Just to tease you a little bit, 2013 was the year that everything changed for me.

I discovered Vinnie Tortorich and his book, Fitness Confidential, the #NSNG lifestyle, got back on a bicycle after more than a couple decades, and decided to reclaim my body from middle age.

The things I then accomplished from that year on are nothing short of amazing.

But not without some mistakes and hard learning along the way.

Thunderbolt-X, Open water, and The Wye Island Regatta 2012

The last race of the 2012 season was the Wye Island Regatta.  I decided to race with my Thunderbolt-X kayak on the open water, which meant I would jump two classes higher in competition…the highest level at which I had ever competed.

Rough weather was expected that afternoon so the race organizers decided to shorten the race as an out-and-back on the protected side of the island rather than having us paddle the full 13+ miles around the island.

I paddled out as quickly as I could and as I turned around the last buoy to head back in I almost overturned because I had gotten used to adjusting for the wind blowing from my left so when I made the turn, the wind blowing from my right caught me off guard.  I made one giant bracing stroked that saved me and just then I noticed a guy on an Epic surf ski trying to remount his craft because he obviously just fought the same battle with the wind that I did and lost.

I had a good run and crossed the finished line in second place, some 80 seconds behind the winner.

My log shows that I recorded an average speed of 6.2mph with a top speed of 7mph.

I was satisfied with my finish and also thrilled that I actually beat an Epic surf ski that year.

My stern camera failed early in that race for some reason and I wished I had  GoPro.


Kayak ergometer from NordicTrack

Shortly thereafter I decided to buy a Nordic Track ski machine and turn it into a kayak ergometer so I could train and paddle in my basement anytime I wanted to–especially when the water was frozen.

What do you think of this project?

Enter: The Phoenix Match II kayak

One month after the Camp Kum-ba-yah race I found myself on vacation, visiting family in Erie, PA.

I checked out the local kayak rental places to see how much it would cost to rent a kayak for the week, and quickly realized it was very expensive.

So off to Craigslist I went.

In a cosmic event of unbelievable timing, I found an ad for a downriver racing kayak for sale.

I went to see it and shortly thereafter it was mine.

I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I could tell it was a very fast design and it looked like it was constructed of fiberglass.

It turned out to be a Phoenix Match II downriver racing kayak constructed of fiberglass and Nylon and one of the best investments I ever made.

After I realized what I had, I decided to restore her to the level she deserved.

Camp Kum-ba-yah River Race 2012

On June 16, 2012 I once again raced on the James River starting from Lynchburg, VA in the Camp Kum-Ba-Yah race which was a fundraiser so that underprivileged youth could attend summer camp in Lynchburg, VA.  The race coincided with the annual James River Batteau Festival which sees dozens of batteau boats (think: Lewis and Clark,) head downriver to both honor the accomplishments of early US explorers and recreate  the experience of early American commerce on rivers.

The organizers extended the length of the race that year to cover 13.4 miles so it was a challenge on a very hot, sunny day, but it was quite the exhilarating experience to be on the river with hundreds of other paddlers that day, many who supported batteau crew.

I loaded into the Cobra Viper kayak and headed out to compete with the best of the best as it pertains to local paddlers.

The race was neck-and-neck for quite a while between me and Tom E. in his experimental, fiberglass racing boat and he and I exchanged the lead several times before he finally wore me down and created some distance between us.

Once again, I got stuck on rocks in low water several times while Tom in his fiberglass boat seemed to just skim across the river bottom.

At the end of the race, I came across the finish line in second place a few minutes behind Tom at almost exactly 2 hours elapsed time.

It was a good run but once again it opened my eyes to the fact that developing into a good paddler is one thing, but having the right boat is another thing.

This was the first full year I kept a comprehensive paddling log to keep track of my total miles paddled, and prior to this race I had paddled 189 miles in preparation.

I was happy with my accomplishment but still a little unsettled that somebody beat me.


Rivanna River Race 2012

The week between the first and second Saturdays of May, 2012 seemed to drag slowly.

I was hoping for rain all week to increase water levels and raise the river but rain never came.

This was also to be the first year that the local race organizers were running a 6.2-mile downriver race in the morning and then a 7-mile flatwater race in the afternoon so, on paper, it seemed like an outstanding day of paddling and I looked forward to paddling in both races.

I scouted the river level Friday night and it did not look good.  The water on the Rivanna was very low.

No rain came overnight so I made a race day decision.

Rather than beat up one of my good kayaks on rocks on low water, I would enter the downriver race with my oldest son in the tandem category with my Keowee II kayak and then compete with my Thunderbolt-X in the afternoon on flatwater.

It was a hard decision because I very much wanted to compete against the best paddlers in the solo division downriver, but I knew with low water I was at a huge disadvantage and also I did not want to beat the living daylights out of one of my  good boats pounding and scraping against rocks the whole way down the river.

Josh and I won the downriver race in the morning in the tandem division which brought great satisfaction, but it meant I was going to have to wait yet another year to see how well I stacked up in the solo division versus the best local paddlers.

I did well that afternoon on flat water and took second place in my Thunderbolt-X kayak, 55 seconds behind the winner. The field was extremely competitive and only one minute and thirty three seconds separated the top four paddlers that day.

Overall it was a great day of paddling, but I was disappointed that I was not able to compare myself to the best local paddlers because low water forced me to choose a tandem kayak for the downriver race rather than a solo kayak.

But because of my outcome on flat water I knew I stacked up very well.

Maybe 2013 would be the year for me on my local river.

Downriver Race slideshow

7-mile flatwater race.


Whitewater kayaking

Somewhere around 2010 I also decided to expand my horizons and take up whitewater kayaking.  A little bit late in life, maybe, but I always wanted to do whitewater in a kayak because when I was younger and did Class III-IV whitewater in a raft I thought the kayak guys were having more fun.

So I picked up a used playboat, a Necky Jive, on ebay and took rolling classes at the University of Virginia to learn how to roll.

Here I was a couple months later when I went back to the pool to practice my new skills.


Spring 2012, My first kayak race that year

The first Saturday in May came and I was once again back racing a kayak on the Tye River in Nelson County, VA for the Nelson Downriver Race.

This was the first year I began logging all my paddling miles into a spreadsheet and prior to May 5, 2012, I had paddled only 12 workout paddles for ~96 miles.  Not much in terms of preparation, but I had spent some time in both the Thunderbolt-X and the Cobra Viper with the wing paddle.

The water was fairly low that day and the Viper scraped many rocks and seemed to stick to each and every one of them.  I had what I thought was a good run, but the water was very low so I knew I was at a huge disadvantage because my boat was plastic and heavy while others had fiberglass boats that would skid off rocks easier and float higher in the water because they were lighter.

I placed a respectable second place overall amongst solo paddlers but I was more than 6 minutes behind the first place paddler.

I did, however, get one of the coolest photos from the adventure when I got slightly hung in Rockpile Rapids and reached out to push off against a rock in the middle of the rapid.  The picture shows how I maintained my balance over the center of the boat even though it felt like I was going to get knocked sideways.

Rockpile Rapids, Nelson Downriver Race 2012

The “Rockpile Moment” can be seen at 6:30 of this video

Next Saturday would be mine, though, I thought.  My local Rivanna River race would be mine because I just had a great warmup race and I would practice hard throughout the week to make sure I was ready.