Saturday, 16 November 2013

Unhelpful chart success...

  Well, it's in and out of the No.1 spot, to be fair, hounded by the excellent Pub Paddles and Canoe and Kayak Map of GB, both by Peter Knowles. As I press "publish" on this, it's sitting at number five. Still not too shabby. Also interesting to see that so many of the books in the top twenty are about sea kayaking. But lovely and uplifting to find my book doing so well.

However... I wrote that book in 2001, for all that the publication date reads 2009. So, although it is not out of date, per se, it's a repackaged version of a fairly old product. And that's why it's cheap. So, unless your budget prevents you, please buy the Haynes Kayaking Manual instead - it's brand new, up to the minute, and has many cool and recent photos in it. You'll also be spared my incessant gibbering for a few pages here and there, as I include contributions from paddling friends all round the world. Top guys and girls, every one. EJ, Helen Wilson, James Bebbington, Freya Hoffmeister, Rafa Ortiz and many more!

Also, and most importantly, you'll be lining my pockets. I get a small but important royalty for each edition of the Haynes Manual sold, whereas the older book, I get nil, nada, nothing - I was paid a fixed fee for that one, and I've long since spent it. In 2001, in fact.

© Haynes Kayaking Manual
So, ladies and gentlemen, once again I present - the Haynes Kayaking Manual. It's available from all good booksellers, although it's probably cheapest on Amazon. It's very good, has more 5* reviews than anything else I have written, and covers more topics than any previous kayaking book - it's not just about falling off waterfalls! Please go and buy one. If you can't afford it, drop me an email and I'll try to fix you up.

Thank you all for your continued support, I really appreciate it!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Blast from the past...

photo © Helen Stewart 
My old paddling buddy Pete Vickers (he on the left in the Dagger Vertigo) recently dug out this photo from 1998 - yes, we were trying to find ways to make life more exciting even then.
I have a funny feeling it's been scanned from an old copy of Paddles magazine. I recognise that paint splatter effect. Very popular that was. In the 90's...
The original photo was (probably) taken by the talented photographer (and my ex-business partner) Helen Stewart née Metcalfe, and from the angle I'd say she was balanced precariously on the driver's seat or someone's shoulders with the sort of regard for Health And Safety that I'm proud to say most of us continue not to have. I can't actually remember the photo being taken. I was too busy trying not to be sucked into the trough behind the transom where I imagined I would flip right and head-butt the propeller. That's about as far as I go with risk assessment. Looks bad, be careful or avoid. Luckily, balancing on top of the pile of a weirdly surging wave was pretty much my job back then.
From all of the above you may gather that I'm the one on the right, paddling the controversial and irritating Prijon Alien. Controversial because it wasn't exactly the best-selling boat in the history of the very successful Prijon GmbH, and irritating because I got the blame for it. I think that episode put paid to any chances I may have had of a career as boat designer, which is a shame. But I reckon enough water has rushed under the bridge that I can come out and explain why, without too much fear of upsetting anyone.
The brief was to create a concept playboat, to address the threat to Prijon's image posed by the new planing hull kayaks like the Vertigo above, the Riot Glide and many more. They feared that without some sort of radical freestyle kayak they were in danger of looking old-fashioned. At a meeting at Prijon HQ in Rosenheim, Germany, I was told that it was not necessarily to be a production boat. "We will probably never make it in plastic" they said, surmising that it was too specialist a boat to suit their production methods. I also clearly remember  being told "I don't care if only a few guys in the world can even paddle this thing - make it crazy, truly extreme!"
You don't get a commission like that every day, so I set to work with alacrity. And after a week I had shaped a deck design that looked sexy and that I was confident about. It was unusually symmetrical, for better cartwheels and spins, and was designed so that the knees were moulded in to the deck shape. But I had no idea what to do with the hull and the rails. I made the hull completely flat with the same upturn at each end as my surfboard's nose, and rounded the rails to a 1cm radius because that works well on wave-skis. My plan being to get a prototype out and develop it based on paddling it in the real world. There the whole scheme started to unravel.
photo © Bill Mattos

When the prototype arrived it needed some tweaks to volume and width before anyone could credibly judge the hull performance. This done, the phase 2 prototype was awesome on a green wave face and on top of a foam pile, but a bit of a nightmare in the trough. It was as hard to paddle as promised, but I could do things in it I'd never been able to before and I figured I could make it easier to live with in one more iteration. But while I was still trying to get my head around that, the boys at Prijon went into production with a plastic version. They too had concluded it was overly trippy, but had addressed that by chamfering the rails into a pair of sharper twin rails (which was kind of a double-edged sword).
This shot is of Tim Thomas paddling at Flowerpots, in the Mk1 prototype which I had unceremoniously cut up with a jig-saw and stuck back together with ductape. It's still one of my favourite kayak cartwheeling shots of all time!
More stable on end - wavewheeling the production, plastic Alien © Helen Stewart
Unsurprisingly, the boat was a bitch to paddle and almost everyone hated it. It bombed. A few of the best paddlers in the UK and Europe persevered for a year and then switched sponsorship deals to get something that didn't make them look like a beginner half the time. I was pretty unrepentant (read 'putting a brave face on it') in saying that the design delivered exactly what the company had asked for, but it hurt at the time. I continued to paddle the Alien for a while, enjoying it a lot in the surf and on surface features in the river, but eventually had a really bad experience on a Class IV that properly rattled me. And I don't think I ever won a freestyle event again, except in the squirtboat category or in the surf.
Back to the fun and frolics of showboating with the powerboat. We don't have any surviving video of that first attempt, but here's some from about ten years ago in a Sneaker surf kayak. As you can see, we used a tow start until the wave develops, but then it's surprisingly easy to retain the ride. Well, I say easy...

 Thanks to Explorer Marine for their continued willingness to provide powerboats for reckless stunts of all kinds. Here are a couple of shots of me driving  (and flying) their phenomenal RIBs. Yes, there's a big boat inside that whirlathon. It's a trademark move my brother invented - kind of like a handbrake turn/blunt fusion. But bigger. 

Until next time.

Don't forget to breathe...

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Review - Zinc Red-i POV/action camcorder

photo © Mattos
This is the Red-i micro camcorder from Zinc Sports, which is available from Tesco and Argos for around £29.99
At first glance there doesn't seem to be a lot in the box. The camcorder itself is a simple device. Looks like a webcam that's been restyled to resemble the Millenium Falcon. It has a power button on one side, and a start/stop button on the other, and an LED status light. A micro-SD card (not supplied) goes in a slot and there's a mini-USB port (cable is supplied) for charging and downloading.
The camera comes with removable tie-clip that makes it easy to wear on your clothing (see reflection shot in the video below), and a rubber case that offers some protection from knocks, and can be used to attach it to other things. The mounting looks a little primitive, but it's actually genius. Two little elastic cords wrap around pretty much anything and hook onto the case. It doesn't take much imagination to attach it to a helmet, bike frame, scooter, skateboard trucks or a stationary object like a fence or bin. The beauty of it is its versatility -  you don't need seventeen different components. This one case will attach to most stuff.
photo © Mattos 
The only thing I had a problem with was how to attach it to something flat, like the deck of a board. To do this you'd either have to stick on something the camera case can wrap around, or take off the case and the camera will stand on a flat surface. You just need to figure out a way to keep it there.  Or, attach the clip to a pocket or shoe or the hem of your jeans. That works well too.
I have to mention that the resolution is not up to the HD quality that is the norm for smartphones and more expensive action cameras. The Red-i shoots a frame size of 720x480 pixels. It's very approximately equivalent to the old SD TV standard, and it's more than enough for sharing on Facebook and the like. There aren't any different settings. You turn it on, press start, and it records. Press again, and it stops and saves the file. If the cam powers off while filming, you don't lose the clip, it's saved up to that point. Battery life is good for an hour or two. And it powers off to save the battery after 30 seconds if you aren't filming.
photo © Mattos
I've posted below a series of clips I shot with the Red-i camera. My edit won't win any Oscars, but I've tried to show the shooting characteristics of this little device. Like every automatic action camera I've used, it auto-adjusts the exposure in a rather clunky way if the light changes, and it doesn't cope at all with being pointed at the sun. But neither do cameras ten times the price. You can see some extremes of glare and silhouetting in the video, but on the other hand in some of these shots I have accidentally got some nice lighting effects which could easily be repeated. The depth of field is excellent, as you can see - having an object in the foreground does not affect the distance focus. Unlike some cameras, the lens is not massively wide angle. This means that in a rider-facing shot on the bike, the head and shoulders fill the frame when the camera is on the handlebars. But the advantage is when used as a POV camera, the view is a lot more realistic and less distorted than some of the 170º wide angle devices deliver. It doesn't seem to have a problem with vibration, and the sound is real, although of course wind noise can be heard at speed.
All in all it's a great little camera for the money. Or twice the money, to be fair, since that would still be about half the price of most of the high performance cameras. The resolution might be a problem for making professional films but it's great for fun and friends, and the simplicity and usability of this little toy is second to none. It isn't HD, and it isn't waterproof, but to get that you need to pay 4 times the money and read a massive manual. You're up to speed with the Red-i in about 30s flat, and once you've charged it fully before first use as per the instructions, there's not a lot to learn. Just attach it to stuff, turn it on, and have fun!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Keeping it real...

The Importance Of Wood
Photo © Bill Mattos 2013  
Britain's #1 Adventure Magazine, Canoe & Kayak UK hits the streets with Issue 153, otherwise known as December, today. Featured large is another of my finest literary moments - the one where I get a pirate reference and a sexual innuendo into the title at the same time.
There are also many fine photos, most of which weren't taken by me. This article owes a lot to John C. Harris at Chesapeake Light Craft and Paul Stanistreet at Fyne Boat Kits, who went out of their way to help with pictures of their lovely boats in the build process as well as in action. There was also a super chap whose name I am ashamed to say I didn't get, but who allowed an over-excited total stranger (me) to photograph his beautiful kayak at Daymer Bay last summer, and who in part was the inspiration for this piece.
Finally, I'd just like to point out that no article would be complete without a photograph of a pretty girl in a bikini. If you want to know just how I pulled that off, you'll have to buy the magazine, available online or at all good newsagents now.

Thanks also to Samantha Barnes, Tamar AONB and The Tamar River Project.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Latest Article

Article - Bill Mattos / Photos - Bill Mattos, Jason Smith  
If you haven't seen it already, check out Issue 152 of Canoe And Kayak UK magazine. As well as my usual ranting, this month about why you should get out of your boat and go swimming, (illustrated with many examples of times when I did and I shouldn't have) there are articles on the Aegean, waterfalls, canoes, cool people and kit, and The Floater has his usual bizarre slant on the boater's life, too. Grab your copy while they're still on the shelves!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Another fine DPS...

Photo - Bjorn Thomassen © Haynes Publishing Ltd
It is a truth commonly acknowledged that the first thing you should see when you open a book is some pretty girls in bikinis. OK, maybe it isn't. But it is a common truth that kayaking books don't have enough girls in them, and that too many of the people of either gender are wearing a lot of unflattering clothing and equipment, which is no way to sell anything, especially an entire sport. And the fact is, indubitably and despite what the expert whitewater self-publicists would have you think, the majority of actual paddling that takes place in the entire world takes place wearing only swimwear.

My challenge, then, was to reflect that without incurring the wrath and ire of those who think you should never venture afloat without a lifejacket and a helmet on. Or the snide remarks of those who, for whatever reason, think that any attempt to make kayaking look sexy is in some way offensive. Frankly, it offends me when it isn't. This double page spread in the Haynes Kayaking Manual, predictably, has caused quite a lot of comment. Most of those comments have been something like "Well, I bet you enjoyed that photo-shoot". As if I have to engineer some sort of complex ruse when I want to look at girls in bikinis. That is what the internet is for.

Actually, I'm not sure I did enjoy the photo-shoot. It's nice when a kayaking photo-shoot involves more kayaking than it does carrying stuff a very long way to the location, but that rarely happens. I remember on this occasion I was exhausted and close to tears before I even unloaded the kit from the van. And then we had to carry it a very long way to the water. It's a miracle that the girls look as though they're having a good time, because it was freezing cold and very windy. Bjorn, the photographer, was soaking wet from standing in a river to get the right angle for the shots. The same river that I allowed his very expensive reflector to blow into because I was temporarily distracted by something. I forget what.

All in all, the scene behind the scenes was not as happy or as pretty as the images it created, or the people in them. But whatever. That's the way it goes. More often than not.
© Nookie Waterwear And Apparel
The photos have gone on to be popular with the sponsors who helped to make them possible, with Nookie using them in web content and on their show stands, as well as Kober paddles and Tootega kayaks.
© Haynes Publishing Ltd
And this one definitely lifts the overall feel of the book from the macho, body-armoured front cover shot (pictured below) to the tanned and happy photo that confronts the reader on opening the tome. So, difficult and stressful though it was to make the shoot happen, I'd happily have done more of them if it had been practical to use those kind of images more.

The other group whose wrath I feared was the pseudo-feminist "You're only using these images cynically to sell your book" campaign. Of course, the truth is, these ladies are not exactly paddling. They are, heaven forbid, having fun though. If they were semi- or more-naked and pretending to scout a waterfall, as some do, that might be seen as contrived. Or perhaps not. So far, anyway, I haven't had more than slightly raised eyebrows, rather than the online flaming I was expecting, but my prepared response stands... all over the world, pretty girls are at the beach wearing bikinis. Some of them go kayaking. It's not weird, or wrong.
Photo © Bjorn Thomassen

Monday, 30 September 2013


Me, pressure testing a Nookie Assassin suit, back in the day.
I loved that shirt, wonder where it is?

Waterproof Breathable Fabrics (WBF's) are these days regarded as essential in outdoor clothing. In a previous post I gibbered on incessantly about the breathability aspect - now we're going to talk about waterproofness and how the two figures are expressed.

If a manufacturer quotes the fabric performance it will usually be as follows:


 - which is waterproofness (or WP or Hydrostatic Head) / breathability (MVP or WVT or similar)

Typical figures for a waterproof garment are 10,000 (mm) / 5,000 (g/m2/24hr)

The waterproofness figure in this case, 10,000mm, means that you could put a 10m column of water on the fabric without it leaking, or that you could take it down 10m underwater.  Sounds a lot, eh?

The truth is you aren't going to be even 1m underwater very often, but that pressure could be simulated by the hydraulic pressure of being hit by a wave, for instance. And nobody really knows how much of that we are exposed to. However, experience has shown that anything with a WP rating of over 4000 doesn't really leak at all in use. And that's lucky, because what the manufacturers never tell you is that the seams are not as waterproof as the fabric. 

Your garment is full of seams, and they are tape sealed to make them waterproof. The quality manufacturers use a water pressure testing device to check their fabrics and this can also be used on the seams - generally speaking seams pass the test if they withstand 4000mm pressure. Seams tested in the factory are very unlikely to withstand more than 8000mm, and in any case it's not desirable to test this high on a production garment because of the damage that kind of pressure inflicts on the fabric and seam. 
So, irrespective of fabric rating, straight out of the factory the real waterproofness of your garment is closer to 4000mm, but that's OK - it's more than enough. However, over time repeated flexion of the seams will weaken the adhesive and lead to a constant deterioration in waterproofness. This can be repaired at home with glue, tape or patches until it becomes too laborious to do so, at which point it's time to replace the garment. How long this takes is entirely dependant on usage and care - a pro boater like one of our test team who paddle almost every day might arrive at this point in three months. A recreational user might take three years. It's impossible to say.

Thanks to Ardmel Automation Ltd, The University of Life, The A Level of Intuition, and a GCSE in Making Kayaking Equipment for 20 Years.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

So how does fabric breathability really work?

Is it really possible for a fabric to keep the water out while letting perspiration escape at the same time?

Good question... 

I originally wrote this article for the Nookie website, and it may have appeared in Canoe And Kayak UK magazine as well. It's reared its ugly head again because I was doing some research on sailing gear recently, and some of the comments on the forums amused me - it was like stepping back in time. 

Back when I first became interested in technical outdoor gear, it was still a widely held belief that waterproofness and breathability were inversely proportional. A lot of ocean sailors and fishermen seem still to believe that, while yet bleating about how wet they get inside their oilskins from perspiration!

There is a mechanism by which a waterproof material can still allow water vapour to pass through it. The physical chemistry of this is fairly horrendous so I'll gloss over it and say that it's called diffusion and was defined by a clever chap called Fick, and you can read what he worked out here if you want your head to hurt a lot. The way a waterproof barrier can be made to allow diffusion varies and is even more complex than the inner workings of Fick's mind, but they fall broadly into two categories - microporous and hydrophilic. Both types of barrier allow diffusion but microporous ones being a bit more natural do so fairly simply, following Fick's hypothesis to the letter. Hydrophilic barriers have an anomalous diffusion mechanism, using transient hydrogen bonding of water molecules to complementary functional patterns on the polymer chains. It is sometimes described as a ‘‘molecular stepping-stone mechanism’’ but I think a better way to visualise it is that the water molecules are passed from one place to another like a bucket passed along a line of people. You don't want to know how though... you really don't! 
Luckily for us both of these methods work pretty well. But, how breathable do the fabrics need to be? Well, truth is nobody knows. We can work out how much vapour we need to shift at a given workload. But estimates of how much of that is lost through the head, or on the breath, vary enormously. And the laboratory tests that indicate how much vapour will pass through the fabric per unit time are, frankly, a bit rubbish.
WVT (water vapour transmission) is technically (SI units) expressed in kilograms (of water) per square metre per second. However, the so-called "trivial unit" of grams/m2/24hrs is the more common measure of breathability in industry. The figure that the manufacturer gives, however, is obtained in a laboratory test rather than under true biological conditions. There are at least three International Standards that can be applied to WBFs, each using different test conditions and expressing results in completely different ways. The ‘‘sweating hot-plate’’ method, called  the skin model (ISO 11092:1993) was developed from research into the effects of clothing on human thermoregulation under varying workloads, and yet the Standard test parameters (35˚C; RH 100% to 40%) are pretty meaningless for outer garments worn in real-life situations.
The problem is that the barrier doesn't just breathe on its own. It requires a vapour pressure gradient between the inside and the outside. And that depends on temperature, relative humidity (RH, above) and a bunch of other stuff. You could force yourself to understand Fick's hypothesis at this point, or you could just believe me. Either or...
Just because a fabric has a high breathability score in a lab test, doesn't mean it's an oustanding performer in the field. Because in the field the figures are all substantially different. And we wear one or more layers of thermal clothing, the performance of which is as or more important than that of the waterproof shell! In many wet conditions, the thermal and vapour pressure gradients across the actual waterproof fabric are negligible, so any vapour transmission will be approximately nil too, irrespective of any other performance characteristics. But the manufacturers have to say something, so they quote what they can. There is, however, no substitute for human testing in real operating conditions, and this can reveal surprisingly excellent performance even in counter-intuitively difficult circumstances. In some conditions, a good waterprooof breathable shell CAN expel all the moisture we need to for thermoregulation, and be dry inside at the end of the day. I recommend strongly that you test garments before buying, or buy something a trusted fellow has used and liked, or at least buy from a manufacturer you can trust, rather than one that quotes spurious and irrelevant lab results in an attempt to garner your interest.
Before I go, a few myths to dispel. Microporous fabrics DO NOT leak, or clog up with salt. The diffusion process CAN reverse and breathe backwards, but if the circumstances for this persist for more than a few seconds you are probably already dead or something very weird. The fabric being wet or frozen DOES NOT in itself stop the diffusion process, and can in some circumstances accelerate it. And the fact that other gear like a spray deck/skirt, buoyancy aid/pfd, or backpack are covering vast swathes of the breathable area may not help, for sure, but it DOES NOT completely stop the fabric from breathing there.
So, there you go. That's breathability. Check back soon for a rant about waterproofness. See ya!

Thanks btw to the Royal Society of Chemistry, The University of Life, The A Level of Intuition, and a GCSE in Making Kayaking Equipment for 20 Years.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Behind The Scenes 2

I should know by now that time and tide wait for no man - photo Bjorn Thomassen
   Another of the lifestyle DPS's (Double Page Spread) for the Haynes Kayaking Manual featured a cheerful group of sea kayakers, ostensibly setting up camp / making a brew in a picturesque rocky cove. These lifestyle pics are part of a strategy to make the book "feel" good throughout, to tie together the 400 or so action shots and the less dynamic equipment photos. There are only six of them, but since they run full-bleed across two pages each, they have a big impact on your first impressions of the book when you pick it up. I judged this to be important, but time will tell whether it makes the positive difference I'm hoping for...
© Haynes Publishing Ltd - photo Bjorn Thomassen - Valley Sea Kayaks
The location, a gully on Cot Valley beach in Cornwall, was chosen by photographer Bjorn Thomassen for its spectacular rock formations and gigantic mega-pebbles. Less so for its for ease of access while manhandling composite sea kayaks, as there is no path into the gully, but we are no strangers to adversity. As well as the four of us in the photo, there was just Bjorn, assisted for the day by awesome Swedish photographer Jeanette Svensson. But as always everyone just mucked in and lifted and carried stuff. And there was a lot of stuff. Portable studio lights from Elinchrom and The Flash Centre. That's three Elinchrom Quadras with their diffusers and stands, plus two giant folding California Sunbounce reflectors, battery packs, cameras, spares, stuff to keep it dry... Frankly it wouldn't have been possible to get the job done in the tide/weather window of about six hours without the super-portable power packs and lighting equipment, unless we'd had a separate rigging team.
The Valley Sea Kayaks and bags of Nookie gear had to be ferried down steep rocks onto the beach. Normally I'm one for throwing these durable kitbags wherever possible, but by some bad planning I wasn't sure which bags contained photographic equipment as well as clothing! And the kayaks themselves, though far from fragile, are too valuable to scrape and drag. So getting everything to the location took a while, although not as long as paddling there would have done. In another twist of fate, we were all in bare feet. I'm really not sure why that happened, and suspect incompetence on my part. I can see at least one pair of shoes in the final photo! Sometimes there is just too much to think about...
Model Chanelle, completely unfazed by being used as a porter
The Kayaking Manual has been on the streets for over a month now, and bandied around the various social media for longer than that. That photo is, so far, the only image that I've received significant grief over. Some paddlers felt that the models looked too tanned, warm and happy, and that this didn't reflect their idea of kayaking. And a couple of people thought it was a bad thing that they look like models. Sorry... The thing is, all four of the people in the shot actually are models. The fact that three of them also happen to be kayakers is kind of by the by. They were selected for the fact that they look outdoorsy and sporty, but more importantly that they can stand stand around all day getting windblown, wet, cold and hungry and still be able to smile and look good!
Models Russell and Jade also did the lifting and carrying

Some other comments:
'...a bit too fake for my taste, perfect hairdos, spiffy clean clothes, shiny kayaks, even the rocks are clean...'

'I would not have my composite boats on rocks like that...'

"...none of my friends and I go on a trip with coordinated tops and shorts."

That last one did amuse me a bit, because most of my friends do ;)

Interestingly, The Expeditioners Magazine sent a positive message about how much they liked the photo when we shared it on Facebook. Perhaps because they too are real kayakers, but as committed as I am trying to make travel look attractive and not like some sort of trial...
Russell takes the plunge...
 Of course, part of the mission was to feature the boats from Valley Sea Kayaks and the neoprene and thermals from Nookie. I can't get all the photos for a book like this without the help of sponsors. That's why everyone's wearing matching gear - it all comes from the same manufacturer, and the sub-plot here was to get them some catalogue shots in return for the equipment. The paddles are all from the German manufacturer Kober. The boats, while all Valley, have a bit more variety, but I still don't understand the criticism that they're "too shiny". My boats get dusty and muddy in the back garden, but they tend to get very clean in the water.
What these pics really show is the massive difference between photos of how the location really looked (mine) and the ones Bjorn lit carefully with the Elinchrom gear and shot on the top cameras and lenses from Canon. It's like pumping a little magic into the shot. And that's what I wanted... I do understand the criticisms of those who'd prefer to see grittier pics, perhaps of unhealthy looking people being cold and miserable, but I don't think that's going to sell as many books! That's it until the next instalment. Have fun, and don't forget to breathe.
Models look on as Bjorn positions lights and kayaks. Look at the difference in light and texture in the next photo!
Another of Bjorn's shots from the same set that was used in the back inside cover spread of the book. I love all the different compositional elements of this photo, it's more of an art shot than a lifestyle one.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Val Sesia Kayaking 2013

I won't be there. Last year was a hoot - sunshine on green and white water, and good friends from the kayaking industry that I hadn't see for a while. It was my first time at this annual gathering and I thought of making it a regular fixture, but this year other work and social commitments take precedence. I'll be thinking of all you crazy people hucking in the sun, though, and leave you with a little composite from last year, my first time on the Egua, but I hope not the last.

Photos © Josh Gosling & Big Dog Kayaks

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Warm up advice

I recently published an article in Canoe & Kayak UK about fitness and training, and the response to that has prompted me to share some of the advice from it here, too.

If you paddle a kayak, especially in the UK where it's a bit chilly a lot of the time, you are probably guilty of getting in the boat without doing any kind of physical preparation. Maybe you think you can ease into it by paddling gently at first. But the forces of nature might have other plans. So... 

Warm up and Stretch
I never did bother with this when I was younger. And I was injured a lot. I also found that after thirty minutes in the boat I was starting to get tired, because I was fighting cold muscles and unyielding tendons. By the time I was properly warmed up, it was game over. 

I was worn out from battling against my own body. I thought I was really, really unfit, but I wasn't. 

I was just doing it wrong...

It takes ten minutes of gentle exercise like fast walking, jogging, star-jumps or whatever you like, if you're a teenager. If you are middle aged I would suggest thirty minutes of even more gentle exercise than that. It's a massive drag and I never feel like doing it, especially as it cuts into my actual boating time, but it does help a lot.

Stretchy power bands like those pictured here are a really good warm up strategy that you can use in the car park (attach them to the roof rack, or a tree) and won't make you feel too much of a loon!

Having warmed up, do a range of basic stretches on dry land. Google them, I'm not a trainer!

Finally do some rotation and forward and backward stretches in the boat. This has the added advantage of making sure your range of movement in the kayak is unencumbered and that there's nothing in the cockpit that is likely to injure you. That reverse cross-deck rotation is a good way of checking you've screwed the drain plug in, too...

If you do this, I'm willing to bet you'll enjoy your paddling more, and be far less injury prone to boot!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Behind The Scenes 1

One of the tricksy things about creating a book like the Haynes Kayaking Manual is to captivate the reader from the outset with fantastic imagery. The words may well be entertaining and informative, but you just aren't going to buy it unless a cursory flip through the pages ticks all the right boxes!
At the planning stage, I was pretty confident that I was going to shoot high quality technique pics (I hadn't planned for the British weather, but that's another story), and I knew from the start that contacts in the kayaking industry would help out with mindblowing action pics. What I felt was missing was a bit of lifestyle to tie the message together, a few shots that said "Kayaking is fun, cool people with happy lives go kayaking..." And strangely that's more of a challenge. A wicked action shot looks awesome as long as it's basically in focus and correctly exposed - no one is too worried about the composition and the finer points of lighting. But unless a lifestyle shot is super-über-mega-well executed, it will end up looking like someone's holiday snaps, and that does not stand up to scrutiny in a book on the shelves in Waterstones.
© Haynes Publishing Ltd, photo Bjorn Thomassen
 I didn't want to go overboard with this strategy - out of 500+ photos in the book, I just wanted about six completely posed lifestyle scenarios, interspersed through the book, enhancing the feel. All the rest of the shots are "live" action, with the exception of a few headshots of kayaking personalities that I interviewed. But to get those six I was going to need an exceptional shooter. I considered a number of photographers, but the obvious choice was Bjorn Thomassen. I'd seen all kinds of different work from this globe-trotting maestro but what always stands out is his exceptional use of light and the magical "texture" he gives many of his shots. He's really in demand, so I wasn't sure I could get him on board, but when I visited him at his studio in Cornwall he revealed he was a keen kayaker himself, and was almost as enthusiastic about the plan as I was!
The photo above is the chapter opener for the surf kayaking section. The surf's a bit messy, but I think the image successfully conveys warmth, and happy sun-tanned people enjoying a balmy tropical evening? You'd never know it was shot in a howling gale and driving rain on a bitterly cold beach in North Cornwall.
photo © Simon Burfoot. Bjorn uses Elinchrom lights, Canon cameras/lenses.
 The twin Elinchrom Quadras light the models, utilising weatherproof and portable battery packs. The lights are carried here by Izzy Tulloch and Josh Gosling, while Bjorn shoots from the safety of his umbrella. Since the tide was rushing in, it was necessary for the whole scene to move back several metres between each shot - otherwise the flash units could have been free standing.
Bjorn briefs the models - in this shot the Elinchrom light has triggered from Simon's on-camera flash. ©Simon Burfoot
The combination of this highly portable and controllable system, and the high quality lenses and cameras from Canon, allows Bjorn to create an image where he, not nature, controls the quality and texture of the light, despite being far away from any power source.
Mattos, and Kitty James. Valley Surf Kayaks, Kober Paddles, Nookie Eqpt  © Simon Burfoot
 There were unique challenges for every shoot in this series. On this occasion, a very limited timeframe (for reasons of availability of models and the lovely British weather, the shoot was scheduled for late evening, and the crew had assembled from all over the UK) was compounded by the unseasonable cold. There's only so long you can look as though you're not freezing! But as you can see, we nailed it.
The crew assembles the gear and the models get ready to freeze. © Simon Burfoot

Shooting the other direction presents no problem when you've brought your own light! © Simon Burfoot

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Big Dog Ad

The latest copy of Canoe And Kayak UK magazine contains this very fetching ad for Big Dog whitewater kayaks, using a photo I shot of Josh Gosling on the Egua river in Italy.

I was really pleased with the degree of freeze on the exploding water droplets here, and the colourful feel considering the amount of black gear in the shot.

The tough part of getting these kind of shots is just being there. It's not usually practical to hike in so you have to paddle Class 4-5 with a heavy waterproof Pelicase between your legs, then somehow keep the kit dry when shooting. There's a lot of clambering in and out of the boat in sketchy eddies and it's pretty tiring, but the reward is in the results.

Thanks to Big Dog kayaks, Kober paddles and Nookie softwear for keeping me afloat, and Lowepro bags for stopping my cameras getting granite rash, even when I do!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Haynes Manual Launch

The Haynes Kayaking Manual is released today, and apparently a copy is winging its way to me on a Fedex truck. I hope Fedex have my phone number, because otherwise this isn't going to work out at all. Unless Fedex now use snowmobiles, which I doubt.
Anyway, this project that I started almost exactly a year ago today has, it would seem, finally come to something like fruition and I must admit I'm more than a little excited. The spreads all look good as pdf's on my screen, but there's nothing quite like having actual bound paper pages in one's hands.
The book is available from all the usual book shops, kayak shops, and Amazon as well as Haynes themselves.  Please note that Amazon says pre-order for release date April 4th, but the books are shipping right now, so I expect that to be updated at any time.
I hope this thing's going to be inspiring and useful for anyone wanting to learn about kayaking, but also a tome that can have pride of place in any experienced kayaker's bookshelf. It is a Haynes Manual, after all. And that's kind of special. It's also packed with amazing photos and contributions from some of the best and most ground-breaking kayakers in the world, and it's written in the same random and completely irreverent style as my earlier book, Kayak Surfing, the book that educator and adventurer Debra Searle MBE  was kind enough to describe as "the best instructional book ever written on any sport (all books should be written this way)". But then she did contribute the forward (which is very good), so she might be a teeny bit biased.

So, I hope you're going to enjoy my new book. I did enjoy writing it, apart from a few stressy, low blood-sugar moments mostly concerning photo rights. But don't worry, it's full of THE best photos, and if you get around to reading the words, they're kinda fun too! And did I mention it's a Haynes Manual?

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Surf kayak testing

I'm always excited and flattered to be asked to try out a new prototype. In retrospect, there's nothing I'd have liked better than to have been a test pilot, or a test driver for F1 cars, or milk floats for that matter. It's not about speed, or bling. More that it combines my need for motion with my penchant for being methodical, analytical to the point of madness. Counting the paving slabs, cat's eyes, that kind of thing.

Peter Holgate has made a surf kayak. He started with a Mega Neutron, but made a new mould, and has changed it in several important details. The finish and outfitting, too, are all new.

I have to say from the outset that while plastic is a very suitable material for kiddies' buckets and spades, I'm generally speaking underwhelmed by plastic at the beach. Plastic boats in general frustrate me, mainly because of their weight. By the time I've carried them from the garage to the car I've gone off the whole idea of paddling them. I put up with it in kayaks for extreme white water, because of the safety and resilience that plastic can offer. Otherwise, forget it. Surf kayaks, in particular, seem to have no excuse for being plastic. Plastic is heavy, plastic is slow, plastic never seems to stay flat on the bottom of the hull. The only benefit it ever seemed to offer was its relative cheapness. But why not buy a second hand fibreglass boat for the same price as a new plastic one? As a politically incorrect Cornish armchair god of the surf kayaking community once said to me: "Class in glass, ******* in plastic!" (I'll leave you to guess. It rhymes...)

Until today, though. This Venom kayak looks nothing like a plastic kayak, apart from where the plastic has been trimmed around the cockpit rim. It feels nothing like a plastic kayak. It's hard and shiny and when I pick it up. OK, it's not like the one-fingered lift of my pro spec carbon-kevlar boat, but it's an easy one handed lift and carry. But it's when it hits the water that astonishment truly sets in.
Chris Hobson © Chris Hobson
The surf isn't great, but it's just what we need. Using a little skill and cunning, I can paddle out without getting my head wet, which is important, because it's frickin freezing! The waves are big enough, however, to make steep and powerful shoulders that can test this kayak's charging ability, if it has such a thing. And it does. I paddle for a lump of a roller more out of impatience than any real hope, and the boat picks up and planes. Like, instantly. Feels more like a surfboard than a boat. Interesting. 
Normally what happens when you've caught a wave straight and too early, is that the boat settles down to the bottom of the wave and resists any attempts to make it dynamic, pivoting from the back as it squats into the wave. Not this one - it carves smoothly into a bottom turn with no squat, and I find myself back at the top so quickly I almost throw myself out of the boat in my rush to top turn before I surf straight off the back! Odd.
The boat just doesn't feel plastic. It feels... fluid. Intriguingly slippery, and with an acceleration/speed relationship that defies the basic laws of physics. Bit like a shortboard. This is nuts...
I am struggling, because I haven't outfitted the boat, I can't reach the footrests, and my fingers are in agony from the cold, but I can see that something has happened here. Maybe it's the additional length and width over the original Neutron, maybe it's the profile of the rails, maybe it's just the finish and the exact hardness of plastic. Probably a combination of all of these things. It's very good. Not just as an entry level boat, but for anyone but a pro, probably.
You'd be forgiven for thinking these are surfboards
Carrying it up the beach to photograph the detail shots, I notice again that it's not heavy. In fact it doesn't blow about in the wind like a composite boat, which is a good thing, today. I wonder if it's thin plastic, but that doesn't make sense, because there's no hint of "oil-canning", the curse of normal plastic boat hulls. And Peter tells me he's hit it repeatedly with a claw hammer, barely leaving a mark.
This is just the first test shell from Venom Kayaks. But I think I'm going to be seeing a lot more of them, somehow...
Cleanest rails I ever saw on a plastic boat

This foam back rest with logo imprint is a nice touch

The thigh grips are composite, and there's talk of carbon fibre outfittting as an upgrade

Pleasing overall shape and balance

It's all looking pretty sharp

So shiny you can see your face in it