Camping out of a 14 foot surfski?


Years ago I backpacked quite a bit, and was thrilled when I started canoe/kayak camping with all the extra room, especially since the weight didn’t matter as much in the boat as it did on the back!

I haven’t yet camped out of the new Stellar S14S or any of the other smaller skis that have hatches, so I loaded it up to see how it would fare.  As the pictures show, it will work great!



This is what fit in the rear hatch-sleeping bag, pillow, sleeping pad, clothes, coffee pot, water bladder and spare bladder, and cooler with food, drinks, and beer!


The front hatch is big enough for some food, water filter, stove and eating utensils, tent, and tarp.

With a little more careful packing I could easily get more items loaded.  The life jacket holds another 2L of water, camera, chapstick, snack, and cell phone.  The deck bungees behind the seat are still open for more gear as well.

Looking forward to actually taking her camping now!



Hard Day, Great Outcome


In my defense, this event happened before I became a special education teacher.

Early on when I was running my first running kayak tour and instruction business I was introduced to a fellow who ran a program in Virginia Beach for adults with mental retardation.  He was a big believer in experiential education, and was super excited to get some of the people in his program on the water with me.  I knew it would be a challenge, but I figured if I kept them in tandem kayaks and kept a close eye on them that it could be a fun time for all.  Plus, to be honest that was back when I still knew everything.

We went to the boat ramp at what was then called Seashore State Park in Virginia Beach.  It is flat water and it’s easy enough there to stay in the shallows away from motorboat traffic.  The pre-trip brief went just like any other.  Everyone stood there nodding their heads that they understood what I was saying, mimicked my “air-paddling” technique, and put on the life jackets. They totally played me, as I found out as soon as we launched.

Instantaneously, I knew I had overestimated everything about this trip-the participant’s grasp of the pre-trip brief, their ability to paddle given the amount of instruction given, and mostly my ability to keep this a smooth evolution.

There were seven participants from the program, along with one of their staff, and me.  I had figured a four to one ratio would be fine, and we had actually exceeded that.  The staff member shared a tandem with the one individual he thought would be least able to figure it out, and I was in a solo sea kayak.  The remaining six participants were in tandem kayaks.

I started launching the boats.  Immediately one did a big turn and paddled straight into the marsh and stuck there.  One just started paddling in a big circle, and the third headed for the channel.  I figured the boat stuck in the marsh wasn’t in danger, so I had the boat with the staff guy try to straighten out the circle boat.  I chased down the boat heading for the channel and coached them back closer to the other boats.  The guys in the boat that was stuck in the reed were still paddling forward.  It took a lot of yelling, but finally I got them to stop paddling.  Then I showed them how to paddle backward.

The conversation went this way-

Me, paddling backwards  “Like this!”                                                                                                 Them paddling forward “Like this?”                                                                                                 “No, like this!”                                                                                                                                         “Like this?”                                                                                                                                               “No, Like THIS!”  Admittedly I somehow thought more volume might be helpful about now. This went on until I jumped out of my boat, pulled them off the shore and turned them around.

The one boat kept trying to get to the boat channel so I leashed it up and got that under control.  Then one big fella was on the verge of getting seasick with the six-inch chop.  And so on, and so on.  It was by far one of the hardest guiding trips with the level of “mother henning” I had to do, and I was redlining on effort and stress.  Thankfully, about  the time we hit the beach I had an epiphany, these boys were having fun!!

We had a little lunch and some laughs.  My stress subsided, but I was still worried about the trip back.

We were able to paddle back to the ramp with no more drama and everyone enjoyed it.  As the crow flies, we went about 500 meters, twice.  We had two more great outings that summer.  I learned a lot.

Don’t get rubbed the wrong way

Don’t get rubbed the wrong way

During a good paddle, many of us surfskiers have found out all of a sudden that the shorts we decided to wear that day were rubbing a hole in our backside.  Actually, it might not be the back side, but the front side!  And since I usually carry a tube of something with me on long paddles, I’ve saved many friends from the rash monster over the years.  Depending on the shorts, the bucket of the boat, and one’s anatomy this can be a recurring issue, so here’s how to fight back.

I have experienced this enough times to become a bit of an expert in the field.  Usually the problem is right above the crack.  Yes, the butt crack.

There are commercial products out there for this, but since like most paddlers I’m a bit on the cheap side, I’ve found some other things that work.  All are pictured above, and described below.

  1.  Vaseline-any petroleum jelly will do.  Does a great job and can be bought almost anywhere.
  2.  Bag Balm-Made for cow udders, this is a great product.  Greasy and antiseptic!  Cost for a tin this size is around $8.  Downside is I only find it online, or at a farm  supply store.  It’s petroleum jelly and lanolin, and for some reason it wipes off the  hands before you paddle much easier than just Vaseline.
  3. Chapstick-Upside, I usually have some in the life jacket pocket, and it works.  Downside, my paddling partners think it’s nasty when I use it on my backside, then my lips.
  4. Butt-Aid-Fantastic stuff, and it’s sold at the Dollar Store!  Wipes off the hands pretty easily, but turns a bit of a funny color after a while.
  5. Diaper Rash Ointment-The king of protection against not only rubbing but any rash you might get.  Also, another Dollar Store product!!  And one day I scored points with some skim boarders by letting them have some after their shorts were rashing them up.  Also wipes off the hands without much effort so it doesn’t interfere with paddle grip.

If you need it, apply liberally and go paddle!

Why don’t paddlers improve?

Why don’t paddlers improve?

Barriers to learning are interesting, and hard to pinpoint at times.  Many paddlers never pursue any instruction, certain their skills are up to par.  Some paddlers go to endless classes and symposiums, but seem to never get any better in their skill set.  Curious, right?

There are a lot of barriers to learning-fear, misunderstanding, lack of a prerequisite skill set, inappropriate gear, pre-conceived notions etc., but in my experience the single biggest barrier is the idea that the student already knows what is being taught.  And I have to confess, I’ve been guilty of it myself.  I remember the day I was taught I needed to open my mind.

I spend my days as a teacher in a juvenile detention facility, at the time I was teaching science and math to the worst kids society has to offer.  As a military vet I was probably more of a hardass than I needed to be, but for the most part it worked.  At this facility, the population changes daily as the police bring in the freshly arrested every day, and those who’ve been there go home, to juvenile jail, or real jail.  Hard job, but somebody’s got to do it.

I had a student on the “oldest” kid unit, pushing 18 years old.  Unfortunately, I’d had him since he was 11 or 12.  Always in trouble, always getting in trouble and violating his probation.  In general, a firm hand kept him in line as he needed constant attention.  But one day, things escalated-I don’t remember the particulars, but at the end of the conflict he was put out of class and locked up in his cell.  I won, again, because he still didn’t understand he had no chance of winning.

It’s always been my personal policy to touch base with a kid who I had problem with the next day, ensure he or she understood my rules, and move on.  In retrospect my approach was MY approach, there wasn’t much middle ground. I went to the unit where this kid was housed the next morning, and pulled him aside for a chat.  Basically I said to him, “You know it doesn’t have to be a train wreck every time we’re in the same room” and extended my hand for a shake.  To my surprise, he grabbed the hand and followed through with a hug and “I’m sorry.”  Powerful.

I realized the flaws in my past approach right away.  He didn’t need an ass-kicking, he needed a little understanding, a role model, some space to vent, some time to process-

I had known exactly how to do my job,seriously I was certain of it,  but pursued big adjustments right after that.

And that translated to my paddling as well.  Whatever I know, will change.  Best practices will evolve, and I’ve got to evolve with them.