What? A blog without pictures? Well, yes, but how about I make it short to compensate. I don’t have enough time to make it short but I’ll try :)
Tom Bamonte and I wearily looked at the forecast and decreasing winds on Tuesday night wondering if the waves brought up by one of the strongest storms in the past couple of years will visit the Chicago side of the lake. As forecasted, they did! And so did we…
Leaving the house in the dark with the kayak on the car-top in the middle of a workweek was a strange experience. Like so many times before I asked myself the ubiquitous “Is it really worth it?” In the morning I was leaning toward NO and I did not know it yet that the answer will be a definite YES!
I arrived at Montrose beach just after sunrise. I knew that only by the clock because the sun was nowhere to be seen behind the thick clouds. As I pulled in I saw drysuit-clad Tom quickly jump into his car and drive away. There was no kayak left behind, nor was there one on his roof so I wondered if this was a reconnaissance run. This, of course, did not make any sense, but neither did the absence of the kayak. Turns out the kayak was already carried to the water.
We paddled out through 3-5’ breaking waves and made a couple of runs around the buoys parallel to the shore. When, according to Tom, we felt like we belong here [in the surf] we began our runs with the waves toward shore. For me they started very slowly and awkwardly with very tentative confidence in the ability to stay upright and way too much honey in my morning tea. After a couple of violent tumbles in the soup of freshly broken waves, hanging desperately on the ‘off’ side and without going over, I began to feel pretty good. The gain in confidence was soon followed by more aggressive attack angles, deeper leans and edges, and eventually longer and longer rides. The waves at the end of a strong storm like this that lasts a couple of days are always the best. Here at Montrose the waves would spill over themselves a bit too fast for ultimate surfing experience but that’s pretty much as good as it gets in these waters.
At about 7:30am three more kayaks emerged from the North. Not sure if they paddled all the way from Leone beach but GKCs Scott Fairty, Alec Bloyd-Peshkin and Bonnie (that’s all I got in the roar of the wind and waves) darted into the surf like three eager brightly colored dolphins. I say that because even from a short distance you could see more wave faces than human faces. When the human ones emerged from the trough, it really looked like they were out for a gulp of air and then down they dart behind another wave again and again.
That’s where I noticed an inspiring range of differences in the activities of the five paddlers. Scott seemed to be preoccupied with backwards surf. Regular kayakers do that when waves are not big enough to surf forwards. Scott was practicing back-surfing in 5’ waves. And doing it with impressive style I must say. The bow of his yellow Cetus was consistently twisting high in the air like a flag of victory. What work ethic! Scott just got back from the Michigan side of the lake where, along with other GKC talents, they attempted to catch the best (or worst—depends on perspective) of the storm. Yet, 7am the morning after he was hard at work again. And, don’t be mistaken, he is a professional kayaker so this was work for him while the rest of us reveled in the guilty pleasure of time stolen from a work day.
Tom, way more than anybody else, was seen on the east side of the beach one minute and then on the west side the next. He seemed to enjoy a mix of parallel and perpendicular runs to shore. Montrose is his home turf so he must know how to get the most out of it. At times he would disappear altogether and I could not tell if he was on the outside of the jetty or in the protected circle at the top or under the water. Tom is an extremely safety conscious paddler and one with some of the best and most practiced self-rescue skills, yet I was worried a couple of times when he was nowhere to be seen for minutes at a time. A dolphin. He would just dive for a little longer after a particularly tasty ride…
Alec and Bonnie headed for shore right after they arrived which makes me think that they paddled all the way down from Rogers Park. After a short rest, they headed straight out for the jetty on the east side of the beach and spent a long time in reflecting waters at its top. Confused reflecting waves and clapotis seem to be the favorite of kayak instructors. After spending two full days in reflecting chop off the cliffs of Isle Royale I had no desire to tamper with sea sickness but the experience definitely builds rough water sills and confidence.
Me, I just took run after run after run from the outside in. Each ride got better and better than the previous one. Some of the steepest learning curve I’ve experienced. The rides were getting smoother, more perpendicular to the face of the wave and, most importantly, longer.
What a huge difference the boat makes! Compared to my Nordkapp HS, the Avocet is infinitely more nimble and controllable in the surf zone. I can’t quite catch the waves as easily as in the Nordkapp but, once I do, the fun really begins. Avocet is slower, so it doesn’t slide off the face of the wave quite as quickly as the Nordkapp. Avocet is shorter and its stern is a shallower V than the Nordkapp’s knife-like tail which makes it a lot easier to move with a stern rudder. The whole boat is also a lot lighter with a wider cockpit. Less weight and increased mobility make it easier to stay up when surfing sideways.
The two hours that I had for pleasure this morning passed way too quickly. Truth be told, I am not sure if I had much more left in the gas tank but the fact that I was able to catch consecutive long runs pretty consistently at the end of the session made it hard to say good-bye to the rest of the kids who were staying on the water playground. A kite surfer showed up on the beach as I was tying my kayak to the racks. Waves plenty large for challenge yet not too large to make paddling in them merely a matter of survival, water and air temperatures around 60, add an inspirational group around you and what comes out is one of the best ways to start a work day I can think of!