G. Niblock on the L41 TipSUP Noserider. Photo: J. Chandler

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

4-Mile to Mitchells Downwinder on the Angulo Shaka

Monday May 28, 2012 - Today was only my fifth downwind session, second solely on the Angulo Shaka 14. An unshakable confidence is starting to build in with this board that can't be based on chance or circumstance. This board is flat out a performer in the downwind venue.

The swell was so small there was no one surfing at Four Mile. But the wind was blowing 20-30 and gusting up to 33 mph so there was plenty of energy on the water out in the wind line. We easily paddled out from the beach, through the area where the surfers usually sit, then out through the thick kelp beds and into the wind. The Angulo held a good line even when the wind started pushing it downstream. I didn't clear the outside kelp bed, but paddling through it on an angle to get out past it and into the better wind was no problem. The Shaka wants to ride waves and bumps, so even when the board's angle of attack is almost parallel to the wave faces it will pick up glides, assisting in the run out to sea.

At 65 years old I am usually the oldest and slowest paddler of all the others in any group I'm with. Today was no exception and Mike, Carter and Ryan are all experienced and strong paddlers. Olivier joined us for the first time today and he is a former pro bicycle racer and loves to paddle fast. In his 30's I would guess, he's an athlete with what I call a high physical IQ. (That doesn't mean he isn't smart too, he takes to physical things quickly.) But I soon found out that the Shaka is a great equalizer.

After I got through the last kelp bed and into the stronger winds, I quickly developed a rhythm and picked up wave after wave after wave. This actually put me in the front of the pack, playing leapfrog for the lead with Olivier. The waves today weren't big, but they were plentiful and the Shaka wanted to catch them all. On this run I didn't fall off one time because of the Shaka's innate, designed-in stability. This puts the paddler/rider at a huge advantage in a race because one can lose so much time falling off and getting going again. While Olivier clearly is a far superior paddler than I, he fell a couple times and I shot right by him each time. This enabled a far slower paddler, on a superior wave catching board, to keep up with a fast and fit paddler on a very good board built for racing.

I didn't want to lose my momentum and I was motivated by my "race" with Olivier (even if it was only in my mind). I brought my Droid X2 in the Dry Case on this trip and was trying out a new tracking program Sports Tracker. I wanted to know 1) how far is the paddle from Four Mile to Mitchell's 2) how long does it take 3) what was the average and the fastest speed I achieved. The chart is to the right. I paddled hard the entire trip. There were times I wanted to stop and rest, but I didn't want to break the momentum of what turned out to be a strenuous anaerobic, sprinting workout. The run was more like a continuous surf, than a paddle (although I never stopped paddling) and as I write this today I am muscle fatigued and sore, and I realize how out of shape I am to do these events comfortably without further training.

I wore my usual ensemble for open ocean downwind paddling, a full 4/3 wetsuit, tropical ankle cut booties and my goofy little hat. Because I didn't fall in, I was way overdressed and therefore overheated as I paddled into the calmer water near Mitchell's. Without the wind assist and the now much smaller swells I had to work harder to propel the board. This is where Mike caught me and passed me up, he being first to the beach. (Olivier opted to paddled to the harbor, four miles further.) I suspected that Mike would catch me, as his board is faster in the flat water and again, he is a better and more fit paddler than I.


One again I learned a lot from this run. Downwinding is so much FUN. Imagine riding what seems to be one long continuous wave (or series of waves) for four miles! It truly is surfing. I didn't stop to take video of the wind and wave conditions because of my pedal to the metal mind set and future videos may not have much open ocean wave action. The story is more in the padding stats and the experiences of the paddlers/riders. It's also difficult to video and get the pics that illustrate what it's really like out there. Other people are doing a good job in that area (see Jeremy Riggs vids on You Tube). But who knows, maybe I'll get creative and set up multiple cameras. That could be interesting.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Angulo Shaka 14 - Pure Magic

Saturday May 26, 2012 - A more appropriate name would be hard to imagine. The "Shaka," a world famous hand gesture and expression used by millions to convey a greeting in the Aloha spirit of peace, good will and friendship, has found it's physical expression in this magic downwind SUP. Further, the Angulo Shaka could be the best all-around stand up paddleboard on the market today.

  I came to know the Shaka looking for a downwind board of my own. I've recently discovered downwinding here on the north coast of Northern California where the strong winds howl almost daily down the coast. On a blustery day wind speeds of 25-35 mph gusting into the 40's are not uncommon. This is da kine for downwind runs.

  I don't have a lot of experience in this genre of surfing (downwinding is for sure open ocean surfing) but I've been board surfing for almost 50 years and SUP surfing and paddling since 2007. My experience is limited to paddling three different boards built for downwind runs and observing a half dozen others owned and paddled by friends. I have reviewed a number of boards on this blog and typically I don't write a review until I've ridden the board a good amount of time, but the Angulo Shaka is so amazing, so head and shoulders above what I demoed, I have to write about it now.

  I've only owned one other board that I consider "magic." A magic board, to me, is one that needs no improvement. It does what it's supposed to do almost on it's own. This is the Shaka. A good downwind board has to do one thing flawlessly and should do everything exceptionally. It flawlessly catches waves and bumps and gets glides practically on it's own. Of course the paddler has to paddle, but the ease with which it slips into the glides is nothing short of astonishing.

   A good downwind board is easily controlled in the chaos and multi-directional chop and swell that one finds in open ocean high wind conditions. There was none of the sudden yawing, where the tail comes around putting you sideways in the wave trough, that I experienced with the other boards I demoed. While many board makers are making their boards narrow, in the 26-28 inch width range (some even narrower), Ed has come up with a way to make a 30" board both stable and efficiently fast. While all are good boards, the Naish Glide 14, Jimmy Lewis M14 and C4 Vortice are narrow. 28" or less. This is just too narrow, and too unstable for me. My friends that have these narrow boards all confirm that they are a challenge to stay on when paddling. Success on downwind runs requires a board that surfs the bumps in a way that consistently links them into long glides while the rider consistently maintains control and stays on the board. This kind of success equals FUN. This is the Shaka.

  The Shaka hand gesture and saying convey good will and congeniality, in a word "friendliness." This too is the Shaka. As I wrote earlier, I am a novice at downwinding. But when I jumped on the Shaka it improved my skills ten fold. That is the sign of superior equipment and a magic board. Besides downwind, I've paddled the board in less favorable conditions. Paddling into the wind, crosswind and cross chop the board moves efficiently and directly. Especially in cross and side wind, the Shaka is more than manageable to get to your destination (Point A to Point B) without having to fight it all the way to stay on course. And again, it is so stable. Nothing seems to really upset this boards natural inclination to maintain it's balance. This factor is what leads me to believe that the Angulo Shaka 14 may just be the very best all-around family and activity SUP (not including traditional surfing) on the market today. This is a board that would accommodate the entire family, paddling in a full range of locations and activities. Oceans, lakes, rivers. streams, ponds...any body of water would suit the Shaka. Downwinding, flat water paddling and racing, training, expedition touring, taking the little ones for a ride, pleasure paddling...this again, is the Shaka.

  OK, what's the bottom line? Stand up paddleboards are expensive and this is especially true of a good SUP that will give you the kind of return on investment that has value. I demoed the Naish Glide 14 which is in the same price range as the Shaka, and the SIC Bullet which is at the high end of the price range for downwind boards. Other boards that I've had access to are the Jimmy Lewis M14 and the C4 Vortice. You can check the prices yourself, they are all listed online. My conclusion is that you'll get the best value, the best bang for your hard earned bucks, with the Shaka.

   In summary, the primary purpose of a downwind board is to ride the swells and waves that are generated by nearshore winds. It's really all about open ocean surfing, catching and riding an unlimited series of these short period open ocean waves. The Shaka does this, and all things in the downwind genre of SUP paddling and surfing as well or better than any board in it's category or class. It gets an A+ grade for excellence. Check out the Angulo website and Facebook page. Demo an Angulo and see for yourself.


Full disclosure: I am good friends with Angulo Boyz Andy, Kyle, Jens and Ed but I am in no way compensated financially or employed by them or by Angulo Designs. All my reviews are as objective as my personal opinions allow.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Downwind Four Mile to Mitchells on the Angulo Shaka 14

Thursday May 24, 2012 - Three days of 30-40 mph northwest winds conspired to build a solid near shore windswell and fetch. Thursday was the third and what looked like the best of the three days, if the wind was going to hold up. It did.

I put the word out on the fb paddlers and email lists but most either had to work or were not available for the run. Leave it to John, the firefighter, to step up and join me. Firefighters. Always there when you need 'em. We met at one of the usual spots, Manor Ave and West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz to plan the run and work out the logistics. The Angulo Boyz have given me carte blanche on borrowing the Shaka 14 when it's available (until my own Shaka arrives sometimes mid-June) so I was paddling it. John had just come off two full Davy runs and a 72-hour shift at the fire house so we were both looking forward to riding the best bumps we could find. Distance wasn't as much a factor as really good wind and open ocean waves.

The wind jumped from nearly non-existent out of the south to mackin' NW in the space of an hour which eased our Wind Alert watching concerns. We didn't really want to do the seven mile run from Davy to Four Mile, but FM to Natural Bridges was too short. So John hit on the idea of paddling in another half mile down at Mitchells Cove. Brilliant. It fit the bill for our wave jones and our physical status.

We motored up to Four Mile and partner carried our boards and gear down to the beach. The wind was lifting the sand off the soft surface a foot into the air. We hustled over to the cliff and took shelter from the blast. Since the wind was just as strong as the last time I launched from here I was excited about how the Shaka would paddle in a vigorous crosswind compared to the Naish Glide. I decided at the last second to go for it and stood up to paddle from the beach launch. (This proved to be impossible on the Glide as the more square rails catch the wind. I had to knee paddle it out to the wind line.) Much to my surprise I paddle the Shaka straight out past the surfers and into the crosswind. I was able to hold my own and even paddled upwind for a while until I got out into the real wind line. But my forward progress was more than enough to put me on a good line to be well outside the down coast reefs and to get though the kelp beds and into the good stuff without incident. The custom designed (by Ed) Sea Shaka fin worked perfectly in the kelp, never catching and always releasing after a little tug in the thickest masses. Then the fun began.
This run was without a doubt the best downwind run I've ever had. I chalk that up to great wind and swell conditions and the Angulo Shaka 14. The board is in one word, "magic". The Shaka is stable, forgiving, fast, and easy to paddle. You know you're on good equipment when it improves your skill level without additional practice and experience needed. I'm going to write a separate blog post reviewing the Shaka so I won't go on about it here. Suffice it to say that I'm glad I will soon be the owner of what just may be the best all-around SUP on the market today. (I'll explain that in the forthcoming post.)

Water temps on the north coast and in the Monterey Bay are averaging 51-52 degrees so I'm in my full O'Neill's 4/3 mutant and ankle top booties. Usually when paddling in flat water I just wear a t-shirt and board shorts, but these downwind runs are what I consider open ocean surfing so I'm dressed to surf, and until I get a lot better at it, fall in. On this run I only fell in three times, a record. Once when I lost control of the board and the tail came around and twice when I stepped on the Shaka's sweet spot while riding a bump and she just trimmed up and took off like a shot. I wasn't ready for the rapid acceleration so I just walked right off the back of the board. The Shaka's just a lot better at surfing the bumps than I am. When you get good at this it's almost like riding a longboard. You walk the board, turning, trimming, finding the speed and energy of the waves and bumps you're on. This video featuring Jeremy Riggs is a great illustration of what I'm talking about. (NOTE: Jeremy's got a rudder installed on his board so some of those turns are definitely rudder assisted.)

John and I caught bump after bump and I was astonished to see Longs Marine Labs come up so quickly after we left the beach almost four miles behind. The wind was good even close to shore so we could have stayed out further and paddled in at Cowells. We just didn't know how fast this run was going to be. John turned in to the beach before me and I should have followed him immediately. Instead I stayed outside too long, not wanting the run to end. I overshot the beach at Mitchells by enough to where I had to paddle back upwind for a couple hundred yards. The Shaka handled this very well to my relief. I was pretty tired by then from paddling a couple thousand strokes on the lee side of the board to get in to the beach. I was actually surprised at how quickly I made it into the cove and onto the sand.

I wasn't the only one impressed by the Shaka. John was also. He rides a high tech, super light C4 downwind racing board and for most of the paddle I was able to stay near him. John's wife Earlene wants to get into downwind paddling, but paddling his 26 3/4" board is not going to cut it. The Shaka might be the solution.

Downwind paddling in Santa Cruz is about to explode in popularity. We are in a nearly perfect place, with great conditions and easy access to some of the best runs in Cali, maybe even the world. When the surf is small or even non-existent, and the wind is blowing there are waves to be ridden on the open ocean. Crowds? You could paddle out with a hundred people and still be surfing your own waves. What are we waiting for?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Davenport To Natural Bridges Downwind Run

Thursday May 17, 2012 - I thought our first Four Mile to Cowells run in 25-35 mph winds was mackin' but this run in 30-40 mph winds gusting to 44 was "nucular" in comparison. I put out the message on the soon to be worlds richest man's social networking site and within a few hours there were seven of us intrepid trippers ready to rumble. The wind looked good but we had no idea it was going to bump up to the kind of chaotic energy we eventually paddled into.

I am definitely the old man of the group and kept reminding my paddling brethren (I hesitate to use the word children) to keep their eye in the rear view mirror for the fossil bringing up the back end. It actually worked out OK even though the lifeguard/fireman and most experienced, avid wind surfer of our bunch paddled off into the distance as if they were shot out of a cannon. But Kyle, Jens, Russ and I pretty much stayed together, keeping tabs on each other and even trading around boards. So I had the pleasure and safety of their company and got a chance to paddle the Angulo Shaka 14 in demanding conditions and good wind.

John kept telling me that the launch from Davenport was much less windy and safer than the 4-Mile launch. That's what I get for listening to a fireman. Just another adrenalin junkie. About half way out to where I wanted to be the wind was howling and pushing the high, square rail of the Naish Glide 14 downwind, straight towards the outside breaking reef that puts up a fun left hander when it isn't blown to smithereens like it was today. At a 155 pounds there is no way I can paddle the Glide into or across the wind. So I prone paddled like a mad man to miss the surf and get a better line around the coming headlands. The good thing about Davenport is the lack of kelp that plagues 4-Mile. Finally, after I got tired of feeling like I was losing the battle prone, I just stood up and headed out to sea, diagonally to the shore, trying to angle across the coming wind swells as best I could while utilizing whatever energy I could catch from these wind blown combers. This actually worked although I never did get out as far as I really wanted to be. But I was in the wind line...for better or for worse.

In reality I'm not really sure why I want to do this downwind thing. It's a lot of hard work. But it's also part challenge, part adrenalin rush, part zen focus (like surfing, it's so easy to lose yourself in the moment), and part being in nature in a seemingly impossible situation. And it's all wrapped up in this gleaming newness which gives it the blush of first love that never loses it's attraction, or fails to fill your heart with joy when it happens. That particular aspect of the experience occurs after you've finished falling into 52 degree water numerous times while grabbing for your board (as it blows over on your head) and the paddle which wants to flee your grasp and sail off into the distance; then actually jumping up to your feet in a rolling sea that would make lots of folks hurl the contents of their innards seaward, again and again....over the course of 11 miles. But for whatever logical, illogical or idealogical reasons, I am compelled to continue. In other words, I'm hooked. Great. Another expensive, time consuming addiction. At least it isn't golf.

What's the point? Well, the point is to surf open ocean waves. Catch the bumps and get good glides. My friend Butch, long time paddler and Maliko veteran, tells me that it takes three to six months to get any kind of a handle on this aspect of stand up paddleboarding. This is actually good news and I can confirm from first hand experience that the learning curve is long and steep. The few bumps, glides and waves I have ridden have been, I think, mostly by accident. I find I have more success turning off my mind to the logic of 1) see the wave 2) paddle for the wave 3) miss the wave and adopting a more intuitive approach to let go and feel the rhythms under your feet and all around you. Of course this from someone who knows nothing's a start.

One thing that is more familiar is the board. Essentially we're on a big surfboard designed specifically to catch open ocean, very short period swells and breaking waves efficiently. This is a whole new area of board design and thinking for me and I love learning about it. I've paddled three boards of different design (Naish Glide 14; Angulo Shaka 14, SIC custom Bullet 17) and have developed preferences already. I want my own board which makes it much more convenient and spontaneous when it comes to planning or just going on a run at the spur of the moment. These things are expensive so price is also a consideration. Basically I can't afford the SIC and the Naish Glide is really not the board that the Angulo Shaka is in design, paddle-ability and ease of catching the bumps. So, I ordered one. These are the new models which are hot off the press. So new I have to wait a couple of weeks for the Angulo shipment to arrive at Andy's (head Angulonian in NorCal) place in my hometown. More on the Angulo Shaka 14 later, except to say for now that after paddling for only a couple minutes on the Shaka I knew I wanted one. (This isn't my first Angulo. It's my fourth from master shaper Ed Angulo. But you can read more about that here.)

I had to give it back sooner than I wanted, but hey, Kyle wanted to paddle his own board. What was I gonna do, paddle past him? (Like I could.) Back on the Glide the wind picked up from Four Mile to Longs Marine Lab just before Natural Bridges. It also seemed to shift a bit and instead of blowing at a slight angle towards the beach at NB's, it was huffing at a slight angle away from the beach. Again, I found it almost impossible to paddle the board standing up against the cross wind. So I dropped to my knees and paddled about 5,000 strokes on the right to get into the nub of a point that provided enough leeward protection to make it into the surf line and onto the beach. It was probably windier at NB's than I've ever seen it, and the first thing I saw was another Angulo (super light carbon race board) go flipping across the beach when it's owner put it down to help me out of the water in the high wind. Definitely a two man per board operation.

Surprisingly I was less tired than I thought I would be and it wasn't long before I was packed up, board secure and heading home, thinking about the day and looking forward to the next downwind run. You'll be hearing about it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bark 'n Surf Two Days In May

Monday and Tuesday May 14 & 15, 2012 - Didn't get out over the weekend so Monday was a mandatory paddle. Besides the weather was fantastic and I hate missing an opportunity to be out in it.

Waiting for the south swell to arrive Monday was a go-to Bark training day. I wasn't motivated for a long workout so I took the easy way out and paddled up the low route to the L41 surf spots. There were some small 1-2 foot clean glassy peelers rolling though the various locations, and the few people out surfing were fortunate to be there having fun in great conditions.

At the turnaround point I started paddling back to NB's and found Ron out on his new L41 noserider. Sweet board, dedicated for tip timing in the Summer swells. (More on Ron and his new ride later I'm sure.) I've been wanting to surf my 12-6 Bark Competitor to get a better feel for handling a high volume board in the waves but the timing just hasn't been right. I also wanted to have a wetsuit on cuz I know I'm going to get wet and the water isn't warming up much. If anything it's staying pretty cold. Average temp about 52 degrees. But the set-up was right. Small surf. Few people out, and I could get off by myself in some long, small rollers that weren't really breaking. Perfect for mock open ocean bumps.

First wave my angle to wave face was too steep and with those big, thick rails, the Bark just rolled over, dumping me in the chilly brine. I knew it! So I came up all Daffy Duck squawking and swearing like a maniac before I calmed down and thought, "I'm already wet now, might as well stick with it for a while." Fortunately the sun was out, and the wind was light, and if I kept moving I wasn't going to get too cold. So I rode another handful of waves, getting the feel for the big board and hopefully learning something for the more chaotic open oceans downwind surfing that is in the future.

The next day the little southie filled in, nothing like we'd all hoped for, but Jeff and I still took down a load of fun little waves in an almost two and a half hour session. Again the weather was perfect, sun out, light wind, glassy sea surface and just a couple old guys acting like kids.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Two Training Paddles & A Surf

Saturday May 12, 2012 - Two weekends of downwinding, plus the good weather motivated me to get in shape for the ramping up paddling season as well as the quieting but sure to be coming smaller south swells of Summer. Monday and Wednesday were small surf days and conditions were sweet for a couple six and a half mile training paddles.

Launching from New Brighton is perfect for paddling a number of routes, which keeps the training and the scenery varied. Monday I put in at the state park and paddled the low course up through all the eastside surf spots and out into more open ocean through the Sewer Peak channel. There was a small and very inconsistent south swell still poking in but the waits were long and the training took precedence. Wednesday's training run was similar but instead of taking the low route all the way, I peeled off at the Capitola Pier and hugged the kelp bed into the outer water and up to the channel. There was a low chop and small headwind which worsened the further away from land I paddled. The whole thing turned into a slog in short order, but it's good to paddle in less than perfect conditions. I was glad and relieved to turn the corner and head down the slot into Pleasure Point though. The wind shifted and put a cool breeze on me that felt good and my spirits as well as my cadence picked up.

At last years Covewater Classic paddling clinic I learned a stoke that I call the "oil derrick." This because it's what you look like when you paddle. It's a bobbing up and down motion while bending at the waist that strives to keep the paddle shaft perpendicular to the sea surface. The idea is to pick the blade up straight out of the water and reinsert it while eliminating as much of the feathering action as possible to minimize wasting energy and maximize efficiency. That's the way I understand it anyway. It feels pretty good and definitely uses your core muscles instead of mostly shoulders and arms. Since your core is much stronger than your upper extremities this should add power and increase stamina. I had to cut an inch off the paddle shaft though, because I couldn't pull the blade out of the water without it catching going forward into the reach. One inch less worked better but I still need to take another inch off. That happens later today.

I thought I'd take a fitness break on Thursday but unlike paddling, surf is where (and when) you find it. I found some in the form of a steep gulf swell that somehow found enough west in it to push into the bay and my local spots. I knew it wasn't going to be much and that it wasn't going to last long so I hit it early, trying to avoid the crowds by surfing at the minus tide rising when I knew it would be sparsely populated. A couple other surfers had the same idea and because the county was paving the main parking lot for the L41 spots, there was almost no crowd until way later in the day. So I surfed for almost two and a half hours with only four or five other guys until I was tired out and bereft of blood sugar.

The surf wasn't epic but it was good. The low tide and west influenced swell pushed peaks and sections down the line so lots of waves were short rides into close-out sections. But occasionally there were those gems that just ran down the line at mach 10, letting you out over a rare for the day sloping shoulder. It was consistent enough that everyone got a lot of waves. Gary the longboarder surfs the place as well (or better) than just about anyone, and clearly got the best waves of the day. I really enjoy watching a good surfer who knows the wave and where to sit to get the best ones. I'm gonna have to Velcro myself to him next time so I can see what he sees. Nothin' wrong with that eh?

Two Training Paddles & A Surf from Srfnff on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Springtime Longboard SUP Session

Tuesday May 1, 2012 - Grabbed a few waves this afternoon in a small, small south swell. It was just one of those beautiful Spring days when the sun was out, the wind was light out of the south and the sea surface glassy inside the kelp beds. Two SUP surfers out when I paddled into the line-up, one of whom had been surfing for a while. He left shortly and it was just me and Stan. Between the two of us we probably caught 60 SUP-specific waves, waves perfect for SUPs but no lay down surfers wanting any of the probably too small for them action. The right waves put up some fast nose riding sections inside, over the shallows where sand and chunks of rock lurked just beneath the surface. 100% fun.