vital 166, but I'm not tempted to learn rolling in the Valley Avocet. Just play with it.

You can't get me out of the Avocet once I get in and get a skirt on it, except the water is totally running into the cockpit from the ill-fitting skirt and difficult to fit short coaming and keyhole cockpit.
 You hardly or don't even need a paddle to keep the Valley Avocet upright on a pretty decent edge.
The good news is: Valley boats are coming back to Ottawa Spring 2011
I'll give the Valley Avocet another try this coming spring when Ottawa Paddle Shack brings them back to Ottawa. Trailhead had them for awhile but didn't keep them.

Valley Sea Kayaks has also set up shop in Rhode Island, U.S.A., so bringing them into our National Capital area of Canada will be a little more affordable. And we'll have the boats in thermoform to try. I'm not at all sold on anything thermoform though. But at 34 lbs, the thermoform Avocet will be a pretty light boat, and at least worth a trial!

And I'm not the only paddler who questions and is leery about thermoform. I don't like all the flex I feel on the hull! I looked at a thermoform boat last year and said, "no way", I don't trust it. But here's a great article on the pros and cons of the material and a video of a guy pounding a thermoform kayak hull with a hammer from H2Ohio.  The article is from 2008, so the question to ask in 2011 is how much more have they improved on the material and design of thermoform in the last two years? Or have they?

Here's the thermoform hammer test on a kayak hull
Pretty scarey guy with a hammer! But an impressive test. Try doing this on your fibreglass or plastic boat!
I may have to reconsider thermoform? I had no idea it was so tough.

There will be lots to explore and check out in paddle season 2011! At least for me. New destinations, boats, materials, and gear! I'll be making a list!

Read other Valley Avocet reviews on

How many boats do you love paddling? It's always nice to find another.

Happy boat trials!
The BaffinPaddler

Sunday, September 19, 2010

For the Rolling Challenged - Your Dry Happy Puppy

Here she is, your warm, dry, happy, puppy pic.

There is nothing better than being warm and dry after you've gotten a little (or a lot!) cold and shivery during a rolling lesson or practice and find yourself getting even colder soon after you've gotten out of your boat as you pack up your gear. At the very least, this is your top concern of the moment.

Even on what seemed like a fairly warm day when you started, in a not so cold lake in which others are swimming in Speedos, you can get pretty cold during a rolling lesson. A rolling lesson for the rolling challenged is not the same thing as rolling practice for those who can roll. We, the "rolling challenged", tend to spend more time in the water, which is usually cooler than our body temps, and so do our great coaches in the shallows at our decklines! (Mine are getting pretty stretched out . . . ! I mean the decklines!)

Why do we get cold? At least me. I don't know about you.

Because we aren't really moving. Mostly we are sitting in our boat, dumping over, time and time again, trying to roll back up. When learning, most people fail and spend lots of time in the water. You are either hauled back to the top by your coach, or you wet exit and get yourself back in your boat.

All the spectators on land are warm and dry. Most of mine seem to have their arms crossed. Does that indicate concern or sympathy, I wonder? Distractions aside, you are starting to shiver sitting in your boat in your wet gear, mine is usually neo. People in dry suits seem to fair better, but who wants to practice rolling in a fairly warm lake in the summer with a full dry suit! This is expensive gear to own.

The most important thing for me, during a rolling lesson, is to take a break and paddle for a few minutes when I get cold. This warms me up quickly and relaxes me too. When my coach says, "Can you try that again in between shivers?", I know it's time to paddle a bit.

After a rolling lesson, or paddling in cooler temps, as soon as I get out of my boat, the first thing I do is peel off the wet gear and squeeze into something warm and dry. It's a happy feeling.

While we're on the topic of warm and dry and how happy it can feel to a paddler, this is a good opportunity to share some links and stories about the importance of staying warm. It also means being SAFE.

Every year we hear a story or two about a paddler who didn't make it back from a trip. It could be a simple day trip or something longer. Something happened, in good weather or bad. A common theme is hypothermia. Getting cold and staying cold for too long. It's not a good feeling to get cold and it can be deadly. It is an important topic for paddlers to be aware of. Even if you are wearing the proper gear, you can get stuck in the water for too long, or on a shoreline with a wind that seemed friendly but can chill you to the bone, and no help is on the way anytime soon. Even close to home. The water you are paddling on can be colder than you think.

One of my favorite sites that covers the topic of hypothermia is Coldwater Bootcamp. Nine water savvy and fit volunteers from across Canada jump into water we paddle and boat in and share their stories of how cold the water really is and how it affects them. I just wish this website would make it more apparent at what time of year the volunteers jumped in to the water and what water body they jumped in to.

And here's a pic of one of my favorite warm, dry, safe, paddling moments in Quebec's famed Saguenay fjord, despite three hours of rain and fog in June. A great guide and good gear just rock! And this is one of those incredible paddle places where you really need both!Wishing you warm, dry, safe and happy paddling wherever your paddle takes you!
The Baffin Paddler

Do you have a favorite warm, dry, paddle moment? One where you were so happy to be warm and dry? Where was it?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

For the Rolling Challenged - Your Wet Puppy

Here's your "Wet Puppy" pic. She doesn't seem to like it either . . . getting used to water.

Is this how you feel sometimes after a rolling lesson, whether you have successfully rolled or not. . . when you get out of your nice snug boat?

And she hasn't even experienced upside down underwater. But, she's a happy pup just the same . . . a little surprised, a bit confused, sometimes worried and whiney, needing a bit of support, love and understanding, and trying to get used to a whole new world, just like us! You gotta love a newbie to something.

I just wish she wouldn't sip my coffee!

A warm dry happy puppy pic will appear soon. The same way I feel after rolling practice and a great big towel!

Why puppies?
They just make you feel better don't they? And they share some of the same emotions we do. Even if you are feeling great, they make you smile harder.

Happy rolling practice and staying warm and dry!
The BaffinPaddler

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Half rolling success

The Half Roll

I'm starting to be able to half roll my new Maelstrom Vital.
What a nice feeling, especially when the coach says, "you did that by yourself." And despite a weak sweep, and a barely there hip flick, I can get up in my Maelstrom with a half roll. "It's the boat," I say. "It is very forgiving. I don't need much. It will spoil me."

If you don't know what a half roll is, here's a guy from Prestwick Paddlers on YouTube doing a half roll unassisted.

To practice a half roll, my coach pulls me over, asks me to count to three while I'm upside down, then start my sweep and hip flick. What I like about the guy in this video, is that he actually smacks the side of his boat with his leading blade before the sweep. Cool! That little move might just help me figure out where my leading blade should be, as I tend to let it drift away from the boat before I start my sweep, which leaves me with only a weak half sweep.

Why Practice Half Rolling?

Finding your way with half rolling builds confidence and helps you get the feel of the paddle sweep and the hip flick, bringing up your outside shoulder first and your head last, and the timing you need for these movements to get back up. It's also easier to learn than the full roll, at least for me. Learning in increments and baby steps is exactly what I need, and it's the same for most people.

Boat Fit!

I can do things with the Maelstrom Vital that I couldn't do with the Boreal Baffin, another boat that I love, but when a great boat doesn't fit you right, it just doesn't fit you right. My Boreal Baffin is a bit too big for me, even with seat mods. You can play with boat mods, and if it works, great. If not. Keep looking! It's working for me. I finally found a boat I love that fits me right.

Finding a boat you love is so worth it. I hope you find yours. Keep looking until you find it.

Full Roll Attempts

My full roll attempts are still in the same place though. Upside down! I still need to get it right to get it up! For some reason, the full roll still confuses me. When I roll over from the left side of my boat and I come around to the same spot that I was in for the half roll on my right side, it just doesn't feel the same. My coach says, "Your sweep looks like it is in slow motion. You don't have a committed sweep. It's one motion with the hip flick"

Yep, my sweep is in slow motion. I'm just gingerly trying to move the paddle through the water without diving it. Then, despite the weak sweep, when I do start to come up, I've been so focused just on the sweeping part, I forget to hip flick or to even try, and push down on the paddle instead and it goes straight to the bottom and so do I! This seems to be a very common thing when you watch others learning to roll, and it's a tough habit to break once you start it.

I also have to watch what I'm doing with my wrists. If you cock them the wrong way, the paddle dives. My coach has me holding the very end of my Greenland paddle with one hand, the back hand - with the palm facing up under the blade, while the leading right hand has a normal grip on top of the loom (or shaft). This seems to help me reduce the paddle diving habit and gives me a nice long paddle to sweep with.

Ear Plugs

I'm looking for good ear plugs for paddlers. Anyone with resources, please share and I'll post the info for others. You can get a lot of water in your ears when you are learning how to roll. This can be a pain or a real problem for some.

What are my "Rolling Rewards" today?
  • I was relaxed before trying, when I used to be stressed
  • I was not afraid to try and made more progress
  • I had a good coach by my side
  • A warm sunny day
  • A super clean lake to practice in
  • All the homework I did before my lesson did me some good (See "Rolling Rewards"). I was better able to understand and do some of the things my coach asked me to try, and I was more ready to try.
  • There was another rolling challenged paddler at the lake working hard without rolling success. Watching what he was doing helped me and I could empathize. He had a good attitude too. I have some of the same problems when trying a full roll. How do I stop that!? I can see some of the mistakes when others do it. I can start to feel some of my mistakes while I'm doing them, and can start to understand and identify what they are with the help of my coach, but it is not so easy to correct all of them in one day.
Despite all the good things today, I still hate the feeling of peeling myself out of wet neo in parking lots or smelly outhouses after rolling practice at a beautiful lake, and looking at all that wet soggy, sandy gear in the back of my car that I will have to deal with when I get home.

So what's my biggest rolling reward for today?

Profound visions of some of my favorite warm, dry moments as I shiver and peel myself out of all that soggy sandy gear! That's why this post sports a pic of me happy, warm, and dry hiking the White Mountains of New Hampshire, U.S.A. last week!

Happy paddling and finding your way on the water.
The BaffinPaddler

What are your rolling rewards for today?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rolling Rewards

I bet you think this post means, “So, she finally rolled her boat!”

Nope. I’m still rolling challenged.

It just means I’m finally starting to recognize “trying to learn how to roll” as a reward rather than an intense feeling of dread, dry mouth, and nausea.

Now, even after a practice session in which I don’t roll, I’m still smiling and very comfortable with whatever audiences I’ve gathered along the way. No matter how much I’ve messed up, I’ve managed to gain something each time. (Even if I’m the only one who thinks so!) One day I’ll post a video or two. Good, bad, or ugly.

In the past onlookers have asked me, “So, how is it trying to learn how to roll?” Me, “It really sucks!” And I forgot to add, “peeling yourself out of wet neo afterwards in a dark smelly outhouse after the sun has set and you can’t find your undergarments while others are waiting in line to use the facility isn’t so much fun either! And it really messes up your hair!” They thought it was funny, and so did I.

I have recognized that I do get very confused upside down underwater. I don’t know how doing it right is supposed to feel (yet). So far, I haven’t stumbled on the miracle teacher who can just show me the way, their way. So, I’ve decided I’m going to put together my own plan and approach for how I’m going to try to learn how to roll. Each time I head to water, I’ll have an idea of what I’m going to work on, alone or with a spotter at my deck lines. Even if I never roll, I’ll become a better paddler.

I’m not someone who’s going to pick up on all the necessary elements to rolling and learn how to put them all together in one lesson, maybe never. Some coaches try to push you too far too fast. Some will even say, “Some of my students learn the very first lesson!” Gee, great. Thanks for the helpful encouragement! Other paddlers, “I learned the very first time!” How nice.

I’m starting to do a little more research on the topic, watch videos of teachers I like and the techniques they employ. I have started to set my own agenda for what I’d like to try to do and how I’d like to approach it. It’s going to be just one piece of the pie at a time for me, the one I choose on any given day, and at my pace, not the “Full Monty.” Then the coach can watch and tell me what I did right or wrong, or help me try to figure it out. The coach can always suggest and propose things. I can consider and decide if I want to give it a try. This is the path I’ll follow for now.

And why am I doing this? Trying to learn how to roll?

Well, two reasons.

Reason number one: MY BOAT! It is so righteous in water.

Reason number two: All the little kids hanging out on the beaches I have paddled from over the years who have called out to me and said, “Hey lady, will you roll your boat for us!”

For all you coaches out there grinding your teeth right now, I know the number one reason for learning how to roll should be for safety and self-rescue, so I’ll add that on my list as reason number three.

To sum it up, here are some of my rolling rewards

  • Changing my perspective. (Upside down is a perspective?!)
  • Gaining some control over how I choose to learn. (Coaches may run from me or like me better.)
  • Becoming a better, more relaxed paddler
  • Loving my new boat! My Maelstrom Vital makes me want to learn and keep trying. If I can learn how to roll, this is the boat I’m going to do it in.
  • Appreciating all the yoga I’ve been doing even more. It rocks.
  • Learning how to get water out of my ears
  • Creating this list, which will likely grow
  • Enjoying a full moon once in a while!

Happy rolling practice! Don't suffer . . . too much.
The Baffin Paddler

What are your rolling rewards?