Archive for February, 2013

Feb 09 2013

Saturday Comes to Mind

I woke up pre-dawn (about 5:00am) excited to be part of another great day.  It is Saturday morning and we are on day two of the 2013  Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium. (GGSKS).  The hustle and bustle and excitement was not mine alone but of other coaches and paddlers excited about the day ahead.

Today Paul Kuthe of Alder Creek , Graham Mackereth of P&H Sea Kayaks and I were to coach Advanced Rock Gardening by Sea Kayak.   I was excited to paddle the Valley Sea Kayak “Gemini SP”.  A new high performance sea kayak designed for the oceans rock gardens and surf!

Jeff Laxier   Photo by. Bryant Burkhart

Our plan was to get a quick assessment of our participants, then move out under the Golden Gate Bridge.  We would work the Northern shoreline looking for fun features among the rocks to learn and play on.

Out under the Golden Gate Bridge we went.

Lime Point and the Golden Gate Bridge Photo by Cate Hawthorne

Everyone worked hard to improve and learn new skills around the rocks.  Along our journey, we swooshed up and down the rock walls.  The flow of the class meandered up and down looking like a sea dragon handrailing the cliff for snacks.

We meandered among the rocks and drilled out to Point Diablo where we turned east to go back toward San Francisco Bay.   An unruly student started paddling west for the Farallon Islands (opposite of where the class was headed).  I made a quick dash out to him and gave him a few encouraging words as we turned back toward the rest of the class.  The wind and swell at our backs gave us surfable low angle waves.  My efforts were little and rides were long as the Gemini danced on the waves.

During lunch with a grand view from Kirby Cove, discussion of strategies on getting back inside the Golden Gate Bridge began.  After lunch we had some fun surf ops, and Paul determined the plan for our return under the bridge.

Keeping the L in CLAP along the eddy fence.  Photo by. Bryant Burkhart

At the Golden Gate Bridge, I sat on the eddy fence watching each student cross the fast eddyline and successfully drive into the strong current and the safe eddy beyond Lime Point.  The strong currents tried to rip a paddler off course, but Paul  gave a deflective tap setting the paddler back on target.

I was last to negotiate the eddies and currents and timed it just right.  A few paddle strokes and Whammo! – the Gemini and I caught a nice wave and surfed up to the awaiting class.

After the successful trip back through the gate, we notched the challenge level up again with rolling and swimming self-rescue drills where the waves, cliffs, and currents meet inside of Lime Point.  The students were exhilarated by their day, Paul and I enjoyed getting to coach together and I was really excited about paddling the Gemini SP.

But the day was not over yet.  Evening festivities were held at the Sausalito Yacht Club.  The program includedIkkatsu – The Roadless Coast’ with Ken Campbell and Steve Weileman, The Search for the Perfect Day with Shay, Jason, and Chris, kayak songs by the talented Steve “Hull-Cracker” Wilson”, and a goodie-laden raffle benefiting the Marin Mammal Center.

A big thank you to the event organizers Matt Palmariello and Sean Morley!  The coaches, students, and other participants were well taken care of and a good time was had by all.  Thanks also to Bob Burnett (RWA) and Rob Avery (Valley Sea Kayaks) for getting the Gemini SP to me!  And thanks Cate Hawthorne for the motivation and positive energy.


Jeff Laixer


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Feb 04 2013

Valley Gemini SP

Last year when Valley Sea Kayaks announced the Gemini SP, I was very interested.  I really like shorter sea kayaks (14 foot range) for rock gardening and surf zone play.  Shorter boats are usually lighter weight and more maneuverable.  I have been paddling my16 foot Valley Avocet RM for 3 years and have been looking to upgrade to a lighter-weight more responsive sea kayak for teaching, guiding, and playing on the Mendocino Coast.

In the past week, I have paddled the Gemini twice.  First was at the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium. Then she came home with us to the Mendocino Coast for some rock gardening and surfing. (Jeff shows her off quite well).

First impressions: Lightweight, comfortable, nimble.

Lightweight: I am used to hefting around my Avocet RM and numerous other boats.  This felt like a feather compared to most (both on and off the water).

Comfortable:  The front deck is higher than my Avocet RM.  I liked being able to have my knees up higher like in a whitewater kayak.  The key hole cockpit gives lots of leg room for getting in and out but also has good contour for engaging the legs into the thigh braces.

Photo by Bryant Burkhardt

Stability:  The Gemini seems to have a lot of primary stability.  It definitely has secondary stability but it is a much smaller area than that of the Avocets.  It will be a bit of a learning curve for those of us that perhaps over edge our boats.

On the water: The Gemini was responsive and nimble on the water.  I didn’t expect her to be a fast boat but was please with how quickly she accelerated.  This is important in catching waves and timing rides over pour-overs and through surge channels when rock gardening.

On a wave, the Gemini responded quickly to steering strokes.  I have never been a big fan of sea kayak surf sessions as I am partial to short boats (whitewater or surf) with planning hulls for surfing; however, I am looking forward to a couple of surf sessions with the Gemini SP to learn the boat better and dial in my maneuvering and edge control for rock garden play.  On my first few waves with her last week, the Gemini felt nimble and responsive.  The stern didn’t lock onto the wave like many sea kayaks but was loose and receptive to steering and edges.

Cate surfs the Gemini.

Rolling:  I rolled the Gemini twice – once in a foam pile after
catching an edge and the other time in deep water after capsizing to
bail off a ride.  No thoughts or complaints, she rolled easily with my
standard Sweep to C roll.

Other thoughts: I miss having a day hatch and will have to get used to the pod on the front deck.  At 5’4″ and 120 pounds, I am probably at the low end of who this boat will fit without doing much outfitting (good for me but not for smaller paddlers). 

Rumor has it that there is a plastic version coming out this spring.  Of course we will be watching this closely.

Conclusion:  After only 2 days in Gemini, I can’t wait to get out and paddle her again.  This is saying something as my personal boating time is usually spent in a whitewater or surf kayak.  Lightweight is a huge factor especially for us smaller paddlers.  I look forward to doing more testing with her in the surf and rock gardens of the Mendocino Coast as well as seeing how she handles in a variety of conditions.

I think that Valley definitely has a winner in the playful sea kayak category.  Both Jeff and I will be paddling the Gemini SP more and reporting on our thoughts on her over time.

Ocean Paddler did a review on the Gemini SP and Gemini ST versions in the fall of 2012 (issue #33).  Here’s a video that they did with an overview and review of the Gemini SP.

PS  Yes, the Gemini that we are paddling is the “Black Pearl” Gemini that went down the Grand Canyon at Christmas time.


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