Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Overnighter on the Chattooga 2010

     Its a trip I have done since I was a kid.  When I first started paddling down the Chattooga it was all about me and the experience I was having.  I was completely focused on the skills I was learning, the rapids I was running, and how much fun I was having.  Now 30 years later its all about the trip as a whole.  Sure I want to have a good time but seeing every body else have a great time is as important if not more so and in that experience I am having the time of my life.
     Except for a few folks having to miss the trip it went off without a hitch and that is an understatement.  Saturday morning it was a little drizzly, grey, and cool, but as soon as we rolled into South Carolina the skies began to clear.  We rolled down the windows to the LL van for some warm breezes.  It really started to feel like summer was just a day or two away.

    We had a very mixed crew ranging in age from 1 to nearly 50.  Paddling experiences from total beginner to grizzled veterans.   Now that Liquidlogic is turning 10 years old its cool to have so many different options of boats for people to paddle.   The beginner paddlers jumped in the Remixs and Coupe sit on tops.  The veterans piled their boats high with gear for the over night trip in the Remix XP, Deuce Coupe, and I played around with a Versa Board loaded down like a barge for the trip.  We also had a double duck to take the smallest kid in, and a raft for the floating imagination island of the young boys.

     Of course it was fun to watch the boys play "lord of the flies" on the raft but a really cool thing to watch develop over the two days was Vicky learning to paddle on the fly.  The two day trip starts with very easy whitewater and lots of flatwater which was perfect because she was able to learn her strokes very well and get a feel for how the Remix 59 turns and travels through the water.  Day two picks up quite a bit with more whitewater and faster moving current and she handled it all incredibly well.   In fact towards the end of day two is a section with a couple of really rapids and she walked back up to run Dicks Creek Ledge (a nice easy class 3 drop at this level) a second time just for fun.

The above shot is Vicky on her first day of kayaking on Big Shoals of Section 2 of the Chattooga.

These two shots are of Dicks Creek Ledge on Section 3.

Go Vicky!

We also had a great mix of gear boats.  Nick turned his raft into a floating imagination island with a mountain of gear in the middle.  Betsy loaded up a Deuce Coupe sit on top with gear for two, beers and chocolate milk for everybody else.  Polk loaded up his Ducky for the entire family.  Maria and Elsy took the Remix XPs down with loaded hatches and I piled a bunch of gear on top of the Versa Board to see how it would handle a load.


Oh and lets not forget food.  The only way to have a great overnighter or multi day trip is with good food.  Nick made an awesome Dahl Bhat dinner with Nan and we cooked up Blueberry pancakes and scrambles for breakfast.  Throw in some good lunches and beverages and you have the perfect trip topper.  I think next time we really need to make it three or four days.

Some day make it a priority to go spend the weekend out, with sand between your toes, and the sounds of the river putting you to sleep.

Here is a slide show of all the photos from the trip.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mothers Day on the Coupes and Versa Boards

This past weekend I drove up to a friends house near Galax, Va. for a cool Mothers Day weekend with a couple families.  On one of the days we took boats out on the New River for some good family fun.  We had two first time Versa Board paddlers, a couple youngins in the Deuce Coupe with Mom, and an 8 year old out braving the river, rapids, and long horn cattle all on his own in the Coupe.  It was a great day.

I like being able to hand the Versa Board off to anyone knowing that they are going to have a great time.  Its a very confidence inspiring board.  Anyone can jump on, stand up, and take it for a spin without worrying about stability, tracking, or maneuverability.  The same is true of the Coupes and this weekend was a perfect test of that.  Maria jumped on the Deuce Coupe with her two chillins and was able to carry the whole posse easily.  At the same time Roman paddled where ever he wanted and controlled the Coupe easily all by him self.

Looking forward to another trip.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Road Prong and West Prong of the Little Pigeon in my Liquidlogic Remix 79

Hiking up the trail to the Road Prong

Sunday evening the rain started at my house.  Early morning Monday a hard driving rain woke me up.  I called in sick? well? What ever.  It was raining and everything was running.  Andrew, Adriene and I met up at the classic Cracker Barrel meet point and headed over the mountains to the Knoxville side of the Smokies. West Prong was the chosen run.  We figured it would be high but we could wait for it to drop in to a better level.  

Classic Smokey's Low Volume

When we got to the gauge for the West Prong and it was over 2 feet and since none of us knew the run that well we decided not to jump on at what even the locals call very high.  We went to the put in and ran over to check out a large tributary, Road Prong.  You can get all the info for this run here.

Road Prong is a hike up run so you earn your turns.  You actually hike right up from the put in for the West Prong.  I hadn't ever run this section before so I was pretty excited to go.  The water was low but we had a great time.  Lots of quick boulder pile, classic Smoky Mountain paddling with some wood involved.

Go slowly, drop over the ledge sideways, dodge log with head and paddle, land on rock, surf out of small hole.  Yep thats the line.

After finishing off the Road Prong at 5:30 in the evening we jumped on the West Prong and headed down.  The water was still nice and juicy and the minute we touched it we knew we were on a completely different run.  I don't know that we had 200 cfs in the Road Prong, but the West Prong was pumping some fun volume through its river bed.  My guess would be around 500 or 600 cfs but I don't have any idea really.  Here is the info on the West Prong.

The action was non stop.  Andrew nor I knew any names so it was funny to run into Howard Tidwell, hes about as local as it gets, and learn that just about everything had a name and most of the names we had heard in stories before.  We did stop quite a bit to make sure things were good to go.  I also stopped paddling upright so that I could work on my roll.  By the time we got the the takeout I was ready and we were pretty much done with day light.  Awesome awesome day out there.
Can't wait to do it again and know some of the names and cut down on the roll practice.

Looking downstream into perfect evening light with lots of fluffy water all around.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Development of the Liquidlogic Versa Board

The first day paddling the first Versa Board prototype.

The Versa Board started more than a year ago as just an experiment in this style of craft.  We were interested to see what direction this type of vehicle would go for Liquidlogic.  At the time Native Watercraft (our partner in Legacy Paddlesports) had been developing a stand up paddle board that was more of a touring design and Woody and I had a few ideas of how we could bring a completely  different angle to a Stand Up Paddle board, and a great compliment to the Native designed Osceola.  We wanted to make a board that anyone could use because of its versatility.

The first day is also the day we knew that it was cool.

I started the design in the computer so that we could look at it before taking the time to build a model.  Doing it in the computer allows me to check stability, and some of the efficiency details.  After doing that I started a very basic plug, made of sections glued together.  Allen and I spent the better part of a week gluing all the sections together and shaping the final model in from the sections.  The nice thing about this technique is that it allows me to paddle something right away rather than having to wait on making a mold and making plastic prototypes.  It also allowed us to make modifications in fiberglass and test right away as well.  Then once we felt like we were close we made a final model so that we could do plastic prototypes.

Gluing the sections together to start the boat.

Allen working on hull concepts.

After paddling lots of SUPs it was pretty obvious that there were very few designs that were made for the beginner, or person unfamiliar with stand up board sports.  Standing up is a strange way to move if you haven't done it before.  Most boards are tippy to stand on and this would be a hinderance for lots of people that might want to get into the sport.  Traditional stand up paddleboards do track well but the other thing they don't do well is turn.  So that is where we figured we would use the retractable skeg that we have in several of our boats.  The skeg allows the boat to track when you want by dropping the skeg down in the water but when you want to turn just flip the lever and the boat spins more easily.  The other thing that was not being addressed by other boards was the lack of storage space and accessorizing capabilities.  So this got us started on a board that would be a great beginner board but also be versatile enough that anyone would want to paddle one and use it for lots of different applications.

Checking out the stability on Proto #2.

First testing of the swivel seat idea.  Very cold day for a cool idea.

The vision for the Versa board was that it could be paddled standing up but it would also be a great sit on top kayak.  That idea lead us to many different hull shapes, outfitting options, deck rigging, and potential for alternative uses like fishing, physical training, and stand up touring.  In the first prototype it was evident that we were onto something.  There was the obvious cool factor of stand up paddling.  When you paddle this type of craft standing up you get a totally different perspective on the water.  As a kayaker you are used to being down in the boat, and down in the water.  With an SUP (stand up paddleboard) you are much higher especially when you are standing but even sitting down you are above the water more because of the broader flatter hull of a board.  In a whitewater or touring kayak you will draw nearly twice the water and the seats are on the hull which puts you pretty far down in the water.  On the Versa board you are sitting up on top of the boat and it is only drawing a few inches so therefore you are higher to start with which is fun because it feels like you are skimming along the surface.  Functionally for fishermen its a great advantage to be up high to see down in the water while fishing.  We also saw that anyone was able to paddle this board because of its solid stability.  Many times during prototyping we had people tell us they didn't think they could stand up and paddle but with in just a few moments on the board they said "this is way easier than I thought it would be".

Allen shaping in the foot rests.

Once we found it to be a fun boat to paddle both standing and sitting we started producing different ideas for seating options, and other accessories for the Versa Board.  The surface area was a natural platform for storage so we started adding bungees bow and stern to store more items.  We made sure to keep lots of flat surfaces for attaching any type of accessory be it for fishing or touring.  Over the last 10 years there has been a boom in kayak fishing and this boat lent itself perfectly to that concept.  The guys in our company that fish started drooling right away when they first saw the Versa Board because of all the potential for customizing.  One of our seating ideas is a seat that swivels 360 degrees.  This is another option that made our fishing buddies go nuts.  Not only did this allow the entire area around the boat to be fished but it also allowed a fisherman or any paddler to access any gear on the boat, no matter where it was.

Versa in the surf zone.

Woody stowing on proto 5.

Woody and I have spent a lot of time on these boards playing around with ideas but also just watching how people reacted and played with the Versa boards.  Woody started paddling it down an easy stretch of moving water including a couple rapids, and I got into taking my dogs out on the board for workouts or just getting out on the water.  Woody found that everyone wanted to try it.  Folks are drawn to the completely different way of paddling.  My dogs love going out on the board.  They walk around while I paddle out into our local lake.  One thing I noticed but hadn't anticipated was how good a core workout it was.  I assumed it would wear my arms out but in fact my abs were what was tired by the time I came in.  One of the coolest things of all is watching how much fun kids have on the board.  They can stand up, move around, jump off, and because its low and flat they can climb back in on their own.  Its a great floating play platform on the water.

Woody paddling the play platform.

Even dogs love the Versa Board

So after a years worth of testing.  We feel like we have a boat that anyone can have a great time on because of it's confidence inspiring stability for beginners yet it has the easy handling capabilities and versatility to be anything you want.  Start with the performance of the board and add in all the accessories including deck storage bags and coolers, a paddle holder, 2 different seating options with one of them swiveling 360 degrees, and an accessory track called the Groove which will allow the attachment of many new accessories and you have a completely versatile, hybrid craft to paddle.

Chelsea touring the Biltmore House.

   All totalled we did 7 different prototypes of this board.  We spent a lot of time getting the performance, stability, and function dialed in for all types of paddling.  Through all that testing and prototyping we realized that there is a lot more to the potential of this board than just stand up paddling.  This board is comfortable touring, in oceans or on lakes, gentle streams and even easy whitewater.  I think you are going to love it.

Here are a bunch more shots we have taken of the Versa during development.

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