Sunday, November 16, 2014

SKILS Rock Gardening

Last Saturday I went on a SKILS Rock Gardening course with coaches Rowan Gloag and Costain Leonard of The Hurricane Riders (THR). The rest of our group was made up of keeners like myself who probably were drawn to the course by the opportunity to learn from a couple of the best dynamic water paddlers around here.

Al, Lisa and Micah (self-appointed guinea pig for the day .  .  . I'm not kidding) LOL

The interesting part of our group was that although from different parts of the country we are all connected in the kayaking community through Facebook. We all have many mutual friends on the social media site and some of us have unknowingly crossed paths before. Al is originally from Ontario but recently moved to Victoria while Lisa and Micah are from Saltspring Island.

Our small group met in the parking lot at Whiffin Spit at 8;30am for the course briefing which outlined our objectives for the day. Our on-the-water classroom would be in the area between Company Point and Possession Point near East Sooke Park.

Costain talks us through the objectives for the day. A well prepared plan!

It was a perfect day for our one-day orientation to rock gardening with no wind and clear skies but would there be any conditions for us to play in the rocks? One thing for sure, I'm glad the wind and rain storm that came through the area a few days ago passed. One of my goals for the course was to work through a bit of a mental block. When in my kayak I just don't want to end up in the water and because of this I feel that I hold back a fair bit. Funny thing is - when I do end up in the water I actually don't mind it and even like the self and assisted rescues. Weird!

A perfect day to head out on the water. There were lots of GoPro cameras that would capture the good and the bad LOL

Launching on the north side of the spit we loosened cold muscles up as we made our way around the point and headed across the channel towards the training area. Our first lesson of the day was Rowan sharing a different forward stroke that I have seen him use when trying to catch a wave while surfing. I have to admit that it was a little awkward because it's all arms with very little core rotation but very effective in accelerating quickly.  

For the next couple of exercises we spent some time in the water wall-walking and performing a surge channel rescue scenario by assisting the swimmer, retrieving the kayak and recovering in a safe zone away from the surge area.

Just hanging around on Lisa's (THR) Delphin waiting for my kayak to be retrieved. Note to self .... It's cold, layer up next time.

There was a lot to absorb in this one-day course and Rowan and Costain kept it moving along at a good pace. Just the right amount of verbal instruction and lots of practical experience gained. Our next task was to try and figure out how to land on a rocky ledge that was exposed to the swells.

Lisa and Rowan wait for the rest of the group to make their way on top of the rocky ledge.

We quickly decided that the best course of action was to exit our kayak, hook onto the bow with our tow line and swim to the landing area. Once there we scrambled up the rocks and hauled up the kayak after emptying it of water. A fairly physical demanding skill which would be much harder in heavy swell conditions. One thing for sure, this is another item that can be added to my practice list throughout the winter.

After a short lunch break we went to work on navigating through and over some rock features taking advantage of the surge. Timing the sets of surge waves was key to the success which I got to experience first hand if my timing was off. In particular my mental block of not wanting to end up in the water actually caused me to end up in the water right at the edge of the rock feature being washed by surge waves. After getting back into my kayak I almost reached my "no go" point but convinced myself to get it done which for me was a huge hurdle to pass. This time I didn't end up in the water but completely out of the water! LOL

High and dry .... where did the water go?

Micah on the other hand was willing to try anything (guinea pig LOL) and he probably had the best runs over the rock feature when surges were just right.

Micah ... perfect timing!

Lisa showed the group how to recover from getting grounded by backing her way off the feature when the next surge came in. Impressive control of her Delphin.

Lisa .... full reverse!

Maneuvering around and through some of the features using a combination of paddle strokes was the key. One of the things that Rowan mentioned at the morning briefing was to always keep our paddles engaged with the water. Then of course .... being high and dry out of the water it didn't mater :-)

Costain watching Al as he makes his way through the rocks.

Myself and Rowan waaaay back inside this crevice. Not a place to be in big conditions but good today.

Before we headed back to Whiffin Spit we checked out a slot that we passed earlier in the day. Even from a distance I could see the surge waves running through the narrow gap like a moving wall. We're going through there?? Once again it really was all about timing to clear the submerged knuckle of rock at the exit. We all made it through with only a few more scrapes on our kayaks.

The "Slot", another good feature to play in.

Costain's view of  Micah in the slot.
Costain exited his kayak and climbed the rock on the right side in the picture above to capture some great pictures and video of the group going through the slot. I think Micah was the first to make the run and we all followed experiencing different surge conditions and for some  very interesting rides.

My first run was captured by Costain who was standing high above us at the mid-point of the slot. The video can be seen here on the SKILS Facebook page.

Rowan made a run back through the slot when the surge was pretty good making for a challenging run in tight conditions. You can check his video out here on the SKILS Facebook page.

Al also had a good run when the surge was a bit challenging. You can see Costain in the picture and see his complete video here.

Lisa probably had the most interesting run through the slot as a surge snuck up from behind her and lifted her kayak up several feet as it pushed her out the exit. I'm hoping Rowan caught it on video for a future SKILS video post.

It was starting to get late in the day as we headed back to Whiffin Spit. It didn't feel like we had been on the water for over 6 hours but I think it's fair to say that we all took home a huge amount knowledge. Thanks Rowan & Costain and SKILS for putting on the course and it was great to paddle with Al, Lisa and Micah for the first time. 

2014 Paddle # 53 - SKILS Rock Gardening
Distance: 7.31 nm (13.53 km)
YTD: 283.96 nm (525.89 km)