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.

I did it!

I’ve been thinking of getting a tattoo for years and years. Mostly I wanted something that celebrated my Canadian heritage, so I have been thinking in terms of a Canadian flag almost all that time. But when I went to the Canadian Surfski Championships in 2015, they gave me a nice sticker with their logo for my boat.
It was nice, but it didn’t really grab me. But in 2016, they gave me another sticker with an improved version of the logo.

I started thinking that this would be the solution for my tattoo – it celebrates Canada (with the maple leaf on the bow of the boat) and it celebrates my love of paddling. Plus it comes from an event that I loved both times I went, and I hope to go again.

I’ve been putting off getting a tattoo for all these years – I knew that getting one would require sitting out paddling and maybe even other exercise types for a week, and I rarely do that. Plus with my relationship to pain, I was reluctant to subject myself to anymore But when Vicki and Laura had tattoos last week, it struck me that I had all the elements needed – I have Vicki’s assurance that it didn’t hurt as much as I thought, I’m not paddling because of my wrist surgery, and the weather sucks so I’m not bike riding much either.

So I wrote to Bob Putnam, the organizer of the Canadian Surfski Championships, to make sure he wouldn’t think I was stealing his intellectual property and he wouldn’t mind if I used his design without the sponsor logo and the words on the bottom. He turned out to be very enthusiastic about the idea, and he even sent me two designs that they were still deciding between for the 2017 Canadian Surfski Championships. These designs were even better than the 2016 logo – he’s made some changes that make it look like it was influenced by west coast Indian art.

I chose the one where the maple leaf was more obvious, printed it out and took it to the tattoo artist. I’d even found a web site where I could convert it to an outline because I thought that would make things easier for the artist. Also because a friend told me that fill needles are painful and I might want to just get it as an outline.

When Bob had sent me the designs, he had mentioned that I might want to move the maple leaf to where the sponsor logo normally goes. And the tattoo artist had agreed – he said that trying to fit it on the boat would make it too hard to get the corners sharp and stuff. He also talked me into getting at least some fill.

The process was painful. Not as bad as I’d feared, but there were a couple of points where I just wished he’d finish. But I could see how well it was going and I was extremely pleased. Here’s what it looked like when he finished and wiped the blood away. I’m thrilled. It’s everything I’d hoped it would be.

Looking Back, Looking Forward 2016/2017 Edition

I did one of these at the “end” of 2014, and another one in 2015. So maybe it’s time for this year’s.

Ok, by the numbers, racing/training hours:

Activity Last Year This Year
Total 296:50:30 296:00:58
Paddling 197:39:19 223:17:07
Cycling 80:14:04 33:15:14
Erging 18:02 39:02:54

Not much change in the total hours, but a decrease in cycling and balancing increase in erging and paddling. I think if there was a way to compare it month by month there would be a lot more hours in the early season, and a lot fewer later – especially since October was mostly a wash out because of my carpal tunnel surgery. I think last year I cycled more than paddled in the fall after the racing season was over.

I’d stated in last year’s summary that I’d planned to do more muscle strength and speed work. I think I did more intervals, but I don’t think I did any appreciable muscle strength work. I need to work on that for next year.

I went to most of the races I put in my 2015 Racing Calendar. I didn’t make it to Ride The Bull, and I skipped Black River because I’d been told the river was shallow and rocky and didn’t seem like it was going to be fun. I did the Old Forge race the day before. I had some good times, some disappointments. My biggest thrill of the year was going to BC and Oregon for the Canadians and the Gorge – although I had strained something and couldn’t manage to do two runs a day like I’d planned. My biggest disappointment was the Seneca Monster, which turned out to be a weedy mess. Obviously, the big story of the year was my near death experience when I lost my Thunderbolt.

I used my V10 Sport for nearly everything this year. I paddled the V12 mostly as a way to build up my balance skills and balance muscles, but I never managed to paddle it in waves or in any races. I’m ok with that, I guess. I’d been leery of risking the V10 Sport in the Round The Mountain race because of the fragility of the “Ultra” layup, but I didn’t drop it or hit any rocks, so it was fine. And after losing my Thunderbolt, it’s not like I had a choice. I also got frustrated out west with how slow I am compared to most of the other people there. I have to keep telling myself that most of them paddle on waves a hell of a lot more than I do. Maybe someday I’ll be as good as some of them.

Next year I won’t be going to the Canadians or the Gorge, unfortunately. It’s Vicki and my twentieth anniversary and I’m super stoked that we’re going to do a European River Cruise as our big vacation. And with the timing of the cruise we’re looking at, we’ll probably miss the TC Surfski Immersion weekend as well. So I guess I’ll have to find waves nearer home.

Another camera option

In my on-going search for a decent action camera, I forgot to mention in my earlier blog post one option. I own a camera that is somewhat waterproof (IPX7), has nearly 80GB of storage on it, and can shoot 4K/30fps and 1080p/60fps. It’s my new iPhone 7 Plus. I added a waterproof case (IPx8), and it should be fine for the splashing and brief immersions of your typical kayak race. I did a bit of testing, and I can film 2 hours of 4K video without depleting the battery below 50%, nor did it more than half-fill the free space on the phone. So 4 hours might well be possible. Plus it has the advantage that I already own it.

The drawbacks, however, are kind of big:

  • The shooting field of view is fairly narrow compared to most action cameras. They usually use a pretty wide field of view. I’ve seen add-on lenses for earlier iPhones that go over the phone but they cost as much as a GoPro, so that’s not going to help.
  • The form factor doesn’t lend itself well to being worn on the head for Point Of View shots.
  • The waterproofing is good, but it’s not rated for “full immersion to meters below the surface for hours at a time” like most action cameras.
  • Most importantly, if you ruin it somehow, either by getting it wet, losing it in the depths of Lake Ontario or smashing it on a rock, you’re out a $700+ dollar phone. And if you do any of those things or even just run down the battery and suddenly need the phone for making an emergency call, you’re shit out of luck.

I think I need to test it out, but I’m thinking this isn’t going to be my primary camera.

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.

Everything I used to bore people on newsgroups and mailing lists with, now in one inconvenient place.