Monday, January 23, 2012

Clover Point Waves (1.21.12)

I've often been told that when the McKenzie River (OR) gets really high flows that Clover Point forms a series of huge surf waves, and is arguably the best play in Oregon. However, since I much prefer creeking, I seem to always end up on the steep stuff since the flows of Clover and the nearby creeks typically coincide with each other. This past weekend things were different, as most everything was blown-out except for Lake Creek and Clover. Since I’ve run Lake Creek many times before, I opted for the latter and made some phone calls to rally the troops. Soon enough, we had a fairly good sized group. Since it’s only about 45 minutes from Eugene, we decided to get some extra sleep and opted for a late start, leaving town around 1pm.

The gauge was reading just under 5’ and was dropping pretty steadily. My understanding is that the best flows are between 4.5’ and 5.5’, although I’ve heard it’s also good up to about 6’. As we drove past the waves, they definitely looked sweet through the car windows, and I was getting pretty fired-up to see what they had to offer.

The gauge used for Clover. On this day we had between
5' and 4.5' as it dropped throughout the day

As Roman and I pulled into the Mom’s Pies parking lot, we saw Lofty and Tyson, who were the first ones to arrive. While changing, Joe, Matt, and Eric showed up, rounding out the crew for the day. One-by-one we put-on and headed the 1/8 mile or so downstream to the giant waves. Since I had crammed a bunch of camera gear in my little playboat (not tied in of course), I decided to play it safe and skirt the waves before pulling into the staging eddy. Once there I quickly unpacked my boat and threw the gear on shore. After taking a few pics I got back in my boat, slid into the water, and got ready for my turn.

The Clover waves. Note that the one in front of Tyson and Roman
(just off the rock) is actually the entrance wave-hole that is used
to get on the main ones in the middle of the river.

Once again, Clover is actually a set of three waves that form at high water. The first two are stacked back to back with the third sitting back just a bit. The third is also more of a wave hole and can get pretty rowdy if you get into the meat of it. That said, the first is the most targeted with the second being a good backup in the event that you flush off. It should also be noted that getting onto the waves takes a bit of effort. Basically, one must surf a small, and somewhat sticky, wave-hole at the top of the eddy to get into the main flow; once there you will line up while floating backwards until the pile of the wave smashes against your back and shoots you forward down the face of the wave – this is probably my favorite part of the surf!

Joe drops into the entrance wave-hole to get to the main waves

The author drops down the face of the wave after droppin' in

Once you’ve settled onto the wave (the first one), be ready for a fun bouncy ride -- this wave is very dynamic. It took me a few rides to start feeling comfortable and relax my nerves a bit, as it’s a pretty intimidating amount of power. If you are a good playboater (which I’m not), you should be able to throw a pretty good variety of aerial tricks. I was just happy to carve and throw spins, which were remarkably easy thanks to the large pile at the top and strong shoulders at the edges. Once again, as you come off the top wave keep it pointed upstream to catch the one right behind it, which is also quite fun to surf, although not as retentive or clean.

Matt carves it up on the first wave

Tyson takes his turn on the first wave

Aaron (Lofty) works the first wave.
Notice the shoulders and pile -- Awesome!

Roman looks on as Lofty sets up between moves

Matt throws a nice blunt on the first wave

Lofty gets a nice bounce -- pretty common on the first wave.

Eric digs in for a nice ride

The author mid spin. The large pile made staying on pretty easy.

Roman on wave #1

The last wave, as stated above, is pretty burly, but at the same time, can really give up some good rides. To get on this one you really need to come off the second on surfer's right (river-left). There is one more small hole directly after the third – although it’s not really surfable, it could mess with you while rolling up.

Aaron tries out the third wave

Aaron gets some spins in the meaty
part of #3 as Roman drives for the eddy

Everyone in the group was having a blast, but getting pretty tired at the same time. It’s amazing how much energy it took to get out to the wave as well as stay in control once you were on it. This of course can make it tough to roll back up, especially since the water is so chaotic down below – even the swirly water blocking the eddy can throw you around a bit. We actually had a swim in the group, which ended up being fairly long but relatively safe, since there are no real hazards downstream other than the fast moving current.

All in all, I’m super glad I checked out these waves, and will certainly be returning from time to time. They offer opportunities for tricks way beyond my abilities, but even with my limited arsenal of moves it was great fun, albeit a little intimidating at first.

Footage from our session at Clover:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Camera Gear

Recently I’ve had people asking me what equipment I use to take photos while kayaking and mountain biking, so I thought it might be good to do a post specifically geared (no pun intended) to this topic. First off, I am by no means a professional, or even an amateur photographer -- I’m simply an overzealous hobbyist that that also has a problem when it comes to spending money on gear, just ask anyone who knows me. With that out of the way, let’s get to the discussion at hand.

What kind of setup do I need?
This would be like asking, what kind of kayak or mountain bike do I need? Obviously it depends on what you’re looking to get out of it--there is no right answer here. Start by asking yourself “What features are important to me?” Life is full of compromises, and camera gear is no different. Here are a couple of considerations:

1. Cost: How much money do you want to spend? The sky is the limit here.

2. Weather resistance: e.g. A waterproof point & shoot (with which you can take pictures from your boat) vs. a non-waterproof camera (kept in a dry container with pictures taken from shore). One disadvantage of the waterproof camera used while in your boat is water droplets on the lens. I have seen a lot of photos, which could have been really good, ruined simply by this.

3. Compactness: How big of a camera do you want to lug around? I know many people that have bought a DSLR without considering this, and eventually it ends up collecting dust as a paperweight. That said, DSLRs are great (I have one), but once again, make sure you understand the bulk associated with them.

4. Photo quality: The reality is that you can take solid pictures with a point & shoot (P&S), but to really unlock your creative talent, you may want to look into getting a large sensor / interchangeable lens setup.

5. Features: e.g. Video modes, low light performance, manual exposure controls, live view (w/ histogram).

6. End use: Are you simply taking pictures to post on Facebook, using them for a blog (as I am), or planning to make money off them? Your answer here will greatly influence the first four considerations.

My gear list:
Okay, let’s get to what I shoot with. Based on my requirements/limitations of a median budget, high quality images, compactness/convenience, and end use, I opted for the following:

The equipment

Camera Body(s):
1. Sony NEX-5N (primary)
I went with a mirrorless, interchangeable lens system for my primary setup. Probably the most popular of this market are the four-thirds variety -- however, by the time I was ready to purchase, Sony had just came out with an ambitious offering by way of the NEX system. The NEX’s selling point for me was its relatively compact form factor and large sensor (APS-C sensor; the same size found on a majority of the DSLRs on the market). The NEX-5N can also capture video at 1080p @ 60fps, not bad for putting together some high quality flicks. One of my favorite features on the NEX system is the live view / histogram, which is really invaluable for setting exposure quickly and effectively. For a review/more info on the NEX-5N, go here.

This shows the size advantage of the NEX-5N over
a standard DSLR, in this case my Pentax K20D.

The 5N with the 16mm pancake lens. Fits in
the palm of your hand, or pocket for that matter.

It should be noted that all the NEX cameras, except the recently released NEX-7, do not have a viewfinder. That said, Sony does sell an external viewfinder (FDA-EV1S) which is specifically designed for and only fits on the 5N. At ~$350, it's considered the best electronic viewfinder made, and it shows. Another attachment that Sony sells is an Alpha Lens adapter (LA-EA2), which allows you to use Sony's entire line of Minolta/Alpha mount lenses. Further, it adds phase-detection auto-focus (via internal mirrors), essentially turning the NEX into a full fledged DSLR. Unfortunately, it's also very expensive at ~$400.

The NEX-5N with the Alpha lens converter (LA-EA2)
and OLED Viewfinder (FDA-EV1S). This essentially makes
it a true DSLR, and at the same time, all but eliminates its
compact size advantage. However, you add Phase-Detection AF
and the ability to use Sony's entire lens line-up.

2. Pentax K20D (bad weather camera):
A true DSLR, and what I go to when weather is going to be nasty, since it touts a burly weatherproof build, blocking both rain and dust from its insides. This thing is a beast (big) and actually has worse image quality / low light performance than my NEX, but it does have some additional features that are nice, including time-lapse capabilities and phase detection auto-focus. For a review/more info on the K20D, go here.

The K20D showing off its weather resistant
armor -- try doing that with your typical DSLR

1. Sony 18-200mm /F3.5-6.3 (e-mount) - This is my workhorse lens, which is amazingly sharp for a zoom that covers this large of focal range. However, it's also fairly spendy at $800.

2. Sony 18-55mm/F3.5-5.6 (e-mount) - This lens is actually pretty darn good for a kit lens. Not quite as sharp as the 18-200, but still a great range when I don't want to lug around the larger lens.

3. Sony 16mm pancake /F2.8 (e-mount) - This lens can also be purchased as a kit lens, and is incredibly small, making it great for mountain biking. It's pretty soft in the corners, but is actually quite sharp at F5.6 to F8. The other nice thing about it is its ability to accept the following two converters.

4. Sony 12mm wide-angle converter for the 16mm (e-mount) - This is a great adapter that really opens up the viewing angle. I love using this for shooting down on someone going over a waterfall, for it makes the drop look bigger than it is. This can be had for about $100, which is a real bargain.

5. Sony 10mm Fisheye converter for the 16mm (e-mount) - This is also a really fun adapter. I've been using this for super close-up shots of someone coming into or out of a drop -- it really creates a dynamic effect. This can also be picked up for $100, and should definitely be in your NEX kit.

6. Sony 35mm/F1.8 (Alpha Mount) - A budget lens (~$200), that has fantastic optics for the price tag; even when shot wide open at F1.8. This is a great mid-focal length that I pull out in low-light situations that are quite common during the winter in the Pacific Northwest.

7. Sony 50mm/F1.8 (Alpha Mount) - Another budget high-quality prime (~$150) which is almost identical to the 35mm in every aspect except focal length.

Lenses 1 thru 7, from left to right. Note the LA-EA2
adapter on the 35mm/F1.8 (second from the right)

Pentax 18-135 WR (weather resistant lens)

I have many more lenses than this lying around the house, but I rarely pull from them for kayaking or mountain biking. Basically the ones listed here more than cover my needs for adventure photography.

The main requirements for storing your camera while kayaking is that it must be both waterproof and shockproof. If you don’t have a camera with these functions built-in (I’ve only seen them available in point & shoot) then you’re going to need a good container. I know many people that use drybags (e.g. Watershed) and love them, but I’ve always preferred Pelican cases for the ease of use (opening and closing), as well as superior shock resistance. Depending on the situation and gear I’m bringing, I have three that I choose from:

Pelican 1120 – This case can hold my NEX-5N with the 18-200, but it’s cramped and there is no room for any other lenses. This is what I prefer for self-support multi-day trips (based on its compact size) or runs I don’t feel I need to get too creative taking shots.

As you can see, it's a tight fit with the 5N/18-200mm combo.
Also note that you won't be able to attach the viewfinder.

Pelican 1150 – This case is my workhorse, it lets me carry my NEX-5N and a wide-angle setup. There is also plenty of room for a couple of rags, which are necessary for wiping water from my hands and the camera.

Perfect for the 5N/18-200mm combo + 16mm/fisheye combo

One of my favorite things about the Bliss Stick Mystic
is the storage compartment between the legs. It fits the
1150 perfectly, which makes me think that's what it was
designed for. The one addition I made was the buckle
strap, which I feel is more secure and makes it easier
to access than the bungee cord.

Pelican 1200 – This is the only case that my Pentax K20D DSLR will fit in – luckily it has enough of a footprint to also carry some accessories like those rags. I also use this case if I feel like bringing multiple lenses with my 5N.

Due to the height, this is the only case that will accommodate most DLSRs.
Unfortunately it's not as good of a fit under the knees as the 1150.

Mountain Biking:
Luckily with mountain biking you don’t really need a waterproof container, but it is advisable to have something that is both dust and rain repellent and protects from impact if you crash. Another big consideration is ease of access. If your camera is hard to get to (e.g. zipped up in your Camelbak), chances are you aren’t going to take a lot of photos. Based on these factors as well as what camera setup I plan to bring, I use either my Mountain Feedbag or my LowePro chestpack.

Mountain Feedbag:
This wonderful gizmo was developed by a gal in Oakridge, Oregon and has become a common fixture on the bikes of local riders. Most people use them to store food and tools, especially for racing where it allows you to get to items quickly. For me it’s the perfect fit for my NEX-5N with the 16mm pancake lens, making my camera easy to grab to fire off those quick shots. I can actually fit my 5N with the 18-55mm kit lens in the Feedbag, but it’s definitely tight.

The Mountain Feedbag conveniently hangs at the
handlebar/stem intersection. This makes for a quick
grab so you don't miss the action. One bit of advice
is to make sure you have a screen protector on your
camera, as it is prone to getting scratched while
pulling it out/putting it back in.

A good fit with the 5N/16mm combo

Another shot showing how good it fits

LowPro Chestpack:
This pack is quite large, I can even fit my K20D inside it. That said, I barely notice it when I’m riding. I’ve been told it looks kinda silly and like I’m transporting a baby, so if you're worried about fashion, this may not be the best choice. For me the benefits are the easy access and relatively protected location (I haven’t taken many chest-plants). The harness accessory I bought for it that keeps the bag stable, even when the trail gets choppy -- I was pretty surprised with how well it performed in this regard. My biggest concern is how hot it will be to wear in the summer, which I’ve yet to test.

Although the chestpack looks big,
you really don't notice it much while riding.

A self-portrait of the side view

So there you have it, a general overview of the photo equipment I use for Wheels & Water. Obviously this selection is based on my needs, and may or may not work for you. I strongly encourage you to determine your requirements and do your homework. is a great place to get the info you need on specific cameras, with reviews on forums for each camera manufacturer.

On last bit of advice that I would give is to get your camera insured. I pay $17/yr which covers my N5 & 18-200mm lens with no deductible. A great peace of mind since dropping it in the water, theft, or some other foolish move would put me out ~$1,500.

Later, I’m planning to do a post on some of my recommended techniques, but once again, I make no claims of being a great photographer, I’m simply a hack that’s willing to share what works best for me. If you’re looking for additional advice (from a far better photographer than myself), check out Darin McQuoid’s blog and tutorials, found here.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Celebrating New Years on the Water

It had been a tough start to the kayaking season in the PNW, fraught with a cold/dry weather pattern. Probably the most unfortunate outcome was for my buddy Jason who was up visiting for the holidays from Southern Cali. You see, Jason was one of my most dependable boating buddies while he lived here in Eugene, so I was hoping to get on the water with him while he was in town. The first week he was here we had nothing, although we still had a good time just hangin' in town visiting some of our old haunts. Just when we started thinking that boating would not be in the cards for this visit, everything changed...

The following week we got 4 1/2" of rain in the period of a couple days, which was more than enough to send the rivers and creeks sky-high, signaling the true start to the boating season. Overnight, the mood in the boating community went from depression to elation, with the message boards and social media sites lighting up with plenty of giddy chatter. With that, we had plenty of local (Eugene) options available for the New Years' weekend, and we ended up hitting two of our favorite class IV/IV+ runs, Brice Creek & Upper Quartzville.

Brice Creek, OR (12/31/11):
Saturday morning the flows on Brice looked to be perfect, and good enough to bring a few other local boaters out of semi-retirement, including Eric Emerson (who I hadn't really boated with in a year), and Roman Androsov & Shawn Haggin who for various reasons hadn't been boating much the last couple of months -- okay, mainly due to poor water conditions... Whatever the case, it was really good to have elements of the ol' crew together on the water once again! We drove ~1 hour southeast to the takeout, where we confirmed we'd have excellent flow for both the Upper & Lower runs. Fired-up, we drove ~8 miles upstream to Parker Falls, one of the best put-ins to any creek I've ever run. Basically you pull out of an eddy, make a S-Turn through some fun hydraulics, and then drop down a ~20' sliding waterfall!

Roman makes some last minute adjustments
before dropping into Parker Falls

Roman drops down the last pitch of Parker Falls

Jason at Parker

Shawn takes his turn

The run-out below Parker Falls -- Beautiful!

Below Parker the creek winds its way downhill with a gradient of more than 200' per mile. This "Upper" stretch lasts for 3-4 miles and is basically one long boulder garden with a couple of ledges mixed in for good measure. The "Lower" run drops with half the gradient, but has more water and some pretty stout ledges throughout its 4-5 miles. Here are a couple shots of some of the action. For full trip reports of the both runs , which I put together last year, go here (Upper) and here (Lower):

Shawn drops down Bubble Trouble

Eric boofin' over the bottom hole of Bubble Trouble

Shawn slides into The Snake

Jason lines up The Snake

Jason goes for the boof at Orthodontist's Nightmare

Roman grabs for the boof at Upper Trestle

Roman scouts Lower Trestle. The hole on this one
is nasty, you're gonna wanna keep your bow up...

Jason shoulders at Lower Trestle

Shawn does it right at Lower Trestle

That night we rang in the New Year at our buddy Scott's house, who is also a boater, so there was plenty of talk about what everybody had run that day and were planning to run the following couple of days, which we still had off of work (or school). After a quick check of the water levels via smartphone technology, it looked like another one of our favorites, Upper Quartzville, would drop in. Having banked this run back to back with Brice is almost unprecedented!

Upper Quartzville (1/1/12):
This drive takes a little longer, a solid 1 1/2 hours to get to from Eugene. This time Jason, Roman, and I would be joined by Scott Bridgham and Bobby Brown, for another good sized crew. It's actually a very difficult run to catch in the winter, due to snow, but the lack of water when it was cold, and the warm front that accompanied the rain made it possible to do without hiking in. Since we planned to do two runs, we decided to skip the last mile which would also cutout a portage and some water that isn't as good as the top four or so miles. Once again, we had perfect levels and I won't get into the details of the run, but here are photos of some of the action. Like above, to see a full trip report that I posted last season, go here.

Loading up for a day on Upper Q

The Quartzville crew
(Bobby, Jason, Roman, and Scott)

Roman takes the slot at Grocker

Bobby goes for the boof at Grocker

Scott resurfaces

Bobby rounds the corner at D.f.B.

Collision course at D.f.B.

Roman at Corkscrew

Jason readies for impact at the bottom of Corkscrew

Scott on line at Corkscrew

The Author gets ready to drop into Corkscrew
(photo by Jason Naranjo)

The Author runs Corkscrew while Scott looks on
(photo by Jason Naranjo)

The Author below Corkscrew
(photo by Jason Naranjo)

Boater talk between laps

Well there you have it, a great couple of days of boating to finish off the old and bring in the New Year with my paddling buddies. I only hope 2012 will consist of many other good days on the water -- Bring it on!