Risk, surfing and a wet phone

September 30, 2006

Saturday 30th September 2006

Leaving home at 9am and picking up breakfast and a can of tinned hot coffee on the way I head to my usual put-in. These donuts by the way are amazing (they are on my list of things to miss when I get back to the UK) they are filled with a bean curd paste called anko.


They are a mix of unhealthy, sugary, fatty donut and healthy protein based bean paste and a great high energy food before kayaking. Nicknamed anpan these donuts even inspired a childrens comic book superhero: anpan-man. 2 for 100yen.

Again the westher forecast was wrong – it was supposed to be cloudy with the chance of rain, it started off cloudy but by 11am it was glorious sunshine and blue skies. Sadly by that time my cell phone and camera had stopped working. A little sea water got in my supposedly dry bottle (perhaps I’ve lost a rubber seal?) and my phone went a bit weird. It still runs, tells the time but none of the buttons except the on/off button work.

I wasn’t sure what to do, one idea was a long tour round the headlands and the other surfing. I had decided that I should spend the rest of the warm water season surfing but the cloudy weather wasn’t encouraging me to get wet. On the way to the put-in I drove to one end of the beach and had a look at the surf – it was looking lovely.


But there were some surfers and fishermen making me a little nervous of the audience.


At the put-in there were about five other cars all with the distinctive kayak roof racks. One had a ‘earthquest’ sticker on it and I wondered if this was Konno-san.


I paddled out a bit as I was thinking about what to do. The sea was lovely; the wind and waves were from the same direction leading to biggish swells but relatively smooth water.


There were a couple of spots where the waves suddenly rose up and broke, no boomers maybe just a shallow floor. Waves were about 3-4 feet, I considered surfing them but decided for safety reasons not to (I wasn’t sure there wasn’t a rock under there somewhere and I was a long way from shore).


But that did make my mind up – I wanted some surf action! I headed into shore.


The surf was great today. I realized that the last times I had been here the surf was dumping a bit but today for whatever reason it was really spilling very nicely. As a result there were lots of surfers (at least 6) but they were working the big breaks near the river mouth so I had the small 2-3 foot stuff to myself.


I found the best thing was to start side surfing, bracing against the wave then when moving with the wave spin round to face the beach before getting broached again. It was really fun I could even start on one side and then end on the other, spinning around in between. The waves were great some would rise up break, then rise up again and some were breaking 60-100m from shore giving me a decent run in.

I found that when I went full on to get picked up by the surf from behind the speed was too much; my bow ploughed into the trough of the wave and I got broached too quickly to be able to hold the brace – often as a result of starting one way then pirouetting round to the other before wiping out.

I wiped out maybe five or six times but had to beach many more times than that because of my leaky spray skirt gradually filled the boat with water. Every roll I do I end up with a lot of water in the boat which sucks. I want a neoprene spray skirt.

I didn’t manage any rolls in the surf despite some concerted effort. I found that I either lost a knee brace or got very disorientated by the surf. That coupled with my hands instinctively dropping to search for the bottom (concern for my head – no helmet) meant I didn’t manage a roll. I tried a re-entry and roll after wet exiting in the surf zone and failed; a big wave hitting me just as I was coming up. After that I found myself in a bit of a beach rip and had to struggle for a few minutes to get to shore.

I got there exhausted and just 30m away on a two mile long disserted beach was a car parked on the beach. I hate that driving on the beach is tolerated in Japan, personally I think it is bang out of order. And my enjoyment of the day was getting ruined by some guy who drove his car right up to where I was playing then just parked there for an hour! I hate having an audience especially when I am wiping out!

Anyway I ignored him and ate lunch, sad that my dead camera phone wasn’t allowing me to capture the beautiful day and lovely surf. I want one of these waterproof cameras.

The water seemed exceptionally clear to me today, perhaps the storms of the last few weeks have cleared out the bay. I spotted a huge black bass at least 2 feet long so maybe 30lbs just chilling about 3 feet from the beach. When it saw me it put in an awesome, shark like, burst of acceleration.

It was only 3 o’clock when I decided to stop. I was exhausted and my arms were aching from all the hanging from the tops of waves and emptying the boat of its water. I headed back to the put-in and practiced some more rolls, I was trying to correct my screw roll which was tending to sink the paddle blade too much, ending up in a position much more like a C to C roll. I think I got it sorted out. The C to C and put across rolls are also working fine. I wonder though how useful my rolls would be in serious weather – if I can’t roll in surf could I roll in the kind of waves that would capsize me unexpectedly?

I got out of my kayak in the shallow sand bar area and cleaned out the sand. I then emptied the front and rear compartments and looked for the leaks in the my bulkheads which both have. The rear bulkhead in particular is less than useless (I have back up float bags). The rear bulkhead has two leaks, one I would describe as a pinhole leak, with a very aesthetic spurt, in the taped joint. The other leak is a hole – a big one; really poor workmanship. If I was in the UK the boat would be straight back to the shop but here that involves a lot of hassle.

I’ll fix it myself watch this space for descriptions of how.

I couldn’t find the leak in the front but that was as much a result of the small hatch as anything. As it’s not so big I’m not unduly concerned about it.

Tired but having had fun I headed back to car. As I got there I saw Konno-san and a group of 4 other kayakers; I was right it was his car. Earthquest have a fleet of beautiful North Shore kayaks. The group included a baidarka – a beautiful home made, strip built boat that had taken its owner 6 months to build.


There was also a guy from Hachinohe (long way away) with his own kayak (Waterfield) whose English was good. He had been paddling for two years but had failed again, yesterday at rolling. I gave him my observation – that it’s really hard until you do it once then its easy – and encouragement.

He told me about their day; they had paddled inside Matsushima bay in a circular route. Maybe about 8-10km; he said it was ‘too windy on the outside’ with some sadness in hos voice. I thought this was wrong and overly cautious. While I didn’t know the abilities of the group I figured they would be at least above ‘novice’ as there were kayaker owners/makers in the group. Even if there was one or two novices the sea conditions were good and if they had wanted to go ‘outside’ they could easily have done so.

When I went paddling with Earthquest in November 2005 I and other members of the group felt that Konno-san was being too cautious. He decided not to make the crossing to Izu-shima due to wind, a decision which we were happy to accept however he also decided that we should turn around and we ended up staying within about 500m of our put-in and no more than 30m from shore the whole day; not much of a tour especially as the bay was flat calm with no wind. There were three guides and 6 ‘guidees’, all beginners.

My experience with other guides is that they are more relaxed about conditions and willing to do what the ‘guidees’ are comfortable with. Paddlecoast took me out in big waves (okay we were one-on-one so that was maybe why); Algaforest took me and a complete novice out in wind and some chop; Nori took me and a novice (who struggled to keep his kayak in a straight line) out to Izu-shima without any fuss.

My conclusion is that I think Earthquest is overly cautious and this keeps me from being able to wholeheartedly recommend them. For me the excitement in kayaking is in the risk; the way to improve is to challenge yourself; and the best thing about sea kayaking is the sea. If you avoid these three things there is not that much left – flat water kayaking is boring.

Lastly I decided that my goals for the next month should be to go surfing while the water is still warm. The water won’t be warm next year until July which will only give me a month of surfing in Japan before its time to go home – to cold Scottish waters. I’m also going to try and go in eveinings – evenif only for an hour this is enough time to have fun in the surf.


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