26 February 2013

Buying a dream

I am a sucker for toys. Just like a bowerbird collects blue objects I love gear.
Some might say however that stuff means nothing if it doesn't get used.
But is that true? 
Sports Room "After"  
gear closet?
A collection of toys for the sake of just pure possession is often viewed as a pointless consumeristic decadence and I tend to agree. But I also see the other hidden side of the reason why often individuals find pleasure in just "owning stuff".
Let me tell you about my experience of a few years in retail at the largest outdoor gear retail chain in the world.
I used to manage the bicycle department in a massive shop and occasionally I would mingle on the floor and help customers with their purchases.
There were some genuine outdoor type guys that needed gear and pretty much knew what they wanted and knew how good/bad the offerings in the store actually were.
The vast majority  of people tho that came through the door were clueless and wanted gear for what they thought would give them a lifetime experience.
Him: “I saw this program on TV about Mt. Whitney; I want to go there. What do I need?”
Me: “Sir, what experience do you have in the outdoors?”
Him: “I walk my dog to the park and I play baseball. I am a real outdoors lover”
Me: “Hmm, OK, let’s see…”

I love their enthusiasm, the candour with which they approach life and that they have a dream.
They would ask me what  gear I use when I go in them “out of doors” places and inevitably they would buy the exact same product from the store. I knew that there was also no point in telling them that some of the gear that I had was home made or that it was no longer available, so I kept quiet ; who was I to disappoint them?
I also knew that they were not buying equipment to go to the mountain, they were buying a dream. 

A few years later, returning to Australia, I started sea kayaking.
The first kayak that I bought was “expedition” capable. I knew very little about paddling and even less about seamanship. My new (to me) kayak was large, had a great big rudder and even came with a sail. I knew I was going to be paddling and exploring far away places in about a week or so.
Fortunately reality checked-in before I got in trouble and I learned that the sea is not a forgiving place where I should really prepare myself before dreaming too big.
I recently read on a sea kayaking forum about somebody that wants to paddle from Australia to Papua New Guinea soon. His experience so far: paddling a few hours on a calm lake :-)
My second kayak was also a large big-guy boat, for expedition use of course.

Impex Assateague at Fraser Island (c)
Eventually it hit me: who am I kidding?
I rarely go away for an overnight paddle and maybe once or twice a year on a camping trip for a week or so.
I soon realized that that mighty big boat is not the best suited vessel for my day paddles. 
Just like those big stompers that my customer was now buying in my store, with a cart full of top end gear worthy of a Himalayan assault. He would have been better off with a lighter and nimble boot that would not give him blister the size of dinner plates, but I knew I could and should not convince him. He was dreaming.
And that is how far his dream went.
I saw him a few months later, now winter, in my store again. I asked him and he told me that he never got to that mountain: “Things got in the way”. I will do it next year, for sure.
All he wanted now was some full suspension bike because he was going to compete in a 24 hour mountain bike race.
I should have known: Discovery Channel showed a piece on that a few nights before. 
I loved that guy: he was enthusiastic about his dreams (and keeping my biz healthy).
I knew that the bike, just like his “Everest” jacket, would have a special place in his home.
Every so often he would open the wardrobe and look at the jacket and sigh: one day... 
Dreams is something money can’t buy, for everything else there is MasterCard.
Oh wait a minute, people are buying “dreams”
Some say that traveling and buying gear are the only two sure ways of converting dollars into happiness.

19 February 2013

VIDEO: The Hybrid550 project

I am bored of always paddling in paradise.
The perfectly smooth waters of Moreton Bay and the endless sandy beaches of South East Queensland often leave me longing for more challenging seas.
Lately I have been trying to go out paddling in rougher days when motorized boats stay put and only lonely sailors are about. I usually don’t have company as most local paddlers don’t like wind and waves.
However I am looking at the bigger picture: train for conditions that are more challenging than my back yard.

Andre Janecki has helped me before with the kayak sled and a while ago he invited me to come and paddle his part of the sea, the rugged coast of NSW, Sydney, Australia.
I was not sure how the two of us would go along: my limited skills overshadowed by my egocentric character against his extensive experience in large ocean swell and a much more humble personality…
Andre Janecki-Hybrid Kayaks Australia

Andre is also a philanthropist with his sights firmly set on the UNLIMITED project, and that is what attracted me to spend time with him.
I don’t think he is in for the money, actually quite the opposite, and the Hybrid550 kayak of his design is just a fundraiser for the bigger project: a kayak for double leg amputee and paraplegic paddlers.
The least I could offer him was to make a promotional video because for every Hybrid550 sold, $500 goes to the UNLIMITED 

Armed with high spirit I loaded my car with a few cameras and minimal camping gear for a few nights. The goal was to travel light since I was not sure of my surf landings on rocky shores would be as precise as I was hoping for: a light boat makes easy work when dragged over shore rocks.
And finally I was paddling along the cliff line that I have seen so many pictures of before.
I concentrated on capturing this new world for me, trying to hold the camera while steadying my kayak in the healthy rebound; I am just not used to this.
I was hoping to film for all 3 days, but I failed to captured the stuff that kept me white knuckled fearing of flooding the day hatch and capsizing next to cliffs while retrieving my camera.

for a better viewing experience select HD if you have fast Internet connection, and use headphones
While I paddled along Andre I noticed that he was having a much easier time than myself keeping that kayak humming along: I was sweeping regularly in my British kayak with skeg, he was just enjoying himself in his ruddered kayak.
The Hybrid550 looks so slick and low profile (reminds me of a Greenland form kayak) to then surprise me with the amount of volume that really has inside those hatches; maybe is the 'symmetrical' hull shape that can carry that much gear compared to my 'fish form' boat.  

The trip was a real success. The conditions were an eye opener for me as my local bay is too easy to be able to develop decent seamanship in ocean conditions.
I am planning to spend more time on the South Coast.

12 February 2013

GEAR: rustproof knife

There is no other subject that generates more interest than talking about knifes (Justin Bieber excluded). Websites and forums seem to spark seriously opinionated debates when it comes to the perfect blade.
Myself, I have been looking for a knife that would work well for sea kayaking.
I don't need no Bear Grills knife, no Crocodile Dundee blade or a knight's Excalibur; all I want is a knife that does not rust, and stays sharp.
No many knifes will not rust, in a marine environment.
While I can get plenty of sharp knifes that will do so well for general outdoor pursuits (like backpacking) finding a blade that will really stay rustproof in salt water is not easy.
I hear good reviews of some knifes that use some really high-end steel alloys; unfortunately those knifes are also ridiculously expensive.

I have a knife on my PFD, that despite being inexpensive, after years of regular exposure to salt water is still looking perfectly shiny. One problem: it ain't sharp, and no matter how much I sharpen it, it just does not hold an edge. The blade is also very soft and bendy (yes bendy... trying to pry open some oysters, the blade just bent!).

I was pleased that in the search of the perfect knife, that would cost me less then a small kayak, an importer of outdoor goods suggested I should look at ceramic knives.

open knife_c

I have seen and handled a few ceramic kitchen knifes but never have I seen a small pocket knife or one suitable for paddling. My search for one in a holder/sheet (diving style) was unsuccessful but I did find this great offering instead.

in hand_c

I sourced the knife on eBay for a silly price compared to sharp rustproof steel knives.
The size is perfect and fits my hand well, and my PFD pocket.
There are no spring to snap it open and it does lack a blade latching mechanism (there are other offerings that might have that) but I know that the knife will not rust.
The blade is very sharp (I could shave with it) and it folds neatly into the plastic handle. The retention of the blade is just simple friction between blade and handle.


I am not sure if this knife is the perfect choice for a rescue situation (non locking folding blade) but suitable for other common tasks. And as somebody once asked: does it cut the cheese?
I will report: yes it does :-)

cutting cheese_c


05 February 2013

DIY: repair a cracked paddle

It had to happen: I cracked the carbon fibre paddle.
Since I have been appointed ambassador for Northern Light paddles I have trying hard to see what that paddle can take.
From gingerly taking off in textured waters in a sprint first to becoming more aggressive with my rolling, I eventually took the NLP Greenland in the surf. To me it feels the most comfortable blade when paddling in waves but I had my reservations that it could take the surf and my ungraceful tumbles when tossed in a kayak.
But no matter what I subjected my paddle to it always delivered with no sign of problems.
Paul from Northern Light Paddles said that there was no reason I should hold back with the 3-piece Greenland and he really wanted to see what his paddles could do when treated rough.


I obliged.
Pushing off from the shore when beach launching I would dig deep into the sand to propel myself before I hit the water. On rocky shores my timing would be out occasionally and I found myself pushing off rocks to prevent ending against them.
My previous wooden paddles were reinforced with epoxy to minimize tip damage but there was no way I could abused them like that.
Not to mention my high-end carbon foam-core Euro paddles where inserting them in the sand and then pry off would simply result in snapping the blade.

I was enjoying myself in shallow waters getting tossed around by the waves washing over a bank of sand. I was bracing to keep myself upright occasionally touching the bottom when suddenly a larger waves tossed me sideways and I instinctively braced and pushed down hard to keep myself upright.
My full body weight plus the force of the kayak sideways was leveraged on the Northern Light paddle.
I heard a creak and looked down. Nothing seemed to be wrong; paddle looked fine but I didn't want to push my luck and called it a day.
Later on at home I wanted to inspect the paddle and see what that noise was.
That's where I found the hairline crack.

NLP insert crack1_c

The insert on the loom of the 3 piece paddle had almost failed.
I was not too upset since a loom is fairly easy and inexpensive to replace but then I remembered the short insert that comes with every Northern Light paddle that transform it into a "storm" paddle.
It was the exact dimensions of the cracked insert bonded to the loom.
I knew that epoxy's melting point is not that high and a heat gun can soften the resin enough to make it loose its grip.
I would lie if I say that it was an easy job but 15 minutes later with the aid of the heat gun I managed to separate the insert from the loom tube.
I cleaned up the residual resin and used a bit of epoxy glue (epoxy resin and microfibre) to bond the new insert into the loom. I bolted the blades together making sure things were aligned.
The next morning the paddle looked solid and after testing everything looked kosher.
I was paddling with the same paddle the next day not showing any signs of damage or mismatching.
One thing is sure: no Euro paddle of mine can be repaired at home with such incredible ease.
As for the Northern Light Greenland paddle, I now play in deeper waters.