Category Archives: Equipment

Surfski paddling safely through winter

Updated January 9th 2017

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Winter upwind February 2016

First of all – thank you very much to everybody who kindly sent their own winter paddling safety tips in preparation of this post – greatly appreciated.

Putting your hands in ice water for a as long as you can is an old party game and a medical pain tolerance test. It´ll sting, bite and make you scream within one minute, it´s a scary test for a paddler, and not one you´d want to repeat with your entire body hundreds of meters into the waves.

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Proper winter downwind February 2016

Every year several Scandinavian paddlers will drown or become comatose during a winter paddle due to hypothermia. Getting out of the water fast to avoid loss of dexterity is a key feature to survival, so easy reentry is key and this just makes a surfski the perfect winter paddling craft.

 

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Christmas fun

Remount
Remount is paramount. But loss of manual dexterity comes fast. Don’t think you get five chances in choppy 0ºC/32ºF waters. Do your remount training in summer and check your skills in full winter gear.

 

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Winter remount drills December 2017 in a V14

Hypothermia
Cold water sucks out your warmth 25 times faster than cold air, if you move to keep warm in the water this rate actually increases as you´re constantly exposed to fresh cold water instead of heating the layer next to your skin. At 0ºC/32ºF you get about two minutes before you loose manual dexterity – depending on your clothes . Very important that you get out of the water. But once you’re submerged cold shock will hit you with a very direct and scary physical response as explained below. To a degree this even happens when you’re in a dry suit. Know this and try this in safe settings so you can deal with it as a routine thing and wont panic and start flailing aimlessly about loosing the warmth that you need to get out.

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Nice day for a time trial in the V12

A fall into cold water 0-15ºC/32ºF-59ºF (!) in normal clothes will do this to you:

Cold shock
On falling into cold water, cold receptors in the skin cause immediate physiological responses, the first of which is a “gasp” reflex. If this happens when your head is under water, you are in deep trouble. Next, you begin to hyperventilate, within seconds, your heart begins to race, and your blood pressure spikes. Hyperventilation may make it difficult to get air into your lungs, leading to panic and further hyperventilation. These symptoms can trigger cardiac arrest in susceptible individuals. Even healthy individuals will have difficulty keeping their airways above water without a flotation aid while undergoing these major physiological stresses. The effects of cold shock normally peak within the first minute and stabilize very soon thereafter.

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Shoveling the ski

Cold incapacity
After a few minutes, the muscles of your limbs are affected. Neuromuscular activity slows and body fluids literally congeal in the muscles. You feel the effects first in your hands and fingers. Then the deeper tissues in your arms and legs cease to operate properly. It becomes more and more difficult to perform any tasks requiring manual dexterity, such as using flares or other survival equipment. Survivors have reported that after a few minutes it was impossible to open a package of flares or to tie a knot in a line. After ten minutes immersion in very cold water, your arms and legs will no longer respond to your will. Even experienced swimmers have difficulty co-ordinating breathing and swimming strokes; short swims may be impossible. In heavy weather you have difficulty keeping your face out of the spray and you may not be able to avoid inhaling water. You will certainly have difficulty keeping your airway above the water without the assistance of a flotation aid.”

(from http://www.shipwrite.bc.ca/Chilling_truth.htm)

Chilling to say the least

winter009Deck icing over

Dry or wet suit
I´ve paddled through a Norwegian winter in a 7mm wetsuit and can´t recommend it. It´ll keep you warm, but moving around gives you more resistance than you need, a bit like being wrapped in latex resistance bands.

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Get a good light flexible dry suit. Your speed will drop compared to summer and rotation will not be as easy. But its the beast way to actually be paddling through winter and enjoying it. Check the latex wrist and neck seals often, they tear and if they don’t fit tight they can send a bucket of ice water down your spine when you fall off.

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Be aware that holes render the suit useless and are dangerous. Fall off and water will be pressed through any holes and the water settles towards your feet giving you heavy legs that you just can´t lift out of the water. You´re now wearing an anchor!

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 Minus 8ºC/17ºF is not a problem in a good dry suit. This is a heavy Kokatat. Update: In 2017 I´m spending most time in a very light Ursuit, even when -11ºC. Tears easily, but flexibility is most important.

Yes it does get warm from time to time if you misjudge the temperature and  intensity vs. warm layers under the suit. But remember that you have cold water at hand. Try a remount drill to cool off.

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Update 2017: Under armour
This is not specific to surfski in winter, but specific to all winter activity. Wool on skin is highly recommended by my fellow Norwegian paddlers and friends on cross country ski. I do not like this. It´s itchy so I find a good technical substitute and add a full body fleece. Full body to avoid too many seams that´ll rub skin.

Dealing with ice
Ice is dangerous. Period. Update 2017: Check the video above.

It´s mostly a very solid object if you hit it with your carbon boat or paddle. Might not do more to your gear than a few scratches, but as you have nothing to hold on to it´ll tip you over as easily as a rodeo bull would, especially if you’re going at any speed.

Tempted to take this short cut?:

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I was, but as I shot this image the left floe 200m x 100m x 2inches  started gliding with no sound and hit the right floe crushing the edge until the left floe went under the right like tectonic plates. I should’ve known that the thick pieces of ice on the edge didn’t get there by coincidence.

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The very best scenario if I had gone this way is that the ice two inches thick would have broken my boat. Always asume that all ice moves.

Even thin ice will drift and stack in wind and can catch you and send you drifting away as well. Having a small boat at hand to break a path for you is a luxury I got today, so I got away with just some scratches in the gel coat. Not that it was dangerous at all but the line is thin so be aware of the dangers around ice.

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On thin ice

On cold windy days ice breaks up, but as soon as the wind lessens ice can form around the shore in under and hour and will do so if water temperatures are close to 0ºC/32ºF. Blocking beach access or the strait you need to go through. You can´t paddle through it, can´t hack with a carbon paddle, can’t ram your light boat through it but only up on it making you fall off, you can´t swim through it, it can’t support your weight. You need to find another landing if you can.

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 No way back to the club

Just don´t mess with ice.

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Phone
Always bring a phone. Remember to fill the bag with air so you can use it when droplets stick to the plastic and would´ve confused the touch screen. Update 2017: iPhone 7 home button is good, but not in a bag, it just doesn´t work. I´m leaning towards an old dumb-phone.

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Surfski Design
Some surf skis have a bailer that doesn´t close. Clearly indicating that the manufacturer never thought people in temperate countries would want to try this wonderful sport in winter.

When it´s -10ºC/14ºF a closable bailer is such a nice thing and actually the only thing that’ll make you able to take a rest without freezing your feet and butt off. It wont freeze.

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Many – most – surf skis don´t have space in the foot well for good winter boots or even socks in neoprene shoes. Some do and among these are the ones that figured out the bailer thing.

Choose a stable ski compared to your skill level and the conditions. Update 2017. I only paddle my V14 in winter now, all other boats are too heavy to drag through the heavy winter water, but that is only because I know my remount drills in this boat very very well! Exception is after dark, stability is needed when the horizon goes away.

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Paddles
Viscous drag increases dramatically with falling temperatures. You can almost sense how the viscosity and density increases during winters as water goes still and heavy like quicksilver.

This might mean that a smaller blade and shorter paddle is better. Winter paddling clothes will restrict your technique a bit also pointing towards smaller blades.

But most importantly go with a paddle that you’re totally familiar with, knowing exactly what it will do in and out of the water.

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Gloves
You get pogies, neoprene five fingers, toaster mitts, latex covered neoprene, open palm mitts etc…

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Controlling your paddle and knowing its position and the rotation of the blade is key to your stability and not something you want impaired by stiff slippery neoprene gloves.

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Pogies

For the same reason lots of people prefer pogies. I don´t do pogies when it’s freezing as you´d loose dexterity very fast when taking them off to fix something or even remounting. If you feel tippy don´t consider pogies.

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Gloves that has the palm cut out are good too if you need a lot of control, but mostly for autumn as they’re too cold.

In any event hand protection is probably the most personal choice you´ll  have to make.

I have a whole mountain of gloves and try to go as thin as possible. These thin NRS hydroskins are good for down to -4ºC\25ºF, maybe not really god for my skin, but better for maintaining good technique. Update 2017: They´re just too thin, read on…

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Update 2017: You´ll loose heat with split fingers. Try mitts like this. It´s clumsy off the water but will give you loads more warmth and control on water, much more like paddling without gloves. Bad for photography of course…

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Test different gloves.

 

Other safety measures
I´ve had many suggestions in preparation of this post. Like bringing an ice pick to avoid getting caught or a knife to cut a fixed rudder from fishing nets or lobster pots. Personally I don´t like to many gadgets around me on the water, but do what you find safer. Don’t need to mention pfd or leash.

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However I think it´s a very good idea to think through what sort of safety redundancy your winter paddling has. What if the hull suddenly leaks at sea – if you hit a reef. What if the rudder lines freezes – (you can work them free by continuous small left/right jerks). What if you loose your paddle?

A phone seems to be a good choice to keep some redundancy when one system fails. Maybe even a PLB or a flare especially if doing winter downwind. And if you do, bring a buddy!

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Going to the beach

 

Test your gear
It is cold I know and a bit scary. But do get into the water where it´s not too deep and see for how long you can avoid shaking and can keep manual dexterity. I aim at 15 minutes. So thats my window for remounting or getting to the shore. Swimming is not effective in winter gear at all, try it and don’t rely to much on doing it in an emergency.

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 How long can I stay here?

While I’m basking in the water people often shout at me or approach me, sort of nice to know that people care, but also tells you that this is a bit extreme. Do do remount drills. It’s more heavy and difficult than in shorts and 20ºC/68ºF but not much, and surely beats falling out off and remounting a kayak.

In an emergency remember that if you lack the strength to pull yourself completely clear of the water, any amount of your body removed from the water will extend your survival time.

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Winter training -3ºC/27ºF with Einar Kjerschow & Mats Grov

Dark
If you want to train outside weekends and have an average 8-16 job you´ll be dry paddling in a gym or paddling in the dark.

Don´t get a head lamp as the reflections from the boat will blind you so you loose the feeling of the level horizon and then you get wet.

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Snowblind

Your eyes get used to the dark, try it and take your time. This works especially well if you have a touch of city lights or moon light handy. This is enough, but stay away from the rocks and reefs at the shore that you can see in daylight, but not too far away. If there’s a risk of dark invisible ice be aware, as hitting ice in the dark at 12km/h isn’t going to end very good. Use non-blinding lamps on the boat, shoulders or head as boats can’t see you. In most places the law requires you to use lights.
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Swearing
Richard Stephens, a psychologist at Keele University in England, has published a study where students stuck their hands in cold water.

After their fingers and hands had returned to their normal temperature, the students were asked to say a profanity of their choice over and over again while their hand was immerged the cold water again. Less pain was experienced and on an average the students were able to keep their hands in the icy water 40 seconds longer than they did when they were not swearing.

This one is optional!

 

Enjoy!
Winter paddling is a special feeling, it makes you feel close to nature and is way better than going to the gym. Take your precautions, stay safe and you’ll have a lot of fun fitness!

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Paddling with the boys

 

Padding your surfski

Some surfski buckets are agressive others built like a bathtub. Just like butts come in different configurations too.

I´ve had many skis but only one backside, so I started looking into the art of padding. As always new doors opened to an uknown world. Add padding technique to paddling technique.

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Work of art by Kayaker Greg

In my naive beginning I was merely looking for a sort of padding that could stick while not compromising rotation which is of course key to success.

First stop was a Norwegian home depot where foam, tape, glue scissors were bought.

After a few hours of do it yourself I had a very ill-smelling sort of sticky pad that wouldn´t hold up in the water for long. Not half a functional as my Skwoosh x-treme cushion. But just as ugly as most duct-tape pads I see in other in expensive skis.

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Skwoosh X-treme Pad

The skwoosh doesn´t stick though, and who needs more floating objects when doing remounts.

Considered EPICs seat pads:seat_pad_set_320

But they´re meant for increasing your stability and not for padding anatomy to  buckets. Smooth for sure, but alto stiff. Got a pair though and kept looking.

Went to Mocke Paddling Online Store. If you´ve ever met a Mocke you know that they only use stuff that works perfectly in even crazy conditions and over a long period of time.

Got myself 5 of those seat pads, handy if I should want to start a surfski store, but they were really cheap.

Butt-PadsButt-pad from Mocke online store

This butt-pad sticks. Forever. And it´s got cut-outs for those lucky enough to have bony butts. It´ll lift your coccyx from the bucket so steep buckets wont give you a raw bony protusion anymore. Also they will pad your backside, and can be cut to pad any other surface. They´re smooth, quite so.

But what was is the perfect customized solution?

More research brought up the name Kayaker Greg. An entire world of padding I never knew existed.

Gregs pimped out Swordfish, impressive:

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I asked Greg for a bit of advice and was allowed to share a bit from his wealth of information. And  here goes:

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Hi Sune, you need to go to a fabric shop and look for a two way stretchable fabric, much like lycra, most materials only stretch one way, ask and I’m sure they will point you in the right direction. I also run a plastic bag on my seat for a bit more slip, also different shorts work better than others, the neoprenes shorts don’t always slip so good so I wear surfer kind of beach baggies on top, you need to just sit in your ski and try different combinations of shorts.

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The foam needs to be quite firm to work. For glue I use an aerosol spray glue, its called Bostic Super Tac, you should be able to find something similar at a home and depo outlet or hardware store. This I use to fix the material to the foam.

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You can also glue the seat in with this although you might want to just tape it in to start until you are sure it is right for you, sometimes you need to play with it for awhile. I just fold the tap over down the middle and use that to hold the seat in, this works well for removal and making changes, used this for over six months without any problems and still haven’t glued my last seat I made in yet. Good luck, Greg.

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And enjoy a few other rides of Greg’s

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If this has gotten you interested I sugget you visit Kayaker Greg on Facebook

And yes, four months after all my padding research I´m still paddling padless in many different skis without many issues. But as always it´s a great inspiration stumbling across this sort of talent and commitment to perfect paddling style. Thanks Greg!

Paddling photography using an action camera

Action cameras have revolutionized how we can share our sports and passions. But lets face it, the rules of photography are no less important using action cameras. Luckily it’s surprisingly easy making your own footage work a lot better.

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Being a freelance photographer for Getty Images I´ve got a few tricks that might work for you when attaching you GoPro to your bike, kayakk, helmet etc. Here I explore a few simple challenges and solutions to achieving successful  action camera footage. To exemplify I’ll use one of my own passions – surfskipaddling – a special kind of very dynamic seakayaking. I´ve captured all the images below except from one tagged with the name of very skilled surfski photographer Lucas Tozzi.

Paddlers in Fish Hoek

Going out through the surf or down a cracking Millers Run is a feeling you just can´t explain. Who wouldn’t like to show their dear ones just how crazy the runs were.

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OK stupid example, but like me you’d probably like to show off to your friends or just capture and convey the feeling of being on the water be it serenity, speed, elegance of the boats, seeing wildlife, inclement weather  etc.

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A picture is worth a thousands words.  So how do you make sure that your footage will actually speak of motion, wind, roaring waves and drama.  You don’t want it to show a flat grey paddle and you hear yourself go “but it really was fantastic”

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Two rules of photography and three specific kayaking work-arounds

Rule 1) 

Fill the frame. You want foreground, mid-ground and background. Don´t position you GoPro with yourself in the middle of the frame but a bit to the side to allow for mid-ground to the side (waves, boats, paddlers) and background. Here’s a Himba woman I photographed recently in Namibia to exemplify this principle.

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Most fails happen when we just point the camera be it SLR or action camera to a mid-ground scene. Like the sea. This really requires an interesting mid-ground as a camera can’t scan, zoom and focus creating the interesting collage your mind remembers. Try to take a nice photo of the sea without beach or dramatic skies and you will be hard pressed.

 

Rule 2 )

Rule of thirds. Divide the image in 9 equal portions placing the main subjects in one of the crossings. Remember this when mounting your GoPro  – you should be in a crossing which will also make room in the other sweetspots of the frame for action like fellow paddlers, boats, waves, Wildlife – all adding depth, .

Chile; Province: Magellanes & Antarctica; National Park: Torres del Paine. Guanaco (Lama Guanicoe) beneath The Horns of the Paine Massif.

Chile; Province: Magellanes & Antarctica; National Park: Torres del Paine. Guanaco (Lama Guanicoe) beneath The Horns of the Paine Massif.

Why does it work. I don´t know. ABC, small medium large, RGB,  BLT, The three musketeers, Rock Paper Scissors, The Hansons – it´s all perfection in 123…

When portraying movement of a surfski or any object it´s important to leave room for the movement as the eye will track that movement and needs this space.

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 Dawid Mocke training in Fish Hoek after returning from NZ as King of the Harbour in March 2014

 

Capturing surfskis on an action camera. A tricky triple whammy

1) If you want to show how steep a mountain, road or wave is don´t shoot parallel to it or will instantly go horizontal.

2) Action cameras shoot very wide to capture all it can of your surroundings, this also prevents motion blur from speed og changes in angle. But in slow sports this can have an effect on drama and the smaller field of view at the waves in front of you.

3) Mounted on bow, stern or head. Been, there done that, ate the burger. Boring.

Luckily the solutions to all three are very simple

 

Solution 1) Get onboard cameras off board.

Sometimes placing your GoPro on a rock, on a tripod on shore or on deckwill do Wonders. You could get a friend to bring a camera to a pier or other vantage point or if you´re really lucky in an escort boat . 1) Get yourself in close to the GoPro or 2) make your friend bring a zoom to compresses depth, drama and action. 1926083_10152125509573978_1876632365_o

Lonesome wave rider on Millers Run

 

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Boyan Zlatarev in some messy Gibraltar water

By master photographer Lucas Tozzi. With permission of Lucas

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Solo paddler braving the surf in Fish Hoek

 

Solution 2) Choose the least wide setting, get in close filling the frame

Get other skiers, surfers, boats in the frame. This gives the viewers a point of reference and now their brain acknowledge just how big the conditions were.

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Taller than Nikki Mocke! Nikki paddling to the left

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1ft?

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5ft!

okk2          okk3

Flat or choppy waves?

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Speed reference

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A cheap trick to is to simulate speed by going upwind and choosing the moment when you clear the wave. By no means the most difficult part, but good action. When going downwind there’s little difference between the speed of the waves and the boat. So one downwind frame will often tell a story of static balance. To most of us that just isn´t how it felt on the wave.

 

Solution 3) Try new angles

Speed, serenity, storm, midwinter. Whatever feeling you want to convey – move the camera around and experiment. If theres a rule, break it.

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Kayalu has some seriously tall mounts. Here I mounted a camera on a 42″ SuckerPod tripod on my V10 Sport. Nice stability drill too with a heavy tripod.

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Don´t get your face too close

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Testing dry suit. Freezing Norwegian midwinter. Sea kept open by currents

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Don´t mention the s-word

 

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The boats are just elegant

The three solutions above will instantly get you fresh images of your passion. But naturally it´s just the tip of the iceberg. Editing routines such as pulling and pushing shadows, clarity, retouching and cloning can bring you a long way.

Let´s keep it simple for now and save that for a later occasion or maybe a photography blog.

 

Post and pre edits of very same frame

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Happy shooting!

My photography website is right here:

www.sunewendelboe.com

Sune Wendelboe

August 2014

Radar Reflex – expensive stickers but cheap safety

On the Oslo Fiord thousands of boats are racing all summer long. Big, fast powerboats. When it´s windy some like to play in the waves like surfskiers do. On an overcast, low contrast and windy day this gets pretty dicey. What the faster boats going too close by see or don´t see nobody knows. I always assume they´ve seen nothing and very often I´m afraid this is true.

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After a few close shaves recently I decided that chasing rogue boaters to the mooring and telling them a few things were pretty unproductive. Rather I wanted to focus on becoming more visible and paint my paddle orange. But then I stumbled upon the most expensive stickers you´ll ever see – 111 $US pr paddle. But they show. Very much so. In the waves I couldn’t tell if they´re interfering with the hydrodynamics of the paddle, but it really wasn´t my impression. On a quiet day I´ll test them against my no-sticker paddle and compare, if any change, I´ll post again.

So why are the stickers so expensive compared to other reflecting bright stickers? According to Radar Reflex the stickers enhance how visible you are on a radar especially when mounted in a correct pattern explained in the pack. If true this is really cool and would be worth paying the very high price for. So naturally I asked how this radar enhancement has been achieved or is explained but Radar Reflex tell they chose to keep this piece of information as a trade secret. Since the product is put forward as having special radar effects and carries a price tag that needs to be justified accordingly I don’t understand why Radar Reflex chooses not to explain or quantify the effect in any way. So basically you´ll have to make your own decision whether you’ll take their word for it and hand over cash that would get you many times more ordinary reflective stickers.

In conclusion all I can justify to say is that the stickers are indeed very bright and visible even in hazy overcast midday conditions. Way brighter than the yellow stickers on an Epic paddle. I saw the stickers being noticed by a few other paddlers. I do feel safer. So in general some kind of reflective stickers are a great idea when paddling.

Stickers don´t change rogue boaters, but the vast majority of boaters aren´t rogue, but just simply can´t see a white surfski against white horses when doing downwind. Now they can see me a lot better

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Check it out for yourself. www.radarreflex.com
Norwegian but self-explanatory.
“Kjøp” to buy.

Review of MOCKE Deluxe Paddle Bag

Background for getting the bag

Travelling with your paddle can be a risky way to treat a +500$ purchase. But travelling without your own paddle can challenge your trip even more. Your paddle is a primary source of stability, speed and comfort and therefore it’s one thing you’ll want to bring when travelling.

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My 7yo finds the bag cool and would like to trade his school bag for one

In April I went to Fish Hoek to join the Mocke Paddling School. The conditions in Fish Hoek in April tend to be either very placid or very wild. I was lucky. It was wild, and got wilder every day and by far much wilder than ever back home in Oslo.

The first day there I had to train surf entry and exit. Something that doesn’t exist where I normally paddle. I sat in different boats like Bluefin, Swordfish and V8s, all quite or very stable boats. But I borrowed a paddle that felt and was a bit different from my normal tool which is an Epic Mid Wing. Not much different and that’s the point, because although nearly similar it moved a bit differently  in the water. So the subconscious body/paddle language that normally works to keep me upright and above the water didn’t work like normal or at least spoke with a very weird dialect. Learning new stuff was really fun and challenging, but unnecessarily included re-learning how best to shift from power to brace with this paddle etc. This is no excuse for the photo below though…

surf training

 Give me my own paddle!
Paddling in Fish Hoek    surf training 1

In new waters there are many variables to take into account and removing the paddle from the variables and adding it to the constants will make your paddling much more enjoyable. I promised myself that I’d bring my paddle on my next trip at the risk of breaking it in the process. Luckily it didn’t have to be that way.

Returning from South Africa I checked out some of the MOCKE paddling gear on their web pages and saw a paddle bag. I ordered the paddle bag and took hold of it before my next trip. I didn’t want to check in two bags and was pleased to see that my life jacket and most clothes for the new trip could easily fit in the  generous compartments.

Real world test

I was going for a few days of paddling at a relatively new surfski venue – Surfski Malta (more about this in a weeks time) – and decided to check in my MOCKE bag and nothing else.

The bag has two compartments besides the paddle compartment. Called wet and dry which makes sense. The bag seems durable and well made. It’s not cowhide or Vuitton, it’s durable and water resistant. The flights were three different airlines Oslo-Barcelona-Malta-Zürich-Oslo so the bag would be manhandled plenty. Thunderstorms had cut out normal baggage handling upon return to Oslo and loads of summer holiday bags were piled wide and high at Oslo Airport putting them all through a tough test.

St Julian

The paddle bag and everything in it survived all the transfers and handling nicely. Many many years ago I worked night shifts in an airport handling cargo, and although I expect things to have improved a lot I’m still not to keen on putting expensive fragile stuff in the checked baggage.

It has got padding, and a  bit of extra padding would be my wish for the next generation. But to be honest the bag is good enough that I just ordered a second for my other paddle. The bag has no unnecessary features but lots of nice details like hidden shoulder straps, right amount of pockets, durable and cool design. A functional product.

 

Wet compartment

Wet compartment – room for travel essentials

Like the rest of the MOCKE gear many thoughts were built into the product. Dawid Mocke has a fine video of this and the different details.