Surfing a Sea Kayak – Tips and Tricks

Even the smallest wave can look intimidating from the seat of your kayak and it takes some time before you feel comfortable and confident to know what size you can manage. The key is having a good grounding in the skills you need to stay safe and feel in control and that doesn’t always come easy in a 6 metre long floating missile!

You can break down the techniques you need into five different elements. 1. Launching 2. Positioning 3. Take off 4. Control on the wave 5. Landing

In this article I am going to focus mostly on 3. and 4.

Firstly Take off. This will make or break the ride you can achieve. The idea is to try and match power with power. In that, I mean you want to match the speed you are going with the speed of the wave as it connects with your kayak. If you are going to slow you will just fall off the back or get twisted sideways. If you are going to fast you will outrun the wave and end up just paddling to shore or again spun sideways as the white wash catches up to you. You want to be moving just fast enough so that when the wave rolls under your kayak you can put in those couple of extra strokes to then glide effortlessly along with the wave before it breaks.

Secondly and most critically is Control on the wave. With a sea kayak you can be a lethal weapon in the surf. Being so long and potentially moving very fast you have to be extremely careful about where you are and where others are in the line up and wear a helmet! The main technical skills you need to acquire when surfing is how to edge your kayak. This is using your body to control the lean of the kayak. Then there is bracing. This using your body position and paddle to maintain stability and prevent a capsize. Next is stern rudder. This is using your paddle as a tiller to try and keep the kayak straight on the wave, switching from the left to right side to make adjustments as you glide along the wave. Eventually you will end up sideways and knowing when to move from a stern rudder to a low brace turn is critical to finishing the ride with grace and your dignity intact!

To learn more about these techniques get in touch with me at tracemystepscontact@gmail.com to have a chat about private lessons or just a conversation on refining your technique.

Mountain of the Spirit – Nepal and Mt Manaslu

Slowly they came into view as we descended into Kathmandu airport. Rising so powerfully into the sky, the scale of the Himalaya defines magnificent. For myself and my husband John it was our first time to Nepal and we had chosen our trekking route based on a couple of things. The Everest region seems to be so busy these days and we wanted a quieter, more authentic experience. The Manaslu Circuit Trek promised a one way route with more gradual acclimatisation and a wonderful variety in landscapes, culture and challenging terrain. Our friends Richard and Dave, both veterans of Nepal, had not trekked in the Manaslu / Annapurna area before so we were all excited for the new journey that lay ahead.

Amazing rooftop views from Hotel Yambu

My first impressions of Kathmandu can be summed up in two words. “Organised Chaos”. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to how the place works yet somehow it does. You just have to be prepared to “go with the flow”. John described the Traffic as feeling like a real life game of Mario Kart…. Lanes, what lanes! … and the horn … this seems to be used as a warning to the person in front to “remain where you are as I am about to pass and if you move I will kill you”! …. And crossing the street … the strategy needed was just like that in Frogger.

Hotel Yambu was our sanctuary. A quiet little Hotel just off the main Thamel shopping area, it felt like home straight away with the warmest of welcomes from owner Raj and our trekking Guide Dibash. The rooftop area was a great place to do some trip planning or reading a book to relax with views over the city to the hills all around. We took all the usual precautions with filtering our water and eating sensibly as not to get sick and we seemed to end up at the Kathmandu Steak House for dinner and Roadhouse for lunch a lot! 

If you need outdoor gear you can pick up just about everything in Thamel but you do need to be wary if you are looking for Gortex to make sure it is quality. We had most of the important stuff from home and then bought things like maps, trekking poles, crampons and a fleece jacket really cheap from a store recommended by Raj as they sold good gear and weren’t in your face trying to haggle every dollar. If you are a good haggler you will enjoy the shopping experience in Thamel but it wasn’t our thing.

Monkey Temple

After a day of sightseeing we were ready to head off into the mountains. A 7 hour Jeep ride on some of the roughest, most landslide effected roads imaginable took us to the trail head at Soti Khola which is 730 metres above sea level. The pollution is confronting and the road dust intense so make sure to bring a buff to cover your face and plenty of water for the trip. 

Rich covering up in the jeep ….
Dave’s ability to sleep on these ridiculously rough roads was astonishing!

Our trek was tea house based which meant we would stay overnight at a village in lodge style accommodation and stop for morning tea and lunch on the trail at the village tea houses as well. The villages are nicely staged apart so this meant walking for 2-3hour stints before reaching somewhere for food and top up of water. The Manaslu Circuit trek follows the Budhi Gandarki River for the first 10 days passing Mt Manaslu which means “Mountain of the Spirit” and is the 8th highest mountain in the world at 8163 metres.

Mt Manaslu

You can take a day side trip to the base camp which is 4400 metres or just enjoy the uninterrupted views from the stunning Birendra Lake at 3450 metres. You can also extend your trip with an out and back journey into the remote Tsum Valley. The tea houses are further apart in this region so plan to carry extra supplies during the day if you take this side trip. 

One of the many Chortens on the trail

After Samdo the trek then turns to traverse past several amazing high mountain peaks, blue lakes and glaciers. Our goal was to get up and over the high point of Larke Pass at 5163metres. From here it is down, down, down and more down following the Durdh Kola river flow from the glaciers as you lose altitude quickly back to Dharapani where yet another exhilarating (for all the wrong reasons) 8 hour Jeep ride back to Kathmandu awaits.

Jungle valleys and wild marijuana aplenty

This trek was absolutely mind blowing. From the hot jungle valleys, to the mountain plateaus and fields, to the chilly high snowy peaks and glaciers that you traversed your way through you got to see so much of what makes the Himalaya special in the one trip, with the added bonus of never walking the same piece of trail twice!. There were working temples, chortens, prayer wheels and long ancient mani walls as the land changed from Hindu to Buddhist influence.

The long Mani Walls … Walking with the wall on your right was custom and spinning the pray wheels with your right hand whilst reciting Om Mani Padme hum 3 times was good Karma

We even took part in our own puja ceremony burning juniper to bless our journey up and over the Larke Pass. So many magic moments with our guides and porters too. We had the most wonderful lads help us with all the organising. Everything from where we would stay, how we ordered dinner, trip planning and breaking down the language barriers between our cultures was facilitated by our Nepalese team….. even showing us the occasional special shortcut ;-). They were honest and hard working and we respected their dedication and treasured their laughter and friendship on the trail. The trek can not be done without a Guide and there are many resources and companies out there to help you find your team. We used the experience of Beyond Base Camp treks and expeditions here in Australia and Raj at Hotel Yambu to plan our journey and logistics.

Lighting the Juniper in front of the Samagaon Gumba and Statue of Guru Rimpoche

The most incredible weather graced our travels which made the experience that much more enjoyable. We were there in October just after the monsoon had finished. Every day we woke to more “wow” moments as we followed the river framed by massive snow capped mountains. Its powerful flow and the suspension bridges we used to cross it all made for truly cinematic scenery.

Watch out for the bounce in the middle

The shot from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom always came to mind as I quickly made the crossings.

The pounding sound of the river made these crossings feel all the more sketchy

The people were so friendly, always with a gentle Namaste as we passed on the trail.

When the mule trains and yaks came down the path you always stood up hill. Once these guys were set in motion you wanted to be well out of the way.

Yaks relaxing in the field after a hard day carrying loads
Supplies only get into these mountains by Yak or by back

The tea houses ranged from quite comfortable to very very basic and it was nice we had brought our own Thermarest collapsable foam pillows and small roll up mattresses as the beds sometimes felt like concrete. We also took a pillow case that we would put over the pillow supplied to keep the hygiene factor in check.

Our favourite of the tea house accommodation…. this one in Namrung

Being organised and prepared with your gear is an important strategy to keeping the process of trekking day after day feeling easy. I will include a gear list at the end of this story to give you an idea of the things we included and how we packed them. You could buy some basic hiking items like socks and yak beanies as well as things like snickers bars, biscuits, sprite and beer along the way from some villages but the higher you went the more expensive it got.. including toilet paper .. We laughed at Dave who packed 6 rolls but it becomes like currency in the mountains!. 

Washing day in the village

Buying bottled water is also a huge problem. There is no capacity for rubbish removal from these high Himalayan areas so the plastic either ends up dumped in the river or attempted to be burned. We found our Grayl water filters not only eliminated the parasites and chemicals that could make you sick but also gave you beautifully tasting water no matter what the source. With all the preparation done there is still the unpredictability of how the altitude will effect you. We made sure we just walked slowly and stayed well hydrated. Especially once we were over 3000 metres, we kept a really easy pace up the steep climbs as to never really get overly out of breath.

Acclimatisation hike and one of many rest stops to adjust

We stopped for regular breaks and drank plenty which is easier if you have a camel back rather than a drink bottle. We usually topped up in the afternoon with some hydralite and lots of honey, lemon and ginger tea. I still woke at 3700 metres with a blinding headache and struggled with it most of that day as we walked higher. I started taking Diamox and after an afternoons rest was fit and ready to walk the next day but continued to take Diamox till we were over the high pass. This could have ruined my trip or worse case could have seen me evacuated by helicopter so it is a good idea to take this medication with you just in case.

On the way up to Larke Pass

Dharmashala is the last village before the Larke Pass. It is usual to arrive here around midday then do an acclimatisation walk and be up at 3am the next day to start the 9 hour trek over the pass. This place has an outpost feel and is the most basic of all the places you will stay. There is a mix of lodges and tents to accommodate the overflow.

Tent view at 4470 metre … I woke up at 1am with my heart rate at nearly 100bpm!

It sits at 4470 metres and you don’t want to be here for long. The day we walked up there from Samdo it was snowing and I think I had on everything I owned!.

It was special to have a snowy day on the trail as well

It is an exposed place with very simple kitchen and toilet set up. You want to hope you don’t get altitude sickness here or have to stay an extra day due to bad weather. Having said that Dharmashala is actually the place that I hold my most vivid memory of the trip. Waking up to bright moon lit snowy peaks and walking silently by head light is an experience that will stay in my minds eye forever.

The team happy to get to the top of the pass after a 3am start … Thanks for bringing the Tim Tams Rich!

I loved every second of this journey and wasn’t ready for it to end as our days drew to a close. There is something so calming about keeping it basic. No phone reception, no distractions. Getting up, putting your pack on your back and walking is a simplicity that is good for the soul.

Birendra lake views

Breathing in the epic landscape and the local way of life through your own slowed pace makes you feel humbled and enriched all at the same time. I felt immersed and connected to the place and the people I shared the experience with. I felt really present and in that moment there was a stillness in my mind and an openness of my heart that I often reflect back on.

The House of MoMos Team left to right …. John, me, Santa, Bikal, Rich, Dave, Binod, Dibash

Thank you Nepal and to our wonderful crew … it was a true adventure!

Life In Transit….

I guess when you really think about it we are all just living a life in transit, even if we don’t really venture further than our own backyards and as I get older I do find myself contemplating more often what it all means.
As I walk slowly through the airport I am fascinated by watching people as they pass this way and that. I ponder… Where are they going? Where have they been? What are the personal stories that make them unique. I begin to feel doubt, lonely, small, almost insignificant in the vastness of lives moving around me to all corners of the globe. I am here waiting to meet a group of Ladies for a week long trip to Ningaloo Reef. We are all strangers coming together with the same love of the outdoors, a wish for fun, adventure and to make new friends.
 As I wait I look around at the weird world I’m sitting in…. The collection of shops that exist here, the flight lounges, the perfumes, and the amount of coffee choices!. Our group finally unites over a beer and we exchange meet and greet pleasantries feeling each other out as newly formed traveling companions. 
I watch as people around us also prepare themselves for travel too.. Get that bottle of water, snacks, a magazine they probably won’t read, a book, a neck pillow, that last minute fridge magnet or toothbrush! …… …. Our group hears an announcement that our flight is delayed and we are a bit bummed but continue our chats getting to know each other’s “why we are here” stories…. I begin to relax as everyone seems so warm, open and inclusive.
We move to the departure gate now and I watch the planes move and other people engage with their traveling companions, the teary farewells, the laughter and happy greetings, the business conversations
and I watch so many people engaged, or should I say engrossed with their devices. It is so refreshing with my new adventure companions that we are invested already in each other and are only using our phones to show pictures of home, family or to illustrate other travel stories.
Another announcement is made for a further delay to our flight due to no crew being available to fly the plane…. Instead of getting upset our group starts to make jokes about Qantas, the delay excuses and which one of us will fly the plane and I can feel us coming together. I heard a story recently of a man stuck in an airport transit area because of a visa issue and not wanting to return home for fear of violence in his own country…
I can’t imagine what that would be like to be stuck, separated, in a ground hog day style existence in this unreal airport world unable to leave.
Our flight delays continue several more times until finally we are told we will not be leaving today. Never before have I felt such a strong connection with people after such a short time but the circumstances we found ourselves in really made people’s personalities shine. There was a wonderful support for one another to keep group spirits  up and genuine interest in each other’s lives all compressed into an afternoon of waiting together.
As I went to sleep that night not having arrived to start our trip, instead of feeling disappointed I began to feel a tingling in my stomach rise. Spending time in transit with this amazing group of ladies had turned my feelings of insecurity into feelings of excitement at my opportunities for change, future, adventure, exploration and the wonderful chances we have to meet new people and see new places and make our world bigger, to embrace the changing transient nature of our lives and make it a journey of passion and purpose. That week our adventure in Ningaloo was made all the more richer as a result.

Chair Lift Stories

I was going to call this blog “Don’t be afraid to go Solo” but when thinking through the story I wanted to tell, it became less about me and more about the people I met. As the snow is falling again and the ski season opening weekend is upon us I was thinking about my trip last year and how rewarding it turned out to be as a solo traveller.

You see I was desperate to go down …. The best snow dump of the season had just happened, it was mid week with no crowds and the weather forecast was perfect for the next four days…. Trouble was I had the time and the mountains were calling but no mates could join me, too busy, too much work on, not enough spare cash and I know what that’s like too…. But I really didn’t want to miss this.

So should I go it alone?

I debated it, my husband said just go, I had some friends to catch up with one night down there for dinner but would it be as much fun skiing and hanging out on the mountain alone?

Oh well, what the hell … I love a road trip regardless…. So I booked my tickets and accommodation and off I went…. And I’m so glad I did….

This is me

Being on your own on the hill opens you up to so many chance conversations and wonderful stranger interactions…. I never expected to enjoy that as much as I did and it is amazing what people will tell you on a chair lift ride to the top! Relationship breakups, future career plans, personal aspirations and struggles, travel stories and strangely people and places in common. On one T-Bar ride I chatted to a women who, like me was starting to build a new home and we exchanged wonderful design ideas. Another fellow I shared a double chair with was just going through a messy divorce after an affair and we chatted about love lost and life perspectives when dealing with major change.

Shadows of strangers

In between lifts I had the chance to ski to the outer reaches of the resort and just sit in the quiet crisp stillness of the white landscape and take it all in, appreciating with every breath how lucky I was to be there, how magnificent our planet really is and how important it is to have these mini adventures.

First Tracks

Back to the lifts I rode the T-Bars with kids in ski school and had funny conversations about what they wanted to be when they grow up and exchanged silly jokes. With the wonders of modern technology I even had the chance to facetime my parents who have never seen snow let alone skied and I gave them a 360 degree view from the top of Mount Perisher. On one quad chair I shared in the stories of three long time friends whose connection made me contemplate the value of my own and how lucky I was to have the people I have in my inner circle. I kept skiing the same runs and riding the same chairs with this group over and over again around the mountain and I was invited to have a drink that afternoon at sundown.

Warm rewards and chance conversation

I had the best four days, going back to my accommodation exhausted and exhilarated every night. The fact that I was travelling solo I think actually allowed me to be more open to these chance experiences with strangers that resulted in making me feel more connected to something bigger than me.

Cheers

Tracy G

 

Greenland and the mystery of the Ice

As I begin to write this Blog about our Sea Kayaking Trip to Southwest Greenland, already I am struggling to find the words to properly describe what we saw and the sense of peace you get from being totally immersed in that powerful, raw and beautiful landscape without seeing another person outside our small team for weeks.

Tracy, John and Frank … The Three Amigo’s ready for a few weeks “out”

Flying across the Greenland Icecap and seeing the Fjords and Glaciers from the air it was a quick transition from the airport by Zodiac to our remote town start point of Narsaq. This small and friendly community of approx. 1500 people was a wonderful change of pace and we spent the first evening excitedly getting gear packed into dry bags. We were also excited to find out that a new Pub had opened in town called Inuuksuuk. Run by brothers from Iceland and their talented Colorado barman Jerome, they brew their own beer with the label Qajaq, so we looked forward to returning to celebrate there.

Narsaq – Southwest Greenland

We were fortunate to have fantastic weather for most of the trip, only getting tent bound for one day as heavy rain and fog would have made paddling cold and uncomfortable. As we really only had our own schedule and paddling distances to make up as we went we just worked with the elements to give us the best chance to really make the most of enjoying the area.

Unbelievable waterline perspective.

So many shapes and colours – The ice was mesmerising

Frank enjoying photographic paradise

The head of the Gletcher Glacier in Qalerallit Imaa Fjord

The rain in fact was a gift as once the sun returned so many new icebergs had fallen from the Glacier heads and filled the Fjords with waterfalls. In fact it was one of my favourite days paddling seeing all the changes in the landscape and we relished many big days on the water when the sun was shining and the light on the ice was perfect.

John dwarfed by fresh waterfalls

Intense colour returns after the rain

The wildlife was incredible also as we were followed by a pair of Humpbacks for several days, even sharing one of our campsites with these wonderful creatures. As they swam around all night in our bay we could hear their comforting blows as they breathed on the surface. Seals were common company and every day presented some great hiking opportunities to climb the surrounding mountains providing us with amazing views especially at sunrise and sunset. Quite a few times we even stumbled upon groups of Caribou as we quietly explored around our campsites.

Always a sucker for a sunset tent shot

Graceful Humpbacks make great paddling companions

Two red tents and the kayaks on the waters edge – what a view from the top – we are headed for the glacier in the distance

The Caribou were a wonderful surprise on our Hikes

The thing I find with all these extended trips for me is that the longer I am “out” the longer I want to stay “out” and just keep paddling. The simplicity of waking to check the weather and the map and choose your next campsite, the fun conversation whilst paddling, cooking and eating are all things that I will cherish forever from this adventure just as much as the stunning beauty and sense of freedom that the paddling itself allowed us to experience.

Sneaking through the ice flow was challenging at times as the ice moves in quickly and big cracks and explosions can be heard as the big ones break up.

John holding “ancient water” in his hands

Soup breaks were always a welcome treat and this one at the bottom of the Glacier was particular nice to warm up with on a very chilly day

Amazing contrasts as the Kilometres flew by

Another gorgeous camping spot and of course accompanying sunset

One word ….. Solitude

John passing quickly and quietly past one of the “big” ones … shhh don’t wake it up

Frank and myself cruising across the Fjord solving the worlds problems 😉

Frank in front of a “new” ice … freshly fallen off the glacier these bergs have the brightest and clearest blues

Heading home through an ocean slushy

The promised reward …. A “Kayak” Beer to Celebrate

A special thanks to local Guides Cesar and Daniella for looking after us with logistics, for being such great fun people and sharing their wonderful knowledge of this unforgettable area and of course a massive “you’re awesome” to my paddling amigos John and Frank for making this trip something so special … memories to cherish forever ….. I have been truly touched by this landscape and there are so many options here for kayaking that I have a feeling this won’t be my last trip to the North 😉

Sardinia by Sea

My trip to Sardinia was everything I had imagined and so much more. The variety in the landscape and coastline, the warm and friendly people and the amazing produce of the island (if you are a meat and cheese fan you are in heaven) were such a treat for the senses, not to mention coming from an Aussie winter, the temperature and climate was fantastic!!

The Team (Tracy, Frank, Anette, John) ready to launch near Arbatax

While we made time to venture inland to the enormous grottos and historical ruins in the mountains as well, we mostly escaped the crowds by staying off the beaten path and out of major city areas as much as possible and we focussed on exploring some of the east coasts most stunning cliff lined areas.

There are so many small beaches, rock gardens and caves to explore we generally only planned shorter distances each day to paddle as there was so much scenery to enjoy and play around.

The amazing Sardinian cliff line surrounded by national park (Pedra Longa a prominent feature in the background)

The extent of the cave systems along this coast was incredible. So big and deep and the water colour and clarity was just unreal.

This blog could be filled with just cave photos!

Our campsites were low key and we even had the chance for a fire one evening to eat dinner by. The sunrises were pretty spectacular too.

So many contrasting colours and the ocean was like glass

Views, views and more views

Tracy doing a little Cliff / Kayak Camouflage

A passing boat supplying ice creams to hot paddlers

We had organised a one way trip for ourselves with local sea kayaker Francesco offering a shuttle service and showing us his favourite little “locals” bar for some awesome antipasti on the drive back down the coast to our car. A truly amazing journey, great company and what better way to finish it off than with a celebratory Sardinian wine… Salute!

Trace My Steps Begins

I turned a passion into a profession over 17 years ago becoming a full time Sea Kayak Instructor and now it is time to turn that profession back into a passion just for the love of the sport and the natural environment. I invite you to share in my stories and adventures through my Blog “Trace my Steps”. It will be about Paddling, Surfing, Hiking, Mountain Bike Riding and all things I am passionate about …. Which right now is building my house! …….. I hope to inspire you to get outdoors,  enjoy the simple things in life and create your own adventures ….. plus share in my experiences along the way.

Tracy Gibson