This weekend was the third annual TC Surfski Immersion Weekend. I went last year and learned a whole bunch and a had a bunch of fun, so I of course signed up to do it again. The weekend takes place at the awesomely beautiful Hilltop Log Lodge which just coincidentally is next door to the home of the proprietor of TC Surfski, Nick Murray.
Unfortunately Suttons Bay Michigan is a heck of a long drive away, so I missed the introductory paddle Thursday night. We actually saw them out in their skis not too far from the launch site as we were just about to turn in to hilltop trail. If I hadn’t been so tired from nine hours of driving, I would have left Vicki to the settling in and unpacking and tried to rush down to the launch site to catch them. But I didn’t.
After they came back, I got reintroduced to the returning instructors, a few returning participants, and a whole bunch of new people. And being me, I promptly forgot just about everybody’s names. Sorry everybody. But there was a wide range of experiences including a lot of beginners who have never paddled a Surfski before. The only non-paddling spouse other than Vicki was Eric Haas’s wife Melissa. Eric came last year, but without his wife. I’m happy she came because she and Vicki seemed to have a good time together when we were off paddling.
I won’t attempt any physical descriptions because I heard through a mutual friend that Eric Borgnes took some good natured objection to the way I’d described him last year. At least I hope it was good natured.
Friday morning dawned foggy and not particularly warm. We headed to nearby Cedar Lake for a concentration on technique. We did mostly modified versions of Oscar’s drills including one I didn’t like much because you had to release the lower hand to do a top hand spear, then re-grab with the lower hand to pull. That threw me completely off each time.
I got told a few things I already knew and have to consciously think about every time I paddle, like making sure I get the paddle fully in the water before starting to pull, and sitting up straighter. They also found a few things I didn’t know about – I’ve been paddling with my paddle length set to 217cm, but Rob has a wider “wing span” than I and he paddles with 212cm and suggested I do the same, and shorten to 210 in rough water. He also suggested I lower my knees (by adjusting the foot plate forward) in rough water at least until I get more confident. Because I’m one of the more experienced paddlers there other than the instructors, I also spent some time trying to give tips to some of the other participants, but I’m not a teacher so basically I’d just give them a suggestion or two and paddle off looking for my next victim.
In the afternoon we returned to Cedar Lake for the safety session. Adding a safety session is a good idea in general, and last year’s Sunday downwinder showed the need for it when one of the beginners fell in and couldn’t remount. We’d been warned to dress for full immersion in cold water, and while Cedar Lake is shallower and warmer than Lake Michigan, it still wasn’t warm. We did a bunch of remounts. Not exactly a new thing for me, but a good thing to practice every now and then and especially to practice on your non-preferred side. We did some other exercises that I found enlightening. In one we attempted to paddle with the ski leaned over as far as you could. As I paddled along with water coming into the cockpit, I gained a new respect for just how much final stability the V10 Sport really has.
That evening, Vicki and I and Eric H and Melissa went out for a nice dinner at the 9 Bean Rows restaurant in Suttons Bay. It was really nice except we’d sat outside and everything was sticky from tree sap. Also Vicki was a little mean to Eric about his hypermiling obsession – but since Melissa was just as vocal about it, it think it was taken in the good natured way it was intended.
Saturday morning there was a race in Traverse City. It seems it was just a coincidence that it was put on the same weekend as our camp, but it worked out nicely. Besides our lot in the surfskis there was at least one other guy in a Fenn surfski, a few kayaks and a whole bunch of SUPs. Because last year the Surfski race had been over so quickly, this year he made it longer, with a squarish course to test our abilities. On the first leg, it very quickly settled into a lead pack of Eric Borgnes and Rob Hartman, then the guy in the Fenn with Greg on his tail and Nick and his son in a tandem ski paddling off to one side (well, Nick was paddling, his son’s paddle rarely left the horizontal). I buried myself trying to get on Greg’s stern wake, but never got closer than about 2 boat lengths and eventually gave up and settled down into my pace. There was a very small swell coming down the bay from my front left but it wasn’t a factor. At the first bouy turn, however, the transition from front left to directly astern caused me a missed stroke. I snuck a very quick peek behind and Eric Haas was not far behind. By that point Nick and his son had joined the second pack. The first half of that leg was assisted by the swell, now directly behind, but as we got closer to the break wall reflections off it became more dominant. Both packs ahead seemed to be angling off towards the wall rather than heading directly to the turn bouy – not sure if they were intending to use the wall for shelter or to use the reflected waves somehow or what. The turn took us parallel to the shore. Both packs ahead went to the right of the direct line to find deeper water and stay away from a bunch of bouys marking a swimming area, and I followed suit. I didn’t think Eric was gaining on me, but I used that as a reason to keep the pace up and not slack off. The next turn was directly back into the swell from the top of the bay and numerous boat anchorages with anchor lines to avoid. Just as I passed the “tall ship” and was about to turn towards shore, a largish boat wake came along so I paddled beyond the direct line and turned after it had abated. The posted times were about two minutes slower than my GPS, but I evidently came in a minute and a half behind Nick and his son, and about 1:40 ahead of Eric Haas. Not counting the guy in the Fenn because he wasn’t part of our group, that means I was slower than all the instructors and faster than all the other Immersion participants. Although one of our number ended up with a prize because his V6 had been classed as a kayak rather than a ski.
Saturday afternoon we headed to another local lake. This time it was to find a friend of Nick’s who owned a ski boat so people could practice catching the waves behind it. This is nothing new to me, but it’s always fun. What they attempted to do was to line up four people at a time in the stern wakes and slowly increase the boat speed. What I noticed after the second one is that most people can’t stay on the wake after it gets up to any speed, so rather than wait for my turn I would line up outside the group, and get on the bow wake. The bow wake is harder to ride, and I would have water constantly pouring into the cockpit – good thing the epic bailer is quite effective. But once several of the group had fallen off the stern wake, I’d cut over and ride that. I ended up getting several good rides, and they indulged me with some nice fast ones. I believe I sustained over 15 km/hr a few times.
Then on the way back to the cars I found myself up front with Eric H. I encouraged him to ride my stern wake because that’s a good skill to have for racing and one you don’t get to practice often unless you have an awesome paddle group like we do here in Rochester. After paddling about two kilometers, we suddenly realized that nobody was exactly sure where the put-in was. Fortunately I have the track map enabled on my GPS so I switched to the map view and could see that the it was about a kilometer further on and to the right. So I surged on ahead – I’m not sure I adequately conveyed that I now knew with complete confidence where the put-in was because Eric and a few others who had been with us suddenly seemed well behind me. But sure enough, the GPS track indicated a turn to the right just as a power boat came out of the bay, and there was the boat ramp right ahead of me.
That evening, the same group of four headed back to Suttons Bay. This time we ended up at a restaurant called “Martha’s”. It was utterly amazing. Possibly the best meal I’ve had all year, if a tiny bit expensive. And both the chef and the owner came out to chat after the meal. Vicki promised to put in a glowing review in TripAdvisor, which Martha seemed happy about.
Sunday morning a few people talked about going for a short early paddle – last year we’d had a ripping down winder which had been a highlight of the weekend for me, but this year there was no wind and I just couldn’t muster up the energy for a flat water paddle after the long day Saturday. So we packed up and hit the road. Uncharacteristicly, I’d added a tie down strap to the normal bungees I used to hold down my ski, and a few hours later near the Canadian border I was extremely glad I had. The wind was so strong that in spite of the one tie down, my boat was shifting around in the rack and I ended up pulling into a lay by to add another strap. Other than the wind, it was a pretty uneventful drive home, just exceedingly tiring.
So what is the verdict? Last year it was easy to be extremely positive about the whole thing because I learned so much and we had that great down winder on the last day. This time I feel like I didn’t learn as much, and we didn’t have a down winder, but I still think it’s a positive experience. There is something magical about hanging out with a bunch of other enthusiastic Surfski paddlers, both experienced and inexperienced. And it really is a beautiful setting.