Complacency can get you into trouble

 Over time as our skills get better we may notice getting flipped surprised or into trouble in places that normally would not have been a problem when our skills were in the process of being pushed to a level higher than what they were presently at. We have mostly noticed this while paddling on the river, as we progress into more challenging conditions and gain experience in this fairly new venue for us. Though we have still noticed it in the ocean rock gardens even after paddling in them for many years.

Both oceans and rivers can have dangerous consequences if you let your guard down. These environments have eddy lines and holes that will grab your boat and flip you over very quickly. The ocean has waves that can sneak up and ponce on you if you are not paying attention.

Let's start with the inspiration for this post. It began with an email by Gregg Berman that lead to Bill Vonnegut's response. We are both primarily ocean paddlers that have been paddling the river a lot more over the last year.

Gregg Berman on the south fork
Here's Gregg's initial email:
Just leaving ER with a broken left thumb obtained while teaching on the river today. We'll see how long it holds me up. I was sweep for a group of 5 students as we headed through Old Scary on the C-G stretch. I was watching my students and encouraging them to paddle. I saw the hole coming but was unconcerned about me and just wanted to be sure they paddled through. All 5 students did with nary a capsize save for me. As often happens and Bill recently related, we often get spanked when we become too complacent. I floated through the small hole in the rapid but was surprised when thinking I was beyond it, it sucked my back end under, the nose went skyward in a beautiful stern pirouette and I was then upside down. My left thumb hit a rock hard forcing me to let go of the paddle with that hand. Then my right hand scraped rock. I only suffered some missing skin on the right hand and I wasn't gonna let go with both hands anyway. I soon regained the paddle with my left hand and rolled up. By the time we landed for lunch 20-30 minutes later I was unable to get my left thumb around the paddle and could not use it for things like opening a ziplock bag nor anything else. Fortunately I often practice paddling that way so was still able to teach the rest of the day but at lunch told Andy my co instructor just so he would know but we didn't share that info with the students. I taught all day and then at days end as I knew I would, I figured I should have it checked out. I know from working in ER's that when such injuries are not checked out, bone chips can migrate into the joint space and cause an impingement syndrome that causes temporary and sometimes permanent reduction of joint function. Well wouldn't you know, lucky me, that is just the sort of injury I have. A chip off the end, right at the joint where the thumb bends. Likely I won't have to do much but splint it but will follow up with an orthopedist I've been referred to, just to make sure it heals correctly.

Someone else recently mentioned the "deer in the headlights" phenomenon and I wondered about that for myself. I mean there was no adrenaline going or anything as this is a rapid I'm very familiar with and have played in a lot. For me though I know there was a thought of "Huh, what do you know, I didn't expect this," which I'm not sure but may have delayed both my strokes and my own leaning forward just enough to make them useless once my contemplative state subsided enough for me to take action. I think being unfamiliar too in the boat added to that. I find it unlikely the Jackson Zen would have reacted the same way because of its higher volume, more rounded stern profile. The Wavesport Diesel I was in "PADDLES"more like a play boat which they even discuss in the 5 boat review video Bill and I watched. For me that's a good thing but I just need to get used to how to paddle it after being in so many boats for so long which had been getting frustrating having to learn the differing handling characteristics of a new boat each and every time I got on the water. Still in the end I chalk it all up to user error on my part. I should have both focused on my students and still paddled while I kept cognizant of my own boat and where it was instead of doing one at the expense of the other as I obviously did. I'm fully capable of and perform both well when teaching sea kayaking and rock gardening. So I'll take this as a valuable lesson to myself not to be complacent. I've had that lesson in the sea enough times. Too bad I didn't transfer that knowledge to the low salt content water. I guess I'm just a sucker for a good lesson.

Gregg Berman

And Bill's response:
I hope your thumb gets better soon. I agree with what you mentioned about getting complacent. Most of the recent times I have found myself upside down, especially on the river have been because I have backed off my game. As I feel more and more comfortable on the river and also in rock gardens, things look smaller and less scary so I paddle through things not prepared to brace if needed, or less aggressively than I used to, which leads to needing to brace in the first place.

When I recently got flipped and wedged upside down while rock gardening at Goat Rock. I was running a slot that I had been through many times, even a few times that day. Because of this I felt very relaxed and not really thinking about the possibility of going over. As a consequence I let myself get into a vulnerable position. I was looking to my left watching Sergey and had my paddle in the water on the right as we ran a slot together. The position I was in looked just like someone that had pulled their head while trying to roll and went right back in, which I ended up doing when the swirling current caught my edge.
Bill getting complacent and flipped
When I got flipped in the situation that I just described. I could not find the surface to roll up. I set up on the right and waited, nothing, the boat was not moving. So I moved to the left and still could not find the surface, moved back to the right and as I was running out of air I just went through the roll motion. While sweeping my paddle I felt it hit a rock at about a 90 degree angle, not because my paddle was diving, but because of the angle of the boat, I ended up completing the roll using the rock for support. Later Sergey told me my bow and stern were pinned between two rocks.

Bill Vonnegut

These are just a couple examples of what can happen when paddling in dynamic conditions becomes routine. The point here is that we tend to be very "on guard" and "on our game" when we are pushing at the edges of our comfort zone. But as that zone of comfort gets bigger and bigger, the consequences for not staying on our game also become bigger and bigger. So go ahead and push that envelope but keep in mind the need to stay on our toes even while in a situation that has become more common place for us than it once was. Otherwise the result may be a lesson learned in a manner we would have rather avoided.

In fact that is the whole point of this post. So we can learn lessons from each other and be reminded of the ones we've already learned without having to endure each one ourselves or at least to not repeat them over and over. We can probably continue on with more stories like this, but then this post would run on for quite some time. So instead we are going to add a page to this blog dedicated to stories incidents like this. We would also be interested in hearing your stories trials and travails that in retrospect you find will enhance your own and possibly others paddling careers. We'll compile them and add the ones that would fit onto this new page we'll call "Lessons Learned".

Feel free to comment on this or other future posts on this subject. And be on the look out at your local retailer for another tale of personal "lessons learned" written and experienced by several of our own team which will be included in the new book in print soon   Sea Kayaker's More Deep Trouble
If you have a great story with pictures, send it to and we may post it.

Rock Garden Playboat Review + Video

Recently several of us (Tony Johnson, Bill Vonnegut, Allen Shah, Sergey Yechikov, Tom Humphries) did an ocean WW boat comparison at our favorite stretch of coast, Goat Rock. We compared the Fusion, Greenboat, and Hammer in a ocean whitewater environment. These three boats seem to be the choice for serious rock garden play in our area.

Pyranha Fusion
Small: Length 9' 8", Width 25"
Medium: Length 10' 3", Width 26"
Weight 51 lbs
Price $999

The Fusion is a crossover kayak. It's the jack of all trades in the group. It's the slowest kayak in the bunch when traveling between play areas. The connect 30 outfitting in the Fusion is the same outfitting found on
Pyranha's WW boats. This kayak also has built in deck features, bungees and a rod holder if you decided to take up fishing. The Fusion has one rear bulkhead with a round or oval hatch cover depending on the size of the boat. Our testers were able to use both the sm. and med. size. You will need to add perimeter deck lines and front flotation on this boat to make it seaworthy for rough-water rescues.

Dagger Greenboat
Length 11' 9"
Width 24.25"
Weight 53.5 lbs
Price $1,149

The Greenboat is all business with structural supports from bow to stern. It is a medal winning WW long boat. At the Greenriver creek boat race it took four out of five top spots one year. This is the only boat in the test that does not have a skeg. This can be a REAL problem if winds kick up. It is also the only kayak lacking bulkheads, so you must add flotation not only in the bow like the Fusion but also in the stern. As with the Fusion you will need to add deck lines on this boat.

P&H Hammer
Length 13' 8"
Width 24.5,
Weight 63 lbs
Price $1,799

The Hammer is a new play boat from P&H. The Hammer has multiple bulkheads, four hatch covers and seaworthy deck rigging. It weighs the most in this group. It also has the highest price tag, almost twice as much as the Fusion. If this was a surfing comparison the hammer would win hands down. This is the only boat in this group to really surf, not just ride on a big waves. The Hammer has less-than-stellar surf abilities for small waves.

We traded off boats on a beach that faces a rockgardening play area. The area in which these boats were tested has a collection of exposed rocks. Swells and breaking waves entered from more than one direction, creating a dynamic and complicated environment complete with surfable waves, pourovers, holes/hydraulics, and narrow passages requiring tightly controlled maneuvering.

In the parking lot before paddling we went over the list of features that we felt were important for ocean WW play. We decided regardless if we owned more than one of the boats or paddled it a 100 times we would all trade and paddle each other's kayaks for this comparison. We all tried to keep an open mind during this comparison while we did numerous trial runs in each boat.

The features we compared in the boats are:
* well does it maneuver in excited water.
* quickly does it accelerate and respond to your strokes.
* Assurance/Confidence...does this kayak make you feel like this is the boat I want to be in when shit      happens? 
* Overall Fun/playfulness...which boat makes you smile more in a rock garden environment?

Each of the five testers would give each kayak a five point rating on the above features. After testing the boats we discussed the rating and all information was collected on the beach immediately after our comparison.
We decided to rate the kayaks against each other, rather than a general good to bad. Here are the results from the five point ratings from all testers combined.

                                                           Fusion    Greenboat     Hammer
Overall fun/playful .......................21............24..................19

*Total score
  Fusion          84
  Greenboat  87
  Hammer     66

General commentary and call-outs:
* The Greenboat and Hammer were clearly better in resurfacing.

* Outfitting and Comfort, this is an area that's really personal. We all thought the outfitting on all three kayaks were very good.

* Rollability, all tester agreed the Greenboat was the easiest to roll, with the Hammer second and the Fusion last.

* We also tested the plastic on each boat. Sharp ocean barnacled covered rocks really take a toll on the plastic. We used a sharp pointed scraper with a four pound weight on top and dragged it across the hull without adding any additional force on the blade. The winner was the Greenboat, it had the smallest shaving and groove.
Link to The plastic test

Comments from the testers:

Tony Johnson
The Fusion is a do it all play boat that came very close to the Greenboat in total scores. It's the only kayak to have a perfect score in one area, maneuverability. This little boat inspires confidence. I would like the Fusion to have a little more volume in the stern area. I think this would improve the overall performance of the kayak.

The Hammer is confusing to me. I really wanted to like this kayak, however, it is full of compromises. It has too many bulkheads, hatch covers, combine this with its length makes it the heavy weight in this group. One can really feel the difference in weight on the water when comparing it to the others. When I got out of the Greenboat and paddled the Hammer it felt like I took off my running shoes and put on a pair of work boots. However, due to its design the Hammer can still run with the rest of the group. Its longer than the rest and this made it difficult for one tester in a tight area. I heard one tester say several times while in the Hammer that the hard chines felt grabby on a run. However, those same hard chines were praised by another tester who found himself on a big wave.

Recently while rockgardening in Mendocino CA I had the opportunity to try a friend's Greenboat, Tom Humphries. Tom cut the skeg box out of my old Dagger Alchemy and plastic welded it to his Greenboat. The Greenboat felt like a souped up Fusion, faster, more responsive. Unlike the Fusion the Greenboat
likes staying on top of the water during drops. Within a couple weeks I bought myself a used Greenboat. I don't have plans on adding a skeg, as of now I don't seem to need one. The Greenboat is my pick in this comparison. It's a serious ocean whitewater play boat.

Bill Vonnegut
Being a diehard Hammer and Fusion fan it took some persuasion on Tony's part to get me to try the Greenboat. I have seen this boat blown sideways across the water on a windy day with no tracking, it did not look like something I would want to bother paddling (with exception to Tom's modified skeg version). Then after arriving at our testing area it was my turn to try this boat. I paddled the short distance to our dedicated test area and it seemed to track fine for a short distance with no wind. When I arrived at our test
spot there was a large set rolling through. I drove into the piles of whitewater and the large hole and immediately found this boat to be very stable and responsive. I had a big wave roll in behind me and the boat was able to accelerate and punch my way over the wave backwards. In the same situation the Hammer would have not been able to accelerate fast enough to get over the wave because of its weight. But at the same time it would have held its own and not gotten pushed around as much because of the same reason, weight. The Fusion in the same situation is short enough that I could have whipped it around and at least meet the wave bow first. So my thoughts on these boats are, The Greenboat wins for big water and holes, the Fusion for tight rock gardens and shelf play, the Hammer as my coastal play boat that will hold its own in any conditions.
Guess I just need one of each!!

Sergey Yechikov
This is my personal take on these boats. No one is an absolute boat. I like my small Fusion for the responsiveness, I believe that the volume of the boat just right to my 170 lb. I feel united with the boat and she works as extension of my body. Other two are too bulky. It surfs with the skeg down on steep waves if you lean slightly back (a little bit better than the Greenboat, way worse than the Hammer). The Fusion tends to pitch pole in a hole because of the low stern volume, leaning forward helps a lot. It is slow. Does not carry momentum, you need to ride the surge. It is cheap, I do not mind go into the rocks on the boat. Greenboat I found it superior for going out of the holes, however due to longer hull and big volume I found it is hard to steer the boat in confused water. I feel it could be a safer boat for the big water than the Fusion, but overall less playful. Hammer is good in terms of outfitting out of the box. It performs decently in rock gardens and superior for surfing. If I wanted one and only one all around play boat I would probably pick Hammer because of versatility. Regardless of heavy weight and higher price. Frankly, the size of hatch covers used by P&H does not have any sense to me. They are too small for coast exploration boat (you need to load tent and other long stuff). Day play boat does not require 4!!! small hatches of different size.

Allen Shah
The Fusion is a crossover boat that requires some additional outfitting to the decks for open coast
use. Interior outfitting is adequate, but most of us, including myself, have made changes there. The boat shines in tight, whitewater environments, with solid stability and the ability to turn on a dime to meet challenges quickly, but may benefit from some greater stern volume and possibly just a bit more length, 
as it may catch in holes. Acceleration, responsiveness are good, but with speed maxing out 
quickly. The Hammer is a handful in comparison owing to its greater weight, with limited acceleration and maneuverability for me, but once going keeps momentum and holds course through bigger water, while allowing good at speed maneuvering with its impressive chines. Outfitting of the Hammer is good, but a bit excessive for white water play. The Greenboat is a lighter boat than the Hammer, and predictably responded
better, and seems to have the length/weight/volume combination to perform well in all circumstances; adequate in tight quarters, good control at speed, and able to punch through bigger water than the Fusion. Outfitting with deck lines would be needed for ocean play, skeg would help. I like the Fusion for tight and narrow environments, giving me the most confidence, but overall I prefer the Greenboat, as it performs best for me in the gamut of features and conditions that I typically paddle in, and allows more room for growth with regard to paddling skills.

Tom Humphries
The Fusion reminds me of my high school buddy's Austin Healey bug eyed Sprite, fun, quick, nimble, spirited and surefooted in it's element. Its capable of big water in the hands of an expert, I've seen it firsthand. It 
can also be a bit unforgiving and get overmatched, particularly when pushed into large dynamic features and it takes determined sustained effort to get anywhere in it. Be prepared to augment the deck rigging.

When I first demoed the Greenboat, I hated it in everything but the rough water. It surfed like a football and on flat water with a cross wind it tracked like one too. In the surge around the rocks though, there was 
something special about it and I couldn't seem to forget it. I got one, added a skeg and deck rigging to it and could not be much happier with it for a purposed coastal rock gardening boat. It's built like a tank and begs 
you to push the limit. It has a relatively good cruising speed without sucking the life or fun out of you, plenty of volume and stability, allows attainments, reverse runs, excels at stern first moves, boofs and bombs over 
holes that a shorter boat could stick in. Without a skeg or some form of feel-line modification it is limited and it'd be best to not get caught out with a long paddle in worsening weather, so be prepared to do some work.

The Hammer is the most like a sea kayak, but it's not limited like one. I was prepared to not care for it, but just couldn't help but like it (a lot). It requires a bit more forethought and patience with set-ups and runs and it doesn't accelerate as quick, but once it has some hull speed it really comes alive and outperforms expectations. It feels much more nimble than it looks, but beware of the length, it is what it is. I like that it comes equipped, even if a bit overdone.

Olga Balashova
We tried to get Olga to participate in this review, but she had already made up her mind to wait for a LV Hammer. She loves the way the Hammer surfs, but the boat is just too big for her.