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-├╝ber-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