Tag: Nigel Foster Silhouette

Sea Kayak Storm Paddling with Doug Van Doren on Lake Michigan

Sea Kayak Storm Paddling with Doug Van Doren on Lake Michigan

Sea Kayak Day Trip with Doug Van Doren-Lake Michigan



Waves were predicted to be 3-7 feet out of the Northwest. Wind was gusting to 30 knots. Doug Van Doren and I suited up at Dog Beach near South Haven. We paddled out through the breakers with some effort. Doug almost immediately started to lose his spare paddle on the back deck of his Betsie Bay Valkyrie. He got it secured and we started paddling into the wind.

We were paddling into steady gusts, but were somewhat sheltered from the wind in the troughs of sizeable swells. We tried to stay somewhat close together, but we were forced to shout even when only a few feet apart due to the wind. I was trying to get a few pictures snapped off and by the time I got my first picture off Doug and his kayak would disappear behind a swell. We chatted back and forth for a while, but as we got closer to the pier, we started talking about when to turn around.

The sky was bright blue. The water was a wonderful Homeric Mediterranean green. The scale of the waves and the winds was such that I had been focused on what I was doing, but I noted how calm I was. I think the three or four years of Surf Kayaking has mellowed my freak out about the wind and the waves. Some would say I am an adrenaline junkie and that if Force 7 winds don’t get your blood pumping you’re messed up, but I was enjoying myself and did not feel terrorized as much as very alert and engaged.

Certainly the Great Lakes and their storms are nothing to be trifled with. And if anything, anything, had gone wrong paddling almost a mile from shore in those conditions it could have been very tragic. But in the end that is life isn’t it?

After an hour of paddling into 20-30 knot winds we turned around. We immediately began flying with the wind. I was catching rides so easily that all I had to do was keep my boat pointed towards shore and take a few strokes and my Nigel Foster Silhouette would start to plane out. Doug and I started doing neck and neck pacing with each ride. After I stopped to take a picture Doug raced for nearly 100 yards on one ride. I didn’t catch up with him until we were looking at the impact zone on the beach. I picked a line and tried to do a diagonal run and successfully carved my way into the beach. Doug followed after and a steep breaker picked up his stern and and his bow plunged down deep into the water. The wave broke and Doug, Valkyrie and all cartwheeled end over end. He wisely pinned himself to his back deck and flattened his paddle to his side. I was unable to get my camera out in time to get a picture.

Doug surfed in to the beach. I continued to catch a couple of rides. I got one beautiful diagonal ride, and then got worked heavy on another where I caught a good ride, but then got window shaded pretty hard. I rolled up about three times before finally getting the kayak turned seaward. I tried breaking back out for about twenty minutes. I eventually decided to call it a day and surfed back to the beach.

There Doug and I were asked to the do the unthinkable, we were asked to help jet skiers. We helped two young guys carry a three hundred pound jet ski up the hill to a trailer. I think we may awaken at the next sea kayak symposium to find ourselves chained to a fence with our heads shaved.

Summer Surf Kayaking South Haven, Lake Michigan

Summer Surf Kayaking South Haven, Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan Surf Kayaking South Haven August 8th



As in many cases where kayak surfing is concerned. It is not a planned activity. It is a weather driven spontaneous event. When the leaves begin to rustle outside my window, and blades of grass begin to brush down from the breeze, I start scheming. Maybe some men have similar compulsions for Golf, I don’t know. I raced home on my bike from work, and ran inside to look at the lake cam. Steady lines of breakers had formed on both sides of the pier.

So I hurriedly explained to Laura (the wife). That I had to make a mad dash to the Lake. Some men might be smart and be deterred by a pouty look, or an icy silence. But when you have a sickness for kayak surfing like I do, these small facial expressions, or determined grave silences don’t even hit the radar. I loaded up both kayaks, the Nigel Foster Silhouette and the Mega Maverick and high-tailed it to the beach.

The fifty minute drive to South Haven South beach was rewarded with waves. The wind was pushing 3-5 footers straight out of the north. The waves that formed were gentle, slow moving, spillers about head high to maybe a little over head. I suited up quickly and walked through the parking lot. I accidentally nicked some guys rear view mirror with my surf kayak. He shouted from the window of his car, “hey expletive watch it”. I barely paused to apologize. I got down to the water and paddled out on relatively calm water.

Within 15 minutes I’d caught three beautiful carving rides. I spilled down from the lip, pulled a bottom turn, and was delighted to find, the wave had not closed out, so I headed back up wave and pulled a top turn to head back down wave before the wave closed out. For once it seemed as if I had all of the time in the world for diagonal runs, bottom turns, top turns. I caught several more rides like this riding them all the way in to the beach. I looked at my watch after a I’d caught ten or so rides. I’d barely been on the water forty minutes.

Unfortunately on one ride, I got caught way on the inside and spent 15 minutes of futile energy trying to break back out. For a while I was trying to break out diagonally to avoid the wind. I thought I was paddling in a rip, only to find that really I was paddling directly into a rip! Once I gave up on the diagonal paddle out I zipped back out.

The wind started backing a bit and then the rides slowed in the second hour as sunset came on. The water was warm, and the sun shot spokes of light from behind clouds as the sun set. My body has been brutally abused this summer, and I’ve only gotten out to paddle about ten times since May. The impromptu surf session made all of that seem distant and irrelevant for a short while. My ribs ached a bit but as of this article’s publishing, I am feeling pretty ok for once!!!

Also I used my Lendal XTI last night and it was good to have the old axe in hand for a stellar session.

In sidenotes to this article two freaky events occurred on the South Haven South Beach that evening.

The first-A jet skier stalled out. He was struggling to get his craft going. A fishing boat came along and tried to tow him out. His jet ski had the entire hull cracked and ripped out by the tow. A sad sight indeed.

The second-I set my life jacket on the pavement next to me in the parking lot as I was trying to get the Mega on the roof of the Volvo. What looked like a 14 year old kid promptly drove over it as she was pulling out of the parking lot. Hey no big deal it is just a life jacket. But my Pentax was in the pocket of the life jacket. I shouted at her to stop as she was pulling off dragging my life jacket with her. She finally stopped and I managed to retrieve my life vest. I didn’t even give her a dirty look, she looked petrified enough. I checked the camera and it was fine.

I have a bad surf video to share later. I am trying to rig a helmet cam, I have a plan!!!

Greenland Paddler Switches to Euro-the power of the darkside?

Greenland Paddler Switches to Euro-the power of the darkside?

Is the Euro Paddle the power of the Dark Side?

I am going to try using a euro paddle for some of my day trips and maybe even longer trips to see how I do. Is this the power of the darkside at work? I am not going to make any grand predictions. My experience with the towing demonstration at the WMCKA Symposium 2008 has shaken my belief that the two paddles are really equal in all things. I love using a Greenland style paddle. I love the simplicity, the natural ergonomic weight of it, the symmetry, and of course the natural buoyancy. I really enjoy working on the rolls, and all of my strokes with the traditional blade. But after three years kayak surfing, and using a white water blade, first a Double torque Lendal XTI 194cm, and now a Werner Sidekick 194cm straight shaft, I am finding I like the quick application of power the really big spoons provide. The Iggy and the Stooges Raw Power.


I will share one anecdote about one tight spot I was in about 3 years ago in a sea kayak that might demonstrate what the key differences are between the paddles. Jason Roon and I were out kayak surfing in long boats on Lake Michigan in summer in 2005. It was a rip roaring day with steep vertical faces. Wind was around 15-20 knots. Waves were 3-5 feet. I was surfing my Nigel Foster Silhouette using a home made western red cedar traditional paddle. Jason was in a P&H Sirius with a Lendal Kinetic Crank Shaft 210cm paddle. Near Deer Lick south of South Haven there is a small cove built out of truck tires and concrete pilings, rebar and a bunch of other lake refuse. As nasty as it sounds, this is an excellent place to surf because of the depth and the reflection waves. It’s a good play area. The only danger is getting caught on the inside because if you swim or get surfed in you are on the rebar and concrete.


Jason and I surfed in on the same wave but spread out by at least 50 yards. I surfed about twenty yards and pitchpoled my sea kayak. (There were no board surfers in sight and Jason was 50-60 yards away). I surfed in upside down the rest of the way, and then rolled up. I edged my kayak and turned around. In this process I managed to capsize again. I rolled up again. Now that I was pointed the right way. I tried to break out. The reflection waves and the pounding that cove was taking kept knocking me sideways and back. I was coming dangerously close to the concrete and rebar sticking into Lake Michigan. Each time I was ready to punch through I’d get knocked back and over again. I’d roll up each time and be forced to start over. Jason had already broken out, and was contemplating coming in to tow me out. Finally I started using a sliding stroke and used every ounce of strength I possessed to punch out.

In summary Jason and I are fairly equal in paddling skill and strength, but he managed to break out, where I was struggling. I think a bigger spoon blade might have allowed me to break out at least on the second try.

I have not really used a Euro blade to do any serious distances since about 2001. So I might be in for a real eye opener there. The traditional paddle is something I have likened to granny gear on a bicycle, high cadence, or high rotation of strokes with continual movement. The paddler does not have to lift their arms very high, and can sink the blade deep with minimal effort repeatedly. I think this is really the benefit of the paddle. You can go all day at high repetition with minimal effort.

I’ve been using a 85″ Superior Carbon Fiber for about three years now. I think it is a really excellent paddle. It is scary light, super stiff, and very buoyant. My only complaint is the sound of loose foam rattling around inside from my abuse of the paddle over three years on Lake Michigan and Superior.

I’ve selected a 205 cm Carbon Crank shaft Werner Ikelos for a trial run, it is the big spoon of Werner’s Touring Line and I hope to give it a spin in the near future to see if I can put it through it’s paces. I think the real test will be over distances if the higher angle stroke with more catch can be sustained.

I have not fallen out of love with traditional paddling by any means. But I have had more experience using both now that I have been surfing with one and touring with the other. I would like to give the euro paddle a try again on some longer trips and see which is right for me. Curiosity and continuous discovery are important. Questioning what you know, and what you believe are always good things. These questions lead you somewhere, and for me I think these questions like a lot of searches may only lead to more questions, but that’s ok. Being able to teach effectively with both I think is also crucial. Not having a bias may provide some of my guinea pigs with a little perspective.

Also I’ve been practicing all of my Greenland competition rolls with my surf paddle and I think it works pretty well. Storm rolls, reverse low brace, shotgun, and even spine rolls do work with the modern blade. Zero feather angle is really important.