Friday, October 21, 2011

Lumpy 2011! Post-symposium de-brief...

Once again, Paul Kuthe inspires...
This year's Lumpy Waters kayak symposium was phenomenal.  It turned out to be both epic and charmed...just a mere couple of days before the fun was scheduled to begin, the swell on the Oregon coast was 17 feet at 18 seconds!  By Thursday (the day before the symposium started) it had diminished to about 9 feet at 12 seconds.

I arrived that afternoon, hoping to get in an afternoon surf session, yet when I showed up the conditions looked quite intimidating; huge, spilling waves were forming up about 2 to 3 hundred yards from shore, then reforming into massive mangling dumpers, thick and laden with sand.  Using my binoculars, I was able to guess the identity of a lone boater solely by the craft he was paddling--the new P&H Delphin 150.  Jamie Klein landed within a few minutes and looked beat but triumphant.  "It ain't small" he understated, and I nervously donned my drysuit and other gear, to have a try with this smaller-sized Delphin.

Getting out through the shore break was an exercise in strategy and stamina.  "Strategy",  in waiting for a lull between sets.  If one waited too long, he/she would get nailed further out (and more violently) by the inevitable larger sets following the lulls.  I squeaked over and through, and by the time I got to the outside, I felt like I'd just run an eight-minute mile; I had to take a short breather before trying to surf.  I had about four surfs in all, always trying to exit the wave before it steepened and dumped,  and I remember having one spectacularly long ride. On my last one I got greedy, dumped upon, and my spray deck imploded.  Turns out, it's a size smaller cockpit circumference than the Delphin 155.  I'm a medium-sized guy, and weigh about 150 with my gear on.  I found the Delphin 150 a better fit for me, and a little easier to control in the surf.  Pivoting on edge to reposition in the surf zone is really quick and easy in this boat and, like it's bigger version, it's quite forgiving when using the foampile to assist in changing direction while surfing.  All in all, it'd be the better size Delphin for some one like myself.


The symposium started off with a bang this year.  Friday morning, a small crew of us headed out for some great surf-boat surfing on some uncrowded waves.  A short meeting and lunch found us all eager to begin classes.  One particular class that afternoon ended up being a real-life incident management scenario which involved multiple capsizes and swims in the surf zone, opportunities to sort out swimmers separated from their boats, and arduous tows.  Outside assistance was summoned very quickly, as the leaders determined that it was the quickest way to get people out of the water and safe on shore.  Though not fun, and certainly a preventable occurrence, there is no such thing as infallible leadership.  The best we can hope for is that everyone remains uninjured and alive, and learns some lesson(s) which can be applied to their ability to make decisions and manage stressful incidents in the future.

Sat. image of the entrance to Netarts bay.

The incident lasted about two hours, and served to put all leaders and coaches on their toes with regards to appropriate venues, and the risks associated with using estuary entrances and river mouths on an ebb. For a detailed account of what happened, from the perspective of one of the leaders and coaches present, check out

There was a theme of progression throughout the weekend, with a nice emphasis on safety and rescue classes happening before, say, Rock Gardening.  Or-- the Fear To Fun and Fun and Feedback classes giving newcomers to the surf a safe, fun entry into that zone, with Advanced Longboat Surfing classes offering an opportunity to hone existent (and new) skills.  There were also a couple of great day-trip options running; a chance to paddle some demanding and dramatic coastline with qualified leaders and coaches.  Paul Kuthe did a tremendous job matching students to classes, classes to coaches,   and managing logistics the whole while as well, and many Alder Creek staff were also crucial in making this a great event for the third year running.

I think a particular challenge in running and coaching at an event like this, is that a significant number of the participants are ready for more challenging conditions and excitement.  Many of the students venture out on their own with groups of peers, and when they show up as students, some are looking for that next notch up that will put their skills and abilities to the test.  As leaders and coaches, our goal is to find just the right level of stimulus for each individual, hopefully facilitate a memorable learning experience, all the while maintaining safety.  I ran classes in Rough Water Rescues, Rock Gardening Safety and Rescue, and Advanced Longboat Surfing.  Often, what would have been the most exciting spots to have students working were not conducive to either maintaining communication and visuals on everyone, or being able to offer valuable feedback.  That said, upon reflection I realized that each venue that I chose to run classes usually had a good spot where the right level of excitement existed and safety could be maintained.  With a bit more time to recognize students strengths, and perhaps a bit more familiarity with the venues,  I can now see exactly where I could have spent more time, and how I could have set things up to be a bit more rowdy.  The best course of action for any coach at this point, is to make note of these thoughts (on paper, for me), and apply any realizations to the next opportunity to coach.

The swell continued to diminish to 5 feet and clean up through Sunday, then was predicted to build over night.  A group of coaches made plans to hang out and go for an "after-party" rock gardening/surf excursion the next day.


The day dawned bright and the swell had grown--it looked as it had 4 days before, when the swell had begun  to diminish into about 7 ft.  Oceanside was the call, and we made the jaunt up the coast (including huge detour). Once there, we looked at conditions on the beach to make sure it was feasible.  After watching for a few minutes, we  noted one or two rips which could aid our way out through the surf zone,  the added depth often easing the violence of the break.

Chris Lockyer surging in.
Matt N., Jeff L., Chris L., Paul K. Photo by Bryant Burkhardt

We were 9 on the beach, ready to go, and broke up into groups of three (one radio per group).  After agreeing on a channel, a couple of one pod took to the water, and wisely held position in the soup zone to wait for a break in the energy to get out.  I had spotted a decent rip to the south, and some folks utilized what turned out to be a consistently better one a little closer to the headland.  Seeing a lull in the energy, I snuck out, just making it before another big set closed out the whole area.  All but one of our party ended up making it out, and our friend on the beach observed that it would have been a half-hour before they could have had a good chance to get through the surf again.

Jeff Laxier.  Nice, parallel surge.

We made our way to the rocks buzzing with excitement--the day was spectacular, the group was stoked, and the swell was impressive.  The only bummer was that one of our crew wasn't with us.  We made it out to a long, sloping ledge of rock which was covering and uncovering in a massive pour-over of about 8 feet.  I had opted out of this move last year, being content to watch Sean Morley style it twice in very committing conditions.  This year, I felt more confident, my shoulder was way stronger, and....maybe it wasn't quite so big!  Anyway, Sean did it well a few times,  and I pushed my luck with three runs over it--the second one being the biggest and the best.  Bryant also styled it on a big set which was fun to watch from the inshore side of the rock; he disappeared with the pulling down of the trough, then was elevated way above the feature, timed his push forward a little behind the peak,  and cascaded over in a torrent of white water.

Sean Morley positioning for the pour over.
Beautiful pourover.  Sean in position to help if needed. Photo by B. Burkhardt

We moved to a cave area after this and had some exciting (and visually stunning) moments when an exceptionally large set came through.  I thought I had allowed plenty of space between myself and Paul Kuthe, who was 75 yards ahead of me in the spacious arch.  Sean was to my right maybe 20 yards ahead.  A huge set came through and I began back paddling furiously when I saw the crest of the breaking swell engulf Paul completely.  He purposefully capsized into the wave to prevent an uncontrollable backsurf into either me or the rock wall to his left.  My efforts to back paddle had been mostly futile against the powerful suckback towards the wave. There was just so much water in it that it acted as a giant vacuum, pulling me closer to Sean and Paul.  I ended up capsizing--I had edged to prepare for the oncoming whitewater from my left, but this ended up being the "wrong" edge for the sudden and increasing current coming from the same direction.  I rolled up, and the next minutes were beautiful with the whole area effervescing, and strong currents churning as the increased volume of water fought to escape.

The Wave.  An equally big foam pile is wrapping left to right, about to collide with this one.  Note paddler on right.

Looking uphill...Paul is in foam pile where left side of arch meets with foam.  Matt Nelson and Sean Morley being pulled up towards foam pile.  Note that Sean is on a seam caused by water being pulled towards foam pile from left and right.

Paul visible after rolling up. 

By now it was time to go, so of course we drug our heels with a solid hour of beautiful surf on some really clean, a-framing 6 to 8 footers, surfing to the right, back into deep water.  There was a moment of increased pace when one of us ended up in a bad position and got hit right in the impact zone, looped backwards and sucked out of their boat.  The back hatch had also gotten ripped off.  We collected the paddler, another of us got the boat (no lines, just barge-towing and pushing) out of the impact zone.  We had to abandon the operation briefly when a big set started to break out to sea from us, but we quickly had the back hatch empty and our buddy back in and surfing within a few minutes.

Carving toward the pocket.

The last surf of the day was close to a half-mile back in to the beach.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have had such a great day on the water, in a gem of a spot,  surrounded by good friends--even the weather was amazing! That day recharged my batteries for a while, and I returned home feeling energized and ready to tackle some projects with a new-found passion.  I also felt so encouraged to be preparing to move down to Marin county in November.  My sweet has found us great place to live, 5 of the folks out on the water that day live in that area, and the true ocean is only a half-hour away.  California, here I come!

These waves were sooo nice for surfing longboats.  B. Burkhardt.

Sean tears it up again...B. Burkhardt.