SUP 11-City Tour: Inspiration and Grit

First and foremost a focused and passionate paddler

First and foremost a focused and passionate paddler

I am pleased to recently meet, Valerie Hirschfield,  the mother of three boys who will kick off Fall with the September SUP 11-City Tour in Holland. The Tour is an ultimate challenge and also a unique experience in which paddlers travel 220 km (136 miles) in five days with weather conditions varying from windless and beautiful to sunny, or cold and rainy.  Ultimate challenge is exactly right for Valerie, who lives her life with zesty energy, a powerful attitude, tenacity and the ability to inspire. You will notice in her photo that Valerie standup paddles with a challenge that might daunt most.

While 200+ paddlers race and cruise past open fields with windmills, cows, and sheep and encounter  eleven historical cities Valerie will be unique in that she is the first to participate in the event after the loss of a leg. Most of us would have trouble simply standing with a prosthetic leg, but Valerie has dedicated her love of SUP to finding the right training that will allow her to reach the skill level she wants and needs for events like this.

Elder SUP asked Valerie, why do you do a race like this, and Valerie explained, ” i love a challenge.  I also believe that one has no limits and can do anything that we set our minds to do.   I’m not doing it to come first, but i also don’t want to be last.   I’ve seen handicaped men taking part in challenges but never women, so i think its time a female did something.” valh1

valh9What is it about SUP that captured Valerie so completely? “I love the sea, love a challenge and its the first sport that I did with a prosthetic leg.   I think finding this 11-City Tour challenge just made it more enjoyable.   I do other sports too – my favourite is wheelchair tennis.”

Many elite water athletes have participated in the Tour including Connor Baxter, Zane Schweitzer, Marc Raaphorst, Donna Raaphorst, Eric Terrien, Bart de Zwart and Byron Kurt , Karen Wrenn, Jenny Kalmbach and Anne-Marie Reichman. After tennis, climbing – and even the challenge of walking, Valerie made the commitment, entered the event and is enjoying a summer of specific training.

Valerie’s husband will be making the trip and following the race, but not on a board. But Valerie could use some more help – not often, but we can help her for this event and beyond. Valerie is hoping to get a better knee so that she can compete, inspire and empower through her events. Valeries shares, “All the people that are sending me funds are helping me too, as i will be able to compete with a better prosthetic knee which will make a big difference to me.”

Click the image to reach Valeries website and lots more stories and information

Click the image to reach Valeries website and lots more stories and information

You can help too, Click to reach her non-profit organization page for information. You can help by simply SHARING  this post on your Facebook. Here’s a bit about Valerie. She’s about to be 51 years old, mother of three sons, wife, girlfriend, diligent and persevering sporty, beautiful and brave … beyond any test. Many decades ago she had to wage her toughest fight against a disease that took her leg but not her will to survive and thrive.

Valerie looks forward to meeting you all and sharing the Holland 11-City Tour through photo updates on her site.

Surf Surprises: MacFarlane Regatta 2015

Mac senior

The girls in the canoe are: Tracy Phillips, Jane McKee, Donna Kahakui, Blair Grant, Amy Lawson

In 1943 a Hawaii race began that has created quite a legacy. 72 years later, the MacFarlane Regatta is the longest running canoe race in the world. On race day the Waikiki shoreline becomes base camp for well over a thousand paddlers and tens of thousands of spectators. The first race was for the military and all branches were represented. Even a canoe for wounded warriors competed in the competition. The regatta is held in partnership with the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation, which doles out more than $160,000 in grants and scholarships for Hawaii students.

Not long ago I began to follow stories about a very cool and dedicated paddler, Jane McKee. You will definitely want to read the original article we posted about her SUP adventures.

Jane’s club, Outrigger Canoe Club, hosts the 4th of July McFarlane regatta in front of Dukes Waikiki every  year since the 1940s. The open men and women’s divisions are divided into four races, Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior. The ‘Premier” races to win are Sophomore and Senior, and if you win the Senior you get to drink champagne from a silver bowl after the race! The Soph race is one mile and Senior is mile and one half.

Most outrigger regattas plot a course that runs parallel to the beach.  In the McFarlane Regatta there is a fair amount of surf potential and the course runs out through the surf and then back in. Jane McKee explains, “For the 2015 regatta there was surf, and extreme tide changes. Those conditions made for a very disorganized wave and unpredictable conditions. Many canoes hulied, broke or were swamped.

We were racing in the Sophomore race, and coming into the last leg for the finish.  We were winning with a good lead. We went to get on a wave but it was a double wave. As we came down the face of one wave the manu, or nose of the canoe, stuck in the wave in front of us essentially slowing us down long enough for the back wave to wash over the entire canoe and sink us. This all happened within seconds!

mcrace6 mcrace7



mcrace 9 .
I love the faces of the paddlers as some are laughing and others look totally dismayed. That is the great thing about this race it is a total luck of the draw who will win because mother ocean gets the last laugh! Anything can  happen and there are no guarantees

This very same crew went on to win the Senior race and drink from the silver bowl, so in the end it was a great adventure with lots of laughs and a good story to tell. mcrace11111
The girls in the canoe are: Tracy Phillips, Jane McKee, Donna Kahakui, Blair Grant, Amy Lawson, and Simeon de Paloma is steering.
We have the men steer because they are better able to handle keeping the canoe straight when the wave are big or the canoe starts going out of control!
In our Senior race it was the same girls, but Marc Haine steered us to victory.
It was a great day!!”

Paddle Catch, Reach and Reaction

Summer time and the Colombia Gorge Paddle Challenge on the horizon in 7 weeks.  Putting in miles and planning solid interval training is just one aspect of what I’m working on this summer. It seemed that recently I’d honed my reach and blade entry into the water, but there was always room to refine things even more. All the phases of the stroke have to work together smoothly for the stroke to be efficient and without good reach and catch, the stroke won’t be effective.


Dave Chun of KIALOA Paddles lives the path of design, innovation and testing

Lately I have been using the Kialoa PaddlesTiare blade, designed to give the female paddler the best experience possible. The blade is designed for optimal catch at the front of the stroke. The carbon wrapped fiberglass shaft fits a smaller hand perfectly with just the right amount of flex. When talking about paddles, Dave Chun says, “I want the paddles I design to disappear in the hands of the paddler. This is what drives me forward.”

Because of Dave’s dedication to  design and innovation, Kialoa paddles drive all of us forward – so to speak. I have the good fortune to be testing in a compare/contrast way, both the Tiare adjustable paddle and a carbon prototype with the Tiare blade.  The Tiare Adjustable is a lightweight paddle that is ergonomically designed for women.  With it, I can adjust the height for varying conditions. I have quite a quiver of Kialoa paddles, but the Tiare blade provides a measurably different ability for acceleration, lower rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and a new feel at the “catch” phase of my stroke.

The “catch” is the point where the blade is fully buried and locked onto the water. It is natural  that the stroke begin as you begin to put the paddle into the water. You will naturally begin to pull on the paddle and begin to apply pressure to the water with the blade, even before the blade is fully buried. SO, it is important to “bury the blade” relatively quickly. The paddle should not “float” down to the water. Reach and drive the paddle into the water and make the catch  as far in front of you as possible. Since ALL of the stroke is in front, and never behind your body, the more in front of you that the paddle gets fully buried and makes the “catch” the longer stroke you will have!

Head to toe Sweet Waterwear has me covered!

Head to toe Sweet Waterwear has me covered and Kialoa Tiare paddle drive me forward

A 2014 summer as part of the Bend Oregon Outrigger Canoe Club and a LOT of practice has really helped with both my rotation and catch. I have been working to correct the tendancy for pulling the paddle back or attempting to begin to drive the board forward before the catch has been completed. It’s a brief second of time, but important to fully execute the catch before moving through the paddle stroke. The focus should be on entering the water smoothly and quickly with the paddle edge slicing into the water cleanly, creating minimal turbulence. Once the blade is fully submerged and “planted” it’s time to apply the power. If you start pulling too soon, the blade tends to cavitate (air bubbles form along edges of blade) and will slip through the water instead of holding.

Product testing can provide rich insights in your technique - reach, catch and reaction

Product testing can provide rich insights in your technique – reach, catch and reaction

Testing and Comparing Paddles: I have been using both the Tiare Adjustable paddle and a carbon prototype of what might be a racing version using the Tiare blade. Paddling in wind, paddling currents upstream and down all make it difficult to really determine the impact on speed or efficiency that a particular paddle might deliver.  Yesterday as I did my 60 minute training session I picked a section of the river that would be somewhat consistent over the hour. Wearing a heart rate monitor I did half-mile loops up and down stream. The miles flew by, maybe because so much concentration was going into refining that catch and “plant” with each paddle.

Dave Chun’s goal of “having the paddle disappear in the hands of the paddler” was real. The Tiare adjustable was a bit heavier than the carbon prototype so the paddle experience was slightly different between the two designs. In each half mile section I checked speed, heart rate and RPE. The difference was minimal. I believe the design of the Tiare blade suits my technique, build, and stroke so well that it is the driving design piece in the comparison – more than the weight or materials. This was fun!  You can “test” paddles yourself. Before you buy your next paddle take the time to demo more than one design. Use the paddle for more time than you think you need to. really get to know what works best for you.

Testing a paddle provides rich insights – beyond what you learn about the paddle. Comparing and contrasting can tell you a lot about your technique and personal biomechanics. Check out the KIALOA Paddles video series for even more insights.