Editor’s Note: A big shout out to Melissa DeMarie and Liz Meheve of California Women’s Watersport Collective for some of the photos featured in this post! You guys are awesome!

The Tsunami Rangers have a tradition of training in the trees. One of our videos shows the team running through the cypress forest at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach. The guys are jumping over downed trees, swinging from branches, and dodging obstacles in preparation for their extreme sea kayaking adventures. Why train this way? That’s what we’re here to talk about.

Old school - Eric warming up with a little judo practice in the water

Old school – Tsunami Ranger Commander Eric Soares warms up with judo in the water. A little judo is a great way to bring up your spirit.

To begin with, our outdoor gym is free. Second, it’s right outside the door. So straight off there are two great benefits: the outdoor gym doesn’t cost anything and you don’t have to go anywhere particular to use it.

Every year on our annual retreat the Rangers practice throwing knives, machetes, hatchets, whatever takes our fancy. These games develop focus and intent as well as accuracy.

Every year on our annual retreat the Rangers practice throwing knives, machetes, hatchets, whatever takes our fancy. These games develop focus and intent as well as accuracy. You can practice throwing tow ropes as well.

Third, the outdoor gym uses the human mind as well as the body in ways that are more functional and realistic than conventional gym exercises. When you’re training in the trees, you’re using all muscle groups in ways that are more complex than basic bicep curls or leg presses. Exercises involving machines and dumbbells have their place but they’re pretty mindless activities, like walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike you can literally read a book or watch t.v. while you’re doing them.

Jumping into swirlies. this drill can be done on rivers on in the ocean. This drill conditions the swimmer to whitewater and chaotic conditions.

Jumping into swirlies. This drill can be done on rivers and in ocean rock gardens. The drill conditions the swimmer to whitewater and chaotic conditions. Start small and go big!

Outdoor activities force the mind to focus differently than in an indoor environment. When we walk or run outdoors we have to pay attention to the changing terrain, the weather, the scenery, and the horizon, just like how we have to pay attention when we kayak. Not only does training outdoors improve strength, agility and reactivity, it improves mental awareness and focus. In addition, outdoor training has been shown to improve mood and sleep and lower stress and feelings of sadness and depression.

Hard to be sad and depressed when you're plaing Yip/Poi! This game teaches you to forget about currents and eddies and encourages focus and aggresssion.

Hard to be sad or depressed when you’re playing Yip/Poi! This game is a form of tag that teaches you to forget about currents and eddies and encourages focus and aggression.

The best way to get better at anything is to practice, so in order to improve as kayakers we need to get in a boat and paddle. That said there are a lot of other things we can do on land and in the water to get fit for kayaking. Swimming, of course, is a biggie. Swimming in pools is no substitute for swimming in the ocean or river where you paddle. I’ve heard kayakers say, “If you wouldn’t swim there, you shouldn’t paddle there.” Whether or not you agree with that statement, you definitely ought to be a competent whitewater swimmer if you’re going to get into whitewater or surf. 

Swimming in surf

Diving under incoming waves teaches timing and rhythm and accustoms you to the marine environment.

The first thing I did with my partner Robert when I taught him to kayak was go to Crescent City and have him swim in surf. Swimming up and down the beach and diving under waves is a great whole body workout, and it taught him about timing and wave rhythm as well. Plus it gives you a psychological edge in that you not only understand how to swim in surf, you can enjoy it and feel comfortable and at home in an often chaotic environment. Then you don’t worry about falling out of your boat and swimming. 

Swimming in swirlies, swimming in current.

Swimming in swirlies and current gets you used to conditions so if you have to bail it’s no big deal. 

Kayakers need strong bodies not just to paddle but to haul boats and gear around. We need good cardiovascular fitness. We need to be nimble for surf landings and seal landings and flexible for wet exits and rolling, and our paddling environment is often wet and slippery. We need balance and stamina, awareness and focus. Here’s a list of some helpful exercises you can implement in your outdoor gym:

Stairs. Stairs offer an intense cardiovascular workout that also strengthens your hips and legs. Portage, anyone? You can run or walk both up and down the stairs.

Hills. No stairs? No problem! Find a hill and walk or run that. You can do long butt-buster workouts on big hills or laps on smaller hills.

Parks and open space. You can use playground equipment to do pull-ups and all kinds of functional drills (use your creativity!) Open grassy areas are good for wind sprints, calisthenics, and yoga or stretching.

Have yourself an outdoor restorative yoga class at your next kayak camp!

Include an outdoor restorative yoga class at your next kayak camp!

Benches. Use benches for pushups, dips or plyometrics (explosive movements designed to improve power). Jump up on to a bench or low wall and then jump down. Repeat. Keep these drills short – they are effective but can be exhausting.

Curbs and low walls. Use these for step-ups. You can alternate slow and quick steps to improve agility and cardiovascular strength. You can step in place or travel laterally. You can also walk along these structures for balance practice.

Jumping off high rocks breeds courage and inures one to impact.

Jumping off high rocks breeds courage and inures one to impact. This particular jump resulted in a stellar preacher seat. 10’s across the board!

Rocks. Use them for lifting if they’re not too big. Carry a big stone close to your body while running or doing squats or step-ups to improve cardiovascular strength, muscle strength, and stamina. Plus rocks make great launch pads for that prize-winning cannon ball!

Wasn't it a long way down....

Wasn’t it a looong way down….

Logs. Stand on one foot or walk along them to improve balance.    

Trees. Climbing trees is a great whole body workout requiring balance, strength, agility and flexibility. You can do pull-ups on a tree branch, push-ups against a tree trunk, or just hang on a branch to stretch out your arms and back.

Sand. Running, walking, lunging, or otherwise exercising in sand is a great whole body workout. It’s especially good for calves and ankles.  

Practice rolling and falling on sand prepares you for impact in rocks and surf. Plus it's fun!

Rolling and falling on sand prepares you for impact in rocks and surf. Plus it’s fun!

Ocean. Body surfing and surf swimming are excellent workouts for kayakers. This Tsunami Ranger site has a great series on ocean survival swimming skills and how to develop them, written by the Wave Warrior Eric Soares himself. 

Swimming in the trough of a wave

Swimming in the trough of a wave

Rivers. Swift water rescue practice is fun and practical. Walking across swift, shallow rapids, jumping into rapids and swimming holes, and swimming down rapids and in and out of eddies are all great practice for whitewater kayakers.   

Swift water rescue practice - grab some buddies and practice walking in rapids.

Swift water rescue practice – grab some buddies and practice walking in rapids in this triangle formation.

In a nutshell, the Rangers are big advocates of outdoor training. Mainly, we just love it, but we’re well aware of the mental and physical benefits of taking your workout outside. The outdoor gym stimulates your creativity – how can you use your environment? You get stronger, tougher, more flexible and more agile. Plus you’re reducing your chance of dementia, heart disease and osteoporosis as well as improving mood, memory, and focus. What’s not to like?

Do you train outdoors? What’s your workout like? Please share with us! For more information on kayak fitness, search “kayak fitness” on this site above and see articles on core strength and flexibility for shoulders, wrists, hips, and more!   







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Rainbow kayak flower

Flower Power

Over the years Life beats us up. Not whining, just stating facts. Therefore, it is SO GOOD to be around women who remind me of my younger self: rowdy, boisterous, athletic, outdoorsy, a little bit raunchy, funny, fun, supportive, smart and creative, and that’s good because they show me how to live all over again. Lately I’ve been having a little trouble holding on to that grrrl that I am.

Sammy gives us the 411

Sami gives us the 411

The women I’m talking about work for the California Women’s Watersports Collective and Sundance Kayak School of Southern Oregon. These two groups collaborate on an annual kayak camp for women. I signed up for this, their third annuaI event, and  came back filled with warm light vibrant energy. I love sea kayaking but it’s often cold and foggy and conditions change so rapidly and the consequences of those changes can be so severe that it was wonderful to be in the State of Jefferson’s riverine environment which reminds me so much of the Sacramento and American Rivers of my youth. The sun and warmth of late June made everything friendly. The water was warm. The sky was blue. The drills were fun and interesting and I learned a bunch of new skills and some games I can bring on retreat (Stinky Fish, anyone?) The rapids were friendly and totally doable but occasionally big enough to be exciting as well as fun so you felt really proud you made it.

Sara works the riffle

Sarah works the riffle

It was four full days of warm ups, kayak instruction, yoga, massage, really good food, and interaction with a bunch of great women. Over the course of the camp we paddled Class I and II sections of the Rogue between Hog Creek and Almeda with a grand finale at Argo, a Class III rapid to finish the weekend. Here’s a synopsis of the event:

Warming up with high 5's and heel palm strikes

Warming up with high 5’s and heel palm strikes

Day One. Wet exits. Key words, Tuck, tap, tug, take off your pants. Meaning lean forward so you don’t hit your head on a rock, bang on the sides of the kayak so you alert your buddies you’re upside down, tug on the loop and pop off that spray skirt, and slide out of the cockpit like you’re taking off your pants. Great mnemonic. We talked about swimming: swimming through rapids on our backs, the back stroke, the crawl, and why not to use the legs in the crawl stroke. We also talked about the California lazy float, on your back with head upstream, feet raised, and butt lifted.

Torso rotation drills

Torso rotation drills

Then we practiced peeling in and out of eddies. Another mnemonic: Position, angle, speed, turn/edge, or Past or Pase. This practice included lots of edging drills. One drill to help us hold our edges was to paddle in a circle around a stationary kayaker in both directions. We worked on forward strokes and paddling straight in a squirrely boat. We also practiced sweeps. Then we broke for lunch on the river bank.

The scenic Rogue recreational corridor

The scenic Rogue recreational corridor

After lunch we played Yip-Poi. There are two teams; one is Yip and one is Poi. As you play you yell “Yip!” or “Poi!” depending on which team you’re on, or if you’re trying to fake someone out. You freeze people on the other team by tagging their stern with your bow. Then they have to stop paddling and raise their paddle on end until someone on their own team unfreezes them by doing the same. When one team is immobilized the other team wins. Another game was Stinky Fish, similar to water polo. You throw a fish-shaped sponge into the water and each team tries to pass it back and forth until one player throws the sponge onto the opposite team’s side of the river. You can block with your paddle but if you’re holding the fish you can’t paddle until you pass it to someone else. I had people yell at me for holding on to the fish too long, but the strategy worked because everyone bunched up around me and then I could pass it to a team member on the outside. These games were useful in getting people to forget to be anxious or afraid in their desire to Get That Sponge and also in getting people to paddle through eddies and currents without noticing because they’re focused on the game, not the water.

Everybody eddy in!

Everybody eddy in!

Day Two. On this day we divided into three groups. I was in a group with one other student named Ursula. It was me, her and Ashlee, our instructor. We worked on ferries and entering and exiting eddies going up and down stream, usually repeating each drill at least three times. Then we joined up with the group to play more Stinky Fish. After the games we worked our way downriver, scouting rapids from our kayaks, choosing lines, looking for the “V” that provides safe passage, finding the eddy at the end, entering, then peeling out and re-entering the current.

How high (and deep) can you go? Jumping into the swirlies.

How high (and deep) can you go? Jumping into the swirlies.

Periodically we’d join up with the others and at one spot we found a swirly little bit of river where we stopped and jumped into the river off a rock into the turbulent eddies and then swam back to shore. The goal was to go under as deep and as long as you can but our PFDs kept popping us back to the surface. While swimming I observed that I dip my shoulder to enter an eddy just like I edge my kayak. On this day I learned to really lean into eddy lines. At times it felt like flying.

Look ma, no hands!

Look ma, no hands! Doing the lazy float.

We also practiced crashing into rocks, leaning into them, and pushing off, always a valuable skill. I love paddling right at the rock, hitting it hard enough to slide up onto it a little, slip back, push off and spin around. Super fun. Another time Ashlee had Ursula and me paddle blind down a small but fairly long rapid to get the feel of the river. We closed our eyes. It was so cool. All your other senses kick in. You smell, hear and feel the river all around. It was amazing.

Anna coaches while Ashley demonstrates how to rock the rock

Anna coaches while Ashlee demonstrates how to rock the rock

We did some more stroke practice, working on rudder strokes, draws, and more forward stroking, plus edging, in addition to spinning in circles using forward and back sweep strokes on either side. I got better at putting my spray skirt on, which was huge. It was hard on the first day, but by the end of the weekend I had it down no problem. We did some more hip snaps and T-rescues. Ursula and I became “Abillibuddies”, which is basically using the buddy system, always good on the water. We became a team, working together, encouraging each other, and helping each other carry the boats.

Roll practice for those who wanted it was held at the end of each day. On the left Anna assists Sadie and Melissa works with Kathy

Roll practice for those who wanted it was held at the end of each day. On the left Anna assists Sadie and Melissa works with Kathy on the right.

Day Three. This was Swift Water Rescue Day. We started with throw bags and ropes. We learned how to pack the bag and identify entrapment hazards offered by loops in ropes and straps. We talked about how to throw overhand, underhand, and sidearm. We talked about rope length and how to rescue a swimmer. Then we practiced rescues with some of us walking upriver and swimming down so those on shore could throw the ropes. The drill was to throw the rope upriver of the swimmer so the river takes it down to them and not away. Then the swimmers put the rope over their upriver shoulder so it doesn’t flip them over on their faces but pulls them along on their backs. The rescuer pulls gently and continuously on the rope so the swimmer pendulums smoothly to shore.

Walking in swift water

Walking in swift water

In another drill we practiced walking through a shallow but very fast rapid. I learned two formations: triangle and circle. This was something completely new to me and super fun. Pretty hard too. Twice I was swept off my feet by the strong current. But it taught me how to bring a group across a rapid relatively safely. After that we played with more eddies and practiced more hip snaps and played some more Stinky Fish. A good day.

Walking the rapid in triangle formation

Walking the rapid in triangle formation

On this, our last night, we had a big party. There were games, a catwalk, and a costume competition. There was music, dancing, and prizes.  I won for best catwalk in a green curly wig and a blue tutu! It must be the influence of RuPaul’s Drag Race, of which I’m a big fan. Instead of yoga, on this evening a massage therapist showed up before dinner and I got a 20 minute massage. Delightful!

From left to right: Liz, Queen of the Celebration Cones; Sami,The Lavender Pixie; Ashlee, Santa's Favborite

From left to right: Liz, Queen of the Celebration Cones; Sami,The Lavender Pixie; Ashlee, Santa’s Favorite!

Day Four. This was an AMAZING DAY. Actually one of the best days of my life. We paddled downriver and came to a beautiful deep section where we landed and lunched and those of us who wanted to jumped off a tall rock. I did a massive preacher seat. I wish I could have seen it, because it felt like one of the best I’ve ever done. I got the angle of the hips just right and hit the water from my butt to my knees. Thank goodness for wetsuits, because the skin would have been flayed off the backs of my thighs. I went down in a big air bubble as the water displaced. Then the water cascaded back down and the buoyant wetsuit and PFD popped me back up like a cork. Bellissima!

Sadie getting right into that whitewater

Sadie getting right into that whitewater

Ashlee told Ursula and me we were going to do a Class III rapid called Argo for the grand finale. The run was just up from our camp, where we’d take out. I felt a little anxious but then I looked up and saw a bald eagle soaring upstream right over our heads! It was river right, the line we had to take. I knew then we were going to crush that rapid and we did. Everyone made it down smoothly and found an eddy and to me it seemed easy, thanks to skills learned from our fearless leaders.

Sarita and Melissa prepare the feast

Sarita and Melissa prepare the feast

I’m so glad I did this. It’s great to be in a group of strong, competent women with lots of young, positive energy. By the time you get to be 50 or 60 a lot of rough stuff has happened to most of us and it wears us down. I’ve had an especially tough time over the last fifteen years since Eric first started having open heart surgeries and this is just the infusion of energy I needed. Dancing! Twerking! Butt clapping (don’t ask)! I felt like I was twenty or thirty again.

Debbie and Christy en regalia

Debbie and Christi en regalia

I’m also glad it was a full four days because on the last day I was really beginning to feel the river so that I could paddle way less and let the river do the work. I definitely got comfortable in those little skirted river kayaks and even started to feel one with the boat and the river which was my ultimate goal. Along the way I learned games, drills, and skills that will serve me well when I get back on the ocean. Winning!  

Photographer Liz stylin' it in a rapid

Photographer Liz stylin’ it in a rapid

There was a lot more I could talk about, but the best thing to do is see for yourself. I will be back next year for sure! Mad props to our wonderful teachers Anna, Melissa, Ashlee, Buckets, Sarita and Sami, and also to Liz (who I bonded with over RuPaul’s Drag Race) our intrepid photographer. You guys did a great job! Thank you so much for this wonderful experience!

To learn more about California Women’s Watersports Collective and Sundance Kayak School go to https://www.cwwcollective.com/ or to http://www.sundancekayak.com/  I highly recommend them!




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Whale Watching From a Kayak – Gray Whales in Trinidad Harbor

June 4, 2018

On May 8 I went kayaking with whales. Because it was a spur of the moment decision I didn’t go over to the coast and spend the night as I’ve done before so it was necessary to leave at about 3:30 am in order to get to Trinidad Harbor by 8. I love the drive […]

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Kayaking Angel Island – It’s All About the Blueschist

May 7, 2018

By Nancy Soares and John Lull “The best way to study geology is by kayak” – Tsunami Ranger Capt. Tortuga You probably don’t know this, but Capt. Tortuga and Tsunami Ranger John Lull are geologists by trade. On Monday, April 9, John and I drove from his place in El Granada on the San Francisco […]

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Tsunami Retreat 2017 Part 3 – Holy Shibooty! I Become a Tsunami Ranger

April 2, 2018

Capt. Kuk: It has been a long progression for Nancy over the last 22 years and even though she was always capable of gaining the skills to be a Ranger, she chose to keep some separation to give Eric space. Starting with her martial arts and fancy foot work playing hacky sack, Nancy has since added the […]

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Tsunami Retreat 2017 Part Two – Meet Captain Tortuga! The Cutlass Passes…

March 5, 2018

Editor’s note: Although the torch, or rather the cutlass, has passed to TR Captain Tortuga, Captain Kuk retains the ultimate right of veto, to stay or to go. We may have to make him an Admiral, heh, heh, heh. Also, a big thank you to all the Rangers who provided photos for this retreat series – […]

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In Memoriam – Eric Soares, Co-Founder of the Tsunami Rangers

February 5, 2018

This photo kind of says it all. Impressive, a little scary, even a bit ridiculous. That was Eric. This photo was taken before one of the Sea Gypsy Extreme Sea Kayak Races in front of Michael Powers’ house at Miramar Beach in Half Moon Bay. Will Nordby, one of the editors of the Tsunami Ranger […]

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Surf Sirens Unite! A Badass Kayak Surf Camp – For Women Only

January 1, 2018

Editor’s note: A big shout out to photographer Inge Watson and Tsunami Ranger Deb Volturno for the fantastic photos! Last September I had the privilege and pleasure of joining the Surf Sirens for their 2nd annual surf camp at Hobuck Beach. Hobuck is right up there on the Makah Res at the northwestern tip of Washington […]

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Sea Kayaking Personalities: Are YOU a Herbert?

December 4, 2017

“Herbert was a minor official notorious for his limited and rigid patterns of thought.” – First Officer Spock, from the original Star Trek episode “The Way to Eden” We should tackle reality in a slightly jokey way, otherwise we miss its point. – Lawrence Durrell Bah, humbug! – Ebenezer Scrooge The Tsunami Rangers are known […]

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Tsunami Retreat 2017 Part One – The Wave in the Cave

November 6, 2017

Editor’s Note: So much happened during this retreat we’ve decide to make it a triplicity. This is Part One, The Wave in the Cave! From the Captain’s Log: The plan was to do about a 3 mile paddle in and set up camp before dark. Scott was in the lead; close behind came Don, Steve […]

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