Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Adding more chapters

I am just about to finish the autobiography of Bear Grylls - Mud, Sweat and Tears. I always thought that celebrities write autobiographies at the end of their lives, but clearly this is not the case. Bear Grylls is a couple of years younger than me, but he has already achieved so much that he is able to write a 500-page book about some of the major events in his life so far. I guess if I do the same I might also have enough information to fill a 500-page book, the only difference is that in my case I probably won’t find anyone interested in reading it.

Yesterday after a short kite surfing session I had a beer with a friend of mine who possible could also write a book about her life so far. Although only 28 she has already did a few skydives, managed to get a pilot’s license at a very young age, finished an engineering degree and is fast becoming one of South Africa’s promising female paragliding pilots. Just like Bear Grylls she too had a nasty fall that could've disabled her for life, but she was lucky....or was “protected” as Bear prefers to refer to adventurers making it to the other side where others have not been so fortunate.  As always we were reflecting on our lives. Hers is basically just starting, mine if I manage to live to 80, is halfway through. Yet we both share a passion for the outdoors, for the thrill seeking lifestyle. Bear managed to create that for himself from an early age. Although she is still looking ahead for ways to change her life is such a way that he can just cruise from one take-off spot to the other, I am at a point in my life where I start looking back on what I have achieved and constantly fear that there lies nothing ahead for me. A recipe for depression to say the least, but I am sure my autobiography does not have a last chapter yet.

I don’t think there is a much of a difference between the three if us when it comes to finding the ingredients that keeps us alive.  I think what made a difference in our lives is the way we were brought up, the opportunities we got and the determination to chase our dreams.  For me as a child being adventurous was not always easy. I grew up in a much protected environment and being "responsible" looked better on a CV than being "adventurous". I did what was expected of most children leaving school and that was to get an education first. Travelling the world was a luxury white South African men did not have those years, it was army or university.  Because there was money and my teachers thought I was intelligent enough I went for the latter. Today I can boast with a couple of degrees and even though that might look good on my CV, I do not have the certificates posted on my wall. That is not what I needed to live. Yes, it puts bread on my plate, but it never kept me alive. Being outdoors and seeking adventure keeps me going. My job is a means to end, a way to pay for the things I need to be outside. The qualifications secures that and for that reason I  appreciate the fact that I had the opportunity to study.

After my disastrous bike trip a year ago I ventured out less. I somehow realized that it is not about me any more,  there are more people in my life that keeps me going and that would prefer me to be around for a few more years to come. Having a family, friends and children can make up for the times I miss a good surf session or when I do not find time to renew my paragliding license. Bear said that if he has to decide between being a hero or being a dad then the choice is obvious. He would rather spend time with his family. But there will always be that search for adventure, for being outdoors, for doing things that the average Joe doesn't do. Lately that feeling has gotten very strong for me again. After each kite session I come alive. I feel I am a better person when I am all psyched up. I can be a better husband, a better father and a better friend when I still get that chance to do what I love.  I have to work to support my family and my hobbies, that is unfortunately so, but I don’t have to stop living. I do not want to return home with a broken back or a wrecked motorbike any more,  but I am not going to sit and wait for my funeral to come either. No-one might be interested in reading my autobiography, but I am for sure not going to stop writing new chapters until the day I arrive sideways on screeching brakes at my own funeral. So watch this space!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sh*t, Shower and Shave

I know for some people the thing they dread most doing is using strange toilet and bathroom facilities. To some extent I feel the same, but at least I have seen some weird places in my life and men are usually not that finicky about stuff like that. My wife for instance doesn't shower anywhere except in her own house without flip-flops.

In my travels in Africa I also have seen some really sh*tty places (excuse the pun), but somehow I am still surviving them. I am staying in a leased company staff house in Mtwara and although they really have tried to upgrade the place bit, they couldn't do much about the way the bathrooms were designed. They have more what I would call a toilet with a built-in shower than a bathroom. It feel kind of weird to shower in the toilet, but at least you can save time taking a sh*t, shower and shave at the same time. Just make sure you remove the toilet paper first....

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kite vs camera

I read the other day that kite boarding was considered to be an extreme sports. I've always wondered what the definition of extreme sports is. I guess when you can end your life with it, then it must be extreme, but I have heard of golfers getting struck by lightning. Does that make golf and extreme sport too?

Anyway, I was kiting again yesterday in 20 knots wind and after a few minutes in the water decided to get my camera again with the hope of getting better pictures than the previous time. I was in for a couple of minutes enjoy myself when I lost my board in a less than spectacular jump. In my effort to grab my board with my GoPro connected to it, I lost control of the kite and that hit the water head first, if you can call the leading edge the head. I was in the surf and I knew that my board was heading towards the beach and I was really worried that my camera would get damaged on the sand. The wind inflated my kite again but when I wanted to pull it up I realised there was something strange going on with my steering bar. I couldn't move it. With the kite now basically ready to take off, I couldn't steer the kite and eventually the kite started dragging me through the water while the waves were taking my board closer to shore. 

I tried to work out what was most expensive to lose, the kite or the camera. I realised that I was screwed either way. Either my GoPro was going to get smashed on the beach, or my kite was going to get smashed by the waves. What was worse was the fact that I couldn't untangle my bar and the kite was actually pulling me under the water. I struggled to keep my head up and realised that I can actually drown like this, which might be a bit more extreme than losing a camera. Gasping for air I tried to deploy my safety release but that didn't work either. Fortunately for me the waves were pushing me to shallower water and I finally managed to get my feet on the bottom. By this time my board was rolling around in the shallow surf. Extreme sports indeed.

Someone saves my board
After I managed to get out and get my kite under control, I realised what had happened to my steering bar. The end of the bar that is designed to act as a place to wind up your lines, got hooked inside the chicken loop. Because I couldn't see under the surface what the problem was, I didn't know how to solve it and get my bar straight so that I could launch the kite from the water again. As a matter of fact, even on the beach I struggled to get the whole tangle apart. In the meantime someone ran to fetch my board. 

Fortunately my camera was still intact and still taking pictures. When I had a look at the pictures later I saw that some pictures were actually blank. I guess that was when the camera was getting knocked on the sand. I was so exhausted after fighting the kite and the waves that I didn't bother going back for more pictures. I waited a while to get my breath back and spend another half an hour in the water without worrying about a camera. The pictures I got from the couple of minutes before I crashed were not as good as the previous ones, which btw was not good either. Next time I will try the camera on a safer place...like on my head.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Black Box

A friend of mine send me this picture to show me where my topbox was lying after I "bought some land" in Namibia just over a year ago. I look rather fine there trying to call whoever I could get hold of in the middle of nowhere, but the pain was really bad. It was actually that night that I thought I was going to die after I passed out in the shower. The topbox itself also probably did not know what had hit him. I was rather surprised though that my SLR camera walked off with no injuries. It was in my topbox at the time. Maybe I should call it the "black box" seeing that the contents survived but the carrier didn't. My bike was sadly written off  a few weeks later.

So that is the spot where my trip to the Victoria Falls ended....

Photo: Roodt 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Candid Camera

I was very fortunate to open my 2012/13 kite surfing season today with a very nice southeaster and an opportunity to try out my new GoPro camera. I have to admit that I was rather worried that the camera was going to fall off, so I wasn't too adventurous on my first session. As I see the camera staying put and I convince myself that it will not fall off, I will try and get better shots with more action.

When I mounted my camera on my board there were basic two options, on the left or on the right. I wasn't sure which side to choose, but considering which side I will be facing when wave riding and which side the sun comes from most of the times at Kite Beach, I opted for my right side. The angle was a bit of a problem as I could not see which angle would capture the best picture, so I just went with my gut feeling. I think I didn't do too bad on that. I can still use some of my other brackets to change the angle a bit if I have to. 

I had to laugh at myself because after 20 minutes in the water I thought I should have enough pictures by now. Then I realised that my setting was wrong again and that I only took one picture. After getting the setting right so that I could take a shot EVERY ten seconds and not only one AFTER ten seconds, I went back in. Here are seven of my 155 shots. Obviously most of them were rather poor, blurred and just shots of water splashing so I only posted the better ones....

The problem with having a fixed camera is that all the shots basically looks the same. Taken from the same spot with the same angle does not give much variation, so instead of focusing too much on the angle, focus on the difference in lighting,  water, colours, etc. For instance on one my face is visible, on the other my kite is. Finding droplets on the lens is something that one has to get used to when taking pictures in the water. At least they change the whole time, not like a black spot on the mirror of your SLR.

What I love about this picture is the water splashing. I think one the things I love most about kite surfing is the constant splashing of water in my face. I had plenty of pics where you could only see the water and nothing more. Here you can at least get a feeling of what I must've been feeling while skimming across the water. 

These two were probably my best two pictures of the day. This was taken on my way towards the beach, opposite direction from the first two pictures. Also from the same angle, but two completely different pictures. After seeing the second picture I realized that I had my camera mounted on the best side, I managed to get Table Mountain in on the back. There were quite a few pictures with Table Mountain, but this one was the best. The brown colour of the water is actually the sand. It is probably about 5 to 10 centimetres deep here. I have to work on my toes that are always bend upwards when I kite, they are too prominent on these pictures.

When you have your camera set on taking pictures, don't think that you will only get good shots in the water. Sometimes you might take pictures where you didn't expect to see anything nice. One usually get people coming to you and asking you about kite surfing, like this gentleman did when I got out. The last picture was taken just before I switched the camera off. I can hardly wait for my next session. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Crack in the Box

Last year when I had a fall in Namibia I did not only lose my bike and my reputation, but I also lost a couple of other things like some of my bike accessories. My insurance didn't cover my topbox, so I couldn't claim for the damage it sustained during the fall. A new box is well over R7000. The area around the latch that secures it to the top rack literally cracked and the box was found a few meter from where my bike actually hit the ground.

When I returned to South Africa I put the box away believing that repairing it would not be an option. Hell, biking wasn't even looking like an option any more.  As a matter of fact, I didn't even want to try because the box was totally scrapped in my opinion. My state of mind was not in a better shape either.

Last weekend I took the box out and had a look at it. The box was still in the same bad shape, but my state of mind had improved considerably. I took out some tools and started fiddling with the box opening up the latch compartment and taking out all the Namibian rocks that was still forced in between anything that had a gap. Eventually I managed to fix the latch mechanism and to me there was a glimmer op hope. The problem however was the cracks. I would never feel comfortable riding with a packed topbox with cracks like that around the latch. It would just be a matter of time before the latch will brake off, so I took it to a plastic welding shop hoping that they could save it.

On my way back from the shop the welding came loose and the box was exactly where it was a day ago before I took it in. I took it back and they tried again to fix it, this time putting in some reinforcements. At the moment it really looks as if it had been repaired with chewing gum, but for R250 I will accept it like it is and hope for the best. The gentleman even wanted to paint the box, but I was not going to wipe out the history of that box just yet. 


I have no idea whether the repairs will last. The box takes a lot of stress at that point. Add weight and a few bumps and you'll probably see the box flying off again pretty soon. For the time being I will just load it with light objects with little value until I am convinced that the welding will hold. As for the scratches on the box, they must stay. A dark reminder what can happen when you are riding a bike, but also a good conversation starter.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Big Fish in a Small Pond

Some years ago I received a cute little black goldfish from a friend who said he (or she) was not happy in his fish tank (or bowl). Jack as he is known was put in my fish pond along with my other goldfish. Jack was happy from the start and it was soon clear that Jack was going to make it big in his new environment. So big that Jack became, in a matter of months, the biggest fish in the pond. Because Jack showed no hostility towards the other fish, it didn't bother me that he was growing so fast. I just assumed that he was happy to be released from his previous caged up life and that he was flourishing under his new friendships. A few days ago I caught all the fish in order to clean the pool and I realised that Jack is probably not a goldfish after all.

Is there anyone out there who could maybe tell me what kind of fish Jack might be?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How to improve record breaking attempt

I have been thinking about the surfing event to break the record for the most surfers standing on one wave and how it could be improved to maybe get more surfers on a single wave. Having been in the water myself I realized a few obstacles that prevented us from getting that record:

Waves - The waves were perfect. Medium sized swells building up over a large distance allowing many surfers on one wave.There were two issues with the waves though:

1) the sets were quite long apart after each other, so we wasted most of the time waiting for the right sets,
2) we were told to wait for the third wave which on the day turned out to be smaller than the first two waves of the set. Some guys took the first wave which was not going to help the rest who were waiting for the wave they were told to take,
3) the shape of the waves favoured the longboards and not the shortboards.

Although we couldn't really complain about what Nature gave us on the day, we might have to look at the following solutions to make the waves we are giving more successful to ride:

1) Separate the surfers into 4 groups based on what they are riding. Longboards, minimals, shortboards and SUPs. Because the waves have a point where they pick up steeper before it breaks, that area should be given to the shortboards. As the wave weakens out further away from that point, the rest of the waves should be allocated to the minimals, the longsboards and finally the SUPs. Longs boards and SUP can go on much slower and weaker waves than shortboards. If we want each type of surfer to stay on a weak wave for at least 5 seconds, then this might assist in achieving that target.

2) There were too many surfers taking waves when they thought it was the best wave to take. Granted, the waves they took were probably better than the ones we were told to take, but with half of the participants taking waves at their own decision it left not enough surfers behind to make up the numbers for the second wave. Secondly they were now paddling back in the way of the second line of surfers catching their waves. The organizers should have a jet ski in the water and decide from there is the wave is good to ride, not from the beach. Once the jetski indicates to catch the wave, then all should start paddling.

3) Keep the line straight for easier take-off. The problems with different boards mixed up meant that shortboards and longboard do not take the wave at the same spot and thus leaving shortboards lying in front of the longboards or vice versa. Catching a wave with someone floating in the water in front of you is not easy. Put two surfers on your side and the chances of everyone getting up becomes rather slim. 

Shot at Muizenberg

Last man standing

So you have 400 surfers in the water and you cannot understand why they cannot break the record of 110 standing up together on the same wave? This picture might explain that getting up is not that easy for everyone.....