Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Here's wishing everyone a Happy Holiday season and a great start to '09. We've had a great start to winter, and it's time to get out and do some kiting!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Cool Video

Here's a fun video for anyone looking for some travel inspiration. I don't know the guy, but thought it was worth sharing. If you'd like to find out more about it or watch in higher definition (recommended), check out his website at: http://www.wherethehellismatt.com/about.shtml

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Puerto Rico Trip

I just got back from a short trip to Puerto Rico! I had decided that I wanted to spend my recent birthday abroad, and decided that I would go to wherever had the cheapest airfare. The only restrictions were that it had to be some place I hadn't been, and it had to be outside the continental US. I wound up in Puerto Rico, and had a great time. I spent most of my time in/around San Juan and on the small island of Vieques, off Puerto Rico's Eastern shore.

The Good:
1)Bioluminescent Bays
2)Genuinely friendly people
3)Endless beaches for everything from surfing and kiting to snorkeling and laying out
4)No passport necessary
5)No currency exchange
6)Mass Transit that's cheap or free (but see The Bad)
7)Perfect weather
8)Cell Phone Service (I wasn't even roaming)

The Bad:
1)No Hostels or hotels under $70/night
2)Mass transit is largely limited to the San Juan area and Ferries

San Juan
The San Juan area is made up of Old San Juan (which is the oldest permanent settlement in the territory of the United States), two resort areas (Condado and Isla Verde), and some residential areas. Old San Juan is a beautiful mix of old buildings, modern shops (including restaurants and stores from all the big designers), and beautiful vistas. Additionally, you can take a free ferry ride across the harbor to the Bacardi rum factory. The tour was free, fun, and interesting, and you get two free drinks with it. I definitely recommend it.

Nearby, around the barrio of Isla Verde, are great beaches and spots to kitesurf. With nearly constant 15mph winds and warm, shallow water, it would be a fantastic place to kite. I tried to set up a session through Kitesurf PR for a day's worth of riding. My contact their was very friendly and helpful, but called me the morning we were supposed to go out and said that there wasn't enough wind. He said the forecast didn't look good, but he'd call me if that changed. He didn't. By 2:00 there were perfectly steady winds in the 10-15mph range but my phone never rang. Tried calling their number, but got no answer. So, no kiteboarding for me.

Getting around the San Juan area was easy. The city buses were quite an adventure - they were driven as if they were Ferrari's, so you had to hold on to something even if you were sitting down, but they were straight-forward to use and they were free. Ferry service across the harbor was also free and arrived frequently. Getting around outside of the San Juan area required that you either 1)rented a car, 2)paid large sums to take a taxi, or 3)attempted to use the unscheduled and confusing Publico minibus system. None of these options was very appealing to a traveler on his own, but luckily I found there was another way to get out to Vieques Island. There are charter flights from San Juan for about $50 each way. Since that was about 1/2 the price of renting a car for 3 days or taking a cab, it was definitely the way to go.

The Island of Vieques is about 8 miles off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. The US Navy used a large part of the island for artillery practice until 2004, so much of the island is still undeveloped. The island is known for it's pristine beaches and its bioluminescent bay. The "bio bay" is a large shallow bay on the South Side of the island that has the highest concentration of dinoflagellates in the world. Dinoflagellates are microscopic critters that glow when they're disturbed. There are so many of them in this bay that the water literally glows whenever anything moves it. I took a kayak/swimming trip out into the bay and was absolutely amazed. The paddle, the kayak's wake, even the fish swimming underneath you all glow as they move through the water. To make it even cooler, the swirling water that follows the movement also glows, so everything has an amazing tail of light following it. If you dip your arm in and then raise it up, you'll have streams of light running down it. It's totally amazing and definitely in my top 5 coolest things I've ever seen. Unfortunately, my camera housing leaked on this trip and my old water camera is now finally dead, so there's no pictures.

The second thing I did on the island was go diving. I got in with a young group of German and Spanish folks who were about my age. They spoke excellent english, and we all got along great. Two of the girls in the group were new divers, so the dive was an easy one. The visibility wasn't great, but we saw some lobsters, an octopus, a HUGE eel, and some turtles. Unfortunately, the dive camera was dead, so I have no pictures. :(

I stayed in Esperanza, a small tourist village on the South side of the island. It's an extremely laid-back place right on the water with pristine beaches just a couple steps away and great snorkeling right in front of the the hotel. At night, you can sit on the piers and watch spotted eagle rays and tarpon swim by beneath you. Great Caribbean atmosphere and incredibly friendly people.

Good Times
On the whole, it was a fun and relaxing trip. I'd love to go back and do some kiteboarding and some more snorkeling. Definitely a nice break from reality

Friday, November 07, 2008

Water and Pics

The rains are here, and the rivers are up! Both the Kettle and the Louey are at good levels and rising. I hope somebody gets out and takes advantage! I can't paddle this weekend, so I'll have to live vicariously through those who can. Get out and enjoy the water while it lasts!

These are some pics from the Wolf and Lower St. Louis that I got from Pike. I just thought they were cool, so I figured I'd put them up. Enjoy.


Huge congratulations to Graeme and his wife who are expecting a baby! They're due April 1st, and while I say that a real paddler would have timed it for the dry season, it's still great news. Here's wishing them all the best!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Go Vote!!!!

Here's your chance to make a difference - don't waste it. Go Vote!

Also Congratulations Caleb for not only finishing, but passing his big test! Way to go!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fall Kettle Day

Nate G, Bryan and Sarah K, and I headed up to the Kettle river to take advantage of the recent rains and fall colors. We were greeted with warm weather, warm winds, and banks lined with gold and red leaves that would rain down whenever the wind blew. The level was around 3', which is high enough to be fun, but not high enough to give us anything to worry about.

For Nate, it was a return to paddling after a summer filled with work, training for the Twin Cities Marathon (way to go!), and loads of other activities.

For Bryan and Sara, it was their first time on the Kettle since just after Canoe U, and their first time seeing it at anything other than scrapey low water.

The Kettle is one of my favorite midwest rivers, largely because it's so different at every level. Today was great play at Blueberry (the wave/hole in the middle of the rapid was just like a 15' wide version of Donut), followed by some good-sized wave trains in each of the lower rapids. I was able to hit a nice wave-wheel in the wave train below Dragon's tooth, and we got some cartwheel practice in at the nearly-washed out Last Chance Ledge. Everyone also got to practice their stern squirts at the rock outcroppings between the Tooth and Hell's Gate.

Sara Had a big day, getting her first taste of bigger water and hitting 12' Wolf Creek Falls! She ran it twice, with a perfect landing on the second one. She used my boat for the drop, so don't let the green color fool you.

Bryan K had an awesome day as well. He was snapping up combat rolls with confidence and leading the group run-and-gun style down some of the rapids. He also made two good runs on the Falls and had some surfs on the glassy wave at Blueberry.

I had a good day surfing blueberry and playing in the wave trains, but my cockiness got the better of me at Wolf Creek. I have run the drop many times and have never had an issue (except coming up in the middle of a tree once). This spring I decided to run it backwards, and it went great with a soft and smooth landing. Tried the same trick today, but with very different results. I went over the falls and hit the pool pretty vertical. I felt the impact of hitting the water, but in the commotion of landing didn't notice anything too strange. I bobbed up vertically and the boat flipped upside down. I rolled up and heard Nate saying how I'd Piton'd and what a loud noise it made. I disputed that, saying that the noise must have been the boat hitting the water. Later I looked at my boat and saw that the back left corner was bent upwards about 15 degrees from what it should be. No cracks, no creases, just a slightly different shape than it was before. I guess Nate was right about the Piton. The good news is that it basically just gives me more stern rocker on that side, so left-handed spins should be even easier now!

Bent boat aside, it was a great day with surprisingly great weather. Hopefully we'll have a few more before Old Man Winter takes hold. Thanks to everybody for taking the pics, and especially to Nate for sending me the ones from his camera so quickly.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Fall Colors

A cold night, a beautiful day, and some great rapids made for a fun trip to the Wolf. Bryan K, Sara, Pike, Dennis, and I headed to the newly-rebuilt Bear Paw on Friday night and ran Section IV on Saturday.

Friday night was quite chilly, with lows in the mid-twenties. We stoked up a nice campfire, put on some extra layers, and Dennis and I bored the others with paddling stories for a while. The night was crystal clear and the stars were out in full view. Despite the temps, we had a great time. Bryan and Sara (and their puppy) got to test their new tent in style. It must have performed well because no one had hypothermia come Saturday morning.

We started fairly early Saturday, meeting at Big Smokey at 9 to get our bracelets and shuttle. Speaking of bracelets, the price has gone up from years past - $30 fee + $5 deposit on the bracelet. The temp was still just above freezing, but the sun was out and warmed you up whenever it hit you.

Our shuttle driver was kind enough to drop us off at Sullivan's falls so we could avoid the 1.5 miles of flatwater from the normal put-in. Everyone ran Sullivan's, and everyone did great. For Pike, Sarah, and Bryan, it was their first real waterfall! After everyone did it once, we talked about how to Boof, then everyone ran it again to try the new move.

The Ducksnest rapids went by quickly enough and we surfed a bit at Dave's Wave before stopping to eat and bask in the sun at lunch rock. Perfectly clear blue skies helped the temp warm up nicely.

Everyone flew through the Upper Dells, and Bryan nailed a solid combat roll between the two holes at the bottom. The lower dells were more interesting and the group split with half taking the rock-tongue in the middle, and half taking the double drop channel on river right. The hole at the bottom of the tongue caused a couple flips (including an unintentional cartwheel), but everyone did great and there were no swims.

Big Smokey was where we noticed the shallow water the most. There were virtually no eddies in the entire slide leading up to the falls, and at one point the water was only about a boat-and-a-half wide. It was a bit hairy at that point because that tiny amount of water pushed right into one of the protruding rocks and it looked very much like you were going to smack into it. The tiny reaction pillow saves the day, however, and all faces remained intact.

The level was about 190. The rapids were all very passable, with Big Smokey being the most affected by far. There was little play, but it was a fun level for river running.

On a fun note, Pike bought a boat! Bear Paw had everything on sale (most is 20% off if anybody's interested), and they were getting rid of their demo boats. Pike wanted to pick up a creeker, and after trying on a couple different boats picked a red Jackson Hero. It should be a good fit between his Piedra and his EZ. They've also got a like-new Burn demo on sale for $700 if anyone's shopping for one...

Speaking of Bear Paw, I was floored by the path the tornado left. I knew it was serious (it was an F4), but I've never seen anything like that. There's a perfect path 100 yards wide (guessing on the distance) like someone cleared a highway through the woods. There's no transition area or buffer, just a perfectly clear-cut path that looks like loggers came through. Sadly, the path perfectly and completely enveloped the old Bear Paw. Happily, the parts that they've finished rebuilding are great, and there's tons of free firewood. Plus, it's the same super friendly and helpful people running the place. Good to see them rebounding so well.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Lower Louey

Nora, Dave, Graeme, Pike, and I headed up to the Lower on Sunday to take advantage of one of the last fish-flow days of the year. We had a great time with lots of firsts. It was Graeme's first time on either section of the Louey, which is kind of amazing because he's definitely an experienced paddler. It was Pike's first time running the entire Lower, it was Nora's first day with her new creeking helmet, and my first time in my new boat.

We left the cities under a dreary overcast sky that was alternating between mist and rain, but about 45 miles from the river we left the clouds behind and had clear blue skies when we put on the water. The leaves were short of peak color, but beautiful just the same. Gorgeous day for paddling.

The level seemed lower than I remembered at fish flow, but that didn't stop us from having a great time. The first half of the river went by quickly and easily, with the only non-planned maneuver being me somehow getting turned backwards in the middle of First Sister and having to boof the last tier of the drop in reverse. Even that went fine, though, and we continued on.

We ran a river-right line through Octopus that I hadn't tried before. We hit the always-fun rock-slide entry and Graeme's splash put up a wall of water that looked like the spray from a slalom water skier. The middle of the rapid had plenty of rocks to dodge, but if you followed the flow you could make it without bumping aroud too much. It ended with a fun, corkscrew slide that dropped you nicely into the pool. Everyone made it down without incident and we got some video and pics. Check Nora's blog for the footage and I'll try to post my own videos on here when I get a chance.

The boneyard was, well, boney. I tried the left half of the river through the shallowest part. Don't do that. It sucks.

Swinging bridge was fun (as always), though a bit bumpier than usual due to the low level. Dave, Graeme, and I all wound up with some level of brace to get through it. Dave caught his thumb on the rocks and wound up with some nasty bruising for it. The slide out of the hanging pool went perfectly, though, and we all cleared snakebite without incident.

We had quite a crowd watching from the swinging bridge and shoreline. They were cool enough to clap and cheer for us as we paddled under the bridge.

Great weather, nice fall colors, good company, fun water, and no carnage (except for Dave's thumb). Awesome trip. I'll post vids/pics when I get a chance.

Jackson Hero Review

I just had my first day in an '08 Jackson Hero and, since there isn't much in the way of independent reviews out there for this boat yet, figured I'd chip in my two cents.

About me:
Size: 5'11", ~165 lbs, 32" inseam, size 9 feet.
Experience: 8 years, primarily in playboats, but with some big water and creeking

What I was looking for was a boat that I could use on rivers that were too much for the playboat to handle -- mostly Class IV-IV+ stuff. Because of my background in playboats, I really wanted something with a planing hull. Some other comparable boats I've tried are: Dagger CFS, Pyranha Burn, and Liquid Logic Jefe.

My first trip in the Hero was on the Lower St. Louis River. It's a class III-IV run with steep, boney, technical drops. It was running at approx 350 cfs. On the whole, I was very impressed with this boat. It did everything that I wanted it to and was easy to get used to. It's short length let me make the moves I needed to in between the Louey's rock spines, and it's edges carved when I needed them to but didn't catch or trip me up. The boat also boofed easily, clearing Snakebite and other lesser holes without a problem. My biggest fear for this boat was that its short length would make it difficult to punch through sticky holes. Though I didn't face anything really huge, I pushed it through enough holes to say that I'm no longer worried about it at all. I'm not sure if it's the shape of the deck or some other design trick, but this boat walked through the holes as easily as the full-on creekers I've paddled.

In flatwater, the boat feels like more of a creekboat than I was expecting. Though it does have the Fun's planing hull, the initial stability isn't as rigid as the playboats I'm used to. It has more of a hybrid feel. Same goes for rolling. It was definitely easy to roll, but it had more of an even, gradual feel to the roll as opposed to the quick snap of my playboat.

I have noticed that the ultra-bouyant bow has a tendency to get pushed side-to-side by cross-currents more than other creekers. It doesn't seem to be a big problem, but is something that I'll have to get used to. The only other issue that I had with the boat was having to keep tightening the backband, but I've heard that you have to let the ropes stretch a bit when they're new. I also chalk some of that up to just not being used to that system.

So, I'd definitely give the Hero two thumbs up as a lighter-duty creeker. I'm looking forward to getting it out on some bigger stuff in the spring!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Verm Cleanup

Sunday was the Annual Vermillion River Cleanup, and we couldn't have had a better day. The weather was beautiful, the volunteers were plentiful, the sponsors were awesome, and it was a great experience all around.

The river was in better shape this year than I'm used to. We only found about 1/2 as many bikes as normal, and less trash in general. It was great to see! Because there was less hauling to be done, a few volunteers were able to devote their time to trail clearing! Over the past couple years, about 8 trees had fallen over the path between the bridge and the falls. The tree crew cleared them all and trimmed back some of the overhanging branches that made it difficult to walk. The trail is now clean, clear, and as safe as it can be. Now if only we could find a way to get some stairs over there...

I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I decided to stay dry this year and do shore cleanup. Thankfully Alex (and later Mike J) brought water gear and waded the length of the river, pulling out all kinds of debris. In fisherman's pool Alex found an old motorcycle and several other large or stuck-in objects. Mike had an old climbing rope, so we rigged up a pulley system to drag them out of the water and up the cliff. The water guys tied on the object, Jay and Art rigged the rope through a tree-mounted carabiner, and I backed my truck to the edge of the cliff to provide the pull. It worked great for the Motorcycle and the first stuck-in bicycle (see the video on Nora's blog), but when we got to the second stuck-in bike we had a bit more trouble. I'm not sure what it was caught on, but the second bike was so stuck that we snapped Mike's 1100lb-rated climbing rope trying to get it out. Apparantly when the rope snapped it looked like a 100' bull whip, cracking like a gunshot in the direction of my truck. Thankfully, we were all standing well clear of the rope and nobody got hurt. Unfortunately nobody got that on tape, so the story will have to suffice.

Huge thanks to Nora for organizing the cleanup again this year. As always, she put her heart and soul into making it the best it can be and really pulled through. She got swag from lots of great sponsors, cooked tacos and homemade salsa for everyone, made the reservations with the Park, got us all gloves and bags, and made a kayak pinata! Thanks for all the hard work!

Last, I have to once again give a huge thanks to Jackson Kayak, Worldkayak.com, and Julie out at Wausau Whitewater because the boat I won at the Midwest Freestyle Championships came! It's a lime-green Jackson Hero, and I'm incredibly stoked to try it out. Though I haven't gotten it on the water yet, I have spent some time sitting in it in my kitchen (this is why I live alone) to get the outfitting just right. Can't wait to get it on a river. Thanks again to everybody helped make the event (and the raffle) possible!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Canoeing Weekend

Kim and I met up with several of her friends down in Whitewater State Park this weekend near Rochester. We did some swiftwater canoeing on a narrow and windy river filled with stumps and other objects. While I think we had a pretty solid group of paddlers, these obstacles definitely caused some mayhem in the swift currents. We had one boat flip twice and another flip once. The other three boats made it through high and dry, so all in all, I'd say the canoes won the day with a score of: obstacles 2, canoeists 3.

After paddling, we headed back to the State Park for bonfire, excellent camp food, and some drinks. The weather was cool and fall was definitely in the air. Beautiful time for camping.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Photographers Wanted!

Anyone know a non-paddler that wants to take some pictures? I took all of 11 photos at the release yesterday because the paddling there has just been too much fun to bother with the cameras. Yesterday's release was a blast! It was pretty much the usual suspects out there, plus a ton of newer paddlers who were practicing on the lower portions of the course. Aside from the course regulars (team pabst, Wagonwheel, etc), there weren't a lot of advanced paddlers present, so hole time was abundant and you had your pick of the upper features. It was pretty much just having fun in great, uncrowded features with a bunch of friends. Tough to beat that.

Nora and Laura were both present and looking like rockstars. Both are on the verge of loops, Nora's got cartwheels now and Laura's starting to work on them. Its fun to watch and see them hit these new moves! Nora had some bad luck, breaking her new paddle when she got washed into some rocks. Though that was really disappointing, she made lemons into lemonade the way that only Nora can. She used it as an opportunity to try some different paddles and different offsets and wound up having a great day! To help offset the loss of the paddle, she got her new helmet so she was stylin' as she sampled the different paddles.

It was great catching up with the Team Pabst guys again. I don't think there's a better group of guys anywhere in the sport and it's always a blast paddling with them. I just found out that Matt's now a Bliss Stick rep, so it should be fun to see them showing off the boats this fall!

As for me, I had a great day and finally figured out why I was never coming out of the water straight on my loop attempts. Once that was fixed, it was tons of fun. I even hand paddled for a while and discovered that I can do both cartwheels and backdeck rolls without a paddle. Definitely a fun surprise.

As this was the last Wausau release of the season for me, I've really gotta say thanks to everyone out there that makes it such a great place to be. While there are many people behind these events, my hat is off to Julie for putting her personal and professional life on hold so that the rest of us can enjoy the course and all of the fun things that go along with it. In addition to organizing and staffing the events, Julie writes grants and recruits sponsors to make these releases possible, and is trying to get a new instructional program in place for next season. If you make it to either of the remaining releases, make sure you stop the registration tent and let her know how much we appreciate all the hard work!

Now everyone needs to wish, hope, pray, and whatever else you can think of for some big fall rains!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Midwest Championships!

Wow, what a great weekend. I headed out to Wausau on Wednesday for a two-day freestyle clinic with Nora and Laura. The clinic was taught by two Jackson instructors: local Wisconsin paddling diety John McConville and longtime instructor/competitor Colin Kemp. The two had very different teaching styles that complimented each other nicely and in the end I feel like the clinic brought my paddling to another level. Huge thanks to Julie, Cole, Colin, and John for making the Clinic such a great experience!

The one downside (not complaining, believe me) to the clinic is that we spent such a rediculous amount of time boating and practicing that by the time the actual competition rolled around, my out-of-shape self was pretty much worn out. As such, I spent more time counting fish than throwing tricks in the competition. I actually almost swam after washing out of the hole during the team comp, and by the time I rolled up I was too far downstream to help the rest of the team. Apologies to Nora and Graeme for the fact that I contributed approximately 0 points to our "team" run, but thanks to them for stepping up and scoring big in my absence.

Speaking of other boaters, while I was struggling to stay upright, it seemed like everyone else was going huge! Team Pabst was well represented (as usual) and put up some big runs, with Jim going all the way to clinch 2nd in the Men's Expert class behind John McConville. Graeme was a spinning and cartwheel machine, and even landed some loops! Nora had great runs and made it to the Finals with a couple of cartwheels and some sweet blasts, all while proving that she's got more stamina than half of the younger boaters combined. Mike M was throwing gigantic space godzillas, and Melissa landed a couple of the biggest loops I've seen at Wausau. These are only a couple of the people who had amazing performances, but if I went through them all it would take up about 10 posts so I'll leave it at that.

There were some Newbies along for the weekend as well. Laura participated in the clinic with us and made some huge leaps in surfing, spinning, and controlling herself in a hole. Pike missed the clinic, but wound up entering both the rodeo (in the Expert class, no less!) and the boatercross. He did great in both events, including becoming a crowd favorite for nailing a couple huge enders in the competition. Bryan and Sara made it out for Saturday and paddled, surfed, and took pictures. Unfortunately I didn't get much time to actually paddle with them because of the competition, but from what I saw they were rippin' it up. Also, Sara picked up a new nickname - "Diagonal Sara" - for her uncanny ability to body surf the feature of the same name. Sorry Pike and I are so lousy with the throw ropes....

On the whole, the weekend was filled with awesome people, great weather, an amazing paddling atmosphere, and tons of fun. I'm already counting the days till next year's comp...

BUT.... To make an incredible weekend truly over the top required a bit of luck right at the end. The grand prize for the weekend was a free boat, generously donated by Jackson Kayaks. It, among many other impressive prizes, was raffled off to the competitors Sunday afternoon. To my total shock and amazment, Cole drew my name out of the jar first and I won the boat! Still kind of in shock over the whole thing, as I never dreamed I'd win, but I've pretty much had a smile on my face ever since. Quite the finish to an awesome weekend.

1) Melissa giving lessons on how to loop HUGE
2) Me, in one of the few moments I was upright
3) Jim reaching out for victory in the expert division (if you don't count the pros)
4) Pike on his way up!
5) Melissa going ridiculously big
6) Nora digging deep for a loop attempt
7) Graeme gettin' dizzy
8) Craig, doing what Craig does
9) Jim showing his true colors