Saturday, September 6, 2014

Boat Supported Downwinder Trips with the Barbary Ghost



Paddling upwind is a great workout.  It's also a great way to improve your efficiency and technique:  shorter strokes, higher cadence, etc.  In addition, it makes you a smarter paddler because you are always looking for little ways to cheat the wind by looking for little wind breaks like maybe a breakwater, a little point, or even a boat.  The reward at the end of an upwind paddle is a well-deserved downwind paddle.  I figure this is paying your dues; you work hard and then you play hard.

All of that is great, don't get me wrong, but there is NOTHING like a downwind paddle.  To have a good downwind run you need a buddy or two to go with you and you need to set up a shuttle.  Here's how that works:

  1. Find a good day and time by checking the forecasts.  Hopefully, this day and time will be during the weekend.
  2. Find a friend named Ward Figge who also wants to go at the exact same date and time.
  3. Meet at Spot "z" (the take out)
  4. Load all gear in and on car one.
  5. Drive car one to spot "y" (the put in)
  6. Hope for good conditions (both wind speed and direction)
  7. Downwind to spot "z" and load gear in and on car two.
  8. Drive car 2 up to spot "y" and pick up car one.
  9. Load some gear into car one and drive away.
  10. Meet your buddy Ward at Cafe Reyes for a Farallon pizza and a Scrimshaw.
For this to work, you need all of the things.  Oh, you also need a ROAD!  Okay, there are alternatives like shuttle services (if you are lucky enough to live in Hood River or Maui), or loving spouses who can both drop off and pick up but don't push your luck with this one, trust me - use only in case of emergency.

The best option by far is downwinder by boat.  This solution comes with some additional cost but eliminates so many problems and is so much fun, it's worth every penny.  Not only does the boat replace the cars and all the wasted time driving around, it can also get you into places that are just not accessible by land.  Most importantly, the boat can set you up for a run of nearly any length and in the best direction.  This is a huge advantage.

I met a guy named Drew Testwuide last year who runs the charter boat Barbary Ghost out of Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael, CA.  In addition to being a super nice guy, he is a very competent boat captain who has really dialed in his weekday afternoon downwinders (called "Windy Wednesdays") and his longer, more intense weekend excursions (called "SUP Safaris").  His boat is equipped with racks for up to six SUP boards of any length and the routes and number of runs are customizable based on the conditions and who's on board.  The boat offers plenty of cabin space if you want to stay out of the wind and warm up, or up top if you want to look around.  There's also a fridge, changing area, and restroom (head). 

To have the best experience on a SUP Safari I recommend at least a couple years of paddling experience, an advanced SUP class like SUP 201, and a little rough water paddling experience.  Some surfing skills come in handy because  you will be moving around on the board a lot, changing direction, and bracing.

Disclaimer:  Drew is a friend of mine and a valuable resource for downwind lovers in the bay area. Drew trusts my paddling and coaching skills enough to let me come along as a guide/coach from time to time on his SUP excursions. 

Here is a typical SUP Safari:

  1. Register online and then meet at Loch Lomond Marina at a specific time. 
  2. Load board, paddle, PFD, and change of clothes on the Barbary Ghost.  Niko (the dog) will usually great you with a friendly bark but will not offer much help loading, though he will fetch your paddle if you happen to drop it off the dock!
  3. Once everyone is loaded, we have a pre-trip safety talk and also discuss the route(s).
  4. Drew motors the Barbary Ghost out into San Francisco Bay looking for the best wind and the best route (which includes a safe place to splash boards and then pick up at the end of the run).
  5. Everyone goes in one at a time and waits for the last person to launch.
  6. And they're off!  Everyone goes at their own pace.  The goal is to catch as many glides as possible, even linking one glide into the next.  Keep the board the planing as long as possible.
  7. During the run, Drew is shadowing the group, monitoring three VHF channels (14, 16, and 72), communicating with the guide, taking pictures, and preparing for the pick up.
  8. At the pick up, people and boards are loaded, smiles are smiled, fists are bumped, and tales are told.  Snacks are snacked and drinks are drank as the boat goes back upwind for another run or two!
  9. At the end of the last run, everyone changes into dry clothes and goes up top to see the sunset and have a snack and a drink while enjoying a trip down San Francisco Bay back to Loch Lomond.  We have fun recounting the best runs, the best falls, and the best glides.  For me, the ride back is a peaceful, relaxed, slightly exhausted feeling of gratitude and thankfulness with just a hint of sadness that it's over.  A bit like the last day of a wonderful vacation.
It sure beats driving doesn't it?  Check out some of the pictures from our last SUP Safari.  The wind was not that great on this day but we were lucky enough to have a pro photographer on board!  

Game plans are discussed shortly after leaving the marina on a warm August 30th.
Drew and Niko try to activate their wind-making super twin powers.
Gail is a strong paddler and is stoked to be on her first DW run!
Though not much wind here, it served a good warm-up.
I'm feeling a little bummed by the lack of wind from the Richmond Bridge to the Marin Islands. :(
Change of Plans:  We re-load and prepare to go on a wind hunt.  It's out there somewhere and we are going to find it.

The Barbary Ghost makes her way from the Marin Islands in search of wind.  Point Blunt Angel Island is our destination.
We head to Angel Island.  Drew, Gail, and I look for the best location to splash boards.
Captain Drew takes a close look at the cove before dropping anchor.
Eureka! We've found it!
Nice little waves starting to organize just off the beach.
I had to dig really deep to catch anything in this section.
Boat wakes from the Ghost work too! Beautiful San Francisco in the background.
I think Gail is enjoying herself.
Yeah, I'm laughing right before I take a swim.
There ever elusive cross-tail low brace caught on camera!
The group makes their way down the eastern shore of Angel Island where the Ghost awaits...
At Loch Lomond, we savor the final moments of the trip just as the sun sets.  Already planning the next adventure on the Barbary Ghost.





Thursday, August 28, 2014

New Board Alert! - SIC Bullet 17

Picked up a new board in Fairfield on Tuesday. Cleaned it and waxed it. Will get it in the water this weekend! Stay tuned for a full report.  Will also compare it to an older, custom-made SIC F18.  One is 6 pounds heavier than the other.  Can you guess which one?

9/7/2014 UPDATE!  Took the board out on Tomales Bay today.  Did two little upwind/downwind paddles, not super windy, maybe 10-12 max.  This board is fast.  Changing direction with the ASS system is easy to figure out.  Use the feet the steer and use the paddle for power and bracing.  The board is way more stable than I thought it would be.  I love it!  Perfect conditions today to get a feel.  Just windy enough to have some fun!

On the way home.
Took a few of the stickers off and gave it a good wash and inspection.
This is the thickest board I have ever seen.  Looks to be approximately 6.5 inches thick at the logo.
Very impressive finish on this board.  All of the lines are crisp, logos are perfect, deep rich colors and fades.  The blue paint on this thing is beautiful.  I love blue.  This looks like Cerulean Blue.  Very deep and very rich.  The entire board looks and feels very durable.  Downwind boards take a beating so they have to be tough.  This board is no lightweight at 41.8 pounds.  Despite it's narrow width there is a lot of volume in this board.  The edges between the blue areas
 and white are laser sharp, even at the tail.  

Lots of V in the deck to help shed water.  About 1.75 inches from the ridge to the end of the blue area.


The entire deck area is concave, a really nice touch.

Just behind the handle, the standing area is 21" wide.  The board width is 26.5".

Thickness of the board at the tail, over the rudder.


Thickness of the board towards the middle.

Thickness of the board in the middle.  Can barely get my hands to wrap around.

Thickness at the front tip of the deck pad.

Thickness about 2' back from the nose.

Not sure how well it shows up in the picture but there is a distinct line here.  The rails are glossy but the bottom is more of a matte finish.  This is probably to help reduce the appearance of scratches.  Rails are soft at the nose and gradually get sharper closer to the tail.


Quick inspection of the bottom shows a very flat surface going back to the standing area to a single concave and then leading to either double concave or v from the standing area to the tail.  I need to take another look during the day.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Best Technique Tip for SUP Downwinders

I know this guy named Drew Testwuide, he's become a friend over the past year or so.  Drew is the Captain of the Barbary Ghost which just happens to be the best SUP downwinder support boat on San Francisco Bay.  I'll write more about how this works in another post.  For now, just know that boat supported downwinder trips are dakine.

I feel very fortunate that I'm able to assist Drew with a few of these trips.  In addition to wrangling boards to a from the boat (often in high winds and from pitching deck), I serve as another set of eyes on the water, and even can offer some advice and coaching to first-timers.  Over the past couple of trips, I've tried to think of a tip or two that I can give people on land before getting on the boat or getting in the water.  Many of you may disagree with me here but I consider downwinding to be the top of the pyramid in the SUP world.  Other aspects of the sport merely prepare you for downwinding.  Combine the aerobic and anaerobic training components from racing, the board trimming and wave riding from surfing, the paddle finesse and bracing from whitewater, and the forecasting and trip planning from touring and you have downwinding my friend.  All roads lead to surfing whitecaps.

Okay, on to the tip; the fabulous Nose Draw into Forward Stroke.  First the why.  During a downwind run, we are usually in an off-set or a full surfing stance.  For me, that means I have the best control and most power while paddling on my right side because I am regular footed.  What happens when I paddle on my right side?  You guessed it, the boards wants to go to the left.  In a parallel stance, no big deal, I just switch sides and paddle on the left a few times before switching back to my right.  Not quite as easy on a downwinder.  In an off-set stance or full surf stance, I'm not going to have much power on my left side, that's number one.  Number two is, I'm going to slow down a lot during the transition to the opposite side.  Number three is that I have a really good chance of falling when the paddle is out of the water.  So how can we get lots of strong powerful strokes and braces on our dominant side?  You guessed it.  The nose draw into forward stroke.

How does it work?  Remember, If I am paddling on my right side, my board wants to go left so to counteract this movement, I need to pull the board to the right and that's where the nose-draw  portion of the stroke comes into play.  The nose draw pulls the nose to the right just seconds before the forward stroke pushes the board to the left (slightly).  They work together to keep me going (more or less) straight.  Beautiful huh?  This is considered a "blended stroke" where we combine two distinct strokes into one fluid movement.  Now, on my powerful right side, I stand way back at the tail, utilize my blended stroke to maintain speed and heading.  Nice!  When I get lucky and catch a little bump I can use a hanging low brace on the right side for stability (that's a bonus tip, no extra charge).

To help visualize this blended stroke imagine a lazy "r" connected to the rail of your board (on the right side).  The bottom of the "r" is where you are standing, while the top of the "r" is where you begin your catch. Now take your paddle and trace the "r" using the power face of your blade.  Look at the diagram below.  Try to mix some nose draws (alone) into your paddling to correct your heading.   Once you feel comfortable, start incorporating a little nose draw into your forward stroke from time to time.  See if you like it.  Remember, it doesn't have to be dramatic, sometimes just a little pull is all you need.  I hope this helps you have more success, and more fun on the water.  

Nose draw into forward stroke on the right side in off-set stance.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Downwind Fin Review - (COMING SOON!)

Over the past couple of years I've been trying a few different fins on my Angulo Shaka XLT.  I have finally found one that I'm going to keep on there for a while.  The right fin can make a huge difference in the way your board feels and performs.  Fin design is all about acceptable compromises between stability, performance, and speed.  It's also a little bit of a black art: one part science, one part anecdote, one part looks, and one part personal feel.  Granted, my review won't be very scientific, but hopefully it will give you a place to start if you are looking for a good fin for downwind conditions.  I might do it as a video so I don't have to type so much!  Stay tuned!

I will be reviewing the following SUP fins:
  • Larry Allison (Fibre Glass Fin Co.) Ninja
  • Larry Allison (Fibre Glass Fin Co.) Gladiator
  • C4 Downwind - Todd Bradley Signature
  • Futures - CA Downwind

Thursday, April 10, 2014

SUP Paddle Shaft to Blade Offset Angle

I enjoy being a part-time SUP instructor.  I feel honored to be able to introduce this sport to people when teaching for Blue Waters Kayaking on Tomales Bay or California Canoe & Kayak on the Oakland Estuary.  The people that stick with the sport will always remember me as the guy who gave them their first lesson just like I remember the guy that gave me my first lesson at Outside Hilton Head about 5 years ago.  

During my lessons, I like to do a little introduction on the beach.  I briefly talk about gear before moving on to what we are going to go and where we are going.  I spend most of the time talking about the paddle, the parts, the length, how to switch sides, etc.  I make sure to show them that the paddle blade is offset from the paddle shaft.  I tell them that this offset helps them pull the paddle from the water to begin the next stroke.  Normally, that is enough.  The point I want to get across to them is that during the lesson, they are going to have their paddle facing backwards!  Oh the horror and embarrassment!  

There's only so much data a person can process while standing on the beach anxiously awaiting their first lesson so I try to keep it brief.  In my head though, there are thoughts of keeping the blade vertical for a longer period of time during the power phase, increased reach, and improved caster, and less board heave.  If I'm not careful, I then start thinking about how my paddles have different offset angles and what that means which leads to thinking about the new Werner Stinger that I tried last weekend with a measly 7 degree offset and why that would be advantageous for whitewater paddling.  I'm slowly learning to keep my mouth shut and to move on with the lesson and not rattle off why the Werner Stinger has 7 degrees, my Werner Nitro and Spanker have 12 degrees, and my KeNalu Molokai has 9 to 6 to 3 (at the tip) degree offset and why I like the Nitro for surfing but it's not because of the angle, it's because of the blade shape and size as compared to the larger and fatter Spanker which looks similar to the KeNalu but I like the KeNalu better for downwinding because it seems to flex a little bit more because of the smaller diameter shaft and how much I like the lighter weight and the way the non-power face of the blade helps me brace blah blah blah.  At this point in their life, they DO NOT CARE ABOUT THAT! 

I can't help but think though, why ARE these paddles "bent".  Where did it come from?  I found a really good article on the Mad River Canoe website that explains all of this a lot more.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

SUP Downwinder Tips and Checklist


Downwind paddling is exciting, challenging, rewarding, and incredibly fun.   However, as the excitement factor increases, so do the risks.  Luckily, we have the ability to mitigate most of these risks if we prepare ourselves physically and mentally, obtain advanced training, adhere to safe boating practices, learn about the "four Ws" (Wind, Water, Waves, Weather), have a plan, and always paddle in conditions and venues that match our abilities and experience.  Here are some tips to help you have a fun, safe downwind trip:

1. Maintain good mental and physical fitness.  Downwinding takes a lot of energy, be prepared to work hard. Never paddle under the influence. Seek additional training and continue to refine your skills.

2. Be a weather "expert" and learn how the weather affects conditions in your area and how these conditions may change (sometimes rapidly) throughout the day.  Learn to use online resources for wind and weather forecasts.  Obtain information from various sources (NOAA Marine Forecasts, Buoy Data from multiple locations, etc.) as data points to help paint a picture of what the conditions will be like when you arrive.  Listen to marine weather forecasts and current conditions on your VHF radio.  Do you know what a "Small Craft Advisory" means?  Do you know how "winds 15 knots" vs. "winds gusting to 30 knots" affects your ability put-in, paddle, and take-out safely?

3. Gain some familiarity with the venue by going with someone who has experience there.  Consider how the tides can affect both the water conditions and the put-in/take-out locations.  Have a bail-out plan along with optional put-ins and take-outs.

4. Study nautical charts of the area.  Learn how to find respite from the wind.  Learn the navigational rules of road.

5. Keep your equipment in good working order.  Make sure you are dressed appropriately for the conditions and always prepare for immersion.  Prepare for wind chill.  Check your fin periodically, make sure it is secure.  If your leash is damaged, replace it.  Replace your leash cord (piece that connects your leash to your board) every so often.  Bring adequate food (gels work great for me), water, and sunscreen.  Carry a cell phone in a waterproof case and carry a VHF (marine radio).  Learn proper radio procedure and etiquette.  Consider carrying a tow rig and practice using it in rough conditions.

Wear a PFD on your body, not on your board!  A PFD provides buoyancy, thermal protection, impact protection, and most have pockets for storage (sunscreen, gels, radio, etc.). Many have reflective panels or piping. This is an essential piece of gear and is a Coast Guard requirement.  Learn how to fit it properly.  Have a whistle easily accessible.  This can serve as your Coast Guard required signaling device.

6. Listen to, and respect the advice of more experience paddlers or instructors.  Paddlers of other crafts (like kayaks, surf skis, and outrigger canoes) can make great guides, coaches and mentors.  Take advantage of their local knowledge and ability to read the water.  Reach out to fishermen and locals as a valuable source of information.

7. Go with a buddy and practice communication through hand/paddle signals and radio.  Talk about what to do if separated or in case of emergency.  Leave a float plan with someone and also leave a copy with your vehicle.

8.  Make your final "go or no go" decision based on your data points, the recommendation of your guide/instructor, your on-site observation of the conditions, and an honest assessment of your skills.  Experience creates confidence. Challenge yourself but trust your instincts. If it is too big, too rough, or if you don't feel right about it, don't go. Go have a beer instead and live to fight another day.

SUP Downwinder Checklist:

  •        Check weather, marine forecasts, and tide tables before you leave
  •        Create a float plan and a bail-out plan
  •        Soft Gear List:   thermal protection for your body (wetsuit), PFD,  sun protection (hat, sunscreen), footwear, water, food, container of warm water and a change of clothes left at the take-out
  •        Hard Gear List:  Board, paddle, leash, cell phone, VHF radio, cam straps (several in longer lengths for stacking multiple boards).  Make sure cars at the take-outs have straps.
  •        If your car is at the take-out, make sure you have your keys!
  •        Final “go or no go” decision for each participant.  This type of paddling requires a commitment to the journey.  Paddling upwind back to the put-in can be difficult or impossible.
  •        Safety talk - ABCD:  Area (distance, hazards, etc.) Boards (gear and clothing), Communication (hand and paddle signals, radios), Doctor (any medical conditions or concerns)