Friday, June 28, 2013

Usually I am not keen to review gear but after yesterday's experience I felt the need to warn fellow paddlers about the danger lurking in the curb appeal of the Camelbak Molokai Hydration system.

I was lured in by the amount of storage the ads boasted. I have longed to be able to carry a USCG approved PFD, the proper amount of hydration, and a snack or two all on one part of my body. I have been looking at pictures from races to see what the pros do and there are times when the pros do not carry a PFD much less hydration as well. I am not a pro and do not live my life by the ocean so I feel much more comfortable having the necessary safety items close to my person. However, I carry a lot more weight that many of the pros so I am always trying to find ways to make myself feel lighter on the board.

While it really isn't that bad to have a PFD around the waist and some hydration over the shoulders (Danny Ching did it that way at the 2013 Carolina Cup following the rules like a true champion) I have been trying to consolidate. After reading some reviews about the Camelbak systems created for paddlers, the Tahoe, the Molokai, and the Baja, I jumped at the chance to buy one. After much deliberation I chose the Molokai for more water capacity as I tend to need more hydration in the hot summer months when races are frequent. The Tahoe, that goes around the waist, seemed like the way to go but it only holds 50 ounces of water and I like to do the occasional long paddle and went with the 70 ounce capacity Molokai. Mistake.

I had been using the Dakine Waterman which was great but the PFD capacity of the Molokai looked like THE solution to my consolidation wishes. Five strokes into my paddle I realized I might have made the wrong choice. Six miles into my paddle I was trying my best not to curse Camelbak for making such an uncomfortable product that falls completely short of its intentions.

The lightest USCG approved PFD I have found fits well in the area made to store such but to put the PFD, 70 ounces of water, a cell phone in a waterproof case, and some Cliff shot blocks all on the shoulders is too much. I tried to adjust all the straps to find a comfortable area so everything would ride comfortably and eventually did; however, the hose then no longer reached the clip to hold it in place therefore making hydration, while underway, and complete nightmare. I had not even started paddling yet and was ready to call it a day! What a horrible design flaw!

Ten feet from the shore and I still had 7.5 miles to go in order to complete my workout...this was not looking pretty. I decided to take the PFD out of the Molokai and put it around my waist and was able to continue on. My frustrations did not end.

As one can tell from the picture above, the Camelbak Molokai is much bigger than the Dakine Waterman. Obviously, the more surface area the product has the more surface area of the body it will cover. This does not bode well for paddling, especially if you are executing proper stroke technique. If you do nothing but arm paddle and keep the rest of your body rigid then this might be the system for you. If you twist slightly and open your chest during the reach then bury the paddle and rotate your hips to bring them to the shaft of your paddle then this system will eventually feel like it is falling off of you. Adjustments are fairly easy to make but who wants to do that during a race or during any paddle when you get a good rhythm going? I have NEVER had to adjust the Dakine system during a sprint race or a 26.5 mile seemingly-near-death-experience.

The pockets on the Molokai stretched to the limit to hold my Iphone 4 in its Amphibian case from X-1 and twice when I leaned over too far it fell out. The pockets did hold one package of Cliff shot blocks just fine and would do fine with gels and other small items but for longer paddles leave the turkey sandwich at home or mash it up into bite size morsels. The overall capacity for anything falls way short of making all this extra material worthwhile to have on the body during an activity like stand up paddling.

So I come back from 7.5 miles with this brand new expensive item wondering what in the heck I am going to do with it because I want no part of it..."Hey, honey, do you need a hydration pack for some the rec series races you plan on doing this summer?"

Gracie tried it on and at first she did not feel the love for the product either but then when I showed her how to adjust the straps to make the system fit her body tighter, snugger, and better a smile lit across her face. After a few short pulls and twists and tugs she looked up with an even bigger smile. "It's like the wonder bra of hydration packs!"

It just so happens that my wife also happens to be a chronic arm paddler so I know that if the system feels good on her she still needs to work on her technique!

At least now the Molokai no longer seems like a waste of money...but I certainly wouldn't recommend it to any paddling friends, especially serious paddlers who execute good technique. I am still curious about the have everything around the waist sure seems appealing. (Maybe I'll sell the Molokai to Gracie for 70 bucks so I can try the Tahoe!)

See you on the water (if the water is not too gross)!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Inspiration All Around Me

SUP Race season is on!

Actually, it probably started back at the Carolina Cup but things have been very iffy on my end since the middle of March when I was trying to patch up my old DEAN 12-6. It did not sink during the Carolina Cup but it did manage to break open along a seam the very next day. Since, the board has been Dremeled open and left to dry out in my mother's garage in Maryland. I think I may take ALL the glass off and try to re-glass it myself...just for fun. But back to my original point which is: inspiration is everywhere this race season!!!! People are doing amazing things out on the water and it's not even the Fourth of July!!

It seems that I cannot go to an event or read about an event without taking away some positive vibes to put to use in my own training. Being a part of the SUP community is just so fulfilling. My own accomplishments fulfill me and the accomplishments of others inspire me! Have you ever noticed that it is extremely difficult to find an asshole at a SUP event. I haven't met any (so far) and have only heard about one well-documented case at an east coast race... Now let's move on to the good chicken soup-for-the-soul stuff that gets me amped up to get out on the water and do my best...every time I'm privileged enough to be out there.

I met Nathan Bankson last year at a few races back east as he and his handsome Speedboard 14 were always close by at the start of races. We often exchanged nods and smiles and "good lucks" before the horn went off. He had just purchased the board and had not been able to spend as much time on the board as he would have liked due to a busy work schedule. Speedboards, from what I hear, are not for the balance-challeneged paddler. They are hard to paddle and even harder to paddle well. Despite being on a very demanding board, Nathan always had respectable finishes but usually finished just off the podium, but that was last year. This year is very different. This year Nathan is hitting the podium and Speedboard has taken notice. Go check out Speedboard's website click here and you will see a nice little picture that you can click on to read the Team Speedboard Athlete Profile of Nathan Bankson.

Obviously Nathan worked very hard during the long Virginia offseason when the weather makes it easy to find any excuse to avoid being near the water. He put his time in and his hard work has rewarded him. I have thought of Nathan often over the last few days as I have tried to adjust to a board that is very challenging for me to ride. I just keep thinking that time on the board will help me improve as it did for Nathan. I am quite happy with the fact that I bought a board that will force me to work very hard in order to raise my level of paddling. Hard work pays off! I would love to be a featured rider on somebody's website besides my own!!

At the first event of the 2013 Midwest Sup Championship in Benton Harbor this past Saturday I watched a newcomer to the 14 fleet put on quite a showing to win the race. Last year Tony Paul raced in the 12-6 class and seemed to have quite a battle going with Ross Herr who eventually won the 12-6 class in the 2012 Midwest SUP Championship. Back in January I met Tony at the Orange Bowl Paddle Championships and saw he was on a 14. Can't say I was disappointed to see him in a different class than myself because I had always heard about what a great paddler he was so I wondered why he made the switch! A lot of people are heading to the already crowded 14 class and I am trying to hang on in the 12-6 as long as I can. At any event in any part of the country you have to be at the top of your game to reach the podium in the 14 class. Having a hell of a battle last year at 12-6 I figured Tony would be in a bigger battle against all the top guys the Midwest has on 14s. Well...

At the 3rd Annual Sweetwater SUP Challenge put on by Third Coast Surf Shop Tony reached the top of the podium in the 14 class, and was the overall winner, and he did so in quite an impressive fashion. That man was fast; I mean dang fast! Wow, was all I could think while watching him get further and further away from me as the race went on. He made the jump from 12-6 to 14 look effortless, which by no means, means it is an easy transition to make. Tony's win on Saturday evidences a lot of hard work and dedication to the sport. I don't know Tony well (yet) but I am going to pick his brain for some training tips for sure! His win was truly inspiring because he beat some incredibly fast paddlers! What I witnessed him do last Saturday is just another shining example of what might result from putting in some serious time preparing, paying heavy dues on the water, and showing a lot of respect to the sport. bravo, sir!

Last year I met Westy when he was in Chicago nursing an injury that I know had to be frustrating for a guy who had earned a reputation for being an avid waterman. He was not able to paddle in the way that got him to be an Elite team rider for one of the biggest companies in SUP - YOLO Board. Well, this 2013 race season is a bit different for Westy as I have watched him cross the finish line ahead of me at the events we have competed in together. We went out on a training session together and month or so ago and I saw no hint of a leftover injury as I worked my tail off to try and keep up with him. He paddled well and his stroke looks very technically sound. My stroke makes me look like a bit of a spazz. His board has very few scuffs on it. My board is less than a week old and already looks like it has been through a complete race season! Paddling with Westy makes me want to paddle better. I want my stroke to improve so it will be admired by the paddlers behind me.

Paddling with Westy...(I can see a Youtube series in the making with that title) also beneficial because he is a great person to be with on the water because he always offers encouragement. You pass him he says good job, you fall behind he tells you to come on and catch up to him. There is always encouragement from Westy to push yourself to do better, as long as you can stay within earshot! I'm a jerk so if you are ahead of me I am thinking: fall, fall fall, but with Westy there is always positivity and a huge desire to share the stoke.

Westy also has a reputation for being one of the best teachers in the business. I have seen him with people just getting started in the SUP vibe and his energy and patience seem to have no limit. By watching him I see what I need to work on if I expect anyone to want to work with me on the water for longer than 10 minutes!! Over the last year we have become pretty good friends and I appreciate the time he gives me to help improve as a paddler.

Race season is just getting started yet there is so much to feed off of! I can't get over how much awesomeness I have seen already! As the sport continues to grow I can't imagine what else will be available for me, and for anyone else looking for positive encouragement, to feed off of and input into their own system. I hope we all continue to grow and improve as our sport does. I thank Nathan, Tony, and Westy for their inspiration and I thank all the other people I paddle with as well because I have gotten so much more from countless other paddlers. Some I have mentioned in previous posts and some I have not but just know that I am probably watching you because there will always be opportunities for all of us to learn from each other.

Thanks for reading and see you on the water!