Archive for the 'Mendocino' Category

Mar 17 2014

Rumors of a New Rock Garden Kayak

The rumors that Jackson Kayak has a new rock garden kayak are true.  Last week, we got to take the first ones out for a 3 day demo and video shoot on the waters of Mendocino County.  The boat is called the Karma Unlimited RG.  We ended up calling it RG for short.  RG stands for Rock Garden and River Guide.  It is based on the design of Jackson’s Karma whitewater creek race boat.

Jackson Karma Unlimited RG on Mendocino’s Eel River photo by Sean Morley

 

Here’s a video about the creek boat version.

Basically the RG has all the features of the Unlimited and also has a rear bulkhead and hatch, decklines, and a drop down skeg to make for a versatile ocean play boat or whitewater river expedition boat.  More details and a promo video about the RG will be coming out soon.

The Karma RG has all the features necessary on an ocean rock garden play boat.

 

We got to paddle the RG in the rock gardens and surf of the Mendocino Coast and on a class III whitewater stretch of the Eel River.  I was prepared to put my game face on and just paddle the boat for the promo video; however, I fell in love with the boat and am excited about its possibilities for both rock gardening and ocean play as well as multi-day river trips.

The Karma RG is a blast on the river!!! Photo by Sean Morley

 

Stay tuned for more videos, photos and a full review.

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Mar 04 2014

Whitewater n Surf Kayak Safari

Whitewater and Surf Kayak Safari’s on the Mendocino Coast are one of our favorite events to host in the winter and spring.  Our goal is to hit the triffecta of a kayak surf session, a whitewater river run, and ocean rock garden play.  This weekend we nailed it!!!

Kayak Surfing on the Mendocino Coast
Whitewater Kayaking on Mendocino’s Eel River
Whitewater Kayaking Ocean Rock Gardens

Winter and spring are the only seasons that it is possible for us to attain our triffecta of surf kayaking, whitewater river kayaking and ocean rock garden play in Mendocino County because our whitewater river runs are rain fed.  Winter and spring are the seasons when we have significant rainfall that will make the rivers flow.  These winter and spring storms can make for perfect surfing conditions but also quite challenging ones.  Winter and spring storms often generate longer period swells that can be great for surfing, but winds from the storms can make for challenging conditions and stormy surf.

This weekend we had 2 skilled boaters from Southern California journey north for some Mendocino Whitewater and Surfing Fun, and the storm systems aligned for surf kayaking, rock gardening, and whitewater river running.

We started with a bit of a warm-up in the Noyo Bay.

Our journey there had us surfing in rock gardens, dancing over pour-overs, threading our way through technical passages, and of course surfing and chickening out at Chicken Point.

A rainy, stormy surf day didn’t dampen our spirits but made us giddy with excitement for whitewater boating on Mendocino County’s Eel River.

And a perfect sunny day we had on the Eel – catching ever eddy, surfing every wave, and boofing our way down the river.

 

 

Day Four we had tons of options – another river run, more surfing, rock gardening – we returned again to Noyo Bay.

Chicken Point was calling.

And we were answering.

 

Here’s a link to a photo gallery from last week’s Advanced Whitewater n Kayak Surf Safari.

The rivers are primed, more rain in the forecast, surf is up, and there is always rock garden play in the ocean – let’s go boating!!!

 

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Feb 21 2014

Water on the Eel

Finally, Northern California got some rain!!!  All the residents of the north coast were excited including the fish, plants, and people.  Our foul weather friends were particularly excited as it meant our first whitewater runs of the season.

Off to the Eel River we went for whitewater kayaking adventures.  Jeff and I were exited to get our new Jackson Kayak Zen’s some river time.  We were a little rusty on our river running skills but the Zen’s performed brilliantly.

It was nice to be going down river and sharing the fun with others.

And enjoying the wildlife of one of Mendocino County’s inland rivers.  The American Dippers are one of our favorite birds but we also enjoyed seeing bald eagles, wood ducks, and hooded mergansers.  We didn’t see any bears but lots of fresh bear tracks.  One of our students saw a steelhead.  However with the silty water, the rest of us had to be content with seeing fish carcasses and heads.

We also finally had the flow to do the second half of our Swiftwater Safety Training for Stream Surveyors.  After a classroom day of theory, it was fun to get the local crew out on the Eel to practice their skills.

We practiced swimming in current.

Dealing with flooded waders.

Draining flooded waders.

And swimming over strainers.

Throw bag and rope skills in the current proved a little more challenging than anticipated .

Wading with partners was fun.

But even more fun were the kayaking skills.

And spills.

The flows on the Eel River are slowly dropping, but we are crossing our fingers that next week’s forecasted storm keeps us going with the flow.  If you are interested in a guided kayak adventure or class with us on the Eel River, please contact us to be on our “Go with the Flow” email list.

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Jan 19 2014

Review of Valley Gemini SP – Poly

Both Jeff and I really like the composite version of Valley Sea Kayak’s Gemini SP and were really looking forward to trying out the plastic version.  (Here’s a link to my review of the composite Gemini).  At Lumpy Waters, Jeff got to paddle the plastic version of the Valley Gemini SP  He liked the boat so much that he bought it, and it journeyed home with us to the Mendocino Coast.

Over the past 2 months, I have had her out on sea kayak rock garden play days, coastal exploration tours, kayak crabbing, and BCU 3* Training Sessions.  Here are my thoughts and recommendations.  (I am 5’4″, 120 pounds and a skilled paddler who likes a responsive boat).

Review of the Valley Gemini SP – poly:

Lightweight: The plastic Gemini is light for a plastic boat.  Having hefted around many a plastic sea kayak, I was instantly impressed with the weight of the Gemini.  I guess I was expecting a beast like many of the newer plastic sea kayak play boats but was pleasantly pleased.

Valley Gemini SP at home among the rock gardens and sea caves of the Mendocino Coast.

Comfortable: The Gemini is comfortable and easily adjustable.  I am pleased that I am not on the shortest setting for the foot braces but have 2 more clicks.  The cockpit and deck height seem a little bit snugger/lower than the composite version.  Here is a link to a blog post by Dave Dalby at Alder Creek Canoe and Kayak about outfitting adjustments to make it fit better.

The cockpit is a little bit long to my liking and I find getting my snug fitting spray decks on a bit cumbersome.  For teaching, I have switched to using a larger spray deck that is easier to put on.  When heading out to play in the surf or rock gardens, expect to see my contortion act of getting a snug spraydeck on (or perhaps give me a hand).

The hatches are well configured.  YEAH – it has a day hatch!!! I found the day hatch to be accessible while on the water.

Stability:  Right off the bat, I noticed the primary stability of the Gemini.  Students who have paddled the boat have noticed the same thing – “Its not as tippy” (compared to our Avocets).  After paddling the soft chined poly Valley Avocet for years, I am still getting used to the hard chines of the Gemini.  The Gemini definitely responds to skilled paddling and loves to be edged for turns.

On the Water:  The Gemini is a comfortable, stable craft that feels nimble in dynamic waters.  The bow volume, stability, and looseness of the stern make her quite playful in bouncy waters and really fun for rock gardening.  She feels like she was designed for rock gardening.

sea kayak, rock garden, valley gemini, mendocino coast
Sea Kayak Rock Gardening on the Mendocino Coast photo by Bryant Burkhardt

The Gemini handles like a play boat but paddles like a sea kayak.  (Many of the newer play sea kayaks don’t require an edge to turn efficiently and actually can be a bit difficult for us smaller paddlers to edge to turn).  I enjoy the nuance of edging a sea kayak to carve turns.  The Gemini responds well to edging and handles well when paddling backwards.

The poly Gemini isn’t a speedy boat.  I was surprised by the speed of the composite Gemini and a little disappointed that the plastic version isn’t a little bit faster.  Although, she isn’t any slower than the other plastic sea kayaks made for play (P&H Delphin, P&H Hammer, and Dagger Alchemy).

Edging and speed aren’t the top priority when kayak crabbing.  A flat deck that one can attach crab pots to and a day hatch for transporting dinner are nice features on the Gemini for those of us who use a sea kayak to get dinner.

kayak, crabbing
Crabbing in the Gemini SP sea kayak.  Photo by Bryant Burkhardt

Conclusions and Recommendations:  I definitely think that Valley has a winner in the playful sea kayak category with the Gemini SP.  For those looking for a durable plastic kayak for rock garden play, I would highly recommend the Valley Gemini SP.  I especially think that it is a good option for smaller paddlers who want a lightweight yet capable plastic boat.

The poly Valley Gemini SP has become my go-to sea kayak for rock gardening.  I foresee the Valley Gemini SP joining our fleet as an instructional boat. I like the primary stability for inspiring confidence in beginners yet it is a boat that responds to dynamic and skilled paddling.  It will be a good “school boat” for teaching sea kayak skills like edge control, carving turns, and paddling backwards as well as a great boat for rock gardening classes.

If you are looking for an opportunity to demo Valley Sea Kayak’s Gemini SP, they will be available at the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium.  We will also have a couple in the Liquid Fusion Kayaking fleet for our rock garden and sea kayak classes.

If you have any experiences or questions about the Valley Gemini SP, please post them in the comments below or contact me through Liquid Fusion Kayaking.  I anticipate adding more to this review when we have more experience paddling and having students paddle the Gemini.

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Nov 05 2013

Precision

The swell rolls in toward the bay.  As it hits the northern point, it encounters obstacles – ROCKS!!!  From 100 yards away, I see the wall of water rolling toward the rocks.  Giddy with anticipation, my eyes track the water and my mind envisions the ride.

Wah-boom!!!  The swell hits the rocks and washes over them ending in a chaotic washing machine of churning whitewater.  I envision myself in my sea kayak riding with the wave over the rock and into the melee of whitewater.

We paddle closer to take a look.  The tide is low and mixed swells are washing over the rock.  Most of the swells are not quite big enough for one to cleanly run a 15′ sea kayak over the rock.  Jeff hops on one of the bigger waves and bombs over the rock in an 11′ whitewater kayak.

I move into position and watch and wait.  And watch and wait. And watch and wait.  It is work to stay in position.  The swells aren’t big enough to cleanly ride over the rock but are strong enough to create surges as the water rushes around the rock and rebound into and out of the nearby sea cave.  Draw stroke, draw stroke, draw stroke, reverse paddle, reverse paddle, draw stroke, reverse paddle, reverse paddle . . . still watching and waiting.

As I work to maintain position, I am reading the water – trying to gage its direction, size, and pulse.  The sizes of the waves are mostly the same, but some have a longer interval and more water.  It is one of these thick waves that I need for a clean ride.  In a plastic sea kayak, many kayakers would enjoy a wave that bounced and bumped them over the rock.  I am striving for precision and honing my water reading, timing, and paddling skills.  I want a clean ride.

As I maintain position, I angle my boat so that I can see out to sea but also so that I can counteract the surging of the water around the rock when I go for my ride.

The swells are mostly wrapping around from the North West or are coming straight in from the West.  However as I wait and watch, a wall of water rolls in from the South.  It is the perfect size and I am tempted, but I know that my angle of approach is incorrect.  That wave would definitely stuff me into the higher part of the rock.  I refuse to visualize the consequences beyond that and watch the southern swell explode over the rock.

It is work, and I am becoming impatient.  The urge to just try one of the smaller waves is strong and the work maintain position is constant.  Smaller waves continue to roll through with the occasional one that possibly could put me over the top smoothly.  Knowledge of the consequences of a mistimed wave stays my position and shores-up my patience.  This feature is called Nick’s Nightmare and has been a nightmare for many besides Nick.  Today, Nick is quietly sitting on the outside watching.

Bryant and Jeff are patiently waiting as well.  I feel bad that everyone is waiting on me.  However, these guys are my paddling posse.  We get as excited about each others rides as we do our own, and I know that they want me to get “The Wave of the Day” (or at least my wave of the day).  Both Jeff and Bryant had amazing rides at Chicken Point and now it is my turn.

And now, my readers are patiently reading my blog waiting for me to catch my wave.

A bump comes along.  It doesn’t look much larger than the others but is drawing more water.  I am working  harder now to maintain my position and see that my elevation has changed.  I am looking at a wall of rock in front of me rather than the top of it.  I know that this is my wave and paddle straight at the rock.  Just moments before my bow hits the rock, the swell rises beneath me and I am hurling over the rock and down the other side.

sea kayak rock gardening mendocino
Rocking the Valley Gemini SP. Photo by Bryant Burkhardt

My heart is in my throat for a moment as my boat plunges into the gaping hole that has opened up at the bottom of the rock.

Plunging into Nick’s Nightmare.  Photo by Jeff Laxier

I keep my weight forward to continue my forward momentum.  This feature preys upon fear and will suck tentative paddlers back over its falls.  My 15′ sea kayak submerges but continues its forward momentum to escape the jaws of Nick’s Nightmare.

Escaping the Grasp of Nick’s Nightmare. Photo by Jeff Laxier

Mission accomplished.

No boats, marine life, rocks, or paddlers were injured in this sequence of events.

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Jul 26 2013

Whitewater of the Sea

Whitewater Rock Garden Kayak Tours on the Mendocino Coast:

A story of creation and evolution-

We love kayaking and playing in the rock gardens of the Mendocino Coast in our whitewater kayaks.  As Liquid Fusion Kayaking evolved to teaching paddlers of all skill levels, we tossed around the idea of introducing novice paddlers to rock gardening.

kayak rock garden mendocino
Jeff boof’s a pour-over in the ocean.
Our vision was to be able to share the fun of kayaking in ocean rock gardens with those who wanted an adventure in the rock gardens and sea caves of the Mendocino Coast regardless of their kayaking skills and experience.  We wanted to create a trip that could get our students riding pour-overs and playing in the whitewater features of the ocean in a 3 hour trip.

whitewater kayak rock gardening
Cate styling it in the rock gardens of the Mendocino Coast.

We experimented with some friends to see if this would be feasible (it is great having friends that love to play and are always up for an adventure).  While we liked the comfort and performance of our “old school” decked whitewater kayaks, we recognized that our athletic and water savvy non-paddling pals needed a kayak that was more user-friendly.  Inspired by the “wash deck” kayaks of the Tsunami Rangers and our own love of the maneuverability of whitewater kayaks, we decided upon the Dagger Torrent – a sit on top whitewater kayak formerly called a Perception Torrent.

Dagger Torrent Sit on Top Whitewater Kayaks

BINGO!!!  We had a winner!!!  Stable, maneuverable, easy to adjust and fitting a wide range of sizes, the Dagger Torrent gave us a user friendly craft to for introducing students to rock gardens.

whitewater kayak ocean rock gardens mendocino
Novice Paddler Rock Gardening

In 2009, Liquid Fusion Kayaking started offering ocean rock gardening adventures for paddlers of all skill levels.  We called it “Mendocino Kayaking ROCKS!!!”  We coined it as our “Wet and Wild Adventure” to contrast with our “Dry and Mild” kayak tours.

family kayak wildlife watching tour
Dry and Mild Wildlife Watching Kayak Tours on the Noyo River

In 2010, we continued the theme of Wet and Wild but changed the name to Whitewater of the Sea to convey that this is an ADVENTURE in the ocean – kayaking and playing in the waves and whitewater of the sea.  Participants usually swim at least once in the trip – unintentionally or intentionally.

Thrills and Spills!!!

We are in our 5th year of running Whitewater of the Sea Adventures.  This year, we have evolved the trip to involve more swimming.  Last week we had a blast swimming through a sea cave.

sea cave mendocino swimming
Swimming through a Sea Cave on the Mendocino Coast

The first hour of the adventure is “training” which includes instruction in maneuvering and safety skills.  Participants quickly recognize that this isn’t your average kayak tour but a fun learning adventure.  One of our students wrote about it on YELP - “One of the best classes that I have taken on any subject ever.”

instruction class whitewater kayak rock garden
Instruction and drills in rock gardening

Students leave the adventure with a better understanding of the ocean as an ecosystem and as a playground as well as tales of thrills and spills.  Each tour is different as we cater to each group (usually 4 or less participants) and the conditions.  Wildlife moments are enjoyed as they happen from checking out gull chicks to marine mammal encounters.  Humpback and gray whales have made appearances during our tours this summer as well as harbor seals, sea lions, and river otters.  This week, we watched a Peregrine Falcon stooping (diving) some Western Gulls.

Western Gull Chicks Checking us Out!

Whitewater of the Sea is an adventure and is not intended to be a substitute for kayak instruction and training.  Novice and experienced paddlers on LFK’s Whitewater of the Sea Adventure recognize the quality of instruction that is occurring.  Jeff has masterfully taken the key skills for rock garden safety and fun and condensed them into a 3 hour course that allows students to be guided in dynamic ocean waters, to run pour-overs, and to play in the whitewater.  His teaching progression builds individual and group skills.

Jeff coaching

Of course, the more skilled and able the group – the more that the group gets to do.  A special dynamic of rock gardening with a masterful leader allows skilled boaters to share a rock gardening experience with a novice paddling friend.  It is possible to have Class II and IV on the same feature and the ability for the guide to choose the challenge level for you.

Choose your adventure level!

We have had paddlers repeat our Whitewater of the Sea Adventure to learn and experience more as well as bring friends along to introduce them to the fun of paddling and playing in ocean rock gardens.  For those that really want more – our Waves n Caves Weekends are 3 days of Whitewater of the Sea.

3 Days of Whitewater Ocean Rock Gardening!!!

Of course the bottom line is that our Whitewater of the Sea Adventure is a reflection of our love for the ocean – our passion for playing in her waves and whitewater, our admiration and appreciation of the wildlife that call her home, and the privilege of getting to share it with others.

Sharing the magic of the Mendocino Coast

Are you adventuresome?  Willing to Play Hard and Get WET?  Then here’s your official invitation to come play with us in our playground.

 

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Jun 08 2013

Dawn Patrol

An object at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by a force. An object in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by a force.” Newton’s First Law of Motion

It’s 4:45am.  The alarm clock hasn’t gone off yet but my internal clock has activated.  My body continues at rest nestled in the covers and sandwiched between Jeff and Tom Cat.  I could happily remain in bed but a force stirs within and sets my body in motion . . . 

Dawn Patrol

As I emerge from the house, it is dark, but I can hear the surf – a constant roar.  The air is still and cool.

This morning, I don’t have to search but know exactly where to go.  I have a mission – to get wet and catch one wave.  I’ve been guiding kayak tours a lot and need some “me” time.  Time for me to enjoy the ocean and her power and beauty without the responsibility of others.

I know exactly where to go.  I don’t expect huge waves, barrels, or even long clean rides – just faces to slide upon and frothy salt water in the face.

Arriving at the beach, no one else is there.  Jeff has decided not to surf this morning but tags along to enjoy dawn on the beach.  It is light but the sun is not up yet. I watch the waves for just a couple of minutes – not really caring about their shape or form but just longing to be out there in them.

The stillness of the morning is interrupted by the screaming calls of black oystercatchers as they patrol the beach for breakfast.  I hop in my kayak and paddle out.  As I paddle up and over foam piles, my hands get the first cold water wake-up of the morning.  As I move further out into the surf zone and paddle through a wave, the cold water smacks me in the face knocking the cobwebs out.  I feel so ALIVE!!!

The surf is small and confused.  I see a bump of water on the horizon and continue to work my way to the outside.  As the bump travels toward me, I continue to warm-up – focusing on my forward stroke technique – a vertical shaft, good anchor, legs and torso powering the stroke.


The bump continues to roll toward the beach.  It wells up into a mound and then into a steep slope of water. I launch onto its 4 foot glassy face, and the sun crests the trees erasing the gray of dawn – sparkling off the whitewater and illuminating the glassy, green face of my wave.  


The ride wasn’t anything spectacular but the moment was magical   This was the moment that my soul was craving.

kayak surfing mendocino coast
Kayak Surfing on the Mendocino Coast of California








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Mar 20 2013

Dreamtime

Have you ever experienced one of those moments when you have to pinch yourself because it doesn’t seem real?

This morning,  Jeff and I are standing on the headlands scouting a break for surf – the sun is shining, there isn’t a breath of wind, the fog bank is sitting off-shore, and 4 foot glassy waves are spilling across the break.  We lapse further into our fantasy world, when we see a huge pod of Risso’s dolphins feasting and frolicing just outside the break. There are well over 100 dolphins launching into the air, somersaulting and belly flopping into the water.

Our existence feels surreal as we head down to the beach in anticipation of sunshine, surf, and the enchanting magic of dolphins.  Then, the fog rolls in erasing the sun and veiling the glassy faced waves that moments ago we were surfing in our minds.  It socks in so thick you can barely see across the beach, and the glassy green faces morph quickly into dumpy, wrinkled grey masses with madly frothing tresses.

As my fantasy of sunshine and surf dissipates, I tell myself “It’s training.  Get out there and get some waves.”  Slowly, I launch and start to traverse the surf zone heading north where I saw Jeff disappear into the fog.  Foam piles tumble at me as spewing lips threaten to chomp down on me.  Currents push, pull, and grab at my kayak as I work to keep her on course.

Finally, I find the rip current and catch a free ride out of the chaotic soup zone.  The rip feeds me into a quiet place in the break behind a reef where I can chill out and start reading the water.

Jeff is out in the middle – probing and hunting for green faces and spilling shoulders.  I watch and wait.  This is a tricky beach break that we only surf on small days.  The waves are variable and constantly shifting making good rides elusive.  Chances are good that if you venture out into the middle of the break to surf a wave, you will find yourself in too deep, take one on the head, or get tossed.

I am sitting in my eddy at the edge of all the chaos and confusion.  Trying to read the jumbled and bumpy water, I feel like a dyslexic student hiding in the back of the class praying that the teacher doesn’t call on me to read aloud.  I hide in the eddy trying to avoid embarrassment and punishment while the star pupil is showing off.

The sun breaks through and Jeff catches some nice long rides.  I am no longer content to sit in my eddy.  I want to be launching onto those green faces and carving up and down.  I cautiously nose out of my eddy.  A steep face rears up and I turn tail and scoot back into my eddy.  This ticks me off.  Determination sets in and out I go to accept what ever the sea has in store for me.

A wall of water starts to build and I carefully position myself to where it is walling up the steepest.  Two strokes later, I am hurling down a 6 foot wall of water and carving into a bottom turn.  I see a cone of water forming down the line as I carve up the face of the wave.  All of a sudden time seems suspended, and I feel like I am in a freeze-frame photo sequence.  At the crest, I drop back down and set my shore side rudder to subtly climb and drop, climb and drop, climb and drop across the face of the spilling wave.  The wave steepens so I race up the face then drop down to reset my angle and continue my diagonal run until the wave crumbles into a foam pile at the southern end of the beach.

I am elated as I traverse back across the surf zone thinking to myself,  “I ripped the shit out of that wave.”  Jeff is pumping both of his fists in the air.  That magical -  life is a dream – feeling has returned.

We both head back out to try our luck with the next set.  As the morning progresses,  some rides are marvelously long, others are fun steep one drop wonders that end in deep water, while others pitch and hurl us down the line and remind us of the reality that we are not in control here.  This is not a dream.

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Mar 04 2013

Surf Kayaking Resources

Published by under instruction,Mendocino,surf

On the Mendocino Coast, we literally go with the flow.  It has been a dry winter so our whitewater runs are are a bit boney.  Fortunately there is never a shortage of water in the Pacific Ocean so we’ve been playing in our surf kayaks.  I’ve been working on dialing the fundamentals – bottom and top turns, faded take-offs, diagonal runs, and staying in the critical part of the wave.  Jeff and I have also been exploring some different breaks which have challenged both of us.

We have been teaching surf kayak classes and lessons.  In March, we will be teaching 2 weekends of surf kayak classes before heading to Santa Cruz for the 27th Annual Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival.

I’ve been gathering surf kayak resources for our students and thought that I would share them with my readers.

Etiquette – Gotta follow the rules of the playground (kayakers are notorious for misbehaving in the surf zone).  Surfline’s Bill of Lefts and Rights is a good resource for the rules of surfing.  I like visuals so check out this surf etiquette article by Robert Saunders that includes this diagram.

Here’s a website dedicated to surf kayak skills.

Here’s a surf kayak skills video by expert kayak surfer Dessie McGlinchey.  The footage is awesome.


Many paddlers can catch a wave, but the best way to learn performance surf kayaking is to take a class or lesson. Then get out and surf.  Once you have a little bit of knowledge of surfing, experience is the best teacher.

Do you have any favorite surf kayak tips or resources?  If so, please share them.  I am working on developing a surf kayak resource page.

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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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