Vancouver Island By Surfski: Coda---N. Cryder

Day 4: Wednesday, July 29th I got up early to head out in search of water. The moon made for a bright, clear morning and I was in high spirits. After an extensive search, I found the stream bed in the forest. It was dry except for a few deep, still holes that had numerous signs of wildlife visitation. But there it was, water! As I began to treat the water I made note of the various tracks in the soil. Coyote, Racoon, Deer and... oh, a Mountain Lion! As the significance of these tracks sank in I had a very still, quiet feeling that I was being watched. Chiding myself for my imagination, I carried on with my task. But I couldn't shake the feeling and was happy to exit the dark forest with my prize and hide intact as the sun rose.  

Sea sores and waterlogged feet. Sorry lads. 

Sea sores and waterlogged feet. Sorry lads. 

I was on the water by 9:00am and felt good physically, and was motivated to soldier on despite my setbacks and the increasing number of sea sores (saltwater abrasions) that were beginning to appear all over my body. I use a mix of body glide and petroleum jelly to try to limit them. The petroleum jelly does a good job of slowing the waterlogging of skin. The abrasions that this will cause are similar to 2nd degree burns. Petroleum jelly is crucial for your hands that suffer particularly badly, but one must be careful to put the petroleum on well before one grabs a paddle shaft. This works for the first 6 to 8 hours, but after that it wears off as the friction and miles pile up. Anything that has skin to textile contact (even neoprene!) will abrade in the saltwater. More so skin on skin. High quality paddling clothing and skin tight rash-guards will help, but all bets are off when you are out for 12 hours or more for several days on end and cracking the whip physically. The other aspect of sea sores is preventing them from getting infected. Easier said then done. I was careful to save a little freshwater for a sponge bath at the end of each day, and to use clean bandages and Neosporin at night. This eats a lot of time, but its a mandatory care regiment to keep your body running strong for so many days out in a harsh environment. 

My target for this day was to clear the Hesquiat peninsula, and make my way to a camp at Hot Spring Cove or possibly Flores Island Provincial Park where I would likely have good access to water. This task proved very difficult, with a strong current pushing against a light, on again / off again NW wind and a large western swell. There were times when I made great progress, and this was the first time on my entire trip that I managed to catch ride on a handful of waves resembling a downwind paddle. But otherwise, I found the seas confused, bouncy and with very little directional energy to work with. Just mile after mile of hard paddling in messy, overhead water. 

Quick lunch break and changing my water bags. The number of beaches sheltered by reefs is remarkable, but sometimes getting past the reefs can be a bit hectic with crashing waves and plenty of rebound to test your skills. 

Quick lunch break and changing my water bags. The number of beaches sheltered by reefs is remarkable, but sometimes getting past the reefs can be a bit hectic with crashing waves and plenty of rebound to test your skills. 

At one point I was paddling past a buoy offshore of Nuchatliz, noting the strange mooing sound that it makes as it sways in the swell. I recall staring at the buoy and reminding myself that sharks often hover near buoys in California. "Good thing to remember. Yup!" And then I glanced down to check my compass and noticed a shark swimming with me directly beneath my boat. Silently shadowing a strange new fish. I stopped paddling and just stared, totally absorbed like a child at the aquarium in the moment. The shark then swam up beside me, tilted its head out of the water and stared at me with a jet black marble eye before disappearing. I noticed a large number of gills, and figured it was probably a six gill shark and was roughly 6 feet long. Not big enough to worry me, but maybe it was someone's little sister? ONWARD!  

As the day and miles rolled by, I approached the Hesquiat Peninsula at roughly 6:00pm feeling tired, but motivated to make the most of the day. However, the western swell made this a very demanding and dangerous crossing, as the breakers appeared to form three to four miles offshore, and zoomed towards the reefs closing out the entire bay. I thought I would be clever and save some miles by taking a tight, inside line. Upon doing this however, I was suddenly in a very dangerous spot as the reefs here are maze like and sometimes do not go all the way through and are loaded with kelp beds. And on this particular day 20 foot barreling waves were making easy work of the reefs, blasting over them and into a washing machine that made my local 520 bridge rebound look absolutely adorable by contrast. With the sickly, white lighthouse staring me down me like a witch tower out of the Tolkien trilogy, I delicately alternated between paddling over and through the tops of the breaking waves, and then turning back into them to surf down their backs to pick up speed as I tip toed my way through the gauntlet. After punching through an oncoming wave I took a deep breath and sprinted into the next rushing blow. I was so thankful to be in a solid, stable surfski as I was paddling at my absolute threshold in an absolute no fall zone. In my climbing days, we'd call this being run out on mank gear with a bad case of shaky leg. 

Once clear of the lighthouse and safely past the backline, I had a difficult decision to make. The wind was picking up quite a bit, and I really wanted to make my goal of Hot Spring cove which I could see roughly ten miles away. I had at this point paddled 62 miles of rugged, open ocean. But the sun was setting, and it meant with some degree of certainty that I would be paddling an open water downwind in the dark. On the other hand, given what I had just gone through and feeling rattled, Hesquiat had a menacing, dark presence and I simply loathed the idea of a camp here. Remembering that the mileage is always greater than it appears, I reluctantly decided to head into Hesquiat bay reasoning that I could make a fast, efficient camp and exit in the morning. 

As I paddled into the bay past a feature known as "Anton's Spit", I noticed an old sailing ship anchored just off shore. I wondered if perhaps it had been run aground there, as it looked to me in the fading light to be in rough shape and in shallow water. I thought it worth a closer look, and was surprised to see that the ship was occupied, and had a thick black smoke coming from a chimney pipe below deck. It's wooden boards had a slick, black oily finish with a tattered tarp and old dingy on the back that gave it a creepy vibe. I joked to myself that it was good to know Captain Sparrow had found a proper place to camp in between films. 


The bay itself has a shallow water sandbar that enables a strange wave to form very suddenly out of the still water; breaking and then rebounding as it rips across the the bay. Like a wake of a ghost ship from an age past. If I were in an empty ski, this would be a very fun wave... but not tonight. Not now. This shit was getting old. I paddled up to the shore in the dark to the location listed on my map as a good camp, and realized that the shoreline of the bay was made up large, basketball sizes rocks jumbled on top of each other. I muttered "What next?" to myself as I contemplated briefly heading back out to sea in the dark, but then decided against it and to try to get the boat up on the beach without damaging it. It was here that I was nailed by an oncoming wave at the worst possible moment and instantly regretted asking "what next?" just moments before. It was a tremendous effort to keep my footing and I nearly dropped my beloved, loaded boat on these rocks which would have been a very severe blow. In saving the boat however with my last ounce of strength, I felt a sickening tear deep in my shoulder muscle and cried out. Not able to set the boat down in the waves, but not able to walk either. Just standing there. Frozen in a battle with myself. I took a few deep breaths, focused, and let my feet carefully try to find a solid footing in between the stones as I balanced on the slippery rocks and waves. It worked. I staggered step by agonizing step over the course of ten minutes out of the waves until I could set the boat down ever so carefully on the rocks. I then used my haul bag and raced two loads of gear out of the boat up the beach to my camp. After retrieving the now empty boat and bringing it to the shore, I realized I had missed a very nice, sandy beach. Ahah, maybe next time... 

I made a hasty camp under the light of a full moon. I was physically waisted from the day, demoralized, and my shoulder muscle throbbed as I used the last of my fresh water to make a quick dinner. I debated not making dinner, but knew that I would need the calories to face the day to come. My map indicated a lake nearby, so I reasoned that I might be able to find it and draw water in the morning.

As I fell asleep, I heard a pack of wolves howling in to each other in the forest and summed my inner Jeff Bridges to mutter a gruff "Fine. Come see me. I'll be here." Sure enough, they did. I was woken up by their bickering as they went through my hastily made camp at 3am that morning. I decided to try and scare them off, and used my camera flash and a deep shout to send them running. Maybe not the most delicate way to make friends, but I was in a very bad mood and decided it was my day to be the bigger badder wolf. It had it's intended effect. Almost to the degree of comedy. I felt like a total jerk as I fell back to sleep. A big happy jerk. An important note: I had taken to the time to secure my food well outside my camp in a bear bag hung from a tree. As a guy who's spent a lot of time in the mountains, there are some rules you just don't break. Ever. 

Day 5: Thursday, July 30th I awoke just before dawn very tired, very sore and very thirsty. I grabbed my light, ate some kippered snacks and choked down crackers, nuts and dried apricots for breakfast and broke camp as I wrestled with my morale. I did my best to cheer up, noting the fine weather and the potential to rebound. But my inner Gollum called my bluff. "This is not going well. We're losing precious. Piece by piece. Minute by minute this is slipping away from us Precious." Everything was hard. Packing was hard. Moving was hard. Thinking was hard. Complaining was hard. I briefly made a foray in search of the lake and water, and after taking a bad fall in the thick forest, I decided to retreat and just leave.

Getting on the water, I was thankful to be out of the ocean swell in a flat, quiet bay. It hurt a LOT to paddle, and as I slowly limped out of the bay I dared a final look back to Hesquiat. It was there that I realized I had paddled past some houses that night and not seen them. Crazy. 

I entertained the idea of trying to rally and make it Ucluelet. But the more I paddled, the more I realized that that my strength was ebbing and my sea sores were getting quite bad, making it very painful to just sit in the ski. I knew that this was likely the beginning of the end of my attempt. Or maybe even the middle of the end. I had mixed feelings. The fighter wants to go on because the fight is still on. The tired, broken man knows sometimes dreams are just dreams. I chew on these thoughts and decide to make my way towards Tofino and try not to come to a hasty conclusion. Just paddle and see if things improve as the day progresses.

Then then wind comes from the southwest, and pushes steadily against a NW swell and makes the sea rise up in hissing white caps. I should care a lot about this, but I do not. I am numb to each slap in the face by the oncoming waves. I limp on, puttering forward. Not advancing as I have trained myself to do, but not stopping as I have trained myself to do. Defiant. Willfull. Pissed. Tired. Lonely. Wounded. Defiant. 

Eventually I slip past the reefs and into the wind shelter between Flores Island and Bartlett Island in the early afternoon, and the beauty and still water of Clayoquot Sound seduces me. The sun is shining. The air is warm. And then, a family of gray whales surround me as I destroy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They are in a good mood and now I am in a good mood. My Avatar moment comes screeching to a halt as a jet boat roars up stuffed full of tourist in matching fluorescent orange jump suits. They wait jealously outside my holy wale circle, impatiently glaring at me. I am right in the middle in their shot, and they paid good money for this. Asshole. I casually paddle to the back of the whale boat, where I commend the warden for his work with the inmates. My joke earns his empty, glaring stare. Time to go. 

I limp into Whitesand cove, and am greeted warmly by some fellow kayakers and a hiker. I learn that there is water in the nearby village and limp my way into town. I also make contact with my wife, and let her know that I have found a good, sheltered spot and will spend the day resting to see if my shoulder is workable. I know it's not, but after years of working towards this goal, I owe it to myself and those who believed I could do this before pulling the plug.

Day 6: Friday, July 31st The next day I make a quick study of my injuries, and decide that this is the end. I spend the day cleaning wounds, stretching sore muscles and soaking up the sunshine and getting to know my fellow beach friends. All of us come from different places, but are from the same tribe. Doing our best to live good lives that we think count for something. I make coordinate with my family, who have worked tirelessly to make arrangements for a pickup in Tofino. Incredibly I learn that my dad is flying out from Montana and then driving my truck to me. And other family have offered to do the same. Damn, its nice to be so loved. Damn I love my family back. 

Day 7: Saturday, August 1: I head into Tofino in the morning and make good time on the fast currents, despite my shoulder. I have been offered a tip to head to the Kayaker's Inn, as they are very friendly to expedition paddlers and will likely let me stash my boat on their racks. Friendly was an understatement. I was greeted by a guide on the beach, and then introduced to Liam and a Tasi named Meg, who offered me a fabulous cappuccino and a hot shower.

I wandered around town the rest of the day in a dazed culture shock. Trying to adjust to the sudden influx of people, commercial zeal and cocktail of languages that is Tofino. 

And then, I realized that I already missed the wild, beautiful places that I had just worked so hard to leave. Imagine that.

Read more from Nick Cryder at:

Vancouver Island By Surfski: Part II---N. Cryder

Day 2: Monday, July 26th I woke up at 4am utterly drained from my phone's antics and having slept very little. I set to figuring out a communication plan with my family should my phone completely fail. I was using my phone in tandem with an original DeLorme inReach which does not have a screen and must be paired with a smartphone for detailed communications. The device is a good one, very reliable and simple. However the tracking feature and battery life was a challenge, as a four hour tracking interval drained the batteries in just one day. In order to make my remaining batteries last for the entire trip I was forced to log my location at night without much communication back home. 

I was on the water by roughly 9am, another disappointment, and decided that Lawn Point was likely my best bet as a target for the day at roughly 50 miles away. Modest by my standards. 

Conditions were rough in the early morning with a beam swell, short period, and a wandering wind with lots of rebound on overhead waves. Skies were overcast with high clouds and temps in the low 60's. I quickly adjusted and found a fast pace as I set out south, averaging 6.5mph running with the current about two miles off shore and very much enjoying the cool conditions. 

I greatly prefer to paddle offshore for a handful of reasons. It makes going from point to point more efficient, and greatly reduces the rebound of the sea meeting the rocky shoreline. Less rebound means more boat run, and more boat run means more speed. Another aspect of paddling farther offshore is that the capes / points can be very technical, with tricky fast moving breaking waves that zoom into shore to meet the reefs and kelp beds. At times, it was far simpler to just paddle around them on the outside then risk being thumped inside or having to pause to consider my approach. I also quite like the feeling of being alone in the ocean. It is a strange form of freedom that I found in mountain climbing that energizes me in a way that few things in life can. In our modern, hemmed-in world, being truly alone is a very fine luxury. Finally, it's a lot of fun to sneak up to a boat full of sport fisherman several miles offshore and suddenly ask "HEY GUYS! WHICH WAY TO VICTORIA?!" at the last possible moment. They really love that. Trust me. 

Lawn Point looks exactly like a giant lawn as you approach from the water. Accessing the beach is a bit unnerving until you clear the reefs and kelp beds. I landed on the beach just as fog set in. That would have complicated navigating the reefs significantly. 

At around noon, the current switched and my pace slowed a bit to the low 5mph range. Decent, but much slower than I am accustomed to because of the severe weight of the boat. The wind built throughout the day, and became a stiff SW breeze by early afternoon along with a south western swell. I arrived at Lawn Point at roughly 4pm, feeling strong and tempted to continue due south to cross Brooks Peninsula in the evening. After contemplating the risk of an exposed crossing at night in unfamiliar territory with a formidable reputation, I decided to call it an early day and attempt to get a better night's sleep and an early start the next day. I found Lawn Point an iconic and beautiful location, but loaded with fresh bear signs and no water. I used my desalinator to good effect. 

The desalinator makes 1.3 gallons of water per hour of pumping, which with my water budget meant 2 hours per night to just make water. The device weighs 7.3 pounds. Not great. However, the act of taking water from the sea and converting it into drinkable water is right up there with human flight. I felt like I was robbing the world's greatest bank as I quietly pumped water from a tide pool in the dark of night to supply the next day's water. 

Day 3: Tuesday, July 27th My phone was in a much better mood, and was able to take a charge from my portable solar charger and stay turned off. Good dog! I slept very well, and had a visit from a bear and her cubs in the early morning hours as I made my breakfast. They calmly walked by my tent and paid me no heed as I held my breath with a death grip on my bear mace while the JetBoil quietly hissed. This may be the one time in my life when I was thankful to have a simple bowl of oatmeal instead of bacon and eggs for breakfast. 

Ominous clouds start to form over Brooks Peninsula at dawn. Will the weather improve or deteriorate? Time to roll the dice. 

At first light, a dense cloud started to form over the peninsula, making me thankful for the modern reality of GPS as I headed south in low visibility in search of the day's challenge. The swell remained south western, but had picked up significantly in size and period. It gave the ocean an erie, slow, heaving sensation. No wind. No sight of land. No sight of me. Just a crazy guy paddling in a gray, featureless room towards a place of great reputation. 

Brooks Peninsula and Solander Island in the distance. 

I arrived at Cape Cook at roughly 8:30am, just as the morning clouds lifted to confirm what my GPS had been telling me all morning was indeed true. This is Brooks! 

As is well documented, Brooks Peninsula has a strange, magnetic power and a curious rebounding wave effect that has sent many a sailor missing. I felt a bit like Indiana Jones as I committed to a center line between Cape Cook and Solander Island, and found conditions at first deceptively mild. The further I went, the weirder things got. Flat water would surge very quickly in a direction completely contrary to the swell and wind. And when that newly formed wave meets the swell, expect a fast ride upwards as the two waves throw you a party underneath your boat in the form of a pyramid shaped wave that is about the size of a modest house. It was a wild, fast ride, and this was a very mild day. This is what I had imagined, and hoped for, and I loved every second of it. 

As I rounded the cape proper and faced the east, I was somewhat dismayed and amused to see a vast sweep of coastline with roaring waves closing out the horizon in front of me. The swell direction, out of the south west, was setting off waves that looked like runaway mining trucks three miles offshore that were just huge and fast. I am sure a big wave surfer somewhere in Tofino is grinding his teeth as I type this. Sorry bruh!

As my eyes worked their way down the infinite coastline the clouds parted and a light breeze picked up behind me and the swell became more westerly. It was if a spell had been broken, and my spine tingled at the hope that I might get some usable wind. I made note of the very distant shoreline, checked my GPS and decided that an open ocean crossing of roughly 25 miles in such fair weather was worth the risk in distance gains. But before I set off, I made the decision to attempt to go ashore at Nordstrom Creek to get out of my wetsuit (I was now very hot in the full sun) and change my water bag before committing to a very long, open ocean crossing. 

As the big waves went off around me, I used the ski for a couple of very fast rides into the beach towards Nordstrom Creek by choosing smaller waves and riding in on the back of one of the big ones. Committing in a place like this. Yet a little surf experience at complicated shorebreaks can pay big dividends in situations where the speed and complexity of the water is overwhelming. The key for myself is to simplify the situation by only focusing on one wave at a time. Ignore the rest and do your best to get the timing right.  

Once on the the inside there is enough of a reef to cancel most of the waves, but three to four footers were still coming through and dumping onshore with very fast frequency with boulders and kelp beds mixed in to keep it true to the spirit of Vancouver Island (Aka a technical, high stakes landing in the middle of nowhere that will leave you in trouble if you get it wrong and break something). I timed the last wave to perfection, hopping out of the ski and grabbing the bow and letting the wave swing the tail towards the shore so I can then run the the ski up the beach with the nose on the sand. I use this technique because the awkward moments after a surf landing are very vulnerable to rider and steed, and my ski has an extra large surf rudder under the stern that prevents a traditional shore landing. 

I executed this approach like the Red Baron himself, and enjoyed a euphoric, silly moment of relief as I took a deep bow for my imaginary audience. And in a rare moment of truly divine humor, a long legged and shaggy bear casually walked out of the forest and walked directly towards me. And then it sat down and just stared at me, tilting its head sideways as we stood looking at each other for a long, awkward moment. Both of us marveling at the insanity of what was unfolding in this very isolated place. Like a Farside comic that might have a tragically dark punchline.   

I snapped out of it and hustled back out into waves. Hoping the bear wouldn't be up for a swim as I calmly opened the back hatch between waves, switched the water bag and took off my neoprene paddling jacket, keeping a close eye on the shore. As I did this, the bear started to walk out into the surf towards me. I slammed the hatch shut hopped on the ski and managed to leave skid marks on the waves as I peeled out of there like a Clint Robinson wanabee. I checked the transcript from my mental tape and it reads: "SHIT... SHIT! SHIT FASTER SHIT SHIT SHIT!!!" 

"Never mistake a clear view for a short journey." -Cowboy Proverb

Once past the backline I took a deep breath, ate some lunch, and had a laugh at the absurdity of what had just happened. I also made some mental notes about being more patient on beach landings and to remember to request more prayers from friends and family because I had burned through their entire supply in one morning. I was ready to get back to work and set off towards the far skyline of Kyuquot Sound and hopefully make camp at a promising location called Rugged Point.  

At some point the scale of Vancouver Island is simply unavoidable. It will confront you and break you down. I learned this repeatedly on this trip. Muscling past yet another cape, only to stare into the fading landscape as it blends into the next horizon. This time was a bit different though and after paddling for four hours against a strong offshore current towards my landmark target it just didn't appear any closer. The GPS assured me it was, but it was taking forever as I plodded along in what felt like the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I turned around to have a final look at the Brooks Peninsula, and it was still very close.

*sigh* "No one mentioned that Brooks would follow me." 

It's a funny thing how temptation finds you in even in the remote places. I completed the crossing and made my way through the outer reefs of Kyuquot sound in the hot sun towards Union Island, feeling parched and tired from a long day out. A fishing boat sped up to me and came to a sudden stop. The guys said they had seen me crossing in the open water earlier, and were curious if I wanted a beer!? They were concerned to see someone that far off shore, and had kept tabs on me as I crossed. Not so alone after all eh? I declined the offer of the beer, explaining that I was on a mission around the island and could take no assistance, however frosty and lovely. The kindness of total strangers here in Canada is not lost on me. 

Rugged point is both rugged, and wonderfully beautiful. 

Eventually, the miles gave way and I steamed into the white sand coves of Rugged Point, where I had hopes of finding a stream and not having to make water to save some time. Upon landing, I was simply overwhelmed yet again by the endless beauty of this great island. As I marched up the beach, dragging my poor ski by the nose in the sand, I noticed a number of footprints. In particular a set of footprints from a child that appeared just minutes old. It brought a smile to my face to think of my own children one day running around this very beach, and I made a promise to myself to return as I set up my camp for the night. 

I scouted for water, and could not find the stream indicated on my map in the fading light. So after dinner I went to find a good location to desalinate water. This is a bit tricky, as on a wide beach you must be able to pump water away from the surf and waves. I found what I thought was a good rock, and started to pump water. Unfortunately, the location was not good and the desalinator intake sucked up rocks and sand, which tore the fragile membrane inside the pump and rendered it useless. I suddenly had to adjust to the reality that my trip was now entirely dependent on finding fresh water in a severe drought year. I also had the even less attractive idea set in that I now had the privilege of lugging a seven pound, $2600 paperweight in the nose of my boat for the next 500 or so miles. First class white guy problems, every last one of them. 

Part III---Finish

Vancouver Island By Surfski: Part I --- N. Cryder

The surfski is far from a one dimensional craft. If you think the ski is only for racing and catching waves, you'd be wrong.

Bellingham paddler Nicholas Cryder drives this point home with his attempt at circumnavigating Vancouver Island on a custom built Epic V10 Sport, morphing the stable but fast V10 into a true cruiser replete with sealed bulkheads.  

"Envy" ---Custom V10

Follow Nick on his journey as he attempts the daunting task of paddling around Vancouver Island on a surfski:

My name is Nicholas Cryder, and I am a competitive surfski paddler and expedition adventurist living in the Pacific Northwest. 

I started my athletic life as a serious cyclist, and moved to Belgium when I was in my teens to race internationally. I became deeply disenfranchised with the sport in the late 1990's, yet at the same time was personally enriched by the strategic and training disciplines imparted to me through my formative years. Upon my return to the US, I discovered mountain climbing and was enamored with the relative purity of the sport and the intensity of mountain climbing. The physical suffering and psychological battles of alpine style climbing were familiar to me, but doing so in a beautiful setting and without any finish lines was novel and enlightening. The extreme nature of the sport was a constant threat, and eventually I shifted my focus to backcountry ski mountaineering and less committing days in the backcountry. 

Nick with hammer down

My love affair with the ocean is quite new for me. As a native of Montana, I was never particularly drawn to the water it until one fateful day my stepfather let me take his Hobie peddle kayak out in the Puget Sound. It looked like a plastic barge and I was skeptical. Until I actually hopped in it and started pedaling. I instantly knew this would be a new passion for me. It combined many of the best attributes of both cycling and mountain climbing, but offered a seemingly limitless number of places to go explore. When I am on the water, I feel a distinct and intimate connection to the world around me. But there is freedom too. There are no fences or gates. No traffic jams and no close calls with angry commuters. Just open water, and limitless potential for adventure and personal enrichment.  

My passion for speed and challenge has led me to embrace the surfski, a famously tippy but fast interpretation of the sea kayak. It demands the ultimate mix of cycling-like physical conditioning and mental toughness, but offers a stiff dose of adrenaline and adventure in a fashion similar to my alpine pursuits. Add in the ability to do multi-day trips, and you have a very special sport indeed. 

August 10, 2015

Below is an extended trip report from my recent attempt at the circumnavigation record for Vancouver Island in late July of 2015. I made the attempt unassisted, meaning that I had to carry all of my own gear, water and food (with no resupply at any point). 

DAY 1: Sunday July 25th, 2015 At 7:30am on Sunday morning, I said my farewell to my good friend Paul who had agreed to drive me to the put in at Port Hardy. The drive to Port Hardy was sobering. As you wind your way north the island just keeps unfolding endlessly. And when you finally make it to Port Hardy after many hours on the highway, you are only at the tip of the diving board. 

The second sobering moment was loading my ski with 100,000 calories of food, 10L of water, and enough camping gear to stake a claim on the Klondike on my way home. Lifting a boat this heavy (130 pounds!) and walking it down the boat ramp is no small feat. Doing this in the surf zone was something I didn't even want to think about. I did my best, using two climbing slings to create a reliable and simple harness to lift the ski and walk it down the ramp. Once in the water, the boat moved remarkably well. Just don't expect to catch anything but the steepest runners in this puppy. 

As I left the marina in the fog, my mind settled into the day's work and I found my standard paddling rhythm quickly. I enjoyed clearing skies as I paddled against the current in the Goletas Channel, and made good time to Shushartie Bay where the current switched and I picked up my pace considerably, averaging 7mph as I headed out to meet the ocean. I paddled on the island side of the shore, planning to use the Tatnal Reefs in the event the Nawhitti Bar was an issue (it was not). I had planned to change my water supply at Cape Sutil, but was approached at landing by a black bear who I discovered was feeding on a carcass of some kind. Water would have to wait. 

Naturally I elected to keep paddling, arriving at Cape Scott at roughly 4pm very dehydrated and hot, but in high spirits and ready to face my first real challenge. I found conditions hectic and up to reputation with large, standing waves (10' faces) and some very confused water. My rough water preparation paid big dividends. I was able to make short work of the transition around the cape without any hesitation in the surfski and with only a few sea lions for an audience. However, the heat of day and short water supply caught up to me and I had to deal with a major bonk and a bit of heat exhaustion once I had rounded the cape. I was forced to head in far sooner then I would have liked, and camped at Guise Bay. 

Guise Bay is sheltered by reefs from the Ocean swell, and could pass for a tropical cove. 

A disappointing first day, but not a total disaster. That night however, my phone went completely bonkers and would randomly turn itself on and ring. It did this for six hours, and would wake me even though I had placed it in a small dry sack and buried it in the sand. Suspecting water as the culprit, I took the silica packets from my freeze dried meal and placed them with the phone in a small ziplock bag to try to help it recover. 

Guise Bay was tremendously beautiful, and surprisingly well attended by a mix of hikers and a couple of fellow kayakers. It was here that I met another paddler who was also traveling around the island, but without the pressure of a record attempt. I suspected he would enjoy his circumstances much more then myself! As a strange matter of chance, I would later run into his son in Tofino who asked me out of the blue if I happened to have seen his dad out there. Small world indeed. A side note on Guise Bay, the Tsunami debris from Japan was littered across the beach, and some of it had been repurposed to good effect as chairs, tables and even mooring balls for those looking for a game of beach volleyball. 

Next: Part II---Day 2-3


Ask the Engineer: 5 Points of Surfski with Greg Barton---by Chris Laughlin

Surfskis are relatively simple.  Not a whole lot of moving parts, components or general outfitting to worry about.  That doesn’t stop the sport’s enthusiasts from partaking in the favorite pastime of performance-oriented athletes everywhere: relentless analysis of their equipment from every angle!


While simple, surfskis do have plenty of subtle differences between brands, models, constructions and components that can make a noticeable difference between each boat and from one paddler to the next.


Always hashing out the best blends of speed and stability, the surfski community at some point looks past personal comfort, and starts to look at what affect their equipment options actually do have on their individual performance.  When you pay the extra money for an Ultra layup, what are you actually gaining?  And what might you be losing?  Does the rudder just steer the boat, or will it impact your speed and stability?


When Greg Barton designs an Epic surfski, he looks at all of these variables with a unique depth of experience as a world-class paddler, combined with the degree and training of a mechanical engineer.  Anyone who has talked boats with Greg on the beach quickly understands the level of detailed thought that goes into every aspect of his designs, whether it be based on speed, weight or function.

Barton at The Mayors Cup


Below, Greg gives his thoughts on some of the main points that surfski paddlers consider when considering their equipment, and how they each affect performance on the water.




The Correlation Between Boat Weight And Stability


Weight does have a small effect on the stability of a kayak.  A lighter weight boat reacts more quickly, so it can feel a little less stable compared to a heavier version of the boat, particularly when encountering a wave or gust of wind.  However, if stability is a concern, it is better to get a more stable hull than a heavier boat.  The stability gained by moving one model (say from a V10 to V10 Sport) is much more benefit than any amount of added weight.  The speed benefit of a lighter boat outweighs the stability benefit of a heavy boat.

Surfski Rudders: Drag, Stability, Control

The rudder on a sufski has a small effect on stability.  The rudder tends to dampen the movement of a boat and can make it feel more stable under speed.  But a rudder also imparts a tipping moment to the boat when it is turned.  The deeper the rudder, the more it will kick or tip the boat while turning.  So a large, deep rudder is both more and less stable compared to a smaller rudder.  More stable while travelling straight, but less stable when turning.  With experience and time in the saddle with a given rudder, you can learn to anticipate how turning will tip the boat and compensate for it.A larger rudder has more drag and will slow the boat down if not needed for control.  My recommendation is to match your rudders size to conditions - larger rudder for steep downwind waves (where control and broaching are an issue) and a smaller rudder for milder conditions.  Rather than relying on a rudder for stability, you are better off choosing the appropriate boat for the conditions and your skills, then choosing a rudder that is sized for the conditions.  

Boat Stiffness, Flex And Speed

A stiffer surfski will be faster.  It does not flex as much under speed and the rocker profile will remain consistent when weighted with the paddler.  But there is a point of diminishing returns.  For example, there is a larger performance gain moving from a plastic kayak to a composite, but less gain moving from a medium stiff composite to a super stiff composite kayak.

A more flexible boat could dampen movements (like a heavier boat) and thereby make it feel more stable, but the loss in performance outweighs the stability gain.


Put Your Footboard, And Pedals, Where It Matters


Your footboard should be positioned for comfort and to promote good technique.  During the stroke, you should be pushing with your leg on the same side as your stroke.  Your knees should alternately be moving up and down on each stroke to drive hip rotation.  If your footboard is too far away, the back of your knees can bottom out, reducing the potential leg drive.  Too high of knees will make it more difficult to achieved good leg drive.  Generally, on a surfski, you want your leg to be just shy of touching the deck between seat and footwell when using full leg drive.  You can move one notch forward or back from this position for comfort, but adjustments beyond that will decrease performance.  This spacing generally gives the best stability. You need to be well connected with your legs without the knees being too high.


The foot pedal angle will depend on your foot size, the paddling conditions and personal preference.  You want to be able to achieve good leg drive without inadvertently pushing the pedals.  But you want to have good pedal control with your toes when needed for steering.  For most paddlers, this will vary between in line with the footboard (slanted about 25 degrees forward when the rudder is straight) to vertical when the rudder is straight.  Those with big feet and/or paddling in calmer conditions will prefer the pedals more forward (in line with the footboard) while those with those with small feet and/or steep surf conditions will prefer the pedals more back or close to vertical to give better control.  I personally have small feet and keep the pedals close to vertical, sometimes even angling slightly back from vertical (towards the paddler) if I'm paddling in very steep waves, such as at the Gorge.


The angle of the pedals can be adjusted by tightening or loosening the white plastic turnbuckle between the front of the rails on Epic surfskis.  If even more adjustment is needed, you can adjust the line connection at the rudder spreader bar.

Less Boat, Less Drag – The Epic Transom

Due to the rocker profile, the transom, or cut off stern seen on Epic surfskis is out of the water much of the time.  It only dips into the water with heavier paddlers, at extreme speeds or when waves pass by.  Flow at the extreme stern of a boat is detached or separated, so the final few cm of the hull do not effectively contribute to streamlining the shape.  Cutting off the last bit of the stern results in a boat that acts like a slightly longer boat (less form drag) without the boat actually being longer.

Story by Chris Laughlin


Surfskis and Body Symmetry---By Dr Daniel C. Batchelor


Ever since I was a young boy, I've loved the water. I grew up on a lake but even now several decades later, I still feel the need to be in and around lakes and oceans. I feel grounded when I'm on the water.

As a competitive kayaker, mountain bike racer and triathlete, I'm also a Doctor of Chiropractic who specializes in the treatment of athletes. As a doctor/athlete, I fully appreciate the importance of body symmetry and its effect upon the function of the musculoskeletal system.

As opposed to many other sports such as tennis, baseball, hockey, golf, bowling, skateboarding etc, kayaking is a very symmetrical sport. Both sides of the body are utilized evenly and as long as the athlete enters the sport with a body that is symmetrical, kayaking tends to enhance that body symmetry.

If your structure is out of balance, it is vital that you get it fixed prior to incorporating any type of serious kayak training into your fitness program. Prevention is everything.

Most kayak injuries that I treat occur when kayakers lift kayaks to put on their vehicles. The second cause involves improper form while paddling and the third cause of kayak injuries occurs while performing "The roll", on sit-in kayaks. Other causes include using a paddle with a blade that is too large, incorrect seating position, etc.


Any gear or joint that is not in alignment with another gear or joint, will wear out prematurely. This is where chiropractic care enters the picture. Structure and function are interrelated. Issues such as leg length discrepancy, muscle imbalance, lack of flexibility, and joint alignment, etc can be sorted with proper treatment.

Most of my patients are athletes. I treat many members of the Atlanta Rowing Club including team members of the Georgia State and Georgia Tech Rowing Teams as well as hundreds of kayakers each year. I also train several times per week with many of my competitive kayaking friends and patients in preparation for upcoming kayak races but on the off season, we still kayak for the fun of it.

I run, bike and kayak on alternate days. If I have a kayak race 6 weeks in the future, the kayak training takes precedence over other sports. I still perform the other sports but kayaking increases in frequency and intensity. As soon as I peak physiologically and complete the kayak race, I return to an equal balance between all 3 sports again. This method helps prevents overuse syndrome and injury.

Even though I am a Doctor of Chiropractor, I realize that the doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient. That is why my brother who is also a Doctor of Chiropractic is the main member of my pit crew. He keeps me in balance.


If you are on the fence and trying to decide what type of kayak to purchase, consider the surfski, but before you begin any type of serious training, consider having a Chiropractic exam performed to assess and correct any structural biomechanical imbalances that might impede your fitness program.

Roswell Chiropractor Dr Dan Batchelor is Metro Atlanta's top doctor/athlete. He is the winner of over 350 endurance races and has treated thousands of patients over 3 decades. Be the best you can, let the doctor who practices what he preaches, show you how. 770-992-2002 270 South Atlanta st, Roswell GA 0075

Molokai, Hawaii---On a budget

The Maui Jim Molokai Surfski race holds an allure for many paddlers and for good reason, the long-standing race has all the features that entice paddlers from around the world: idyllic setting, world class conditions and an opportunity to rub gunwales with the some of the best in the business all intersect to make for a memorable opportunity.


So if you fancy making the trip at some point in your life, perhaps we can help a bit with the planning.


Randall Taylor from Jacksonville, Florida shared his experience at the channel crossing and gave us an idea of what to expect.

Randall Taylor

Randall Taylor


If you are going specifically for the race, you will likely want to arrive a week before, or at least several days prior to the event.  Having time to settle into your surroundings and getting some practice on the water will only enhance your overall experience and give you time to work out any boat and body related issues ahead of time.


The Outrigger Club acts as a central control for the racers. The club has a locker room, showers, restaurant and other amenities available. You can get helpful information here about the race and area in general. The general idea is that you will likely want to base yourself at the Outrigger Club throughout your stay.  The cost to use the facilities should run between $50-$100 for the week.


If you’re looking to keep your costs down, save a few pesos and take the no frills approach by spending the majority of your time either out on the water enjoying the two downwind shuttles daily, in the club or at the beach near the club.  Plan ahead and reserve your lodging in advance near Waikiki beach and the Outrigger Club.  Doing so will not only be convenient but also allows you the option of bypassing the car rental as well, as you will likely be spending all your time in the same general area. 

Lodging, like anywhere else, can be expensive, but if you do some advance searching, you can find a fair deal within walking distance of the beach with efficiencies in the area running as low as $85-$100 per night.  Local resident and recent surfski transplant Beata Cseke recommends using Airbnb for reservations.


Gotta have a chase boat

Another mandatory expense is hiring a Captain and escort boat.  Cost is predicated on current gas prices but you can likely expect to pay somewhere between $800-$1100.  Rentals can be made through the organizer website---Kanaka Ikaika.


All escort boats will cross over the day before the race, so you can either go over on the boat and stay at a hotel the night before or you can book a flight and fly over the morning of the race.


Here is a rough approximation of what you may expect to pay for 5-7 days:


Surfski rental for the week:---$500

Outrigger Club week membership---$100

Escort Boat and Captain---$1000

Lodging for 7 Days -----$800  

Food, airfare, and personal expenditures will vary, but an overall estimation for all of the above should total roughly:





Outrigger Club:

Kanaka Ikaika:



Here are some further recommendations from Beata Cseke:  

For paddlers, a HK run is a must! From Hawaii Kai to Kaimana Beach (7mi) or Magic Island (11mi). Its a pure downwind run passing by Diamond Head Crater and the world famous Waikiki Beach. The water is unbelievably clear, also there are many sea turtles!


Another must do for the paddler is China Wall (1.5 mile before finish)!  Either from the water or from the can be fun and help your race but it can be also very dangerous and break your ski! There are many reefs underwater you won't see until you are right next to it.


For those who are up for a challenge, paddling around the Makauu LightHouse is a good trip. It is on the east tip of the island where many currents meet.  Depends on the day...but waves can reach 8-10 feet high. It's like being in a washing machine, very challenging, choppy water.


Paddling in Kanaohe Bay, on the windward side is also a beautiful option---calm water, beautiful mountains and the local's favorite hang out spot, the sandbar; only accessible by boat or kayak! The best time to go is at low tide, then you stop by and rest on the sandbar and hang out with the locals! 👌

Beata living the dream


Paddling in Hawaii unbelievable, but make sure you have a paddling buddy and a good leash!!!

There are many boats available to rent! has all contact information!


Things to do:

Walking around Waikiki Beach! Many shops and restaurants...a great way to experience the Aloha Spirit!

A few fun places to stop by: Duke's at Outrigger Hotel, Arnold's Tiki Bar, Waikiki Brewery, Kona Brewery in Hawaii Kai.

Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay.

Hiking in Oahu: Makapuu Lighthouse, Diamond Head Crater and Koko Head Crater.

Visiting Pearl Harbor and North Shore is also a must to do in Oahu!


There is good public transportation in Oahu. You can get around the island by bus or you can get a cheap rental car as well; the best option is at HNL airport. Parking may be a little difficult in Waikiki though!


How to Face the RACE Pace

Having a good old sprint finish with Dawid Mocke, Fish Hoek, Cape Town

Having a good old sprint finish with Dawid Mocke, Fish Hoek, Cape Town

Sean Rice discusses the importance of Race Pace in his most recent Blog post:

The build up to any goal, race or event can be exciting, tiring and sometimes completely overwhelming. Every paddler no matter your experience will go through the ups and downs of the build up.  With summer making its way up North and the start of a new year of racing we are all sure to go through this process again soon. (Well I definitely need to start getting my game face on!).

While preparing for the up and coming race season, I have compiled a few tips on how to face the race pace!

1. PLAN!

  • Obvious right? Yes but how you plan is important! You will need to know your time frame, resources at your disposal and of course, have at least one solid and realistic goal! Without these you are not planning. You are wishing!

Write down a program or ask for a coach’s advice. Get it onto paper and then commit! Sometime the hardest part of training can be knowing what to do and not losing focus. With a well-structured program, you’ll know exactly what has to be done.

2. Talk about it!

  • Believe it or not, but some people are interested in what you’re gearing up for. If some people aren’t, then go find different friends! No seriously, it is good to tell people about your goal or event. This conversation will keep you motivated and you’ll have something to prove! You might even get some inspiration from passed achievements of others or recruit some new training buddies.

3. Roll with the punches!

  • If only all training sessions were as fun or easy as your first. Unfortunately the reality of a structured training program is that you will go through many ups and many downs. Keep your chin up and look forward. The tough days make the good days even better! Just keep going forward.

4. Train hard and rest easy.

  • A big part of the actual benefit from the training you will be doing will come from the recovery afterwards. Going hard 100% off the time could lead to fatigue or injuries that interfere with your whole journey. Train smart and listen to your body. 

5. Mix it up.

  • Having the structure of a reliable training partner or venue, as well as a solid training plan is vital to achieving your goal, but sometimes some spice is nice! Surprise yourself and body with something different every now and then. Join your mates for a different downwind, paddle somewhere you normally wouldn’t, chase ducks and geese around the estuary, drag your kids around on the back for extra resistance, anything! Just keep it fun and interesting. 
Photo taken from TC Surfski

Photo taken from TC Surfski

Most importantly - practice your smile and fist pump for the finish line photographers! Picture yourself completing your goal or event and that is sure to get you out on the water when the body says NO!

Go for it!


Squamish-Canadian Championship -Bob Putnam

Over the past few years I have been lucky enough to travel to surfski races in distant locations. Travelling with friends to new locales with challenging waters has been very rewarding and has provided many memorable experiences as well as making acquaintances with paddlers from around the world.  Paddling to the Statue of Liberty, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, dodging freighters at the mouth of Hong Kong harbor and paddling big seas between Tahitian Islands are memories that have stuck with me way beyond the end of the party.

So with this in mind, a group of local Vancouver and Squamish paddlers including myself decided to create the Canadian Surfski Champs and invite the world to visit our neck of the woods.  Our first race in 2014 was well attended by some of the world’s greatest paddlers.  It was from their reactions that I gained a better appreciation about the beauty of Squamish and Vancouver.

“I’d say this is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in my life….”
Hank McGregor, South Africa, 5 x World Marathon Champ at 2014 Canadian Surfski Champs

The Canadian Surfski Champs course is located in Howe Sound, a classic coastal fjord.  Carved out by glaciers 10,000 years ago, the landscape is dramatic with soaring peaks shooting straight up from the sea.  As dramatically as they go up above you, they go down below you - it can be 1000 feet deep in spots.  These steep mountains funnel afternoon anabatic winds that accelerate as they approach Squamish and make it a popular kite boarding area.  “Squamish” translates to “Mother of the Wind” and the town is known as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada.

“…very pretty!  Prettiest course in the world I think.”  
Michele Eray, South Africa, - Olympian and Fastest Woman, 2014 Canadian Surfski Champs,

Some international races can be down right intimidating; big winds, marine traffic,  sailing fleets, ocean swell and currents can shake a seasoned paddler’s confidence.  When the winds are humming in Howe Sound the conditions are pretty friendly.  The waves are generally organized, marine traffic is almost zero and you can get good runs, but the waves are not heinous.  The race route starts with about a 2 km side on paddle to the Think Hot Spot, with waves of max 2 ft.  Compare that to the ICF World Champs in Tahiti with a 3 km paddle to the hot spot and a 6 ft side swell, with chop!  

Once you round the Think Hot Spot the waves start easy and build as you pass Britannia Beach and approach Watts Point.  As you start to get closer to Watts Point, the ocean sea starts to mingle with the glacial river run off.  The colour  of the water is a translucent turquoise from all the glacial sediment.  This can make the waves difficult to discern and you paddle by feel as much by sight.  Here you can feel the reflective waves, and the runs are bouncy.  

“…incredible rides, coming into Watt’s Point I think I went for a minute without taking a stroke”  
Greg Barton, United States, 2 x Olympic Gold Medalist at 2015 Canadian Surfski Champs


As you round Watts Point things settle down for a bit until you hit the river current and squirrely harbor winds.  Here the waves can get steep and tight.  Just keep your boat straight and paddle on.  

Many CSC participants will arrive to Vancouver early to see the sights, take in beautiful Deep Cove’s Tuesday Night Race (TNR) on July 12th, and do several pre-runs of the Howe Sound race route. Often,international paddling hot-shots are in attendance at this short fun race and the pre-race buzz is usually electric.  Post TNR, there is a gathering at the local pub where we watch the race videos and you get to rub shoulders with some of the current legends of Open Ocean Racing.  

Things to do in Squamish and Vancouver?

  • Squamish has excellent mountain bike trails and the North Vancouver trails are world famous.  Do a quick youtube search and you’ll see.  


  • Hike the second highest granite rock face in the world and hang your head over the edge to see stunning Howe Sound.  

  • The Sea to Sky Gondola has awesome views  

  • Go to Whistler and hit the Mountain Bike Park.

  • In 2014, Carter, Kristen and Kenny paddled 30 km down the Squamish River in a canoe!!  Now that’s a Canadian Experience.  

Secret spots to eat in Squamish.

Java:  Galileo in Britannia Beach

Breakfast:  Chef Big D’s or Ferg’s Cookhouse.  Ferg’s is off the beaten path in Brackendale but it’s worth the effort

Beers:  Howe Sound Brew Pub. Near the race finish line, it’s not so secret but the beer is good.

Smiles = Good Water

Smiles = Good Water

The Watershed on the river with spectacular views of the Tantalus Mountains should be visited, but service and food can be hit or miss.  Still worth a visit as you never know when somebody may walk his or her horse by the outdoor patio.

Try the Mountain Woman in Britannia Beach for a good straight up burger, fries and chocolate shake.

Bob Putnam: 

Director-Canadian Surfski Championships.  

Owner - Deep Cove Outdoors

The Gorge - J. Di Chiacchio / Carter Johnson

It's no secret that the Columbia River Gorge is fast becoming a "go to" destination for paddlers from around the globe.  Long a windsurfing stronghold, surfskiers are discovering the world class area to be a veritable buffet of tasty downwind runs and all around top shelf paddling.


Several factors converge to make the Gorge an unforgettable location. The area features a unique geological and atmospheric signature that routinely funnels heated winds from the nearby Pacific up through the river canyon, creating sizable standing waves set against the incoming current. 


If the larger waves make you weak in the knees, no worries; you can tailor your surfing experience in relation to your location from the river bank.  Want a daisy run? Opt for closer to the shore.  Looking for a bit more but not ready for the big leagues yet? Head a little further out for mid-sized foam.  Or maybe you’re one of those paddlers who takes your quest for the perfect wave to great lengths?  Make your way out to the center of the river and tackle Swell City and get all you can handle.  If you’ve hit that “wind-driven waves are so yesterday” stage and are looking for something new.  Grab the wake of a passing paddle wheel boat and try your hand at “stern wheeling”.


For many, the downwind runs would be reason enough to pin a flag on the Columbia River, but the area has a bit more to offer. The warm water is a welcome contrast from the nearby ocean, and if watching Jaws 17 has you concerned about ending up as a shark biscuit, relax.  If one of those smiling Noah's make the long trip up the river and into fresh water, they've surely earned the right to have a go at you.


A road trip to the Gorge will pay downwind dividends for sure, but if racing is in your blood, you’ll want to plan your visit to coincide with the World Surfski Series Gorge Dowwnwinder race held annually in July.


Race Director Carter Johnson has set his sights on creating more than a race. He aims to create a week-long festival-- a paddlers Woodstock.  


The epicenter is located in Hood River, Oregon, and it’s here that Johnson has established headquarters for all the temporary denizens of this inland surf empire.  In addition, he has arranged for food, music, a beer garden and all manner of paddle porn provided throughout the week.  With all this and free fast-moving shuttles daily, you can run the river until your head explodes.

Fast Shuttle

Fast Shuttle

With many attractions nearby, you can easily find other activities for you or your whole family to enjoy in addition to paddling.  The entire region is an outdoor playground with epic road and mountain biking, hiking, fishing, shopping (Portland) and nearby landmarks such as Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood. Or stay close to the action in Hood River and enjoy local fare with an array of microbreweries and restaurants to choose from. 

If you are planning on attending the race, Johnson emphatically advises making reservations no later then April, as lodging will be difficult to find come July. He also recommends bypassing the hotels for vacation house rentals as the better bargain. Especially if you'll be sharing the house with others. Lower end hotels will start around $150 per night and scale up to $250. House rentals will cost between $200 and $350 for the WEEK! Split between others and you'll have your wallet thanking you. 

Competitors arriving from all corners of the world, make for a great way to mix it up and meet paddling brethren.

See you there!


Masters Class: Less is More -- Erik Borgnes

Borgnes at Phatwater

Borgnes at Phatwater

Preface: Erik Borgnes is like the rest of us; a paddler with a job (Physician-Radiology) and a family. Yet, in spite of a busy schedule, he finds a way to take his training to the next level.  After his recent course record and subsequent interview at the Chattajack, I was shocked to find that the 50 year old Borgnes spends only three days a week on the boat.  Even more compelling was that he often spends this time on a 400 meter pond and a 1 mile lake!   

The holy grail for the Masters athlete is to find a non-invasive but highly effective training plan that cuts through superfluous methods and focuses on maximizing efforts. Critical for those (all?) of us that don't make a living paddling but want to do our best come race day.  I was struck by the simplicity and clear reasoning behind his program.  Nothing is convoluted.  Nothing is wasted.  

Thank you Erik for the great insight.  Honestly, it was a struggle not to keep this for myself.-JD


Joseph Di Chiacchio asked me if I would lay out my 3 day a week on-water training plan for him, so here it is:  I'll preface this by saying that my training plan isn't anything groundbreaking.  It's more or less just basic "stuff" that has been concentrated along certain lines and has had other lines completely removed.  It's what I do now and I think it works pretty well for me.  Of course, your results may vary....

I find that it's a constant struggle to fit the training time that I'd like to have into my busy work and family schedule.  I know others feel the same way.  So, with limited time to train, my program over the years has become whittled down to about three days on the water each week.  With such limited time, I like to plan my paddling so that almost every minute on the water has a purpose and a direction of concentration.  I work on one specific facet of paddling at a time - and I’ll break it down into what I view as important, and why I think so, below. 

As we are told, we all have a genetic potential for how much work we can do at maximal effort - our max VO2.  Supposedly, this is largely genetic, but more importantly, after we've trained for several years, this doesn't improve anymore and supposedly drops by about 1% per year from when we were about 30 years old.  What does improve year over year, though, is our efficiency (though, in incrementally smaller amounts), which we can train with technique work and with time on the water.  Strength, strength endurance, power, and power endurance can improve, too.  These ideas are what I base my on-water training program on. 

If you think about the distance racing that most of us masters are doing, you’ll probably see that there’s really very little time that we are in “the red zone” where our heart rates and ventilatory rates are near their maximum.  Because of this, I think that long max VO2 type intervals are pretty much a waste of time for us.  Why?  They offer limited specificity to how we’re racing. And because the stress is so high during each interval, the specific total training load, for how we race, from each workout session is reduced.  Plus, I think the additive training stress of these types of sessions over a season leads to overtraining and burnout in a masters age paddler.  So, instead of stressing my max VO2, I’ve come to see training optimization simply as maximizing the training load at lower “gears," done in such a way where the load is directed towards stressing the working muscles rather than on the cardiovascular system.  (Just to be clear, I do paddle near my max VO2 occasionally during paddling races, and that's fine.  I also occasionally go into and out of my red zone when out on a run or a bike ride about once each week or two).

Here's another way to think about it:  Suppose my VO2 max on a bike or running is 60 ml oxygen per minute.  In the boat, it might be 45?  (I really have no idea, though I know it will be considerably lower).  In any case, if I were to surmise that my heart and lungs can deliver oxygen and take away CO2, etc. to my working muscles at 60 ml per minute in those other sports, then it's probably not the rate limiting factor in paddling, where I'm only at 45 ml per minute - at least that's the logic that makes sense to me.  So what this tells me is that to improve my endurance speed, I need to increase my paddling muscles' ability to do more work - not my heart and lungs.  I can do this by increasing the number of muscle groups that I use effectively when paddling, and I can also build up the power and strength capacity of my paddling muscle groups.  

I break down surfski racing into four key things that I need to work on.  For one, I need to be as efficient as possible at my steady state 1-3+ hour racing speed.  I also need to be able to adjust to changes in the pace, up or down by about 0.5 mph or so, and do so with as little added stress as possible.  I need to be able to quickly power up and sprint for a wave or for a wake in front of me.  And lastly, I need to have the endurance to finish a long race comfortably.

The backbone of my year ‘round training is my mile intervals and it's been that way for years.  I’ll start out in the spring with about 4 or 5 and, if I’m training up for a long race of up to four hours or so, then I’ll do up to about 18 of these 1 mile long intervals.  As for speed, I’ll paddle each one at or just under my 10 km racing speed - which is about the speed that I would do a flat water 10 km time trial.  For me, that number is about 7.9 to 8.0 mph on a good day.  So, for my one mile intervals, I’ll do one mile at 7.7 - 8.0 mph, then take 30 seconds to a minute to turn around, and then repeat until I’ve completed my session.  If it’s windy, then I’ll watch my HR monitor too, and base my effort on my HR while heading into the wind, and on my speed while paddling with the wind.  I try to stay just a tiny bit below my 10 km race pace effort and HR to minimize the stress load.  Because these are over in 7-8 minutes, and because the intensity isn't too high, I find each one easy enough to get through, and also that adding more of them isn't too onerous a thought.  The interesting point comes after you've done 8, 12, 16... of these, because you come to understand that the specific stress on your paddling muscles after 16 intervals at your 10 km race pace is very different from that of 16 miles at your LSD pace.

The second type of session that I’ll do is an interval session that’s done at a speed just above my 10 km race pace.  I do mine at about 8.4-8.6 mph.  The critical thing about this interval is that the time / length of the interval is long enough to maximize the feeling of being at that steady state speed, but short enough so that I don’t climb up into my max VO2 / red zone area, so I’ll end the interval at about the point when I’m starting to breathe faster and I’m feeling near the point of crossing over into “oxygen debt.”  For me, these are about 1 minute 40 seconds long, or about 400 meters at that speed.  Once I stop, I’m mostly recovered in 30 seconds and then I’ll meander back to the start and then begin the next interval about 3 or 4 minutes later feeling fully recovered.  The second key thing about these intervals is that I'm going for volume at that interval speed, and not trying to maximize the speed that I do each interval.  So, again, I’ll start out the season at 10 or so and work my way up into the 20’s. To think about these another way, if I did 10 of these, I would have done 4 km at 8.4 mph and stayed well away from my max VO2.  On the other hand, if I were to paddle at 8.4 mph for 4 km in one long interval, I'd have hit my max V02 somewhere along the way, failed to maintain my speed, and limped in at the end.  If I had attempted to cover that same distance broken up into 1 km segments, each one would be spent at my max VO2, and I'd be pretty thrashed by the end.  Also, it would take me a week to recover from doing either of these latter two sessions.  By breaking them down into about 400 meters each, though, I can paddle twice the distance in a single training session with less stress and easier recovery.  And that’s my goal - to maximize the specific training load and to minimize the training stress.  Again, doing one of these isn't difficult, but doing 10, 15, 20, etc. changes things entirely.

The last type of session that I routinely do is the LSD session where my objective is to simply paddle for at least 3 hours using good efficient technique.  Why 3 hours?  I feel that that’s just beyond the time in me when my working muscles start to feel burdened by the changing metabolic state of running out of glycogen, and if I'm not trained up for distance, that's where I'll start to bonk.  This is really a very different type of session from the others.  This is simply an energy supply and adaptation session where the goal is to paddle, taking in only water (no calories), until you feel a bit “bonk-y”, and then to force yourself to continue on for another 30 minutes or an hour so that you load or stress your energy systems.  After several of these, done once every 7-10 days or so, that “bonk-y” feeling won't even appear because you’ve adapted, and then stretching it out to 4 hours or longer will be easy to do.  

If I get another session on the water, I’ll do something that trains maximal power - yet again, another session that’s completely different from the others above.  For these, all I’m focused on is delivering maximal power to each and every stroke as efficiently as I can.  I gauge my technical and power efficiency by the maximal speed that I reach.  These intervals are 30 strokes in length, counting both sides, and done from a rolling start of about 6.5 to 7.0 mph.  I try really hard to make each and every stroke “perfect” in its execution from start to finish.   These are surprisingly tough mentally because I feel as if I have way too much data coming in to process regarding my timing, my catch, my pull, exit, legwork, etc from each individual stroke.  Also, the idea for these is to use big powerful strokes, a lower stroke rate, and let the increasing power of the strokes push the boat faster as opposed to allowing an increasing stroke rate to pull the boat faster - if that makes sense.  So, your stroke rate increases as a result of increasing speed, and not the other way around, in this training session.  For these, I’ll do 20-30 of them with a couple of minutes of easy paddling in between, so this is an easy 1 hour session for total time on the water.  

I do 1 mile intervals because one lake that I train on is only 0.98 miles long.  Years ago, when I trained on a longer lake, I did 9 minutes at my interval pace, and rested for 1 minute because it allowed me a convenient way to keep track of my time in 10 minute blocks.  My 8.4 mph intervals are that speed because that speed feels about right on the other lake that I train on, which is 400 meters long.  Doing 8.3 mph intervals over a slightly longer course or 8.5 mph over a slightly shorter course would likely be just as effective.

I have no illusions that my way of training is the best way to train nor that it's optimal for everyone.  But, I can say that it is very simple, the sessions are easy enough to get through, and I find that I'm never subconsciously dreading to get out on the water.  Instead, I find that while I train hard most every week, I'm usually feeling refreshed and ready to go for the next one.  Lastly, whatever you decide to put into your training plan, I think that having confidence in that plan is vital, because if you aren't confident in the value of what you're doing, then your interest and effort won't be as high as they could be.