Author Archives: SurfskiNorthwest
Bellingham in December
Sunny / Wind
at 1:25 pm
at 10:05 pm
Fish Hoek in December
Today was another amazing race in South Africa. This week’s race in the Cape Town Surfski series was held in Strand, a town just about an hours drive along the coast of False Bay. The two days prior, there had been torrential thunderstorms and rain, but on race day morning, the storm seemed to have departed leaving in its wake all the trappings of a miserable race. The weather was cold, everything was soaking wet after the weekend deluge, the morning was dark and cloudy, and, the biggest nightmare for any good surfski race, there was no wind.
The racecourse was going to be a quick 13k (8 mile) circuit, starting at the beach. Racers were to line up in the shallows, jump in the boat at the whistle and paddle out through the breakers. The course would then take a turn around a buoy roughly 1km out to sea and then turn upwind and out to sea for 2-3km. Racers were then to turn around a second buoy and surf downwind back to the original buoy near the start, then make another out-and-back lap, finishing on the beach. Boiled down it meant two 3 km grinds up into the wind and two 3km downwinds back to the start. Unfortunately, all the top guys were away in Hong Kong for the Dragon Run, but there were quite a few good locals, and the Fish Hoek guys who had been kicking my butt in the morning K-1 training sessions, so I new it would still be a fun race with good competition!
And then, just before the race start, the weather turned our way. The sun broke out from behind the clouds, the wind kicked up and we had a proper surfski race on our hands. Strangely enough no one warmed up, but the pace still started out hard! We all jumped in our boats and sprinted off through the breakers. Nervous about getting left behind in the unfamiliar start conditions, I told myself to stay with the leaders, at whatever pace they dictated. On the first leg, from the break to the buoy, I lined up next to a rabbit that shot off the line, tearing his way to the turn buoy. Little did I know that this guy intended to jackrabbit like he was going to win the race, and then die a mere 10 minutes in. All I knew was “stay with him!” As I fell in behind him, I looked around to see where the other fast guys were. To my surprise, I realized that they were 50 meters behind me. I had gone out much too fast and with no warm up I was hurting.
I slowed down to let the lead pack catch up to me and then I tried to fall into their rhythm. We gobbled up the guy in front a few minutes later and then it was a five boat race. The double led the way and four singles, including myself, fell in behind on the first upwind grind. The leg was brutal. After my fast start and lack of warm-up, I was dying and just trying desperately to stay with the group and not get dropped. Unfortunately, I dropped off the end of the draft train before the turn buoy and as I turned around for the first downwind leg, I was disheartened to see that all three single boats were about 100m ahead of me, surfing on the waves. I was crushed.
I thought that the grind was going to be my strong point and my strategy was to not lose too much ground surfing. Yet here I was, behind on the surf and feeling miserable. I clung to the thought that the race was far from over, as I settled into my downwind. The waves were small, I’m sure pathetic for SA standards, but for me they were perfect runners. Despite the surfing I was surprised to find that I was still feeling miserable and making no ground on the leaders. My only hope was to conserve energy and at the moment I was continually paddling and letting the waves do none of the work. I needed to pause and attack, versus just grinding away. As soon as I changed my mindset, my surfing changed. Whenever I was riding a wave, I refused to paddle, breathing deeply and trying to recover from that hectic start. And then as soon as I saw an opening I would sprint, get there as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then rest again. With this new strategy I started feeling better and I began to eat away at the distance separating me from the guy in third. I surfed my way right up to him and passed him as we went around the start buoy, marking the halfway point. The guys in first and second were about 50 meters ahead and the guy behind me was right on my tail.
Then a bit of good fortune came my way. Out of the wind chop a couple of bigger waves kicked up as we turned back out to sea. I just managed to sneak over the biggest one right before it crashed and as I dropped down the back face, I could only imagine what it had done to the guy behind me. Looking back, I could see that the wave had given me an extra 15 feet in my lead and filled his boat with water. I knew I had to capitalize and I took off after the leaders. Finally, I was feeling good and the race began to feel more like a tough threshold workout and less like death. After a few minutes of grinding away, I looked back to see that I had put quite a healthy lead on the paddler in fourth. I was able to turn all my attention to catching the leaders. One down, two to go.
I kept hammering away and right before the turn buoy, I managed to catch them and we turned around for the downwind in a pack. Right off the bat, however, they both caught a wave just ahead of me and pulled another little lead on me. I was churning away to trying to catch them again, but they were just opening the gap on me. I realized that after a comfortable upwind grind, I had already forgotten the pause-attack surfing strategy. As soon as my mindset changed again, I began linking runs and closing the gap. With about half a downwind to go, I drew level with the guy in second and then surfed past, connecting another run. That left only one.
As we closed the distance on the finish line, however, I realized that I was gaining, but not fast enough. With the beach drawing in and the finish in sight, I needed to make a move. This was racing after all and if I was going to hurt myself for the win, now was the time. I went for it. I kept the same surfing strategy, but I told myself, “GO FOR EVERY LITTLE OPENING”. The finish flags were closing in, but he was still managing to stay just a wave out of reach. And then with a bit of luck, he chose a bad wave that broke on him, turning him sideways and killing his speed. That was my opening. I took off and gave it everything I had to get the wave just in front of him … and I made it! The wave built up behind me and I skirted off ahead. I managed to link one more run and had a little extra juice in the tank at the thought of coming in first and I hit the beach, running my boat in for the win!
Winter has poked its head out here in Bellingham & it feels like it’s here to stay. Where else in the world can you surfski on the bay and snow ski all in the same day? Judging by the large numbers of local paddlers surfing out on the bay this morning, it seems like there will be plenty of local paddlers out shredding this winter.
Couple quick thoughts on winter safety when out on a surfski. Jumping on the lake for a flatwater workout in the winter is a completely different game from chasing waves on the bay. All the winter gear is a must; clothing, bomber leash, radio, etc. Also, paddling with others can be good for ‘strength in numbers’ reasons, but the flip side is bad group dynamics can put people in places where they don’t necessarily belong. Though I feel more relaxed in big conditions when I’m paddling with a group, I don’t know how much help strong paddlers really can be in rescue situations in big gusty conditions.
Big gusty conditions we sometimes experience in the winter, coupled with frigid air & water temps, results in an unforgiving outdoor sports environment. Though stepping out of ones comfort zone can be a huge motivating factor which can result in tangible improvements in any sports related arena, I’d like to suggest that winter is the time to paddle well within ones skill level due to unforgiving conditions. It seems like all outdoor sports communities (whitewater paddling, backcountry skiing, climbing, etc) have the conversation that unfavorable outcomes are more likely when poor judgement is a mitigating factor. Defining poor judgement in real time, not 20/20 hindsight, can be difficult – but not unachievable. When poor judgement becomes routine it almost gets accepted as part of the sport. Therefor, I’d like to urge all surfski paddlers this winter to exercise discretion & judgement when enjoying the our sport.
Hope to see you on the water!
We’ve had an amazing paddling summer in the PNW with sunny long days and plenty of waves! It’s been great getting folks out in the new Fenn Blue-Fin, Elite Glide and Elite Spark & watching a new wave of paddlers take off. We have most fenn designs and lay-ups currently in stock and the new ‘hybrid’ lay-up has been a HUGE hit, please contact us if you would like to jump in any of our demo boats for a spin. Boat prices are being adjusted slightly coming up in September, so contact us ASAP if you want to snag a new boat at current prices. Big thanks to everyone who has helped to this a great summer! Get out and enjoy the water while it’s still warm!
Fenn Elite SL – by Chris Hipgrave
We don’t see too many Fenn’s in the Carolina’s, which is too bad. Video and images of the iconic Fenn’s piloted by the like’s of Hank McGregor and Dawid Mocke, captured my imagine when I started making the transition from racing whitewater to racing surfski.
So it was with some degree of excitement and intrigue that I came to my first Wild Side Relay this week and got to borrow an Elite SL from DJ, making this the first time I would paddle a Fenn. Would I have the skills to captain a ski favored by the worlds best? Would I be able to fit my tall and lanky frame into the cockpit? How would it surf? How about remounts?
I used the SL for a total of 8 days, racking up over 16 hours of training during which time the Columbia Gorge winds did not disappoint. The SL is definitely a through bred. From the second you sit in the bucket and start moving forwards you feel the ski wanting to be paddled hard. The more you give the SL the more it rewards you with speed and agility. From my perspective, this is one of the tell tale indicators between an advanced ski and intermediate ski. Any limitations of the SL are a result of the pilot and not the surfski design itself. The paddling ergonomics were great with low heels, a narrow catch and a bucket that positioned me with a comfortable yet aggressive posture ready to race. Initial stability was never in question regardless of the conditions and when I needed to find the secondary stability, it was readily accessible and I had the SL quickly back charging forwards. I never fell off all week despite purposely challenging my own skill set on a daily basis, which I consider a testament to the progressive stability of this racing machine.
I was quite concerned about my ability to comfortably paddle the SL. I have the inseam of someone 6ft. 6in. with a narrow bony backside. As a result I have found many ski’s I simply cannot fit into due to limited adjustability of the footplate or a bucket so large that I rattle around in it. Thankfully my concerns were unfounded with the Elite SL. The footplate was moved one hole short of its max so it would probably accommodate someone in excess of 6 feet 7 inches. The SL bucket was comfortable too and I didn’t think about my own comfort once in a weeks worth of paddling, which is a good indicator of a well-designed, ergonomic cockpit. The low heels and solid footplate was confidence inspiring in the bigger swell when you where trying to push the bow down into the next hole.
But it’s when you point the SL downwind that it really shins. The bow may be narrow but it is high volume with a great rocker profile making burying the bow quite difficult and as a result the SL really carries a lot of speed downwind. In the Wild Side Relay my max speed was 23kph on the 2nd leg while my max speed all week during training was 27kph. These are impressive numbers that validate it’s through bred status. The deep cockpit and high sides keep the bucket drier than I expected but when I did swamp the two-amble venturi’s had me dry in seconds. On surf, the SL carries its line well and when the bow is up (made easy by the volume and rocker profile), you can change direction quite easily. DJ had a shark fin style rudder installed on this demo SL which tended to snap the SL back to direction a little more aggressively than I wanted in some situations but a more traditional surf or elliptical style rudder would almost certainly remove that snappy direction change and give it a more progressive rudder feel.
In conclusion, I can honestly say that the Fenn Elite SL impressed and I hope DJ will let me demo it again when I return to the Gorge next year. The SL is a through bred that shins in the downwind conditions like we experienced all week in the Columbia River Gorge, validating it’s status as a top tier downwind racer used by some of the best paddlers out there. Huge thanks to DJ for allowing me to play with the Fenn Elite SL during my time in the Columbia River Gorge.
See the Fenn Elite SL in action at Swell City in the Columbia River Gorge here … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-4K5u9F5Zk
Wildside morning greeted paddlers with gusty winds & good waves. Surfski racers have gravitated to the Columbia Gorge, shredding the quality waves created by the summertime inversion that funnels the cool coastal air east towards the desert. A competitive field of 100 racers partnered-up for the downwind relay. The field included the dream-team duo of last years champs, Newton/Kiesling, along with gold medalist Greg Barton and current 2013 Surfski World Champion Sean Rice, who came over to see what all the hype of the Gorge is about. Great to see several new entries stepping up to the challenge, including a strong group of Vancouver, BC-based paddlers, as well as Chris Hipgrave (fixture of the US Wildwater team, pioneer of extreme class V racing) from North Carolina, who was making finish-line promises to return next year with a group of East Coast paddlers.
I was lucky enough to be able to partner with whitewater-slalom-racer-turned-surfski-young-gun Austin Kieffer for this event, which is becoming the premier downwind race in the US. I knew it was going to be a battle for the top three spots, and our tactic was to keep in touch with the lead boat as the race developed. At the halfway mark the race became a two-team horse race between Austin & I and Don & Gabe. Don and I came into the final transition with inches separating our hand-off. Austin fought hard early in the last leg to jump a couple waves ahead of Gabe and was able to defend that position for the remainder of the race. End result: only 9 seconds separated Austin and Gabe at the finish of the 24-mile race course.
The Glide and Spark performed fantastically for us this weekend. Austin, whose race weight is 190 lb, has been making the Glide move all year & the boat has been on a big winning streak in the international circuit. At 160 lbs these days, I’ve been loving the new Spark, which truly is an elite boat for paddlers under 170 lbs. There are several new top-end designs that can seriously move on flatwater, and the Spark and the Glide are both able to post quick flatwater speeds. More importantly, they are untouchable going downwind.
What’s next? US Champs is next weekend in San Francisco! Look for us at the Ocean Paddlesports tent on Friday for the pre-race Demo Day & I’ll be returning to Bellingham with a trailer full of new boats. Looks like we have nearly a trailer full of pre-sold boats going to happy local paddlers. Let me know if we can add something on for you!
Summer has arrived and we’re well into July with an amazing stretch of weather extending into the foreseeable future. This month will bring the two best downwind races of the years; Wildside Relay & US Champs. Get ready for downwind action!
I’ve been super excited about the performance of the new Fenn Spark & Glide as elite level single surfskis. The Spark is for paddlers less than 170 lbs & it has been incredible watching smaller paddlers get hooked on this new design. I was very excited when I got my hands on a Spark, and though I’ve spent considerable time in both the Spark & the Glide in all sorts of conditions, I’m thrilled to have a surfski that is made for smaller folks. I’ve always thought it doesn’t make sense for lighter folks to paddle the same boat as paddlers who outweigh me by 20-60lbs. Slalom, whitewater, and sprint racing kayaks all have designs tailored for different size paddlers, so it’s great of have a top performing elite surfski come out with two sizes.
Feedback from happy paddlers who have demoed & purchased a Glide or Spark has been simply incredible. I’ve been told numerous times the superior designs, unmatched quality construction, and unbeatable price point make the Fenn Spark & Glide easy choices as the leading elite surfski on the market.
The cynic comes out in me whenever I read about a new boat being x% faster. Hull speed tests & distance time trials can only be precisely replicated on flatwater, thus most of these tests are done in flatwater. Though flatwater speed is important to an extent, we paddle surfskis – so in my opinion I really only care about performance in mixed and downwind condition. In the slop, these designs are stable and it’s easy to keep applying the power, but the Spark & the Glide are defined by how it eats up downwind conditions – simply an animal! I find the boats are able to out perform any other ski I’ve paddled, yet the boats are stable and amazing at holding aggressive surfing angles in rough conditions.
As a comparison for you flatwater tight lycra junkies, last year I was able to pull a 7.8 mile result in the hour o’power test (dead flat conditions, no wind, no current) in the Fenn Elite SL. Two weeks ago I was able to hammer out an 8.05 on the Spark. I’d like to think I’m quicker this year – but over 3% – it’s got to be the boat. But, as mentioned earlier, the make or break decision point for surfskis should be in rough & downwind conditions. As much as I’ve been impressed with the incredible performance of the Spark & Glide in flat conditions, I’m blown by its overall performance in mixed and downwind conditions. The boat in stable (yes, width under 17″ & stable!), holds amazingly aggressive surfing angles, and is quick at leapfrogging waves & maneuver in big mixed conditions.
One customer just summarized Fenn quality by saying “you know what you’re getting when you buy a Fenn, consistently top quality product, light & strong, made to last”
The new hybrid lay-up has been hugely popular in the Pacific Northwest this year. Coming in at around 26 lbs, this construction combines bomber strong construction with a light boat that rips up the racecourse & is unbeatable on downwind runs. The carbon lay-ups have been coming in at (or under) 23lbs and is nothing less than a speed machine.
Reality of life that price is an important factor. Plain & simple, here are the numbers:
|Vac Glass 31lbs $2500||Performance 34lbs $2795||Performance 34lbs $2595|
|Vac Hybrid 26 lbs $2900
||Ultra 27.5 lbs $3795||——|
|Vac Carbon 23 lbs $3900
||Elite 24l lbs $5095||Elite 28lbs $3395|
Please feel free to contact me with any product related questions. The new shipment of Fenn’s arrives any day, please contact me ASAP if you are interesting in reserving one of the few last boats from this shipment.
Hope to see you on the water!
Congratulations to all local competitors in the last round of races! Fenn paddlers continue to lead the pack, keep up the fast racing!!
Dirty Dan Harris Challenge
1st Place Single Ski – Fenn Glide – Gabe
1st Place Double Ski – Fenn Elite Double – Joost/DJ
1st Place Mixed Double Ski – Fenn Elite Double – Paul/Elana
Lake Whatcom Classic
1st Place Short Course Single Ski – Fenn Spark – DJ – course record
1st Place Long Course Double Ski -Fenn Elite Double – Egor/Peter
1st Place Long Course Mixed Double Ski – Fenn Elite Double – Morris/Debbie
Tour de Indian Arm
1st Place Single Ski – Fenn SL – Gabe
1st Place Mixed Double Ski - Fenn Elite Double – Morris/ Debbie
GOOD JOB REPRESENTING – FENNTASTIC!