Thursday, 28 March 2013

Big Dog Ad

The latest copy of Canoe And Kayak UK magazine contains this very fetching ad for Big Dog whitewater kayaks, using a photo I shot of Josh Gosling on the Egua river in Italy.

I was really pleased with the degree of freeze on the exploding water droplets here, and the colourful feel considering the amount of black gear in the shot.

The tough part of getting these kind of shots is just being there. It's not usually practical to hike in so you have to paddle Class 4-5 with a heavy waterproof Pelicase between your legs, then somehow keep the kit dry when shooting. There's a lot of clambering in and out of the boat in sketchy eddies and it's pretty tiring, but the reward is in the results.

Thanks to Big Dog kayaks, Kober paddles and Nookie softwear for keeping me afloat, and Lowepro bags for stopping my cameras getting granite rash, even when I do!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Haynes Manual Launch

The Haynes Kayaking Manual is released today, and apparently a copy is winging its way to me on a Fedex truck. I hope Fedex have my phone number, because otherwise this isn't going to work out at all. Unless Fedex now use snowmobiles, which I doubt.
Anyway, this project that I started almost exactly a year ago today has, it would seem, finally come to something like fruition and I must admit I'm more than a little excited. The spreads all look good as pdf's on my screen, but there's nothing quite like having actual bound paper pages in one's hands.
The book is available from all the usual book shops, kayak shops, and Amazon as well as Haynes themselves.  Please note that Amazon says pre-order for release date April 4th, but the books are shipping right now, so I expect that to be updated at any time.
I hope this thing's going to be inspiring and useful for anyone wanting to learn about kayaking, but also a tome that can have pride of place in any experienced kayaker's bookshelf. It is a Haynes Manual, after all. And that's kind of special. It's also packed with amazing photos and contributions from some of the best and most ground-breaking kayakers in the world, and it's written in the same random and completely irreverent style as my earlier book, Kayak Surfing, the book that educator and adventurer Debra Searle MBE  was kind enough to describe as "the best instructional book ever written on any sport (all books should be written this way)". But then she did contribute the forward (which is very good), so she might be a teeny bit biased.

So, I hope you're going to enjoy my new book. I did enjoy writing it, apart from a few stressy, low blood-sugar moments mostly concerning photo rights. But don't worry, it's full of THE best photos, and if you get around to reading the words, they're kinda fun too! And did I mention it's a Haynes Manual?

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Surf kayak testing

I'm always excited and flattered to be asked to try out a new prototype. In retrospect, there's nothing I'd have liked better than to have been a test pilot, or a test driver for F1 cars, or milk floats for that matter. It's not about speed, or bling. More that it combines my need for motion with my penchant for being methodical, analytical to the point of madness. Counting the paving slabs, cat's eyes, that kind of thing.

Peter Holgate has made a surf kayak. He started with a Mega Neutron, but made a new mould, and has changed it in several important details. The finish and outfitting, too, are all new.

I have to say from the outset that while plastic is a very suitable material for kiddies' buckets and spades, I'm generally speaking underwhelmed by plastic at the beach. Plastic boats in general frustrate me, mainly because of their weight. By the time I've carried them from the garage to the car I've gone off the whole idea of paddling them. I put up with it in kayaks for extreme white water, because of the safety and resilience that plastic can offer. Otherwise, forget it. Surf kayaks, in particular, seem to have no excuse for being plastic. Plastic is heavy, plastic is slow, plastic never seems to stay flat on the bottom of the hull. The only benefit it ever seemed to offer was its relative cheapness. But why not buy a second hand fibreglass boat for the same price as a new plastic one? As a politically incorrect Cornish armchair god of the surf kayaking community once said to me: "Class in glass, ******* in plastic!" (I'll leave you to guess. It rhymes...)

Until today, though. This Venom kayak looks nothing like a plastic kayak, apart from where the plastic has been trimmed around the cockpit rim. It feels nothing like a plastic kayak. It's hard and shiny and when I pick it up. OK, it's not like the one-fingered lift of my pro spec carbon-kevlar boat, but it's an easy one handed lift and carry. But it's when it hits the water that astonishment truly sets in.
Chris Hobson © Chris Hobson
The surf isn't great, but it's just what we need. Using a little skill and cunning, I can paddle out without getting my head wet, which is important, because it's frickin freezing! The waves are big enough, however, to make steep and powerful shoulders that can test this kayak's charging ability, if it has such a thing. And it does. I paddle for a lump of a roller more out of impatience than any real hope, and the boat picks up and planes. Like, instantly. Feels more like a surfboard than a boat. Interesting. 
Normally what happens when you've caught a wave straight and too early, is that the boat settles down to the bottom of the wave and resists any attempts to make it dynamic, pivoting from the back as it squats into the wave. Not this one - it carves smoothly into a bottom turn with no squat, and I find myself back at the top so quickly I almost throw myself out of the boat in my rush to top turn before I surf straight off the back! Odd.
The boat just doesn't feel plastic. It feels... fluid. Intriguingly slippery, and with an acceleration/speed relationship that defies the basic laws of physics. Bit like a shortboard. This is nuts...
I am struggling, because I haven't outfitted the boat, I can't reach the footrests, and my fingers are in agony from the cold, but I can see that something has happened here. Maybe it's the additional length and width over the original Neutron, maybe it's the profile of the rails, maybe it's just the finish and the exact hardness of plastic. Probably a combination of all of these things. It's very good. Not just as an entry level boat, but for anyone but a pro, probably.
You'd be forgiven for thinking these are surfboards
Carrying it up the beach to photograph the detail shots, I notice again that it's not heavy. In fact it doesn't blow about in the wind like a composite boat, which is a good thing, today. I wonder if it's thin plastic, but that doesn't make sense, because there's no hint of "oil-canning", the curse of normal plastic boat hulls. And Peter tells me he's hit it repeatedly with a claw hammer, barely leaving a mark.
This is just the first test shell from Venom Kayaks. But I think I'm going to be seeing a lot more of them, somehow...
Cleanest rails I ever saw on a plastic boat

This foam back rest with logo imprint is a nice touch

The thigh grips are composite, and there's talk of carbon fibre outfittting as an upgrade

Pleasing overall shape and balance

It's all looking pretty sharp

So shiny you can see your face in it