Sunday, December 6, 2015

Building the Slug

Based on my wealth of experience in patching two or three cracks in my Element, I decided that I was fully qualified and ready to build my own boat.
The finished product, just 3 short years later

The plan was to design a boat from scratch, because it was becoming increasingly difficult to find production boats that fit me. I liked the Element a lot, but it was just impossible to paddle in a hole, and it was also a little tough on highly concave waves. The long bow tends to hit the water if the wave is really curved. The design I decided to make was basically an Element without a long bow. I decided that I would make it a touch wider, like maybe an inch, and also give it a tiny bit more stern rocker, as well as a shorter and wider stern. I was going to keep the aggressive flared rails. That was where a lot of people raised their eyebrows, since it seems crazy. I was thinking back to the Liquidlogic Vision, which had apparently been acceptable in a hole, despite having some pretty aggressive rails. Of course, the sidewalls on the vision were flared out a lot more, so that the overall shape was still pretty rounded, and my plan was to keep the base wider than the top, but I was the boss.

Everybody that builds a custom boat loves to talk about their design idea, and nobody that's building a custom boat really cares that much about other people's custom boat design ideas. It's because the act of building your own boat is an almost fundamental rejection of other people's designs. You wouldn't be pouring your money and soul into this toxic mess in your garage if you thought the Project X was good enough already, or if Dave's composite boat was a great idea. You're investing all this time and effort because you want something unlike any other boat out there! So I'm done talking about my design.

With Stephen Wright's help, I settled on the name of "the Slug," because I figured that if I tried to give it a badass name and it was a piece of junk, I would look like a dork, whereas if I gave it a terrible name and it turned out to be awesome, people would assume that I just had really high standards and it would be great.

I also was guided through most of this process by the holy text "The Boatbuilder's Manual," by Charles C. Walbridge which is now massively outdated and also out of print. Carl Moser tipped me off to that book. Despite being so old, the book provides a great overview of how boats are made. I found that it was a great starting point. Whenever I had a suspicion that there was a more advanced material out there, I would go google it, but the book gave the framework so that I knew what I needed to google. It showed me what I didn't know. I recommend it to anyone building a boat, and I should mention that any mistakes I made were during the times when I was ignoring the book's advice.

Overall Plan

So here's the scheme I used. It's not the best, but it was cheap.
  • Shape a boat out of foam (called a plug).
  • Coat the boat in something epoxy won't stick to (I used packaging tape).
  • Lay up a top half of a boat on the plug. Peel it off once it cures.
  • Lay up a bottom half of a boat on the plug. Peel it off once it cures.
  • Stick the two halves together. Spruce that up and paddle it.

  • This process is known as making a one-off. The other option (one of many other options) is to use those boat halves as a mold, and build your actual boat in the interior of that mold you just built. The one-off has some benefits and some drawbacks.

  • Looks like crap.
  • Hard to produce repeatable boats that are similar to each other.
  • No silky smooth (and watertight) gelcoat on the exterior - the smooth side is the inside of the boat. (See item #1).

  • Benefits:
  • Faster - only build two big composite pieces.
  • Cheaper (not by much) because you don't pay for a mold.
  • Simpler (good if you have no idea what you're doing, I suppose).

  • So here's how I went about it.

    Shaping the plug

    The plug just has to hold its shape. It's usually made of foam, but you could use an existing boat as a plug (although this is morally questionable). I used that pink styrofoam that you can buy at the hardware store. My original plan had been to lay up the entire boat over the exterior of the foam, and just hollow out leg holes, so I bought waterproof foam. However, this would make repairs difficult, so I ended up switching to the plan described above. If you know ahead of time that your plug doesn't have to be made of watertight foam, you can save a little time and money by getting something cheaper that's easier to sand. Geofoam is an excellent choice, but since I didn't use it, I don't know much about it.

    So there I was, with a bunch of 2 inch thick sheets of insulation foam and a general sketch of the shape of the boat. I drew the vertical cross section of the boat on every sheet (I was able to fit two outlines per sheet) and cut them all out, then glued them together with epoxy, so that my very rough plug was made of vertical stripes of insulation foam.

    Then the sanding began. That lasted about two months.

    It was boring. Boat shaping timelapse from Leif Anderson on Vimeo.

    I used a punch saw and a drywall surfacer to shape this thing. If I had realized how much freaking sanding I would be doing, I would have gotten together a hot wire cutting kit. You can go google that yourself, but it's basically a hot wire, held in tension, and it cuts through foam like a hot wire through butter, leaving smooth surfaces behind, and it does it really really fast. Oh, my wasted life. Also, protip: gluing the foam together with epoxy leaves little epoxy walls in the foam that are harder to sand through, because the epoxy is hard. However, contact cement melts the foam that I was using.

    I cannot emphasize enough how long I spent shaping the plug. It took a long time. Throughout the process, I had a sheet on the wall with my design drawn out, including measurements, and every few hours I would check against those measurements. It took a lot of work. I got very used to wearing a dust mask.

    Eventually, the plug was shaped enough that I decided to move forward. I got 6 rolls of packing tape, and carefully coated the entire plug. I was ready (or so I thought) to start laying up the boat.


    The first layup was a failure.

    My plan was to use 4 layers of fiberglass on the deck, with soric foam core reinforcing key areas (flat spots like the sidewalls). I started laying up by painting on some epoxy, then laying on the cut pieces of fabric. I quickly went into panic mode, because it was hard to get the wrinkles in the fabric to lay down flat. Eventually I got it, mostly, but it took several hours, and I was going nuts because I was worried that the epoxy would cure too early. I rushed the last few layers, and wrapped it up in a mattress bag and stuck a cheap shop vac in there to pump it down to vacuum. This is really bad for your shop vac, by the way, and could potentially burn your house down. BUT THEN I JUST DID IT AND I WAS FINE.

    When I pulled the bag off the next morning, I saw that the deck was a failure. In my rush, I had not laminated all the way to the parting line. There were big sections of the deck that were dry fabric. I think I had assumed that they would get saturated while it was in the bag. Nope. After a lot of debate, I decided that I had to try again.

    Second time around, I had done a little more research. I enlisted Natalie's help, and we mixed small batches of epoxy, just a cup or two at a time. Although the first layer was starting to set up by the time I put the bag on, that's fine. Each layer was bonding to the next, and the overall process can take a pretty long time, with no problems. I went slower and made sure to get the fabric wetted out all the way past the parting line.

    Boat layup timelapse of the second deck from Leif Anderson on Vimeo.

    The one super embarrassing thing I noticed in the video is that we only had one respirator, and I wore it. I feel like I should have been a gentleman and insisted that Natalie wear it. My theory was that I would have my head close to the layup more than she would, and also that since she was helping for part of one afternoon but I was going to be working on the boat a lot, I was facing more exposure overall, which we were trying to minimize. Still, definitely not a great example of health and safety.

    I let it cure, popped it off the plug, and flipped the plug over to lay up the hull.

    For the hull, I had an awesome plan. My layup there was 4 layers glass, one layer carbon, and one really thin layer of glass over the outside of the carbon. However, I also included some foam core, since my hull was super flat. The foam core I used there wasn't the soric stuff, which is basically a thick fabric. No, in the hull, I used a half inch sheet of that same pink insulation foam. It was tough to get it to lay onto the curve of the hull, but scoring it with an xacto knife helped a lot there. I sanded the whole surface ahead of time, so that the epoxy would bond to it (not perfect, but worked ok). Again I layed up fabric to just past the parting line. The hull came out way nicer than the deck, because it was mostly a flat surface. And thanks to the crazy foam core, it was as rigid as... well, let's just say it was really rigid.

    Assembly and Outfitting

    Now I had two halves. If I had planned ahead a little better, I would have put a cockpit rim on the top half right then, while I still had easy access to the interior, but I was eager to have something that looked like a boat. Since I had laid up fabric past the parting line on both halves, I had two overlapping interlocking parts. With a lot of jamming and wedging, I managed to fit the hull half inside the deck half, and once they were overlapping, the shape of the overlapping part held them in place. I then used some 2 inch wide strips of fiberglass to glue the halves together, inside and out. The inside was a bit of a pain, but I could reach everywhere inside the boat without much contortion, so it wasn't bad.

    Real boat builders probably threw up in their mouths after reading that last paragraph. That overlap section was a huge no-no to a pro builder. It makes a void inside the boat, which basically means that although you have the weight of the inside layer and the outside layer (as well as the weight of any water that gets trapped inside there), you only have the strength and waterproofness of one of those layers.

    Also it tends to look like crap. Like, really bad. All knobbly and stuff.

    But know what? I don't care. I used a lot of layers on the exterior seam, so it was watertight, and sure it was less strong and heavier than it could have been, but I wasn't about to go paddle the Slug in the freestyle worlds or anything.

    Cockpit rim

    To build the cockpit rim, I traced out an existing cockpit rim of another boat onto a piece of cardboard, and cut it out, then drew that onto the Slug. I cut out the deck to match that shape, then hot glued a garden hose to the top of the deck in that shape. I used that hose as a ghetto mold to lay up the cockpit rim. A few practical pointers for anyone that is going to do this:

  • Use like 8 layers of glass.
  • Use bias weave strips, and make them relatively short. I describe bias weave in the patching article, or you can google it.
  • Don't try to paint the epoxy on. Roll up the fiberglass strips, dip them in your epoxy until saturated, then unroll the sloppy mess onto the waiting cockpit rim.
  • Do this one half at a time, and turn the boat on edge or on end or something.
  • When you are done, you are not done.

  • What I mean with that last one is that since your layers won't all line up perfectly, you will end up with this horrible serrated skirt-destroying edge on your cockpit rim. It's amazingly bad. Plan to lay up past the final location of the rim edge, then sand it back. Even then, you will basically have a smooth knife instead of a serrated knife. The really awesome finish is to get a thin non-waterproof rope (some little cotton line or something), and saturate that with epoxy and stick it to the top edge of the rim, then wrap two or three very skinny layers of fiberglass over the outside of that, and use like a million clamps to hold it in place while it cures. That gives you something that only does heavy damage to your skirt, instead of instantly wrecking it and also splitting any nearby atoms.
    Here is a rough sequence showing a cockpit repair on El Sinko, using the wrap around the rope technique that I describe above.

    Hip Pads and Seat

    There are a few different options here. Some companies use carbon or glass seats, but I have seen those cause a lot of problems. My plan was a sheet of thick foam glued to the bottom of the boat, with a jackson bean bag seat on top of it. That part worked pretty well (although be sure to use a tall enough seat). My current version is just a very thick piece of foam; about 4 inches, maybe 4 and a half.

    For the hip pads, I had this plan that had a lot of potential. I put in little vertical walls from the cockpit rim to the floor right where the hip pads would need to be. I used more of that half inch foam, with rounded edges, and covered it with a couple layers of glass. I then strapped hip pads around these new pillars. They broke instantly.

    After further experimentation, I have concluded that the idea is fine, but you need about 8 layers of glass. I originally used only about 4. I also determined that these can't be little thin bars, they have to be wider than the hip pad you are going to glue or strap on there. Otherwise the hip pad tends to twist off the bar a little. And furthermore it doesn't hurt to put a little horizontal reacher off to the actual sidewall for extra reinforcement, especially if you used fiberglass instead of carbon for your deck.

    Hot Coat

    Once the rim job was done, I sanded the exterior of the boat and painted on a coat of epoxy, which I then let cure without touching. This gave the final boat a nice glossy finish (not as nice as a true gelcoat, but better than the rough surface from the peel ply inside the vacuum bag). It also helped with waterproofing. I painted a layer of red spraypaint before the final epoxy layer. Not sure what effect that had.

    Getting on the water

    As soon as I got on the water, I started having some doubts. I was only paddling in the pool, but I could tell the slug was wide. Too wide. After getting home, I re-checked my figures on the paper plan I had taped to the wall, and they matched the Slug. But then I checked the figures against the Element, which was my starting point. I had swapped two widths. The width at the rails had become the width at the knees, and then I had added a few inches to get the rail width. So the overall effect was that the boat was about 4-5 inches wider than I had intended. This is an astronomical change. I didn't realize at the time how big of a difference a change by one inch would be. This was way off.

    The other thing I noticed was that I had totally messed up somewhere and the boat was terribly unbalanced. The stern was tiny and the bow was pretty big. This made flatwater cartwheels almost impossible. I could just barely get it up into a bow stall. Of course, once it was on end, it looped pretty well, since there was almost no stern.
    It did flatwater loop pretty well.
    I also couldn't help but notice after two or three loops that I had cracked my stern. Yes, on flatwater. This was because I had a big huge flat area on top of the stern, which was pretty weak. I dried it off that night and laid up a layer of foam core, which has held together ever since.

    Eventually I got the slug out on the water, and it was really hard to do tricks. It was like having a mentally handicapped child. I was fiercely proud of the Slug, but I knew that it was not really going places in the world. Slug ended up living in a woodshed in rural Canada, away from the heckles and jeers of the insensitive public. I would sometimes come visit the shed, and maybe bring out a balloon or some candy, and just spend time in the dark there.

    Then, based on some research with El Sinko, which is a whole different story, I realized that maybe my seat was just too low. So I tripled the seat height and took the Slug out for a paddle. I found that although it was still a far from optimal design, it was far better than my initial impression had been. The Slug was redeemed. It now is moved out of the wood shed, and currently lives in a much larger shed with better lighting. It has many other special kayak friends that it hangs out with.
    One of the first few surfs in the Slug. Incredible speed, incredibly bad tricks.

    Slug returns from Leif Anderson on Vimeo.

    Surfing the Slug with the new seat. Back Pan Am machine!
    Also acceptable at clean blunts.
    I've also learned how lucky I was on my first project. I built a set of other boats that were copies of production kayaks, and tried to make a smoother cockpit rim. Those other boats were fraught with trouble. The cockpit rims weren't watertight, and there were tons and tons of leaks elsewhere in the boats. I think the simple flat surfaces of the Slug made it a little easier to lay up a thick watertight design, but maybe there's some mojo to using spraypaint inbetween epoxy layers or something.

    Wednesday, November 25, 2015

    Composite boat repair for the clueless

    My actual introduction to working with composites came when I broke my composite Element. Well, actually that's not true. My real introduction to composites came when my parents used to build paddles and boats in a workshop out back when I was a young kid. Well, actually, I would get in trouble if I tried to go play in the workshop, since resin is toxic, and they didn't want me to start having liver issues before turning 10. So I suppose my real introduction to composites was when I built a composite deck plate with the advice of Jeremy Lauks. But that thing was a piece of junk.

    Anyway, the point here is that I was paddling a composite Element on the Slave river in 2011, when there was a huge ton of wood coming down the river. I hit a couple stumps, which put a bunch of little cracks in the stern and a few other areas. However, the big one that finally made me get down to business was when I tried an airscrew on a shallow wave, landed upsidedown, and opened the bow up like an alligator mouth.

    The wood situation that summer:

    Slave River Flood 2011 - Knock on Wood from Leif Anderson on Vimeo.

    The wave that did the deed, at a different water level, on a completely different day.
    The damage was finally substantial enough that I stopped paddling the Element for a few days, and let it dry out enough to patch it.

    So let's rap about composite repair for a bit. The basic deal is that there are a bunch of fibers (yeah, that's right. FibERs, not fibREs. I do what I want.) stuck in a bunch of glue. The fibers are your fiberglass or your carbon or kevlar or whatever. The glue is the epoxy. When the shit breaks, you need to glue replacement fibers on there. It's not really all that complicated.

    Doing it Right

    Now, if you want to do it right, you should sand away all the broken fibers, and replace them with fibers of the same type, oriented correctly to take the same amount of strain, and be sure that you don't have your patch overlap too much over the old fibers, since that would make the patch stiffer than the rest of the boat, which could lead to additional fractures at the edges of your patch. (This change in stiffness is known as a stress riser.)

    But hey, if you were interested in doing it right, you wouldn't be here. You'd be talking to someone who knows what the hell they are doing. Like The Board Lady, or Easy Composites.

    But you're here, so you're going to sit down and listen to my convoluted story of how one of my friends said one thing, then another one said something different, and I did this thing that was sort of halfway between them and it worked fine. FINE! As Nate Garcia famously said: "Then I just did it. And I was fine. When you're as swol as me, everything's easy." That's been my guiding philosophy for much of my tiny boatbuilding career.


    So, I got advice from a bunch of more experienced people. Your usual basic patch would be to sand out a crack, wet out fabric with some epoxy, and lay it over the surface. When it cured, maybe there'd be a stress riser, maybe not, but it would be stiffer than it was with a freaking crack in it, and no water would be coming through. The problem here was that the crack was huge. I could stick stuff in there. There was no smooth surface to reinforce. This brought me to a dead stop.

    The people I contacted were very wise, except for Peter Benedict, whose idea was way off base.

    Celliers Krueger, founder of Fluid Kayaks and designer of the Element, told me a highly motivating story about breaking the bow off of one of his fiberglass boats and rebuilding it with a complex scheme involving chickenwire. If he could do that, I could fix this hole that was smaller than a finger.

    The strategy that I ended up using was based most heavily on the advice of Kurt Braunlich, who is a slalom paddler and coach. When he finally saw the finished repair, though, he said that I had done such an ugly job of it that he didn't want me to tell people he was involved at all. Well guess what Kurt? Here you are.

    As I mentioned earlier, the basic problem was that there was no surface to stick the stuff to. So we built one. First I spent a lot of time with a sander, getting all the useless broken stuff out of there. Then, on Kurt's advice, I made a chop glass mixture. This was super easy. I got some fiberglass fabric (you can order the stuff online, by the way), and I chopped it up. I ended up with a bunch of little short fibers, about 1/4 inch long. I mixed up a batch of epoxy and tossed in the chopped fibers. This made a gooey mess, which I slathered all over the place and smoothed out a bit.

    Cured and sanded chop glass after filling the gaps

    To make sure the chop glass cured with a smooth surface, I may have stretched a plastic bag over it. I honestly can't remember. The benefit of the plastic bag is that it gives a smooth surface for the epoxy to be squeezed up against, and it looks way better when you're done. For this repair, it didn't matter, because I had to sand this all down a bit once it cured anyway. Epoxy won't stick to the surface of unprepared epoxy. This is because of the blush - a really thin film that rises to the surface of a composite layup as the curing epoxy pushes out moisture inside the laminate. You almost always have to do some sanding before applying a new patch, and maybe also clean with rubbing alcohol.

    So, once I had filled in this chop glass stuff, let it cure, and then sanded it down, it was time for the actual patch. The chop glass is great at filling spaces, but the short little fibers in there have almost no strength. It's fancy putty to make a base that a real patch can sit on. By the way, there are a ton of other space-filling putties, but this is the one that you can always make, since if you're about to patch your boat, you better have some epoxy and some fibers of some kind.

    With all that prep done, the patch was stupidly easy. I cut out some fabric. I mixed some epoxy. I stuck the fabric on the boat. The end. The only subtlely is that it's hard to stretch the fabric so that it sits down nicely on really curvy surfaces like the bow. The trick there is to cut along the bias. Here is a nice short description of that. You basically cut along a line that's at 45 degrees to the angle of the actual fibers in the cloth. This magically makes the little strip you cut into this stretchy curvable thing that works amazingly well.

    Well, in actual point of fact, I didn't know that back then. I just cut a big rectangle and slapped it on. This didn't lay down really well, and I didn't spread epoxy all the way to the edges. So it looked bad when I finished.
    Really it's like an art form. It's the rebirth of cottage industry arts.
    However, I sanded this off, and topped off the patch with another layer of kevlar, which doesn't tear as easily.
    You have to look closely to even tell if there is a patch, right?

    Reflections on this Episode

    This was a big learning experience, and after this patch, I started feeling like I could patch anything. That was great. However, looking back from the dizzying height of two more years of patching stuff, I would have changed a few things.

    First, that kevlar is very sensitive to UV degradation, and it always has these annoying edges, where the ends of the fibers don't lay flat, so there's this ragged edge. If you try to sand that edge down, you make it worse, since kevlar is freaking bulletproof, so it doesn't cut easily if you're just rubbing a gritty piece of paper against it. Instead it gets all frayed and looks terrible. So nowadays I usually have one more layer over the top of my kevlar. And what I should really have is an opaque layer over my kevlar. I'm working on a standardized procedure, but I don't have anything yet. Maybe an opaque layer of simple polyester fabric will be my eventual solution, or maybe epoxy pigments, or maybe I'll switch to using Innegra instead of kevlar. Who knows? The main point is, something should have gone over that last layer.

    If you were keeping track, there were three completely separate preps and cures. This means the boat was out of action for a minimum of three days, since each cure is effectively overnight. Nowadays, I would probably have done this as one layup. I honestly don't know if this is better or worse than the multiple layups, but my suspicion is that it's ever so slightly worse, since there is the chance of an air bubble forming deep in this thick and complicated layup, which would affect the strength. However, this is a small chance, and we're talking about a whole extra day of paddling. Also, there are some benefits to the multiple layers at once:
    - The multiple parts at once (chop glass, fiberglass, kevlar, and covering) can all exchange epoxy, so there is less chance of having undersaturated areas. Also the spongy mix can be massaged to squeeze out excess epoxy. Of course, if you are good at composites, you wouldn't have these problems, but this is a guide for people that have no idea what they're doing.
    - We can be sure that the layers bond to each other, since there's no surface between them that needed to be sanded. Again, if you just prepare your surfaces carefully, this is not a problem, but I am terrible at making sure that I have sanded enough. I always get a little dust in the clean areas, so that they look sanded, then I clean off to get ready to lay up, and suddenly there are a bunch of little reflective unprepared spots on the surface I'm about to patch. That is not an issue if you're laying it all up together.

    I would have also bagged the outer surface. Get some filmy plastic, like a trash bag (the orange ones are my favorites, but white works too. Black is too hard to see through.) Lay it on the wet patch, right after you take off your gloves. Then spend some time (like 5-10 minutes) rubbing the surface to massage all the air bubbles to the edges. It helps to lick your fingers. If you get all the bubbles out, you'll have a stronger and smoother patch, and it will look badass instead of looking like a scratchy ugly piece of crap stuck on the surface.

    However, despite the things I would have changed, this patch is still going strong 3 years later. I hit it against a rock while getting cartwheeled out of control a few days later, which put a little extra crack on the side of it, but I patched that like it was nothing.

    Introduction to Composite boatbuilding

    Do you sometimes feel like a cantankerous old man, shaking his fist at the kayak industry? “I could totally build a better playboat than that!” you might yell from your porch, or perhaps “What I want to paddle is the gliss monkey hull with the edges of a skunk rocker!” Are you fed up enough to finally do something? Are you ready to put your money where your mouth is? Well, in that case, prepare for a mind-blowing introduction to the incredible world of homemade composite kayaks.

    Exact same idea, but for boat design versus boating experience. I'm going to build a Stinger with the rocker profile of the Jed and the bow of a Scud! From SMBC

    Personally I started building custom composite boats because I am too tall to fit in production boats. I fit in the 2010 Monstar, but it wasn’t comfortable. I also fit in the Fluid Element, but that’s… a  very special case. I needed something short but big. I saw a few other pro paddlers building their own boats, and I figured, hey - how hard can it be?

    Oh, looking back on those foolish days of my youth, those two or three long years ago.

    The Slug, my first homemade boat.

    In a series of articles on this blog, I will try to express and pass on the meager amount of misinformed experience that I have accumulated. I make no claim to be a professional. I imagine a lot of my advice will, in fact, be completely wrong. However, if I could build a boat or two with only this much knowledge, imagine how well you could do! Really, the beautiful thing about composites is that you can produce something with only a moderate amount of experience and effort. More effort and experience can eventually produce a great work of art like a Murky Waters boat, or a Featherweight. But watching youtube videos and working in your garage can get you something that floats. (Disclaimer: some of my boats don’t float.) Some of these articles will be instructional, but some will merely recount what I did and why.

    The Articles:

    1: Composite boat repair for the clueless: In which I smash open my bow and ALSO MY MIND! And begin learning about composites.

    2: Building the Slug: In which I do battle with a measuring tape and some insulation foam and build my first boat.

    Stay tuned for more.

    Sunday, July 5, 2015

    Making the US Freestyle team

    The 2015 World Freestyle championships are to be held on Garberateur wave on the Ottawa. Team trials for the US team were thus scheduled for the only consistent wave that anyone knew of in anything like the right time of the year: the Glenwood wave. I heard about these decisions sometime in late 2014, and instantly thought to myself that this would be an event to train for. I graduated from CSU in May of 2014 and was going to spend the next year or so just focusing on paddling. I primarily paddle the Fluid Element, which is a surfboat/playboat hybrid, and excels on waves like Glenwood which are a little flat and slow. I would be coming to the event in pretty good physical condition, and would have had a lot of time before the event to work on my freestyle moves. I didn't really think that I could make it, but I knew that my chances were better than they had ever been. My goal wasn't necessarily to make the team, but to paddle at my full potential, and maybe make the top 10.

    Team trials had been held at the Glenwood wave several years ago, around 2008. That year, I was in the Nemesis, which is a pretty slow boat, and had a very hard time doing tricks in the main wave. I spent all my practice time over on the far side of the river, messing around in the far stickier but not as good section of the wave. This way, I avoided the crowds, but also didn't really prepare myself for the event. When the competition came, I missed the wave for many of my rides and only got a blunt or two, which put me near the bottom of the pack. I was really stoked to see Jonny Meyers absolutely crush it that year. He went on to place really high at worlds. If I remember right, he took fifth over in Thun.

    David Spiegel helping train at Skookumchuck.

    In the fall of 2014, I started training. I spent a few weeks at Skookumchuck, dialing in my clean blunt based on some new advice from Adrian Mattern. Skook as it dies out is pretty similar to Glenwood. I had spent a lot of time on Outrageous on the Slave river, which is a big flat wave, and had worked on doing tricks with less wasted time inbetween. I'd had a bit of a breakthrough with boat stability, and was starting to be able to recover from one trick fast enough to throw another on the next pass down the wave. At skook I started trying imaginary competition rides where I would stitch together my most consistent moves. I started to get optimistic.

    For the winter months, I moved to Hood River. My plan was to make sure to get into my playboat at least twice a week. There are a couple really nice waves near Portland, and there's always the coast for good playboating. This plan lasted precisely zero weeks. Instead, I spent all my time on the Green Truss and the Little White Salmon. I did manage to get in a little playboating, with a couple trips over to the Washougal and one outing to the Deschutes river. Over Christmas, we headed up and took a few more days at Skookumchuck. Basically, although I paddled plenty, and got in a little playboating, I was not really training. I started to feel like I wouldn't do so well at Team Trials. My housemate David Spiegel was highly optimistic every time we paddled. He kept saying that I was a shoe-in. The encouragement was great, but I honestly didn't think that I had all that good of a chance. Wave boating has progressed in the last few years and I wasn't sure that I'd kept up.

    In the early spring, I had an unexpected opportunity to work at World Class Academy, a traveling kayak high school. I was really excited for this chance, although we would finish the quarter very close to when Team Trials were scheduled. I knew that teaching at WCA would mean less training, but I figured that my chances weren't that good anyway, and this was a more important life move. I took the job. We had an awesome quarter, and I had a lot of fun meeting all the kids and traveling around. Unfortunately, we only ended up playboating three days during the whole quarter, and I missed one of those days due to a cracked boat. My training schedule was even more shot. The one really positive benefit of WCA was the rigorous physical training. Quinn Connell was head coach and often led the morning workouts, and that man is a machine. I almost doubled the number of pushups that I could do.

    Not-too-uncommon WCA class portrait.  No play waves in sight.

    Once back in Colorado, I was dealing with a lot of other things. We were moving out of our house in Fort Collins, I was trying to start to do some very late cardio training for the 26 mile race at Fibark, and I had fallen behind on lots of social media and photography stuff. However, I managed to get to Glenwood a few days early, and fell into a schedule of early paddling in the morning, then dealing with other crap in the afternoon. The most fun was when Natalie and I would get up super early and paddle my mom's downriver boats from her house to the wave, then surf a bit until the crowds showed up. I was feeling good, but knew that a lot of the heavy hitters were lurking nearby and not practicing when I was.

    On the day of the event, I was surprised to see how few competitors there were. Since the event was being put on by Peter Benedict and the Carbondale high school CRMS (my own alma mater), instead of being sponsored by the city of Glenwood Springs, the organizers were trying to keep the event as small as possible. People not eligible to actually paddle on the team were discouraged from competing, leaving a select core that was missing a couple really good international paddlers but had some really good US paddlers. I started looking around and mentally trying to rank myself, and although I was excited, I still didn't think that I was going to make it. I would watch people paddle, and everyone had at least one trick that I couldn't do, which made me want to rank myself below them. I recognized this mistake at the time, but still was able to pick out at least 5 competitors that could beat me easily. There were only 5 seats on the team. I wasn't discouraged, since my goal wasn't to make the team but to paddle at my best, but I wasn't thinking that I would make it.
    Competitors getting ready in the upper eddy.

    Finally, all this preparation, from surfing before dawn in Canada to doing pushups with highschoolers in California, came to its culmination, and the first heat entered the water. First up was Stephen Wright. He opened with a really precise and fast series of helices and flipturns. I had thought that since the flipturn and helix are so similar, you couldn't score both in the same ride. USACK does this with the airscrew and the donkey flip, since both are barrel rolls. One is from hull to hull, and one lands on the sidewall. If you stick a donkey flip and an airscrew to the same side in the same ride, you only count the highest scoring version. I had assumed that under the ICF rules, the helix and flipturn would work the same way, since the flipturn is sort of a helix where you don't finish the rotation. However, watching Stephen's ride, it was clear that I was wrong and that you could score both. I waited until a quick break between rides and verified this with Hojo and Matt, who were running the scoring software. This changed my plan for my ride.

    Hojo and Matt, clearly in perfect control of all aspects of the scoring.

    I got in my boat and paddled around above the wave, warming up and watching the rides. I looked at a few more of Stephen's rides, and thought to myself, "I can do that". Each of his opening moves was in my list of dependable tricks. Eventually the first heat finished and my heat got ready to compete. I watched more good paddlers, but didn't try to keep track of how I might be doing. I just thought about my own rides. The actual competition is a bit of a blur for me, but I knew that I had a lot of helices and flipturns, and some flashbacks and a couple donkey flips. My big advantage was that the Element is really good at boosting out of the water for helices, so I could consistently get some bonuses on those. I started to get stoked.

    Helix one way

    Helix the other way

    Donkey flip

    Once I was done with my prelims rides, I went and sat in the shade with Natalie and my mom. Natalie's morning hadn't gone all that well, with her not being able to fire off her helices quite fast enough. We sat around and took some photos, just relaxing and drinking gatorade. Since I was done paddling for that round, someone from the judges' stand gave me the down low that I was currently sitting in fifth place. I was floored, and the relaxed mood certainly changed a lot. My backband had snapped during my last prelims ride, so I scrambled around trying to find replacement parts before the next round. Jordan Poffenburger had an extra ratchet in his truck, which totally saved me.

    Natalie in her rides.

    After the final prelims heat finished, they announced the names of the top 10 who were moving on to semifinals. I hopped in my boat and tried very hard to maintain a good mental state. On the one hand, if I was in fifth, I had shown that I had a chance of making it. On the other hand, if I messed up I could lose it all. I tried to just focus on how I had been able to do my tricks every time, and think about how in one sense, I had already finished, because my goal had been to paddle well and I already had. I really tried hard not to think about the high stakes. This round would decide the top five, which also meant that this round decided the team.

    I was in the second heat of semifinals, and watched the first heat kill it. Clay Wright put down a really impressive ride and was in first after that heat. I took my rides and did ok, didn't have my absolute best performance. I was happy and released the tension I had accumulated. Either way, I was done. As I climbed out, my mom came over and said that now that she'd heard that I was in sixth, which was the last spot on the team (Dane Jackson was in first but since he was reigning world champ, he goes to worlds automatically and didn't take up one of the team spots. So the five team seats were second to sixth place.) The only person left that could eliminate me was Stephen Wright. He'd had a weirdly bad ride for his first semifinal ride and was slightly behind me. Natalie and Ann were getting all excited but I kept telling them to calm down, because Stephen was one of the best paddlers in the world. I was stoked to have come so close to making the team, but I knew that I was done. We all sat together and watched Stephen's final ride. To everyone's surprise, he again flushed off the wave very early in his ride, only getting his opening moves (which was my entire ride). The base scores of our two rides were very close. We'd both done the same tricks, but we could have different bonuses. There were a tense few moments while we waited for the scores to come in, then when the announcement came, Ann and Natalie erupted and started grabbing my arms and cheering. I had made the team.

    Didn't have any photos of Stephen, so here is a Paul Palmer making a funny face.

    I have mixed feelings about making the team this way. Obviously I'm excited to be able to paddle at worlds, but Stephen is clearly a better paddler than I am. I kind of feel like I stole his spot on the team. I don't feel bad enough to withdraw from the team or anything, but I do feel like if we turned back time and ran team trials again, Stephen could beat me. However, the UK team had some plans for situations like this, with some complicated system of minimum scores and secondary events, to ensure that their team is the most consistent team possible. There was a little scandal in the kayaking world when Craig Ayres did well at the UK selection event, but didn't make the team because of the other parts of their selection system. When I had heard about this, I had sided with keeping him on the team (although I don't know all the details, of course). I'm glad that here, although I clearly just had one lucky day, I still get to go represent the USA at world championships this fall.

    Here are a couple photos from the event.

    Thursday, January 22, 2015

    River list

    This is a list of all the rivers that I can remember paddling on. I'm lucky to have been able to go so many places. I hesitate to publish this, because I like to emphasize a boating style that celebrates not a list of accomplishments, but a set of skills. It doesn't take much to go get your boat wet in a whole lot of rivers, and you sometimes encounter really stellar paddlers that have spent their whole career on just a handful of rivers. However, I was a little curious, and compiling the list really brought back a lot of memories, so I figured that I would share it. Of course, if you weren't on the runs, then me listing the names of the rivers won't really evoke any special memories, so this is not a very exciting article for most people, but sometimes I have to do stuff for myself, not my fans. And then post about it on facebook.
    I have almost certainly forgotten a couple rivers, and I probably mistakenly listed a couple rivers twice, thinking that different runs on the same river were on distinct rivers. I loosely organized the rivers geographically, but this was just as a memory aid. I know that occasionally I fudged things a little. I think the Ottawa river is not in Quebec. I know that there are actually several states on the east coast. I am aware that Africa is a continent, not a country.

    My relatively arbitrary rules for adding a river to the list:
  • I'm counting rivers that I have kayaked in.
  • Park n' hucks, park n' plays, aborted runs, etc are all counted. I ask whether I paddled in the river. If yes, it goes on the list.
  • Different forks of the same river count separately. Different runs on the same fork do not count. So Hagen creek, which is a run that starts on Hagen creek and flows into the NF Washougal, gets two entries, but Shoshone and the Grand Canyon are both on the Colorado river, so there is only one entry there.

    Leif's list:
    fourmile creek
    black gore creek (fish ladders)
    homestake creek
    eagle source
    platte, south (denver town)
    platte, whatever fork waterton is
    platte, whatever fork cheeseman is
    crystal, nf
    crystal, sf
    roaring fork
    lake creek of ark
    clear Creek
    clear creek, wf
    ten mile creek
    San Juan
    Joe wright cr.
    Slater cr.
    willow creek
    mad cr.
    San Miguel
    mwave ditch
    bear cr.
    south boulder cr. (ELDO)
    st. vrain, south
    st. vrain, main
    big Thompson
    creek near paonia
    upper east
    oh be joyful
    ice lake creek
    south mineral cr.
    lime cr.
    payette, nf
    payette, main
    salmon, main
    salmon, south
    salmon, little
    fall river (cave falls)
    henrys fork (lower mesa)
    whatever river the Alberton gorge and Brennan's wave are on: clark fork?
    santiam, nf
    opal creek
    sweet creek
    lake creek
    hood, wf
    grande rhonde
    white river (celestial)
    eagle creek
    Washington:little white salmon
    white salmon
    mill creek
    washougal, nf
    washougal, sf
    hagen creek
    stebbins creek
    Lewis, EF
    Lewis, nf? (Lewis falls section)
    canyon Creek of the Lewis
    icicle creek
    stillaguamish, sf (robe)
    nooksack, nf
    californiasmith, nf
    smith, middle fork
    swift creek
    willow creek
    mad river
    van dusen
    trinity, middle
    trinity, sf
    trinity, ef
    salmon, main
    salmon, sf
    salmon, nf
    steinacher creek
    wolley creek
    bridge creek
    eel, sf
    rattlesnake creek
    yuba (gap, summit)
    yuba, sf (49 to bridgeport)
    feather, mf
    feather, nb mf
    feather, nf
    pauley creek
    lavezzola creek
    crapo creek
    bear creek
    kern river
    american, main
    american, sf
    brandy creek
    upper middle cosumnes
    deer creek
    carson, ef
    stanislaus (big trees section)
    stanislaus, other fork (candy rock to camp 9 run)
    that one creek with 4 rapids that nat and I did alone when she was a beginner
    that other river where I T-rescued nat above a big drop when she was a beginner
    south silver creek
    indian creek
    new river
    east coast:green
    triple falls river (some river)
    french broad
    arizona:poland creek
    taos (box)
    gros ventre
    grays creek
    small backyard trib to snake
    bitch creek
    platte, north (fremont and casper park)
    box elder creek
    new yorkblack (hole bros)
    filobobos (pimiento)
    chiapas:agua azul
    lynn creek
    AB:hay river
    NWTtrout river (sambaa deh)
    st. lawerence
    whatever creek the GS was on
    gol gol