The 2014 TC Surfski Immersion Vacation Day 4

Now for the big final day. We definitely had wind. We also had cold. The previous days had been warm and sunny and still. Now we had air temps that were probably in the 50s, a howling wind, and overcast. The water looked dark and forbidding. There was a fair amount of small chop and a bigger swell underlaying that.

It seemed to take forever for everybody to get ready. Part of that was probably because with the tough conditions everybody wanted to make sure they had every last thing, but also I think there was some reluctance to actually get going. Our two least experienced paddlers, Mark and Mike, were put in the most stable boats – an Epic V8 and a Stellar S18S, and Greg convinced Bill to ditch the V10L he’d been paddling yesterday and take a slightly more stable V10. In hindsight, maybe he should have been in a V10 Sport.

With the strong wind, it was really hard to keep everybody together. Mark and Mike launched first, and Mike started heading in generally the right direction but Mark was heading more upwind. I know from experience of being nervous in waves that the guy heading upwind was probably doing it because he didn’t want to be quartering the waves as he would have been if he’d headed in the direction we’d intended to head. Rob headed out to help one of them and Erik headed out to help the other one. I got out about far enough to head for the bouy and looked around and only Eric (not Erik) was near me. I said “let’s go” and headed downwind. I caught a couple of really great runs and some smaller ones, but soon realized I had nobody around me. I circled back to get back to where some of the others were, and as I turned upwind I fell in. Fortunately I’ve got a good remount, and I got back in with no problems. I wasn’t as cold as I’d feared I would get, either.

I paddled back upwind until once again I was near Eric and Rob and Mike. Once again I turned downwind and caught some good runs, only to realize there was nobody within shouting distance of me. So I turned back again, and this time managed to get back to this small group without dumping. We could see three paddlers in tight into shore, which didn’t make sense because they would have been dealing with breaking surf and having to keep a big angle on the waves to keep a course away from the point. We also heard that Mark had been spotted heading back into shore after having trouble remounting, and Erik was escorting him in. Nick fortunately had seen Mark’s difficulty so he hadn’t left the put-in and he was able to pick Mark up.

The pattern of getting some great fun runs, realizing I was miles ahead of everybody, and then a slow circle back, and then turning down for some good runs continued several times. I was much less nervous than I used to be in these sorts of conditions, and I kept increasing how far I would get ahead of everybody before I’d turn back.

After rounding the point where the bouy lived it briefly got very calm. Erik and Bill showed up – Bill had been having problems staying upright and had done several remounts. He was really good at it and he hadn’t been getting cold. Erik basically dropped Bill off in the calm and went back to look after other people, so I decided to stay with Bill the rest of the way. Which turned out to be fortuitous because it got rough again, and Bill dumped a few more times. I wasn’t needed to help him remount, but when you’re remounting I always think it’s good to have somebody within communication range in case you do get into trouble.

Rob had stayed with Mike the whole way, and Eric kind of orbitted around them, so they all made it through with no problems. I don’t think any of them swam. Considering Mike’s level of experience, I have to give him mad props – he did better than I would have done two years ago.

I didn’t really see what happened to the others, especially the ones I’d seen in near shore, but eventually everybody got to the finish and then the sun came out and wind died. But by then it was time to head home so we went back to the lodge and Vicki and I packed up and left.

Another long drive, and I was ready to conk out, except I’m so tired and sore from all the driving and paddling that I can barely sleep.

Well, the vacation is over, and it’s back to work. Bottom line: it was a lot of fun, a great group of people, some really fantastic instructors, and I hope to do it again.

The 2014 TC Surfski Immersion Vacation Day 3

On the third day, we still had no wind. In the morning, we were given the option of joining a little local race. Since everybody else was doing it, I went along with it. Now evidently this was a new race, and the organizer wasn’t the most organized guy in the world. It was billed as 2.5 miles, although according to my GPS it was actually only about 2.1 miles. I got a bit of a sticker shock when I found out it was $32 to enter! Compare and contrast with Baycreek’s weekly 2.0 mile time trials that are $8 to enter and have hot dogs and beer afterwards. But then again the Baycreek time trials are probably considered advertising and goodwill for the shop.

So anyway, we lined up at the start. As expected, Erik Borgnes, Rob Hartman, Nick Murray and one other guy whose name I didn’t catch disappeared into the distance. I was chasing Greg Greene’s wake, and I wasn’t sure if I was catching it or not when he suddenly started veering well off to the left. That left Bill, the super fit guy from Iowa who went for a bike ride in the mornings while the rest of us where getting our breakfasts, just a bit ahead of me. For about a kilometer I thought I was catching him, but he started to pull away. In spite of Greg’s diversion, he was pulling away from me as well. And at the finish, there wasn’t a water finish line like we’d been told, we basically had to ram our boats onto the beach. Yeah, I wasn’t going to do that, so I threw my feet into the water and stopped and then slowly paddled in close enough to get out without scraping my new boat. Anyway, I think I was seventh overall, and in spite of the fact that there weren’t any 180 degree turns to slow me down, my time was slower than the Baycreek Time Trial last week.

We hung around for the awards (very fancy) and a bit of chat, and then paddled back the reverse of the course back to the cars. We loaded up and went back to the lodge for lunch.

After lunch, we went back to the same put-in we’d used on Thursday evening and paddled almost exactly the same course out to the bouy and back. This time Rob and Erik were really spending a lot of time on technique, and I got some real help with my catch and pull splashing problem. It hasn’t become natural yet, but I’ll keep working on it – I’ve changed my stroke a few times already, so I’m sure I can do it again.

Afterwards we went back to the lodge for socializing and dinner. Dinner seemed like it was very late, but maybe the level of effort was catching up to me. It was really good, though. Nick is an excellent cook. After dinner all conversation turned to the weather forecast – it appeared we were going to get a strong north wind for Sunday, and after a brief discussion we had a plan to paddle a stretch of Grand Traverse Bay that would actually pass the familiar bouy and end up at the same put-in as we’d visited two times before. Not long afterwards, I crashed and went to bed.

The 2014 TC Surfski Immersion Vacation Day 2

On the second day of the vacation, the morning was spent talking technique, watching each other erging and trying to fix problems. My biggest problem is one I became aware of last year, which is that I splash myself in the stomach with my catch on the left side, but not so much on the right side. Both Rob Hartman and Erik Borgnes pointed out that I was doing my catch and pull as one fluid action, and it appears I’m “firing” the pull too early, as the paddle blade is still going into the water. Something to work on.

I mentioned Rob before. Erik is in some ways the opposite – if you saw him in a crowd, you wouldn’t pick him out as a superb athlete. For one thing, he’s much shorter than Rob and doesn’t have his enormous reach. But get him out on the water and he’s as fast as anybody you’ve seen.

One of the things I’ve found with things like learning paddling or when I was learning how to fly is that it’s often really great to get instruction from more than one person, because even if they’re explaining the same thing, the way one of them says it will click more than the way the other person says. And that’s why it was great to have both Erik and Rob spending some time giving you advice.

After the dry land sessions, we headed out to Lake Leelanau. There was no wind to speak of and the sun was shining brightly. We were paddling around, working on technique and getting feedback from Erik and Rob and also “assistant instructor” Greg Greene, although Greg was mostly busy with some of the less experienced paddlers.

After a while, Nick showed up on the back of a power boat, being driven by a local friend of his. (One of the locals said something about having seen the driver in TV commercials or some local access TV show or something to do with his painting business – I didn’t follow the whole conversation.) And once the boat got there, it was time to chase wakes. And man, that boat put out a good wake.

The first couple of times I rode the wake, I was on the bow wake, much like I do with boats in the canal, but when he started going fast I found myself being pushed into the side of his boat with more force than I could compensate with the rudder. One time I ended up with my bow pushing against the side of his boat, my boat on an angle to the incoming water, and me ending up upside down. It turned out that remounting my new V10 Sport is pretty much the same as remounting my old V10 Sport, so no worries there. Another paddler there, Eric (not Erik), also liked the bow wake and we sometimes found ourselves on opposite bows while some of the others took the rear wakes. At one point he was in the bow wake and I was right behind him in the rear wake and he did the same thing I’d done, but when he got his bow pushing against the side of the ski boat, he managed to brake with his paddle and shot out the back. I was expecting him to dump and take me out as well, but luckily I was able to maneuver around him and stay on the wake. I guess we both showed some skill on that.

Rob gave a virtuouso performance, getting exactly situated on the rear wake in such a way that he didn’t even have to paddle as the ski boat’s speeds went upwards from 10mph. It was like watching Boyan in Tarifa. So unfair that the guys with the tremendous stamina don’t even have to use it because of their tremendous skill.

It was a very long day on the water, and after about two and a half hours I was starting feel completely wiped. I was about to say I was going to head back to the put-in and wait in the shade for everybody else to finish when everybody else got the same idea at the same time and we headed back.

Back at the lodge, we looked at some of the pictures and videos that Nick shot from the boat, and commented on each other’s wake riding technique. I saw a bunch of pictures that I wish I could get a copy of because they’d make great profile pictures.

Afterwards, Vicki and I headed out to a restaurant in Suttons Bay that Nick had recommended. People had been discussing going in a group, but they were taking way too long to get organized and so Vicki and I had gone on our own. We had an absolutely lovely meal. As we were leaving, we saw that the group had eventually gotten to the same restaurant and had been eating in the front. Oh well, it was nice to make some time for Vicki.

The 2014 TC Surfski Immersion Vacation Day 1

Through a long chain of events that goes through Facebook and an Australian maker of clothing for surf ski paddlers, I found myself travelling to Traverse City Michigan for the “TC Surfski Immersion Vacation” from Thursday June 5th to Sunday June 8th. It was an extremely long and tiring drive, and I was hoping it was going to be worth it. When we found the right driveway (after missing it once) and pulled up the hill to the Hill Top Lodge and saw this beautiful building with all these cars with surf skis on top, I got my first confirmation that yes, this was going to be worth it.

We’d been aiming to get there by 5:30 on Thursday in order to get in on time for an initial paddle, but thanks to an incredible backup at the crossing into Michigan we missed the time deadline, but fortunately they were running late as well. A quick intro to some of the other paddlers and the instructors (and a pretty much futile attempt to remember some names), and a quick change into my paddling clothes, and we were off.

The first paddle was just an out and back on the bay off the bay off Lake Michigan, out to a bouy that would become very familiar this weekend, and back to the put-in. Mostly it was a chance to try to learn some of the other participant’s names, and to shake out some of the stiffness from the long drive. Much like Tuesday’s paddle on Lake Ontario, the air was warm but the water was very cold.

As we were milling around getting organized on the water, Rob Hartman came cruising by. I should mention that Rob is one of the instructors, a name I’ve heard very often in surf ski circles, and he looks the part – very tall and thin and athletic looking, and in a Epic V12 with stickers from the Chicago Shoreline Marathon. So naturally my instinct was to grab onto his wake. I got onto his side wake and held on tight. Another guy started coming up onto his other side and Rob was trying to talk him into how to ride wake – he said to me it looked like I’d done this before. Yeah, you could say that. After we reached the bouy Rob pulled off and started looking around for other people to instruct and the other guy (who I later learned was named James) and I paddled back to the put-in, trying to pick it out from the shore line. Truth be told, I was using the map track on my Forerunner to make sure we hadn’t overshot it until we saw the line of markers marking a channel out from it.

After paddling, we gathered back at the lodge for an evening of food and conversation. I was struggling with my natural inclination to show off – I know I’ve been to Tarifa and learned a lot there, plus I have the massive advantage of having paddled with a group of paddlers and having regular coaching, but I’m here to learn not to teach and I’ve got to hold back except where I have something real to contribute.