Tag Archives: surfski

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

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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

 

Sean Rice interview part 2 of 2

Time for the final instalment of our exclusive interview with ICF Ocean Racing World Champion Sean Rice.

In part two you’ll get answers to many surfski related questions such as “how do you decide on paddle lenght” and “How come your little brother is so good-looking?” Remember that these are crowdsourced questions! Watch this to find out…

The magnificent video from Mauritius was made by videographer Murray Walters while the video of a cracking wave chaser race from San Francisco is by Dion Maxwell. Look them up on Youtube and Vimeo for full video with audiotrack, it’s worth your time for sure even if you don’t paddle surfskis and if you do then watching these is absolutely mandatory.

A big thank you to everyone who contributed by submitting your questions to one of the very best surfskiers and of course a big thank you to Sean Rice for taking time out of a busy schedule to contribute to the growth of the sport. Now sit back and enjoy what Sean has to tell us.

Sean Rice has answered your questions!

Part 1 of 2 of our exclusive crowdsourced interview with ICF Ocean Racing World Champion Sean Rice now available as audio interview accompanied images from Seans clinics in beautiful Oslo

A few weeks ago Sean Rice gave the readers of surfskipaddling.com the opportunity to learn from one of the very best. The results are two instalments of our exclusive crowdsourced surfski-interview with Sean Rice

A big thank you to everyone who contributed by submitting your questions to one of the very best surfskiers and of course a big thank you to Sean Rice for taking time out of a busy schedule to contribute to the growth of the sport. Now sit back and enjoy what Sean has to tell us.

Sean Rice interview part 1 of 2 from Sune Wendelboe on Vimeo

We received a lot of really good questions. Questions about training, technique, racing, boats and about Sean’s own paddling background, his busy life and how he has climbed very fast to the top of surfskipaddling.

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Sean Rice ready for the interview with Sune Wendelboe of Surfskipaddling.com (right) and host of the clinics in Oslo Einar Kjerchow

In between all the races that Sean has been winning lately he took a “break” flying to Norway to race happy amateaurs, train and give a lot of very popular clinics. Here we caught up with Sean on a sunny early autumn day on the pier of a small Marina in Oslo.

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While boaters, kayakers and youngsters in sailing dinghies were swarming around the pier we did this interview covering a lot of surfski subjects.

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The second instalment of this exclusive crowsourced interview will be featured on this blog next friday October 3rd

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Surfski clinic by Sean Rice

To readers of this blog, Sean Rice needs no introduction. Even my 4 and 7 year old sons know who Soren Ris (common Danish name) is. After a very successful trip around the Western US and Canada, Sean had once again set his eyes on Norway where the surfski sport is in    it´s infancy. And these are exiting times as the sport is growing like mad in parts of Scandinavia fuelled by wind, cold water and a very strong kayaking tradition.

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Rather than reiterating the minutes of the clinics Sean did in Oslo, I´ll try to share my own experience. How I benefitted from Sean´s ability to deliver an analytical breakdown of your paddling technique, and follow this up with a very comprehensible workaround for you to take home.

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Sean had visited Norway in May and hosted a handful of successful clinics with extraordinarily positive feedback. Back then I had just returned from a few short days a Dawid & Nikki Mocke´s Paddling School in Fish Hoek South Africa. A truly wonderful experience where focus had been surf zone training and cracking downwind runs. I had begun following an intense training program very kindly tailored by Nikki Mocke, but was painfully aware that my technique was actually bad, very bad.

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My paddling issues
I love the sport, but from time to time I felt uncomfortable in my skis without really being able to tell why. Especially when conditions were flat and no downwind adrenaline could hide my shortcomings. Together with my trusted and skilled physiotherapist I had cracked part of the code and built more core strength. But arriving at a true workaround for better surfskiing was very difficult and the solution always just beyond reach.

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Enter Sean Rice
Sean Rice dropped by Oslo in May this year on invitation from local surfski enthusiasts Einar Kjerschow. Literally two hours later I walked away from Sean´s clinic with a near complete road map to better speed, less physical strain and a much better technique.

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I expected the clinic to be hosted by a professional athlete very knowledgeable about good technique and able to outline the basic steps towards a good forward stroke. But what I and others got in May was much better – an analytical breakdown of our individual so-so paddling style and custom made technical building blocks each of us could utilise to achieve a better paddling style.

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Book a private clinic and Sean will have a better chance to watch you paddling from various angles and will keep quiet – for just a short while. Then he´ll jump in a surfski and paddle alongside you to confirm the theory forming in his mind. Now quiet-time is over and Sean will in clear text lay out what your boat is doing wrong, what you´re doing to cause this, why you´re doing this, what you should do to correct this now and what you should focus on to overcome the problem on a long term. What you should focus on as problematic for your stroke, and what you should just learn to accept as your own personal interpretation of a good forward stroke.

Sean Rice Surf Ski Session at Oslo Kayak Club from Sune Wendelboe on Vimeo.

First step
In my own case my main concern before the clinic in May was a weird stroke, high left stroke, low right stroke, force spent moving air and water in directions no all good for winning any races, very asymmetrical connection between lower and upper body.  The clinic in May and loads of training afterwards took care of a lot of this and speed picked up considerably.

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Second step
But what was worse was that I still couldn´t get rid of this sometimes uncomfortable feeling in my boats. They all felt like they´re were going just a bit left, bucket felt like it was just a bit asymmetrically built, pedals felt like my legs weren´t equally long while indeed they are. All these little things seemed like different issues until this Monday´s clinic in Oslo when Sean´s analysis tore them apart and reconnected them into one manageable solution addressing a domino effect caused by weaker left side protecting itself and a stronger right side opening up to applying full power. Pretty simple really, but to the untrained eye these things are disguised by loads of compensating paddling moves, leaving you stuck with a mediocre stroke and risk of injuries.

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Again I walked away from a new Sean Rice clinic with an big piece of a new roadmap. This time a roadmap to much more enjoyable paddling.

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Being on a fluid surface with so many variables few people will be able to self diagnose the underlying reason to their seemingly unconnected paddling issues. With access to raw talent like Sean Rice’s, surfskiing is indeed a special sport where you can actually learn from the best!

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In a few good days in Norway Sean hosted clinics for beginners, intermediate and experienced paddlers. Theory and practical sessions covering basic technique and the art of reading and using waves. Feed back from the participants has once again been outstanding.

If you ever get the chance I really really recommend that you join a clinic with Sean Rice who in addition to being one of the absolutely leading surfskiers is now using his fine-tuned analytical powers to help paddlers enjoy their sport even more.

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Third step
While Sean has left Norway to race in the Ohana Mana Surfski Race (good luck), we´re now so amped in Norway that we´re busy preplanning a longer Norwegian / Swedish / Danish(?) surfski camp next spring. Stay tuned for program later this year.

Don´t forget the exclusive crowdsourced Sean Rice interview that will be featured on surfskipaddling.com next Friday!