Friday, September 24, 2010

Shippagan Report

Cheryl and I packed up the boys and drove the 13hrs out to Shippagan, New Brunswick for a two week fall vacation. Really, we didn't have much idea of what to expect other than two things: i) windy and ii) with a kite school for Cheryl to get some instruction. Shippagan is well known in the kiting and windsurfing communities as a place that gets decent winds and has huge variety in terms of sailing/kiting spots and directions, some areas even like Hatteras, with large expanses of shallow water.

First off, 'kiting'? What am I thinking... Well, it really has little to do with me and all to do with family! Cheryl is keen therefore I am keen for her to be keen. Make any sense? Well, for anyone with a non-windsurfing or non-kiting spouse who drags your family to windy spots - well, that can go well for some and not so well for others. I'd say we are about 50/50, but, her interest in kiting could change everything. To sum it up, I would happily trade water time with Cheryl to have our vacation priorities in alignment. Yes, this could work.

Anyway, the vacation started off on a very windy note! So windy in fact, with Hurricane Earl remnants passing through the whole area at large, that we delayed our departure to Sunday, and I joined the 100 or so others who were feasting on the waves of Sandbanks Provincial Park. Well worth it, but with my current level of condition (rock bottom), I destroyed myself and needed a few days off to recover from a two-ankle tweaker, huge charlie-horse and hands full of blisters. This was good for Cheryl though, as she could easily head off to Club Wind and Kite and get her lessons started without me competing for time! And she did!

Shippagan is a very interesting place - beautiful in many regards, but also challenging in some. One thing we take for granted around here is the lack of tides. There is only about 2ft of tidal range in Shippagan, but where we were staying, it has a big influence on conditions, and whether or not you can actually go out or not (moreso for a windsurfer for sure). Coming from Kingston, where chop is king, what amounted to glassy flat water just out front of our beach house was awesome! For freestyle, my god, everything just gets so much easier!! I never caught the wave conditions quite right there, but was blissfully in heaven anyway in the flat water. There are tons of places to sail, but for sure I was a little wary due to the tides and not 'knowing' the spots, you never know where there are rocks down below just under the surface. Thankfully, it was never a problem. Weeds are abundant and weedfins a must (see earlier posting on the Makani Nai'a)!

On the kiting front... let's just say this is daunting sport. I am more than happy to splurge on lessons for Cheryl and make sure she learns all the correct way to do things right from the start. Nothing but the best for the mother of our children. Me on the other hand... whatever... I'll figure it out somehow. I flew our 12m Ocean Rodeo Rise on the grassy area at Club Wind & Kite's 'Pool' spot, and certainly experienced some pretty scary moments, including one that dragged me across the grass. Thankfully the sacrificial skin on my lower legs was willing to impart some friction to the situation and keep me going further. Second time I tried was in the water, on a light wind afternoon. I figured I could just walk out with the kite, get it up and then fly it in the shallows. If I felt like it, I might even body drag myself around. Alas, the water was just deep enough that I rarely touched bottom, so basically I just got pulled along, my feet just scratching the surface of the muck below (it ain't sand!). Anyway, I had the kite flying for a while until the wind died, parked itself on the water, leading edge down, directly downwind, and there it sat and continued to drag me the 1km across the bay. Let me tell you that the committment level is very different than windsurfing. In windsurfing, you can always let go. In kiting, you are actually supposed to be attached and stay attached. Just the thought that you are at the whim of the wind and your abilities to control the kite is a new sensation for sure. Anyway, despite pretty dismal first outtings for moi, it is definitely intriguing and I'll give it some more go. Maybe in the winter on some fluffy white stuff.

So, what else does Shippagan have going for it? For sure the action had died off while we were there, probably after labour day the tourist population is on a rapid decline. There was simply not much going on. Not so bad for us (for lesser 'crowds' - as if there are any out there), but for the kids, it is a bit more problematic. Next time we go, no doubt we will tackle it in the late summer, when the kids are more likely to be able to swim, but also there will just be more alternative activities going on, like actually having a seal or two in the aquarium seal tank, and having farm animals at the Acadian Village. Those issues aside, still had lots of fun and easily filled our days. There are some beautiful walks/short hikes to do, like at a small 'Eco-Park' at Lemeque, and the Peat Bogs up at Miscou (huckleberries were in season!! YUM!), plus the Miscou Lighthouse itself. Don't forget to pick up some fresh lobster in Lemeque at the Poisonnerie.

For kiting, the place is really good. Eric Girard (see photo below) has done a great job setting up Club Wind and Kite to be a premier destination for kiteboarding and learning to kite. There are not many places like this, if any, in the rest of Canada! He has purchased a hook of land that handles a few different directions well and has some perfectly flat water for kiting, and learning to kite. We'd for sure recommend it, or Shippagan in general, for a neat vacation spot. Obviously though, we like to relax, and will take natural beauty over built-up tourist destinations any day of the week. If you like places like Hatteras for its quiet beauty, then you'll probably like Shippagan too.

I have not a single windsurf photo from this trip.... Yes, thumbs down for that. Sorry.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Makani Nai'a Fin Review

It happened first in Hatteras this spring, and like a dumb-ass, it took me a while to figure it out. I was struggling and struggling to stay upwind with a nice stock 18cm MFC Freestyle Pro UL that came with my Goya X1. At first I was chalking it up to my abilities, and no question that is undoubtedly part of it, but what was happening was that the fin was snagging the odd strand of sea grass. Not a huge wad, but just enough, maybe 5 or 10 strands to get the drag going so I was pushing hard to get and stay planing, and having a really hard time making ANY upwind progress. For a freestyler, that is a bitch - there are only so many tricks you can try before you know it, your beach house is way in the distance. I had no weed fin there in Hatteras with me, so I was stuck dealing with it.

Prior to our trip to Shippagan, I had read a comment somewhere about weeds and wanted to be prepared. I had also heard about the emergence of a new fin company out of Quebec, called Makani Fins. At first, I have to admit that I found the use of Hawaii'an names and graphics for a Canadian fin manufacturer a bit weird. Whatever... In the end, it's all about the product anyway!

I was keen to support an upstart Canadian company so I thought I would give their 18cm Nai'a fin (a weed-shaped Freestyle fin) a go for Shippagan. I bought a powerbox for my 2010 Goya X1 105. My sails are '10 Goya Eclipses (5.3 and 4.7) and Gurus (4.2 and 3.7). I got to ride the board/fin combo with the 5.3, 4.7 and 4.2 while there, in a variety of conditions, but most flat-water. When I sail, I basically try tricks on every tack, a variety of vulcans, spocks, 540's, grubbies and swayze attempts (yes, I will still call them swayzes, as I think Web Pedrick deserves the recognition for inventing this awesome & frustrating move - how did 'flaka' ever stick?).

The verdict: It was great! In what way? Well, two things mainly. First of all, the fin just worked well for all those sail sizes in all the conditions I sailed, from dead flat to chop. Second of all, and perhaps the biggest compliment, is that it never felt significantly different than any other non-weed freestyle fin I've used. Given that the MFC Freestyle Pro is probably as close as you can get to an industry standard (hard to say there is really a 'standard' since FS fins in general are so massively diverse in shape and size), I think that is a substantial accomplishment for Makani fins. I would say maybe, just maybe, I could have used a 16cm here and there (due to a bit of resistance to sliding backwards), but I was overall very pleased with the 18cm. Kudos to Makani Fins for producing a winner in my books!

Please note, I don't sail nearly enough to be considered remotely an expert on the subject matter, or even close. All I can say with confidence is the 18cm Nai'a fin clearly worked well for me, shed the weeds like it should (I never had ANY accumulate), and let me do my business without feeling any weirdness under the board. It's a great fin at a great price ($99). If you ever freestyle anywhere weedy, buy one!

Poles and Teabags

Well, not sure what good this post will do me, but here it goes.

The summer has been pretty lame for wind. From my perspective anyway. It's pretty clear from my last couple of posts that I have clearly put myself in this position by semi-refusing to go >5.3. First I'll explain why.

In New Zealand, there was so much wind and so frequent, that I downsized my 5.7/5.0/4.5/3.7 quiver down to 5.0 and down. Yep, sold off that huge 5.7. After all that 4.5 sailing, the 5.7 started to feel real heavy and cumbersome - and there was plenty of 5.0 and down, so it seemed useless. We returned to Canada about 3 years ago now and at the time, I restocked a new quiver of 6.2 and down. Also at the time, I'd say I was in the best sailing condition of my life, and a decent level of fitness and weight. Somehow, while friends were out on 6.0's, I generally could make the 5.3 work well enough with my 105. For some reason, I never felt I could get much more out of that 6.2, and never felt I could match the fun I was having with the 5.3, even if it was sporadic planing with the odd trick thrown in. So, I ditched the 6.2... and have been a sailor with 5.3/105 as my big combo since.

Unfortunately, it has been a lengthy 3 years since returning from NZ, I'm 20lbs heavier and with way less action on the water. I'd say now, I am in probably my worst sailing conditioning of all time, with seemingly less wind each summer, less time on the water and more donuts. I think this info is somewhat misleading though - cuz, in fact, we have had a reasonable number of 15-17kt days - probably sufficient to get me going with a 6.0 semi-regularly. Unfortunately, I don't own one. Finally I am beginning to see the light...

So what's my problem? Well, several: i) Stubborn-ness to get a big sail again & ii) pure laziness for not dropping the 20lbs. Pure and simple. Then there is iii) family life. My kids are at such an awesome age right now that heading home to have a lightsaber battle or build them some star destroyers out of lego is actually pretty damn fun. Regardless, I still love windsurfing and still pine over it every day. So why not buy a 6.0 and go already?

Here comes the pickle. My wife has yet to demonstrate a whole lot of interest in windsurfing. She has sailed a couple of times and we haven't managed to get that stoke factor going (and I am partly to blame). Add to that the lack of a windsurf-based social scene here in Kingston, and it just doesn't turn her crank. Enter kiteboarding. Yes, I said it. Kiteboarding. She played with a kite a number of years back while living in Venezuela and kinda liked it. Tack onto that a number of fellow Kingston Ultimate frisbee players into kiting, and throw in a reasonably thriving social environment with some other like-minded females to boot, and she is keen.

My options: Spend the sparse $ on a 6.0 and don't get into kiting. Or, ditch that idea and let lighter-wind kiteboarding fill that 15kt range. Ideally, I would do both. Alas, the cash flow is at an all time low as well, so the reality is, the choice is one or the other, for now. (As a sidebar - check out this recent posting that was cruising around Facebook: "Who Needs Money when you can go Windsurfing!")

So, kiting it is... We bought a used 12m 2010 Ocean Rodeo Rise, a couple of harnesses and a wetsuit for Cheryl, and off we go. A local kiteboarder named Stan Woodman was Über-generous and supportive of helping us get into the sport and is lending us one of his own Windego 138cm kiteboards to start learning on, suggesting that perhaps saving some coin on a board initially could help us get going. And he was right! Thanks Stan! On top of that, Brian Taguchi, part owner of Kiteboarding Kingston also helped us out a bit with a trainer and some words of wisdom.

So, how does this feel? Honestly, it feels wierd. I feel like a traitor. ;)

One thing I know: if Cheryl gets hooked, or at least semi-keen on kiteboarding, it will certainly help with aligning our vacation priorities and maybe in the near future, she will understand why I never get all that excited about a holiday, unless we are heading somewhere windy. Certainly at the moment, I can say with certainty that when I look at kite videos, and when I look at kite magazines, the stoke factor just ain't quite there like windsurfing. It will definitely be interesting to see how this all evolves and unfolds for the Fischer family.

This changes nothing for the kiddies! I am still committed to buying us a big fat beginner board next year!!!! The question becomes, which home renovation or car upkeep project is going to get put off to fund that?!

As an update (I started writing this weeks ago, but never posted it), we just returned from two weeks in Shippagan. My next post will be a report on that trip and how the kitekooking thing is progressing.

Earl Delivers

Sorry for the late report, but Hurricane Earl did some great things around here. By delaying our departure to Shippagan for a day, I was able to join the mass insurgence of Sandbanks Provincial Park. The drool was flowing, its not often we get strong winds in the late summer when the water and air is still warm!! Sweet!

My buddy Ilan had rented a cottage up on MacDonald's Lane, just about 250m or so upwind of Mac's launch. It was sweet! Talk about an awesome set up with a cottage for warmth, easy parking, private launch...! Anyway, he invited a number of his friends to sail out of there as well and we all had a great time! The winds came on Saturday, a bit lighter 25kts or so early, but by the time I showed up around 11:30 or so it was reasonable 3.7 and building and the waves were doing their thing, peeling gently around West Point and shoaling up on the shallow limestone shelf of the beach.

I saw some awesome sailing out there by lots of the guys! Maui-based pro sailor Patrick Bergeron dropped by to show us all how it is done, demonstrating full height on a number of perfect pushloops and backloops. Then there was the rest of us mere mortals, still able to get some airtime, throw some loopage and hit some lips. Now I wish I could remember everyone's names, but I can't - I met a lot of the new faces. Alas, I did witness some great riding from Ilan, JFLemay, Jacques and Pierre, Hugues and a handful of others. In fact, I think the nicest ride of the day that I saw was by Hugues, apparently sailing for the first time this year following a knee injury! I saw him accurately time and hit three sweet cutbacks on a single head high wave... and then keep going. Well done!

All in all, I'd say it was an awesome day and worth delaying our trip. I did batter myself quite a bit, not very well conditioned these days with my nice little pot-belly and stiff joints. I attempted a few more pushloops on starboard which feel very odd, and a backloop and small forward here and there for good measure. I had a few nice rides, but more often than not I was just not lining up the right waves to get more than 2-3 turns at most. Regardless, an awesome time! Sandbanks rocks. THIS is why I windsurf. The adrenaline and stoke I get from these conditions is unbeatable.

Thanks to the Montreal crew for inviting me to join them and sharing the stoke!

Ilan's report and link to his photoset on his blog here: WindandBigWaves

Friday, September 03, 2010


Hurricane Season can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Many of those things are bad, many of those things have nothing to do with Ontario. On the odd occasion though, a nice once blasts up the eastern seaboard and delivers some leftovers to the Great Lakes. Earl may be one of those.

Lots of chitter on all the local forums - let's see if Earl delivers what we all need - a first good nuker of 2010 (for this area anyway).

I've seen a ton of postings from OBX Bill and wish them all the best in hunkering down!