Author Archives: SurfskiNorthwest
Hey Pacific Northwest Surfski Paddlers!
After my 7-week training camp in South Africa, I am so fired up about the 2014 season and about surfski in general. I’ve been thinking a lot about training and racing over this past year and what it takes to train optimally for a sport like surfski. How do you approach an event, which looks like a strait forward endurance event on paper, but requires speed and accelerations bursts throughout? You need endurance to paddle hard for the whole race, balance, technique, and experience to handle the ocean, and the ability to accelerate during a race to take advantage of waves and drafting opportunities.
While I was in South Africa and throughout the past two years, I have had long conversations with everyone I could. Picking their brains about training, racing, and what surfski requires of them specifically. I came into this sport with an extensive training background in whitewater slalom and over the past two years of inquiring, exploring, and experimenting, and after this trip to SA, I feel like I have the experience and information needed to develop an ideal training plan and make 2014 my best year yet.
If anyone is interested, I have also started to develop an archetype training program, distilling what I think are the most fundamental element of my training plan. Given the specifics of your goals, your personal training measurements, and regular updates via email, I believe I can help optimize your training and share my training research with you.
I am seriously pursuing surfski racing this year. My big goals are top American at US Surfski Champs in San Fran and return to SA for the Cape Point Challenge and improve on my result from 2013. I am excited about the sport and eager to share my passion and expertise. Please contact me if you are interested in receiving a training program and weekly training check-ins. The programs and coaching will be donation based and all coaching funds will go directly towards training & race expenses. Please donate if you feel the help you are receiving is worthwhile – I would like to have the opportunity to help improve your ‘A-game’!
If you want a training schedule, please send me a set of information to help me personalize and trailer your training program.
• What is your next major race you would like to train for
• How long will this race take you to complete (Ideally)
• What is your maximum paddling heart rate
• When is your goal race
• What will the conditions (or most likely conditions) be for your ideal race
• How many times will you be able to paddle a week (including erg time, if you have one)
• What is your main technical focus or element of your paddling that you would like to work on this year.
I would like to personalize every training program and keep up with you weekly via email. If you have time, I would like to hear from you once a week at the end of your training. Updating me on how you felt in your workouts, what went well in your training, and any concerns you may have about the program or workouts specifically. Also, I plan on making trip to Bellingham throughout the year to paddle and race with the PNW crew & hope to be able run some surfski specific clinics during these trips.
Please feel free to contact me with any training or surfski related questions and hope you are having a blast on the water!
or please contact me through FACEBOOK
For your viewing pleasure -
WANT MORE? – Please feel free to contact me!
Austin recently spent nearly two months in South Africa training & racing with some of the best paddlers in the world. He was able end the trip with an impressive result of finishing ninth overall in the Cape Point Challenge, considered by many in the sport to be the most grueling single day surfski race on the international circuit. Enjoy his reflections on his amazing trip!
Things I have learned about Surfski in Fish Hoek, by Austin Kieffer
• Cut in front of people’s line of sight
It’s totally a dirty trick, but if possible cut in front of someone when surfing. I’m not talking about cutting them off or anything, nothing that douche-y, but crossing their line of sight a wave ahead is a surprising rhythm ruiner. Jasper did it a few times to me when doing training intervals and I was shocked at how I totally lost my rhythm and awareness of the waves.
• Always cheat at the start!
- There are no gentlemen in Surfski racing and if you see an opportunity to get ahead, take it! This is most notable in the start, where you always want to be just in front and sprint off the line one second early.
- I’m a little submissive naturally and training by myself hasn’t allowed me the practice to stay just a beat ahead of the competition, but Japser keeps telling me in racing and in practice that if I’m not pushing the pace I’m just going to get left behind.
• Be trained and practiced enough to start hard.
- I need to work on my starts. Racing with the SA guys starts fast and guaranteed within the first two minutes there is going to be a “second start” where they take off again.
- The key for me is to incorporate that fast start into my training. Almost all of my training before this has been threshold stuff, but I need the high-end speed to not get dropped right off the start.
• Race as much as possible.
- The athletes in SA are lucky. They race twice a week. I’m not talking about their workouts, which are all competitive; I’m talking about time trials. Line up, 45min-75min all out race simulation, with a race start.
- You need more than one week to recover from a huge block of training.
- Even if you are doing almost nothing that week. Heavy training should be finished at least two weeks before a big race (better if three) and heavy pre-race training should never be more than you have done in weeks prior during that training year/cycle.
• Never give up. Charge hard always.
- Mentally bank on people blowing out. It rarely happens, but you will never be able to capitalize on it if you have backed off the pace in defeat. Even if you are dropped off the lead pack.
- Never give ground expecting to make it up later.
- Even if you are feeling horrible, ground lost is almost impossible to gain back, especially in downwind conditions. Gut it out stick together with someone you want to beat. If you lose them you will lose drafting/pacing opportunities and even if they blow distance is hard to reclaim if you are both paddling.
• Kill yourself in the start of a downwind section
- Get the first possible wave and gain your surfing speed/momentum
- Don’t think of the first wave you catch as the time to catch your breath after a hard upwind/race start. The first few minutes on the waves can really dictate your pacing for the downwind and also a lead gained here is very difficult to make up.
- Scramble for that first wave and really work for about 1km to set a fast surfing pace. Then settle into your rhythm and let the waves do the work.
- I often see the first wave as a chance to rest, but you always want to lead in the surf so rest after about 1km
• Never lead a race.
- Even if you are feeling great, never take the lead. Stay with the leader, let them pull you or mark them. Only take the lead if you are confident you can make a break/ drop the competition. Any extra energy spent pulling a competitor is energy they will use to beat you.
• Don’t just surf at one speed
- Make sure to train at different downwind speeds.
- For a practice during a workout, work as little as possible and really feel the waves and let the ocean do the work for you. This can be good to learn when to push and capitalize when going hard
- For practice during another workout, paddle at long distance race pace. Race like you were in a 3-hour surfing race. By that I mean work hard, make sure you capitalize on every opportunity, but have the mentality of conserving as much energy as possible
- During another downwind workout, kill yourself on the downwind. Borderline on idiocy. Not necessary up and over waves, but if going over a small hump means a better wave, go over that damn hump. Rest on a wave only long enough to see the next opening. This is a big one that I had never practiced. I had always seen surfing as a skill/using the water paddling. Talking with the Jasper Macoke, he said that when going for a good time on the Millers Run he his gasping for breath and paddling way harder than he would on flat water.
• The key to downwind racing is to start fast (as already mention – but it’s important!). Start like you were doing a 3km downwind and then see if you can start holding that pace with more rhythm and waves pushing you for the remainder of your downwind.
- Think about having three speeds for downwind racing (psycho fast sprint, fast, gliding) I think training at all these different speeds will help you learn more than just having one downwind speed.
- For ground swell particularly, wait till your nose is pointed down before you start gunning it. I started out by always charging the back of waves and getting in the trough, knowing another big one was behind me. As a result, however, I always got some speed, but lost the big wave. I also discovered that I was wasting a huge amount of energy charging the back of waves. Instead, wait for the moment when the ski tips forward (you are on the face of the one behind) then put in an explosive spurt and I was surprised by how fast I surged forward and how that momentum allowed me to stay with the big wave longer.
- Paddle in a sprint and rest fashion when surfing. Avoid steady paddling!
- I have been really surprised to discover that steady paddling, even hard ‘getting after it’ paddling equates to slow surfing – don’t get caught in this rut!
- My best surfing has always come when I SPRINT then absolutely do nothing (paddles down) and surf. The faster I sprint/ the faster I surf, but if I don’t use the surf to rest (aka sprint the whole time) I am inevitably slow. It’s a fine line, got to have gas in the tank & know when to use it.
- Sprint as soon as I see an opening, as early as possible, and stop as soon as possible.
- Look for openings vigilantly, and as soon as you see one hit the gas full throttle, immediately, and then stop at the first opportunity. Often this means stopping a little before you think you need to. Don’t sprint all the way into a trough, but sprint till you are just past the tipping point of a wave. Sometimes stopping even before that and letting your momentum carry you to your destination.
Enjoy the ride – Austin
I owe a quick thank you to the entire paddling community for helping to make 2013 an outstanding year! The year started out with a bang as Kristen and I welcomed our son, Hank, to the world. He’s now an energetic eleven month old and it’s been fantastic watching him grow and become incredibly mobile.
Surprisingly, this also has also been my most fulfilling season in a surfski. I entered the season with the mindset to enjoy the process of training & only selected a couple races to focus on. The depth & strength of our local community and the US Surfski community keeps getting stronger – everyone seems only to be getting faster, so watch out for the pace to bumping up a notch in 2014!
There were many paddling highlights from last year that made the season memorable. Our Wednesday night drag races are always fun midweek burnouts, the local downwind crew was always eager to hit the bay for mild-to-mild conditions, enjoying a bit of Gorge downwind time & teaming up with Austin again for Wildside has become a summer tradition, and being part of a solid PNW crew at US Champs was good motivation to keep the boat moving throughout the year. Looking forward to doing it all again and more next year!
The Ocean Paddlesports product line-up only continues to grow stronger and it’s been fun teaming up with them for the past three years. The Fenn Surfski flotilla only continues to grow stronger with the addition of three new designs. The Elite Spark & Elite Glide have the top end market nailed and it’s been impressive how these designs shine in all conditions. Also, the new Blue Fin offers new paddlers the opportunity to hit the water and chase waves on a sleek comfortable ride. The quality of the Fenn products speaks for itself and continues to goes unmatched. We kept the boat transport company busy last year making local paddlers happy and look forward to doing it again next year. Also, check out the new Mocke products that are uniquely designed specifically for surfski performance. Look for the new Gara wing paddles that have taken over the South African surfski scene, new Jantex blades, and more exciting products to be hitting the water near you soon!
Big thank you to all local paddlers who have continued to support Ocean Paddlesports and we look forward to continue to offer quality surfski products & service at the best value on the market. It’s been rewarding being a part of our paddling community and exciting to watch it continue to grow. Hope to see you on the water soon!
Happy New Year,
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!