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 So, although it is not out of date, per se, it's a repackaged version of a fairly old product.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.