Category Archives: Rant

Fitness Device for kayak racing

Back in April of 2015, I wrote a “wish list” for what I considered the idea fitness device for kayak racing. At the time, I was using the Garmin Forerunner 910XT, and most of what I wrote there was based on my experience with it and previous devices (Garmin Forerunner 301, 310XT and 910XT as well as a brief flirtation with a Polar RC3 which sucked. I had also been looking at Garmin’s website for their new Forerunner 920XT and was trying to justify buying one. “Fortunately” I left my 910XT on my car roof and drove off, and it got run over by a truck so I had to buy the 920XT soon afterward. So let’s just see where we stand with the 920XT versus my wish list, shall we?

Wish List Item How the 920XT stacks up
As big a display as feasible. The 920XT continues the downward slide on display sizes. No relief in sight because Garmin wants these things to work as watches as well as training devices. I don’t think the Edge or the various remote displays from Garmin or Wahoo are waterproof enough for kayaking.
Compatible with polarized sunglasses To be honest, I was avoiding sunglasses this year because of all my video cameras, so I don’t know if the 920XT works with them.
Don’t scroll the fields that don’t change Sadly, no. Even though I have the same heart rate field on the top of three screens in a row, you can briefly not read it as it switches between the screens
Support for multiple profiles While Garmin Connect had some glitches in the last year, my “Paddling”, “Paddling Intervals” and “Paddling Race” profiles all upload as Paddling activities in Garmin Connect. Unfortunately so does my “Indoor Paddling”, and then I have to manually change it to “Fitness Devices/Cardio”.
No holes in the case 920XT continues that feature of the 310XT/910XT. The fact that this 920XT on my wrist spend a couple of weeks immersed in a river and in river mud proves how well it works.
ANT+ and Bluetooth 920XT supports both.
Bluetooth uploads and live tracking I’ve never used the live tracking. The only person who would care is Vicki, and she uses “Find My Friends”. But it’s awesome having your workout uploaded to Garmin Connect as soon as you finish.
Great battery life The 920XT’s battery life is so great I use it as a daily wear watch. I couldn’t tell you how often I charge it, but it’s probably no more than once every three days.
Course map if you load a course I tried this at Lighthouse to Lighthouse this year and it worked great. Except they changed which way you went around the second lighthouse and that confused it, and so the distance to go was wrong for most of the second half of the race.
Virtual Race Again, that was working great at Lighthouse to Lighthouse right up to the point where we went around the second lighthouse. I’ve tried it on a few training runs and it works well.
Start on movement. Still a problem – if you want it to start when you start moving, it stops when you stop moving, even if it’s for a buoy turn.
Louder beeps. Still a problem.

I’m trying to think if I have any new wish list items. The only thing that springs to mind right away is that I bought a Wahoo cadence device, and Garmin won’t allow me to add a cadence field to a Paddling activity – if I want to use it, I have to make a cycling activity. That’s pretty annoying and arbitrary. I could probably think of a few for Garmin Connect.

Still looking for a good camera (or three)

One of the things I’ve really gotten into in the last couple of years is making movies of my kayaking, especially races. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from them. Unfortunately, I have yet to find cameras I like.

The basic problem is that my requirements are not the same as most people who use “Action Cameras”.

First and foremost, it appears that your average GoPro user only wants to go out and do a few stunts. Or they’ll be doing something where they can use their hands to turn on and off the camera. Or they can stop what they’re doing to change the battery. None of those use-cases require ultra-long battery life. My use-case is that I want to be able to turn on my cameras as I leave the dock to go warm up, finish my warm up, do a 2-3 hour race, warm down, and then come back to the dock and turn off the cameras. Mostly the cameras are not within my reach, but even if they were I couldn’t spare a hand to deal with them during a race. So basically my number one priority is that they have at least 3.5 to 4 hours battery life. I have only found one camera that comes even close to that battery life, and that’s the Contour Roam 3.

VelonCC, an organization of professional cycling teams, makes “Inside the Peloton” videos that show highlights of every day’s stage in major cycling races, using GoPro Hero Session cameras mounted on some of the rider’s bikes. But the Hero Session, like just about every other action camera, only has 90-minute battery life, and so I wondered how they are showing the finish sprint at the end of a 4-hour stage. I asked them, and they claim that they program the cameras to turn on and off during different times. I downloaded the manual for the Hero Session and I can find no mention of timed start times. VelonCC also claims that they don’t have special firmware to allow this timing. So I don’t know how they actually do it. Maybe there’s a secret menu that isn’t in the manual. Maybe I’m missing something in the manual. I don’t know. They also seem to be extraordinarily good at guessing who is going to be involved in major events of the stage and when those events are going to be happening. I have my suspicions – I suspect they’re lying about the timing and they’ve got people in the caravan using remote controls, or they have some special device or firmware to allow the timing.

Secondly, I require my cameras to be waterproof. Naturally, most cameras are waterproof or come in waterproof housings. Unfortunately, my attempts to deal with the battery length issue have lead to me compromising the waterproofing. I had a Polaroid XS100 camera that produced a really nice picture and was simple to use, but I attempted to bodge a battery extension using sugru and an external USB battery. Unfortunately after a few uses the camera stopped working – I assume it got water through the sugru and shorted out. I also had a GoPro Hero 3+ Silver camera and a third party extended battery, which was just about perfect. It produced a really nice 1080p/60fps picture, a bit washed out in color compared to the Polaroid, but nice and smooth. And the battery life was pretty close to the required five hours. Unfortunately when I was at the surf-ski vacation of my life in the Gorge, the hinge on the case broke. I thought I had fixed it, but afterward, the camera would stop recording after 5 minutes or so. I thought I was recording when I wasn’t because it had shut off almost as soon as I got underway. I guess my fix wasn’t adequate and allowed water in. I tried both with and without the third party battery and it still does that, so it’s toast.

I also had a cheap Chinese GoPro knock-off called a “GeekPro” (because intellectual property is something that happens to other people, not Chinese companies). It looks a lot like a GoPro but is just different enough that the GoPro extended batteries don’t work on it. I worked out a bodge using a tiny flat cable from a wireless charger for Android phones. In bench testing, I got nearly 7 hours battery life. However, as soon as I tried it on the water it reverted to the 90 minutes that the built-in battery is good for. I assume that means my bodge isn’t waterproof. But it hardly matters because the picture quality is terrible – if you include any bright sky you get weird bands of color and everything is horribly over-saturated.

By this point, I was getting leery of any solution to battery life that didn’t come from the camera maker, and like I said I didn’t really like the picture quality of the Roam, so I bought a Veho Muvi K2. It promised a 2 or 2.5-hour battery life shooting 1080p/60fps. It also says the waterproof case is good down to 100 meters depth. What they don’t tell you in on the web is that it has a terrible tendency to fog up inside the waterproof case. They provide a bunch of silica pads to put inside the case, but even so, it fogged up terribly. I used in two races where I had it mounted in the front of the kayak pointing back at me, and both times I could see the lens fogging up as I paddled away from the dock. The third time I used it I hit the camera on some rocks while portaging and loosened the mount to the point where it fell off into the water about a kilometer afterward. I made a grab for it, but it sunk before I could reach it. I don’t miss it.

As I alluded to a few times above, I’ve decided that 1080p/30fps just isn’t good enough for capturing the action in races. The Contour Roam has the battery life and waterproofness I want, but I really don’t think much of the picture quality, and at least part of that is because it looks choppy and pixelated in high action like at the race start. I’m thinking 1080p/60fps is the bare minimum. After watching Bradley Friesen’s YouTube channel, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t be doing 4K video. Unfortunately, 4K video seems to only come in 30fps. Some of the new Action Cameras do a 2.7K video at 60fps which looks intriguing – and some of them use the size of the 4K sensor to do image stabilization at a lower resolution (basically they’re doing some sort of cropping in the camera). Those are all things I’d like to experiment with.

There are a couple of new cameras like the GoPro Hero 5, the Hero 5 Session and the Garmin Virb Ultra 30 that do all the fancy 4K stuff and the image stabilization at 1080p/60fps. But so far none of them have any option, either first party or third party, to extend the battery life beyond the nominal 90 minutes or so. Maybe there will be in the spring by the time I need to start recording kayak races again. There is also a whole slew of cheap-ass 4K Chinese GoPro clones appearing on Amazon for around $100. It’s unlikely they will ever have any options for extending battery life because although they look like GoPros, they don’t include the proprietary GoPro port that earlier GoPros used for expansions. Another option is to forget about 4K and image stabilization and buy older GoPros. GoPro themselves have an eBay shop where they sell “factory refurbs” – I could buy 2 GoPro Hero 3+ Silvers for what a Hero 5 Session would cost me, and I could use the extended life battery I bought for the one that got wet. I’d just have to be more careful about the hinge.

Oh well, at least I don’t have to make a decision on this before spring. Maybe things will be more settled by then.

Seneca Monster Race

You might have noticed that I haven’t written anything about last weekend’s Seneca Monster race yet. There are a whole bunch of reasons for that, but first and foremost is that I had a terrible race. Secondly, one of my cameras wasn’t charged up so it didn’t get any video, and another fell off and was lost in the canal, so I have no video. And thirdly I had surgery on my wrist during the week and so I’ve had other things on my mind and a limited ability to type for a while.

If you want to know why I had a terrible race, you need to cast your mind back to 2014 when Epic changed the design of their V10 Sport. There are many things you notice, both large and small when you compare Mike’s 2013 V10 Sport with my 2014 V10 Sport. Most of them are awesome. The closable bailer is worth the price of the upgrade right there. The cutaways at the catch area are great too, and the handles sure are nice at the end of a long paddle. But if you look at the bow, there is a very subtle change in where the straight up and down part transitions to the curve that goes under. When Mike and I are paddling side by side, you might notice that on his, the waterline is actually on the curve whereas on mine it’s on the straight up and down part. I’m sure there are hydrodynamic reasons for that change, and I’m sure somebody figured out it would be half a percent faster on ocean waves or something, but the upshot is that my bow collects weeds in places where Mike’s doesn’t. They just seem to slide under his on the curve and stop dead in mine on the straight part.

The Seneca Monster race is entirely in weeds. There are weeds from the start to the end, worse than even the USCA Nationals. And just when you think it’s the weediest race you’ve ever seen, they run you through a channel behind an island that is twice as weedy and shallow suck water as well. And then just to make life terrible for kayakers, just before the downstream turn in Seneca Falls there is a massive mat of weeds that was so thick it stopped me dead from full speed. It was so bad I couldn’t make the turn until I paddled backwards to clear my rudder, then I turned and then had to go through the same damn mat again on the way up. There were three close together bridges in the town of Seneca Falls, and if they’d moved the turn to the second bridge, we could have avoided that horrible mess.

Before the race I’d been so worried about the two portages. I figured that Roger is faster than me on the carries, especially since these ones were perfect for using wheels, so I figured that I’d need a good lead on him before the second carry so I’d still be ahead at the finish. Instead, thanks to the weeds, I lost contact with him within 2km of the start, before the channel behind the island. By the third kilometer, exiting the channel, I was side by side with Mike and Scott. Both of these guys I’ve been beating pretty handily this year, but I’d blown so much effort on trying to keep up with first Roger, and then a guy I didn’t know who was behind Roger while dragging weeds that I didn’t have any energy left. My race was basically done well before the first portage. At one point Mike tried to stab the weeds off my bow with his paddle, but I had misinterpreted what he was doing and veered off so he missed. I stopped and backpaddled to get them off myself, and the weed bundle was the size of a football. By then I was blown up and I couldn’t catch back up with Mike and Scott.

At the first portage, at about 4.5 kilometers in, I actually caught them exiting the water, but they both portaged faster than me. Scott stopped to put on his wheels, but he came trundling past a few minutes in and disappeared into the distance. I did nearly catch him as he stopped to take off his wheels, and I got to see him practically drop his boat down these steep stone “steps” at the end of the portage. Since my boat is much more fragile than his I had to take it more gingerly, losing even more time. I still managed to crunch my boat a little bit – unbeknownst to me I’d loosened the stickum on one of my camera mounts, so about a kilometer later the camera dropped off and I was unable to catch it before it sunk. An expensive lesson in the value of camera tie downs, I guess.

After that, there really isn’t much to report. I tried to keep my speed up as well as I could. There were a couple of canoes that I would pass, and then they’d pass me back a few minutes later when I was backing up to clear the weeds, then I’d pass them again. In spite of the frequent weed clearing, my shoulders were incredibly sore from the effort of paddling with that much resistance. And the portages were hard on my shoulders as well.

If I ever go back to this race, it would have to be with a boat that doesn’t pick up weeds as badly as my Sport. My V12 has the same bow as Mike’s Sport, and it doesn’t pick up weeds, but it’s heavy. Maybe if I had wheels…

Lighthouse to Lighthouse 2016

In 2014, Lighthouse to Lighthouse was my first ocean race. They didn’t hold it in 2015 due to problems with permits or something. So when it came back, I was looking forward to it.

In the intervening years, I’ve gotten a lot more experience in waves. I’ve also got really into making videos of my paddle races. So I was really looking forward to not only doing much better this time, but also producing a really nice video. Sadly, neither of those things came to be.

Before the race was great – lots of old friends, people I’ve met in my travels all over the place for surfski paddling. The weather forecast had been for cool temps and semi-overcast conditions, and so I was dressed in my “V-Cold” Vaikobi gear, but it was abundantly clear that it was too warm (and sunny) for that. I changed into a lighter shirt, but retained my V-Cold pants. The part of the forecast that was correct was that the winds would be pretty light, but what winds there were would come almost exactly 90 degrees from the main part of the race course. Ugh. So there would be no swell or wind driven waves to overwhelm the bazillions of small boat waves coming from every direction.

Because my multiple video cameras, and the fact that the one I wear on my head only has two hours and twenty minutes of battery life (just barely enough for the whole race) and because our start wave was 48 minutes after the first start, I took myself away from the hubbub of the start area to just sit by myself on the beach and listen to the start waves. Unfortunately instead of sitting there quietly composing myself for the race and hearing the exact right time to start my cameras, this old guy approached me and started telling me his life history. I had to stop his story before it reached any sort of point because I heard the starter calling out my name – I’d missed the wave before ours going, and now I had literally 2 minutes to get my cameras started and get out to the start line and find a position on the line. And it turns out that in my rush, not only had I managed to not start the camera on my head, I’d also gotten moisture in the camera case so when I finished I found it was fogged, so even if I had started it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a good video from it.

I rushed out to the line and found myself hard up against the left most start buoy. I was also just a little discombobulated and no-where near as composed as I would have preferred. When the start siren went off, there was a woman on my left who tried to squeeze in ahead of me on the buoy, found herself unable to paddle on that side because of the buoy, and stopped almost dead. I found myself banging into her on my left, also unable to paddle on that side, and also almost stopped. Not the best start, and not what would have happened if I’d gotten to the line to position myself behind somebody whose wake I could have ridden.

After that got sorted out, I ended up finding some decent wakes, most of which I could hold for a while and then drop, and then find another. At one point I was on Wesley Echols wake for a few minutes. I also spend some time on some strong looking guys in V10 Sports and other mid range skis. Things up to the first lighthouse (Peck’s Ledge) were looking pretty good. Maybe not as good as it would have been on flat water, but I was being aggressive and feeling strong.

But that all changed after we turned onto the main semi-straight part of the course. With almost no wind driven waves and a plethora of boat wakes, I couldn’t get any sort of rhythm to my paddling. For the entire rest of the race, I got passed by a (small but still non-zero) number of surf skis, and didn’t pass a single ski. I just felt worse and worse the whole way. And then we leave the shelter of the small islands to the north of us and do the one mile to the second lighthouse and back to the shelter, and it was even more horrible. I never felt like I was having trouble staying upright (ok, that’s not 100% true – I missed a stroke here and there and had to brace) but I also felt like I was barely making forward progress. The only thing making me feel good was at this point I started passing some of the people in the sea kayak class. This guy in a V8 who was paddling with no shirt under his PFD came by and I could not hold onto his wake, even for a minute. Very dispiriting. But I also got passed by the first OC-6, and possibly because of that there almost the constant buzz of camera drones overhead.

I kept hoping that maybe the reason I was so slow on the way out was that the tide was running against me, and maybe I’d start to actually feel some speed one the way back. But I didn’t feel it – it felt just as horrible and discouraging on the way back. Not long after the lighthouse, before we got back into the shelter of the islands, a man and woman came by in Epic V10 Sports, identical boats to mine. I had hoped to latch onto their wake, but I couldn’t even get over to them before they were gone. A bit later I thought I was catching them with me further out to sea and them in tighter to the islands, so I was thinking maybe I’d caught a bit of tide, but then they started pulling ahead.

A few times I tried to psych myself up saying “ok, from now on, nobody passes me”. But each time I did, I got passed again.

There is a spot about 5km from the end where you see the Peck’s Ledge lighthouse between two islands. It’s a good way to lose the race – if you head directly to the lighthouse instead of going around the island on your right, you’re disqualified. But it was about that point that I started realizing I was feeling quite sick. As a matter of fact, the discussion in my head was whether if I just puked now, would I feel better and speed up, or would I be faster if I tried to hold it in until the finish. I don’t know if it was the heat, the uncertain and non rhythmic waves, or the clamping effect of the camera strap around my head, or a combination of all those things, but I felt worse than I’ve ever felt in a race before. But I’ve had enough DNFs this year and I was determined to carry on. Well, at this point even cutting between the islands and heading direct to the finish instead of passing the last turn buoy would have only cut off a few hundred meters, so really the pain wouldn’t last that much longer by completing the race. Of course, just to add insult to injury, Leslie Chappelle passed me about 700 meters from the finish and pulled away strongly. No amount of “I thought I wasn’t going to let anybody beat me” self pep-talks would give me the strength to pull back to her. Of course the other “don’t puke, please don’t puke” self pep-talk was mostly drowning out the other pep-talk.

After the finish, I somehow managed to not puke. I stumbled to shore and let Dan and Todd take care of my boat. A bit of a sit down in the shade, a rinse off in coolish water in the kiddy water park fountains, and then a bit of food, and I felt a million times better. Reconnecting with old friends, listening to war stories, not telling much of mine because it just depressed me, and suddenly that lousy two hours seemed like it was counterbalanced and then some by the rest of the day. Once again, I’m glad I came, but man I wish I’d done better.

In the final result, I was about 2 to 2.5 minutes slower than last time. Probably if I hadn’t gotten sick towards the end, I would have been closer to last time. I know I’m a fitter and more competent paddler now, but all those factors of wind weather, and my pre-race prep, and wearing that damn head camera (and without even any video from it to make up for the negatives) and it all added up to a worse performance. So now I’ve got to make sure I’m not over-trained and over-tired next weekend for Long Lake and maybe I can redeem this season.