Archive for the 'rock gardening' Category

Aug 12 2014

Jive’n

“Sometimes you get to watch the entertainment . . . and sometimes you are the entertainment.”

Sometimes it is both – especially when someone videos it.  This week I had an evening free and went through some of our ocean kayaking video footage.  I compiled a video of some play sessions that we have had over the past year – mostly rock gardening and surfing in our old school Necky Jive’s.

Here’s the video

Hope you are entertained.

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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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Jan 21 2014

Jackson Zen 55 – A Small Paddler’s River Runner

Goldilocks has found the whitewater river runner kayak that is “Just Right” – the Jackson Zen 55.

Followers of my blog and paddling career know that I have had the Goldilocks syndrome with boats – you’ve heard my stories and read my reviews – this boat is too slow, this boat is too heavy, this boat is too wide, yada yada yada.  For those that are interested, I am working on an overview of the small whitewater river runners on the market from the perspective of a petite woman paddler (5’4″ and 120#).  Until I get it written, here’s my whitewater kayak of choice -

 

Review of Jackson Kayak’s Zen 55

First impressions - 

On the website

The promo video showed a fun, capable river runner, but I wasn’t excited until I saw the specs (I am a bit of a numbers person). The Zen 55 is listed as 7’11″ long and 24″ wide, 60 gallons, and weighing 36 pounds.  The specs would lead one to think – a fast, lean boat.  I could get excited about this but was a little skeptical that it might be too narrow for my hips like many of the kids’ whitewater boats.

On the showroom floor

The Zen 55 looked like the right size.  True this is a very subjective statement but having paddled many different river runners over the years and looking at others, they always look too big.  My fear that the Zen 55 was a kids’ boat was alleviated when I sat in it and fit.  It fits like my favorite pair of jeans.

On the water

River Running – The Zen 55 danced on the water for me as we boated the Chili Bar Run of the South Fork of the American River.  The boat continued to feel like my favorite pair of jeans and moved with me – where and when I wanted to.  The planning hull carved into and out of eddies and glided nicely on waves. The hull was sporty and playful yet stable.  I liked the way the boat rode through the wave trains.  The volume felt well balanced and the handling was very predictable.

Rolling -The Zen 55 was easy and effortless to roll.  This may have been one of the easiest boats that I have ever rolled.

Ocean Rock Gardening – A day rock gardening and surfing in the ocean on the Mendocino Coast reaffirmed my thoughts that this is a great river runner.  For this type of paddling my craft of choice has been a Necky Jive because it is fast and surfs well.  In the Zen 55, I continued to have that solid body boat connection and was able to maneuver the boat and make directional changes when riding pour-overs.

I also really appreciated the Zen’s volume for predictable resurfacing from holes.

I’m not sure about the Zen 55 on an ocean wave yet.  As expected the Zen 55 was slower than the Jive, and  the stern volume was a bit contentious when caught by the foam pile.  More work and testing on this to come.

Outfitting – The outfitting is easily adjusted and comfortable.  Obviously Jackson Kayaks have put a lot of thought into outfitting.  Here’s a link to all the features of their outfitting.  I appreciate that there are no ratchets to corrode and bulkhead adjustments are simple and even possible to adjust on the fly with Jackson Kayak’s corded system (no more crawling in kayaks and wrestling with the adjustment brackets on bulkheads).

Footrest/bulkhead adjustable from the seat of the kayak with one pull on a rope.

The smaller cockpit size of the Zen 55 is really nice compared to other river runners.  It makes for a more comfortable body/boat connection.  The shorter cockpit length makes it so that smaller paddlers can use drier, more implosion resistant spray decks without having a wrestling match to get them on.

The original position of the backband is way to high for my liking so I re-routed the adjustment cords so that it would sit lower.

The foot room is ok in the boat for me in my booties but too tight in my Keen Gorge Boots.  This is not an uncommon problem and one that I will solve by carving out notches for my heels in the center pillar.

Other Sizes – I have not seen other paddlers in the Zen 55; however, quite a few of our students have been paddling the Zen 65 and 75 on the river and in our Whitewater of the Sea Adventures (ocean rock gardening).  Both Jeff and I have been amazed at the beginner friendliness of the Zen – stable, maneuverable, fast, and easy to roll.

Jeff has become a huge fan of the Zen too.  Here he makes the Zen 75 sing on an ocean wave.

Bottomline:

Would I recommend the Jackson Zen 55?  YES!!!  My favorite thing about the Zen 55 is that it is fast and responsive.  The design and outfitting are well thought out and work for a smaller paddler.  For me, it handles like a performance sports car instead of the ho-hum Toyota Camry feel of the other river runners that I have paddled.  Even though it is sporty, the Zen is quite stable and confidence inspiring.  The Zen’s edges will carve into an eddy or on a wave but aren’t grabby in chaotic water.  It is predictable and fast for making moves and super easy to roll.

For those looking for an easy to roll, beginner friendly boat for learning to whitewater kayak, the Zen is it. The Zen is stable, maneuverable, fast, and easy to roll.  The Jackson Zen is the first whitewater kayak that comes to mind when students ask for recommendations for a river runner or ocean rock garden kayak.  The Jackson Zen is also a very capable performance craft for river running up to class IV and playing in ocean rock gardens.

I am at the top of the weight/size recommendations for the Zen 55 which is probably why is it such a sporty kayak for me.  If you are taller than 5’4 and/or over 120 pounds, you might want to try the Zen 65.  I have sat in our 65.  It feels too big but will paddle it and share my thoughts – if I can tear myself out of the 55.

These are my overall impressions of the Zen.  Fortunately the Zen 55 seems to fit the hard to fit smaller paddler but also there is the 65 and 75 to accommodate a wide range of paddlers.  If you are in the market for a river runner, definitely check out the Zen.

If you have experience with the Zen 55, please share them with me in the comments below or send me an email.

 

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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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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.

Cheers,

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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Oct 10 2012

Missed Opportunities

Sometimes things go just right.  Perfect wave, set-up, timing, and execution.

Sometimes you make a mistake and get tossed.

Other times, you are in the perfect position at the right time but just don’t feel it (and chicken out).

Other times, you see that perfect opportunity but aren’t in position and watch it go by.

Other times you try but it eludes you.

Other times, you have the perfect shot and your camera malfunctions.

This is the way things are and why it is so great when everything comes together for that perfect ride and photo/video to go with it.

Cate in Lava.  Photo by June Ruckman

And what keeps us heading out there for more.

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