Downwind Training: The Flatwater Solution

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Sparks Lake with South Sister (Oregon)

I celebrated my 69th birthday with a day of training, contemplation, gratitude and so much beauty. The training was unusual, in a way, but some of the most valuable I have had for down wind conditions that could get gnarly. In August my Starboard Freeride 12’2″ X 30 and my KIALOA paddle will carry me the classic run from Viento to Hood River and I hope the wind is strong and the day is sunny! My first adventure in the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge was in 2013 and I was hooked. (story here) I want to be ready to enjoy every moment of the experience when I am back on the mighty Columbia.

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Early morning at Elk Lake

What follows in this article is an odd set of insights and lessons I gained from paddling 4 uniquely different Oregon alpine lakes in one day. It started out at 8 am at Elk Lake. By 10 am the wind cranks up in this volcano rimmed jewel, but it was mirror calm when I headed out to circumnavigate its 4 miles including every little bay, nook and cranny at 8 am.

In this flatwater goodness I observed two things that can improve my skills for down wind action.

  • Legs – every paddle stroke that had excellent body rotation and synchronization between the catch, pull and driving forward force of my legs gave terrific acceleration. Timing and technique
  • Eyes closed – All alone on this huge body of water I was brave enough to try 6 paddle strokes per side for 3 sets repeated dozens of times. Wow! Balance and feel for how I was moving over the water was an eye-opener (LOL, eyes were shut!) Charging down wind in wind and waves requires solid balance and feel for how the board and water interact. This was so much fun.

I grabbed a breakfast burrito then headed over to nearby Hosmer Lake for a sweet three mile exploration to gurgling waterfalls and crystal clear water. The wind had picked up some by the time I got there. On this, just the second time unloading my board from the car I did make a mental note to really use my body correctly in the awkward motion of high reach, lift and lower. After all, a 69 year old body does not respond well to injury from lifting.

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Early morning Hosmer Lake (Oregon)

The wind was hard in my face leaving the boat launch area but reading the water I saw the far shoreline was protected and calm. In my journey to get to the calm I learned something else, sound can really impact my cadence and speed.

Even though the wind was in my face, my distance tracker app told me later that I hit 6 mph while the effort was perceived as simply fun. The tick-tick-tick of choppy wind waves hitting my bow and tapping along under my board gave me energy. I paddled the 3/4 mile to the calm in what would have been a speed interval, if I had thought of it like that. Instead the sound of the water made the experience pure fun.

  • Adrenaline and a sense of play makes the effort easier. Maybe that is why the 8 mile Viento down wind run exhilarates so well

I meandered off to the right hand fork of Hosmer, climbed a volcanic rocky area to gaze on gurgling lava tubes feeding a flower-filled grotto. Heading back to the boat ramp the water grasses and lilies caught my attention, fish darting and beauty everywhere.

  • Insight – I am blissful on the water – how about you! Ocean girl at heart, all water has its compelling call.
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Devil’s Lake with snow in June – brrrr water

Loading up my board again I was off the 30 acre Devil’s Lake. I almost skipped it. There were 30 cars at the easiest launch area so I had to park where a steep bank tested my strength and balance carrying a 12’2″ board through the trees and scree. Once in the lake my feet nearly froze off from the snow-melt water. The lake is so shallow that I had to walk about 100 yards to depth enough to paddle.

  • Know you water and wear appropriate gear. My frozen feet situation was mild and quickly over, but it made me think about knowing local conditions. I had forgotten that Elk Lake was practically swim-able whereas small Devil’s Lake was icy. The day was sunny – but water has its own characteristics.

Getting out of Devil’s Lake, carrying the board about 1/4 mile to my car and loading it up again reminded me to protect back and shoulders, use legs to lift – and yes – do some weight training.

Next stop was Sparks Lake. It is about a 1 mile drive in to the launch area, on a rutted, deep holes, washboard, dusty, rocky road. Once there I saw it was packed in both the launch and the parking area. The only spot I could put my car was easily 1/2 mile away. I left my precious board alone among some trees by the launch and went to park the car and walk back. Would my board be there when I got back (yes).

sparks-2I love this lake and never tire of winding around the rocks, the deeps, the shallows and taking the same photo every time I go. Peeking through rough-carved lava and spotting South Sister and Mt Bachelor never gets old.

By this time with all the loading and unloading, more walking than I had planned on and 9 miles of paddling completed in 3 lakes in about 3 hours, I needed a strategy to make this last adventure fun.  My lower back was a little tweaky and my lats had had a good workout.

It was time to focus on engaging a body rotation and abs engagement during the paddling. Paying attention to keeping my shoulder relaxed- not hunched up toward my ears-  and shoulder blades “down on my back” Helped with getting a clean catch. Rotating with awareness and taking the blade out of the water soon enough took my attention away from fatigue.

  • Insight: When fatigue starts to set in we can focus on what part of our body is most tired and engage in a different way.
  • Something as simple as enjoying the feel of water lapping on bare toes can power us through a choppy, windy area.

Happy birthday to me! It is overwhelming to imagine that this time next year I will be 70. A new decade, and not getting any younger ever again. Except in my mind. Playful, youthful water fun is available. I commit to playing attention – and training as smart as possible. If you have any suggestions – send them my way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ride – Glide and Starboard Innovation: Again!

I got a LOT more than bumps in last weekend’s Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. I got a BUMP in performance and outcomes during the annual down-winder from Viento to Hood River Waterfront Park. It started with a question.

(Photo Credit – featured photo: Gorge-US Photography)

I am a solid fan of the Starboard 12’6″ Deluxe Inflatable Touring board and wondered if it would perform as well on the Columbia River bumps as it does on all sorts of river, lake and ocean conditions we adventure into. I went to the Starboard booth and asked Dan Gavere, “Is my 12’6″ Touring board the best board for me to ride today?”

starboard_sup_12_2x32_free_ride_xl_nose_21The answer is – I would have a lot more fun on a board designed for waves, racing and downwind!  I was very fortunate to connect with Dan Gavere who was manning the Starboard booth at the event. In the midst of talking to tons of avid dealers and Starboard paddlers, he took the time to answer my question. (Much Mahalo!) Dan explained, “You need a specific board for specific conditions – [and the conditions were forecast to be epic- 30+ mph winds on the beautiful Columbia River down wind run].” Dan was kind enough to let me demo the 2017 12’2″ Freeride Hybrid Carbon. And so the story began.

This is the fifth year I have had the absolute joy of doing this event. The very first time was in 2012 (story here). I have done it on a stock surfboard (11’3″), an inflatable, a 12’6″ race board and a 14′ race board. Guess what – this year on the 12′ 2″ X 30″ Starboard Freeride – I not only had my fastest run in similar conditions and training – I am 67 years old.freeride3

This is not usually the year for a personal best with little training and zero down wind practice since last August.

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Pre-race stoke!

Am I stoked – oh YES I am!!! I did my fastest time ever with ZERO falls. Never even got my hair wet. This was not for lack of trying. I went after every bump – aggressively, and the wonderful Freeride graciously sped up, grabbed the glides, burried a nose now and then, but gracefully popped right out and zoomed me forward.

It was so cool to zoom past 12’6″ and 14′ race boards on this stable and agile “all-round” board with surf performance fun.

I am now 24 hours after the race and – no soreness anywhere. No soreness any day for a 67 year old woman is one thing, but after 1:42:23 of hard (fun) paddling is something else.

I am not trained  more than any other year but I noticed one thing. Because the Freeride is so stable (I never fell)  I was not fatiguing my legs and back by trying to stay on the board. I could use every paddle stroke efficiently, balanced and solid. And, when on a glide, I could easily step into surf stance and RIDE!!!!!

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Ready for the most fun I ever had during a Columbia River down wind from Viento to Hood River Waterfront Park

Little did I know as I slid onto the start line what an experience this Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge would be. Woohoo! Total fun all the way.

One of the best parts of the experience was the amazineg”group hug” at the finish from so many of the Starboard Ambassadors and riders. Mahalo to you all for running up, greeting me and making my day with stories and support – Kristin Thomas, Lisa Schell, Sarah Sandstrom, Hailey Driver, Leilani Gibson and Terri Plunkett.

So sure, I won the 60+ age group with no competition, but in going through the finish times among the Downwind Women – the Starboard Freeride delivered me 12th overall in a field of 25. Truly – and seriously – the equipment matters. I have never enjoyed so many glides, I counted them as 20+ seconds more time than once. the bumps connected in combinations of 3 glides, so often. My legs loved having the stability and my surfer-head loved the agility and absolute “go-get-the-bumps” fun-factor.

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Tons of fun being a board caddy for the course race – the Starboard race boards are light and so easy to carry (Photo: Leilani Gibson)

I am so grateful I ran into Dan Gavere at the Starboard booth – that changed my entire weekend. Check out this innovative and game-changing board for yourself.

“Ulitmate glide on an all-round board.”

The Starboard Freeride Hybrid Carbon:

This light weight hybrid layup, offers a good weight at great strength.
I was riding the 2017 Freeride: Thanks to Dan Gavere I learned more about the 2017 Freeride, “It has construction that is called Starlite which is new and costs much less than Carbon. It has Innegra rails that can’t be chipped and features Starboard’s sandwich full PVC wrap making it last a lifetime which is better for the environment because it outlasts other boards and won’t find itself in a landfill.”