Thursday, July 09, 2009

Kayak Reviews

So I need a new kayak. Back in the day (15 years ago) I was a sponsored paddler (which meant free to cheap boats and free beers from Chan, great era!) with Wave Sports, but since I turned into a climber/paraglider pilot the days of cheap boats are well behind me. Anyone who wants to pro deal me a boat let me know, but I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen (Note--I just bought a boat--full retail pop, so it's too late anyhow). I keep reading reviews on-line for information about the new boats, but most of the reviews on-line are written by people who are sponsored by the company who made the boat they're paddling (gee, now that's unbiased and useful information!). How about this: if you want to write a review at least put on the TOP of the review thatyou're owned by the boat company and have no impartiality whatsoever--don't add that disclaimer sometime after the original review, way down below the meat of the text.

And then there are the reviews written by people who actually bought boats; with rare exceptions, everybody loves their boat. This is very sweet and nice, but for christ's sake it's the internet, be bitter, have opinions, mouth off, actually have an issue with something! The average kayaker on the internet is a pale shadow of the average climber, paraglider, mountain biker, hell, even phone user that uses the internet. I wanna hear that this boat SUCKS, and why!

But the worst reviews are written by those looking to get sponsored; they are desperate for free plastic like a junkie for heroin, and they will write nothing but flowers about the smelliest ass-product imaginable. You total chumps! Let's have a little integrity here; I understand if a sponsored athlete doesn't want to piss his sponsors off, but if you can't write something sort of realistic then don't write it at all. As anyone I work with at Arc'teryx or Black Diamond knows, I pull no punches on product design, and I'm not happy until the thing actually works like it's supposed to. If it doesn't work well then I don't go writing glowing reviews of junk on the net, that's not how it's supposed to work. Maybe kayak companies are different and expect total slave-like submission from their sponsored paddlers? Something is weird in kayak review land, and it makes finding real information about boats near impossible.

There's only one solution to a situation like this: I'm going to write my own reviews. I've paddled five boats in the last month, including the one I bought. Stay tuned for the first review, which will be short and not so-sweet, kinda like the boat it's about.


Monday, July 06, 2009

On-Sight: Carpentry and Rivers

Dropping into the unknown

One of the things I really like doing in life is on-sighting, a climber's term used to describe a climb where the climber starts at the bottom of a completely unknown climb and goes until he reaches the top or falls off. This is in contrast to a "redpoint," where the climber works all the moves, falls off lots, then climbs to the top without falling. Anyhow, climbs, carpentry, kids, school exams, rivers, whatever, it's just more fun to be in it all at once without a lot of knowledge. If the objective is really big then of course you research and so on forever, but then it often boils down to the "on-sight" effort anyhow. An onsight requires skill, in that you understand what you're doing and why based on similar sets of experiences from past efforts. In climbing you know a crack will accept protection, and that makes the onsight reasonable. It's that application of existing skill and knowledge to a new set of problems that's exciting to me. If I had to do the same climbs, rivers or flights over and over again I'd quit--it's just not interesting to do the same old thing again and again.

In the last week I've had a bunch of new onsights. A new railing on my parent's house (well, more of a fence, but it looks nice, thanks to Gravity Gear for the help with the drill!), new steps on my house, and a new river yesterday. All great, all "onsight." Love it!

The Yoho canyon was the run yesterday--I showed up at the put-in with exactly no idea of what we were up against. The looks on my old and new friend's faces showed that something serious was on, and by the time I pulled my sprayskirt tight I'd figured out that the run was kinda serious. The put in for the Yoho River is the best ever--there's a huge waterfall, Takkakaw falls, booming in a 1000-foot white rooster-tail off one wall, glaciers, it's just a rad place. The river starts bopping along in a fast but friendly enough way, but it's white from all the glacial rock flour. Glacial rivers always seem to move faster and slightly oddly to me, maybe because you can't see as much of the rocks and current due to to the color. I was paddling a new boat (full retail price!), and it took some getting used to. The river is fast, a bit pushy, and then it drops into a canyon that you supposedly can't climb out of. I'm pretty sure I could climb out of it anywhere if I were healthy, but not with a boat and not with a broken leg. And if you swam it would be bad, the river just rockets along. I began to have these memories from years ago, these little oral flashbacks of, "The Yoho, yeah, that's where X broke his leg, Y broke her arm, and Z lost everything but his underwear..." Holy shit, I'm on the YOHO!!!! I cranked my back brace down a bit and re-checked my sprayskirt, it's that kinda place.

But our crew was super solid, and everyone kept it together through one of the coolest canyons I've ever paddled. Big deep drops, pulsing no-stop canyons, so cool! Two of my friends knew the run, so it wasn't a pure onsight, but but it was a mega run! One broken paddle and a few rolls (I kept it upright if you count bracing with your head in the water as upright), but we all cleaned it. Modern boats and attitudes make the run easier than it was 20 years ago, but it's still serious. One rapid has a paddle bolted to the ball in memory a paddler that didn't make it out alive (I think we all gave it a touch for luck), and there have been more than a few rescues down there in the past. Most of the rapids are scoutable, but some are truly on-sight as the steep walls make moving around very difficult. Love it!

And now I've gotta figure out how to build a hand rail. Wish I knew more about carpentry, but it's onsight time again!