RAROTONGA – THE UNEXPLORED ISLAND PARADISE - Michael Booth

The Cook Islands. What a place! What a visit! I was invited, along with Jo and Joel Simpson and Ando, by Josh Utanga and his new company Surfski Cook Islands to check out what’s on offer and I most certainly wasn’t disappointed. Ando and I arrived into Rarotonga on the Monday after racing in NZ over the previous weekend at the Poor Knights Crossing. Just before we boarded I rang Josh to remind him when we were going to arrive and in typical island style he had no idea we would be in, in only 3hrs. Haha. We arrived late and were taken to our accomodation before hitting the hay to see what tomorrow would bring!

Day 1 (Monday) started with a 20km paddle out from Avaavaroa pass to the old Sheraton hotel. We punched into it for a few km before getting a great 15knot downwind for about 10km. It was then shirts off for the rest of the paddle (we all know how much I love that!) and just taking in the natural beauty of the place. After a quick lunch it was time to do the cross island walk. It took us about 2hrs through pretty tough terrain. But what can I say, it was worth it! We got nearly 360 degree views of the island seeing coastline on all sides. It’s definitely not for the faint hearted as climbing up the Needle involved ropes and chains. The photos tell the story better than I can type!

On day 2 we paddled from Rutaki Pass to Trader Jacks in town with Josh skipping the paddle as we didn’t have a driver! We punched out for 3km again before getting a cracking downwind along the west coast. We passed surf breaks such as Socials and Black Rock which were barrelling pretty much all week. The impression I got was that the ocean is relatively undiscovered over there. After the paddle we headed to Te Vara Nui for a cultural dance/dinner performance which told a story of a seafaring warrior settling on the island in the 18th century. Guy gave up his daughter to the chief so they could settle there… Not totally sure thats the best story to be telling haha!

On day 3 we did an around the island paddle. We like to think we were the first guys on surfskis to do it! It ended up taking us 3:30 of paddling but we had stops at Trader Jacks (Avarua Pass) and Avaavaroa (for lunch at the Mouring cafe – the fish Tacos were unbelievable!!) before finishing at the Rutaki Pass in some pretty crazy conditions. It was a building South West swell and when we left in the morning it was small and tame. But as the day went on it built up and the tide went out making the return to shore an achievement in itself. The tide was rushing at at least 20km/hr through the narrow pass and we were essentially on a travelator. We managed to muscle our way in through the foamy treacherous waters before turning around and seeing 8ft sets close out through the pass. We all considered ourselves pretty lucky at that point and a sigh of relief was shed by all! In the afternoon we were treated to a bon fire with some local meat and taro, a couple of drinks and some toasted marshmallows to top it off! We also met a couple of Josh’s mates Tharo, Zayne and a few others which really added to a great day.

On day 4 there was no backing off except for Joel, the big fella needed a rest… Too many kilometres for this ex-200m kayaker! A tropical rain front moved through so we had the morning off to rest before paddling in the afternoon. I think everyone was a bit tired from the day before! We then had the best downwind of the trip getting a solid 20knot East wind allowing Josh, Ando and I to surf our way from Avaavaroa to Trader Jacks. We then headed to another cultural dinner involving breaking coconuts, eating a umu (hungy) and drinking some home brew! It was replicating the local environment on Atui and we got involved in a drinking circle that left many worse for wear haha! At this point it was Thursday night and I was suppose to board my flight back home. However got bumped and carried on with the night haha.

Since I got an extra day I made the most of it. Ando was unable to rise after the evening before a antics so Joel, Josh and I did our last session on Rarotonga in and out from Trader Jacks. We got another 13km done and finished of a 110km week which we were all relatively pleased with. Especially the boys who hadn’t been doing much… namely Joel and Josh. We then drank fresh coconuts and ate fresh bananas from the open air market, I love how they can still cultivate and live off the land. After our goodbyes at the airport to Ando, Joel and Jo I ran back to Josh’s with an 8km run along the beach and road. Josh and I then did a scenic drive around the points on the scooters and checked out the surf as all the points glassed off in the afternoon. It was magical!

The Cook Islands is a paddlers paradise and a training haven. No matter what way the wind and swell is going you can get a solid 12km downwind paddle in 365 days a year. It also gives you all conditions allowing you to work on your skills to become a more adaptable paddler. The beauty of the island is that its 36km around on the ski with distinct north, South, East and West coastlines which his allows for some great and testing paddling conditions everyday. I loved it.

Big thanks to Josh and Joyce for being so hospitable. Nothing was too hard and all our needs were catered for. I strongly recommend this place to all paddlers out there. It’s a picturesque holiday destination where you can now paddle surfskis and do what you love, what more can you want! I know I’ll be back!

For all enquires contact info@surfskicookislands.com or checkout their website www.surfskicookislands.com

Source: http://mgbooth.com.au/

Southeast Paddle Trip--- Ted Burnell

Kicking off the trip with a race.   

Kicking off the trip with a race.

 

 

Sometimes, you just have to pack up the ski and hit the road. Last year I was itching to put my office job far from my mind and immerse myself in a solid week of paddling. I was already going to be traveling for a race, so I decided to turn that trip into a week of paddling exploration. I also decided this would be a great opportunity to meet some people from the Facebook paddling community that I’ve corresponded with but never met.

It started with a drive from my hometown of Chattanooga, TN to Santee, South Carolina to race surf ski at the North Shore Cup put on by EliteOceanSports, LLC. This is where I finally got to meet Mark Smith, and Wesley Echols. The Elite team of Mark Smith and Mark Mackenzie put on an incredible race and a first place finish in the four mile race was a sweet way to start my trip off.

From there I drove south with a stop to paddle my SUP on the Santilla river in Georgia. The Santilla is a beautiful tidal river flat that had nearly as much suspended mud as water. This paddle was a nice respite from driving and was right off I-95. I had brought my SUP to paddle any waterways that could damage my ski, but as we’ll see later, I should have stuck to this plan.

I then pushed south to Paddleboard New Smyrna Beach to demo some OC-1 outriggers and got to meet Erik Lumbert, a hell of a great guy. Unfortunately, the OC-1 I paddled was so nice I was bitten by the bug. I ended up buying one a year later.

I stayed overnight in New Smyrna Beach and started the day off with a sunrise run on the beach followed by 8 miles of paddling my surf ski in a mangrove river that had more twists and turns than I could count! Lots of wind, current and shallows made that paddle fun and challenging. Luckily my Think Uno Max slices against current like it's barely there.

P1020054.JPG

Finally I headed south to refuel spent calories and rest at my parents in Palm Bay, FL. I did manage to get a sweet but extremely windy paddle on canals in some flooded plains in a wilderness area off the St. Johns River. My SUP proved to be a good choice for plowing through some of the hyacinth choked sections.

 

After a few days of gorging on my Mom's cooking, I headed over to St. Pete's where I got to paddle with Christian Cook on his awesome OC-2. This was a sweet canal run with an open ocean light downwind return. Paddling outrigger with Christian is a rare treat to soak up some knowledge. As the size of the swells diminished, I’ll never forget him saying “the small ones pay the bills Brother!”

I ended up camping at Fort Desoto campground and enjoyed a nice fire for my last night in Florida. The next morning I had a sweet but all too short downwind run on my SUP, but I had to terminate due to shallows and no possible way back due to the intensity of the wind. My walk back to the starting point revealed I had paddled much farther than it felt surfing those swells.

The next day I decided to head north with a brief stop to paddle to the Suwannee river. Unfortunately, it was very brief and catastrophic. This turned out to be a run I should have used the SUP for. The Suwannee is jet black water due to the tannic acid content.

Trying to beat a setting sun, I was rocketing down the river on my Uno Max and hit a submerged rock with the rudder. This bent the rudder back hard enough to jam the back portion into the hull. I decided this omen meant the paddling gods were done pleasing me so I packed up and put a hard drive home. Thankfully a friend of mine is a master boat doctor and she repaired the ski to a like new condition. Sometime later that season I got back to that river but paddled it in my antique Futura ski with a kick up rudder and had a blast. One of my favorite bodies of water anywhere and a must do paddle.

If you’ve never done an extended road trip with paddling as the focus, you really owe it to yourself. I felt like a new person when I was done. Something about exploring new paddling locations is really invigorating. Combining it with old friends you don’t see often, and paddling with people you’ve never met is icing on the cake

Weeki Wachee, Florida - Di Chiacchio

weeki2.jpg
weeki5.jpg
weeki6.jpg

Winter is coming, and with it many will feel the urge to head south for respite from the cold.  Florida’s Weeki Wachee provides a great opportunity to escape for those of us with latitudinal challenges.

Weeke Wachee (population 12) is home to the eponymously named spring that meanders through the small township and drains into the Gulf of Mexico some 7-8 miles down stream.

The water maintains a 72 degree temperature throughout the Winter, making it, along with other nearby springs a winter haven for Manatee.

The river is tight and twisty and can be crowded at times.  From the Rogers Park launch it is just over five miles one way to the source and then a pretty fast returning five . I paddled a 17 foot Folbot Greenland II with my young son (who seemed to be paddling in reverse) and I can honestly say it was quite an effort to keep the barge moving forward.  A twenty-one foot Surfski would work but might get a bit tight at times. Shorter skis and sprint boats would fair a bit better. 

The water is translucent and the foliage and wildlife are reminiscent of a Costa Rican jungle sans monkeys; a great touch for those escaping colder more desolate climates.  

If you paddle up to the source of the spring you will have made it to the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and can take in the famous mermaid show.

If you travel down in February, you can get your early season race on with the informal Jensen Classic kayak race.

When you've had your fill of mermaids, Tampa Bay and Clearwater beach are less than an hour south and offer a bit more of an urban environment for those looking for more dining and entertainment than the small town has available. 

 

 Jensen Classic   https://www.facebook.com/Jensen-Classic-at-Weeki-Wachee-618244311614095/

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park      http://www.weekiwachee.com/index.php/mermaids/mermaid-shows

weeki4.jpg
Mermaid Show   

Mermaid Show