'The balance between the physical and the mental leads us to a true sense of self. This is not a judgement of intellect or fitness, rather an openness to challenging ourselves in both forms of endeavour'

Monday, June 30, 2014

MSR Hubba Hubba NX Tent - gear review

The MSR Hubba Hubba NX (the NX stands for Next Generation) is marketed as offering a number of significant improvements over the previous model of Hubba Hubba. As someone familiar with the old version, and with its strengths and weaknesses, I was intrigued to see how MSR had tweaked the design.
The main faults I found with the old version were its lack of structural integrity – due to the pole design, the bulk of the tent's stability was based on the two side peg placements – and the chance of the fly touching the inner at each end when wet or windy. These concerns have been either fixed or, at the very least, improved.
First up improvement is the weight. With a minimum weight of 1.54kg – including tent, rainfly and poles only – this is around 10% lighter than the older model. This is pretty light for a two person, non single skin, three season tent.
While a weight reduction can sometimes mean the tent is less durable or waterproof, this doesn't seem to be the case here. Fabric specifications indicate that the tent is reasonably waterproof and, if an extra groundsheet is used, quite durable, especially for the weight.
The NX also has several new features and design tweaks that make it more comfortable and more weather resistant – benefits that, together with the weight savings, combine for a vastly improved tent.
The waterproof portion of the inner sidewalls are now higher and have a short solid nylon panel that helps to block dirt and wind. The distance from the inner tent to the outer tent has also been increased at the ends, enhancing ventilation while reducing the probability that the outer tent will touch the inner tent wall when wet. There is a guypoint here for extra tensioning if required in strong winds.
I like that the vestibule doors have been redesigned for easier entry, and a new guypoint increases overall tent stability and weather resistance. The tent also now has a vent at each end, and has slightly more space inside. There are some other smaller design details, like the grommets and pole clips, that have been redesigned to save weight seemingly without reducing strength. All in all, the NX appears to offer quite an improvement over the older Hubba Hubba.
My only concern, however, remains. The double star, single pole set up is quite complicated. I would hate for the bungy cord inside to break – trying to work out how or where to fix it will not be easy. Complicated pole structures are more likely to fail than simple pole structures. The pole of the Hubba Hubba is like a huge TV aerial that takes some wrestling to get into position, and I wonder about its integrity in a storm.
Other than that, this is a pretty good tent.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Journey We Are All On...

I divide my time between surfing, climbing, writing, loving life and a few other peripherals. There is no order or balance to it, but each seems to mesh succinctly into the whole. A mix of randomness here, a few lucky choices there, and I find myself in the middle age well along the journey – to what I'm not entirely sure. But that's the way of risk and reward, isn't it? Adventure starts around the same time as uncertainty...the letting go...the first step. It's a journey that we all have to take, and I'd rather take it consciously then be dragged along by an innate acceptance of what might have been.

Adventure and communication
When people ask what I do, I reply that I write and guide for a living. I realise it's a programmed response, as if our work is the most important thing. But when you think about it, it seems a funny thing to say. What do I do? I do many things, some central to my life and others just as a means of getting by. Work may or may not fit into that category. Surely the question to ask is: What do you look forward to doing?
With my work, I appreciate that I get the opportunity to explore and then preach about our environment, about how fragile and essential it is. You'd think this is a no brainer. Everyone nods sagely, saying 'yes, yes' but no one wants to take the step if it hits their pocket. Global warming is real. Water pollution is real. Take ownership. Make a difference.

Good karma breeds good karma
I thank my lucky stars for my life, my wife and the path I am on. And I try to remind myself every day of this. There are many ways to share your 'good fortune', and to my thinking it is the act of sharing that is of most value rather than what is shared.
So many others have it tough, are dealing with things hidden from our normal daily interactions. Sometimes I realise the difficult path a friend or acquaintance is on, and it frustrates me that I have been so blind to their suffering. All it can take is a smile or a kind word, being a better listener, and listening for what might not be said. Never be afraid to ask 'are you okay?' or 'can I help?'

The travel perspective
My latest trip has been a climbing expedition in the heart of the Nepal Himalaya. There's nothing like two months of different food, different sanitation and different attitudes to life to really open your eyes. Meeting people with so much who want more. Meeting people with so little who want to share the last of it with you. I was humbled at the generosity and appalled at the rampant greed. A fellow traveller complained about all the rubbish along the side of the road, as if the locals didn't care about their environment. 'What do you think our environmental footprint is compared to theirs,' I replied. 'We just do a better job of hiding it is all.'

Surfing's challenge
Surfing trips can be the same. During my last trip to Bali a year or so back, I noticed so many tourists complaining about the increasing pollution along the coastline. Who did they think was to blame for it? The irony of it wore thin after only a few toilet-paper-thin days. Scores of fat, obnoxious tourists, no doubt on cheap package deals, choosing to holiday among the timeless ways of the Balinese and yet complaining every two minutes if they couldn’t get exactly what they wanted when they wanted.
It was my wife Shelley’s first time to Indonesia, and she was abhorred with the way many westerners treated the locals. When a Kuta hawker offered us an elaborately-carved bow and arrow set, Shelley suggested that we test it out on a rather abrasive Australian family sitting further along on the beach. (It should be mentioned that we also met many nice Australians, but none of them wore Bintang singlets)
Nearly a decade had passed since my last trip here, and I was surprised with the increase in prices, tourist numbers and infrastructure. A local taxi driver complained that the Indonesian government was taking nearly all of the tourist dollars back to Jakarta, and that the majority of Balinese were as poor as ever. And then there were the growing number of expats, tearing up rice paddies to build their own chunk of exotic paradise. I wondered if they even cared about the Balinese way of life, or were more interested in shaping it around their own idealism. Overall, my impression was that Bali appeared to be struggling to keep its identity through all the demand.

Feeling the love
I've been chasing waves for over 30 years now. After trying competitions in my younger days – rather unsuccessfully – I settled into seeking out fun and uncrowded line ups, both around the country and overseas. I'm not a big wave charger or an aerial junkie. Just overhead is usually big enough for me, and hollow enough to get covered but not if it means risking serious injury. In other words, I'd consider myself middle of the road in terms of both surfing ability and desire.
And what I love about surfing, aside from the waves of course, is the vibe associated with it...the stoke. This is a great thing, a shared mindset, and something that should probably be appreciated more than it is these days.

To my aging eyes, stoke is sometimes being overtaken by an urge to get more waves, as if accumulation is more important than feeling. And this leads on to the one thing that really sticks in my craw about surfing: over the top localism and the surf rage that goes with it. I can't think of any other activity that has the same level of post pissing, chest thumping, macho posturing as surfing. This is a black mark on us as surfers. And yet it is something so easily fixed. How far does a simple smile go, a nod and a comment: 'Nah, you go mate. I'll wait for the next one.'

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Friends And Surfboards - article in White Horses

I've just bought a new surfboard and lost a best mate. The board is a 6' 4'' c-wing quad from a friend and master shaper, Roger Hall at Surfline. Roger was one of the surfing mentors of my now very dusty youth, a visionary of shapes and techniques that has taken me more than 35 years immersion in the watery arts to fully realise. This is my second custom from him, to go with a super fun, old school, twin keel that keeps me company on smaller days.

Good things take time...but can also be lost in seconds. The mate was Jamie, a climbing god/surfing apprentice whose minor slip on the side of a mountain has had sickening, final consequences. A small wave of snow – no larger than the floorspace of a bedroom – carried him over the edge and down a gully that no one could recover from. Another good friend was with him at the time, and he watched helplessly as Jamie slipped from sight. The weight of this is still sinking in, and no doubt will be for longer than I care to think about.
The board turns up in the post. Clearly a work of art, I wonder momentarily whether it's more appropriate on the wall in our home rather than soon-to-be under my clumsy feet. Glueing a deck grip on seems sacrilege. The wax creates its own random and affecting patterns across the polished surface.
I took a phone call from Jamie's mother last night. It's been just over a month, and she's having trouble sleeping. 'I believe he's still here, in a place I can't quite reach but I feel his presence,' she said. I knew this was my time to be strong, but the tears felt so, so close. I tried to find the right words when there aren't any, to be able to soften the free fall she is experiencing; that we are all experiencing. Life just fucking sucks some times.

It's a Monday morning. Dark clouds are gathering inland, on the foothills, a precursor to rain according to the forecast. The wind is from the southwest, brisk through the trees in our garden. These days it seems my wife Shelley and I take a moment longer to hug before parting. She completed the hardest climb of her life with Jamie; I'd watched from below as they spidered up an unclimbed monstrosity of a mountain face, the rock like scales on the mountain's armor and loathe to allow passage. At a small snow shelf just below the summit, Jamie decided that they should descend.
Shelley can be prone to summit fever and, despite a storm approaching from the coast, she would have continued climbing. The rain hit that night – a nightmarish jumble of what if's shrouding my mind as they managed to get off the mountain just as thick cloud swallowed the last of dusk's warbled sheen. We were at least two days walk from the nearest road. I quietly thanked Jamie for making the right call.
The three of us often surfed together near our old Christchurch home in the days before the earthquakes, before sewerage flooded into the sea and turned it to a cesspool. Jamie took pleasure in telling me that his younger brother Sam was gifted in the ocean. He wanted to keep practicing, so he could get good enough to be able to share waves with his bro.

At first, Jamie and Shelley were similarly skilled at learning to surf. The shore break was not their friend. But Jamie's long arms hauled him out the back more often, and his athletic ability slowly adjusted. His ratio of successful takeoffs to wipeouts improved, and his 'poo stance' narrowed. But the wicked side to me enjoyed watching him occasionally cop a beating from set waves. I savored the irony of the situation, comparing it to being in the mountains when it would be Jamie cajoling me onto steeper faces despite me whinging that I was out of my depth.
Climbing was Jamie's passion but surfing was his release, he once told me. He liked that it didn't come easily, that he had to learn the way of the ocean just like he had learned the mountain path. That he was one of the country's best climbers didn't come into it, at least not to him.
With my new board and a heavy heart, I go in search of waves. The main southern coast has crosswinds, but there's just enough swell to bend into a secluded sandy beach brushed with steady offshores. The beach is empty, the way I wish my mind would be. I think about the other weekend when I returned to the mountains, to a place I had last climbed with Jamie. It was a similar time of year, and familiar fangs of ice squeezed between otherwise blank rock walls, steep frozen staircases that had let us climb that little bit closer to whatever it was we were seeking.
Now, I'm trying to distance my own perception of risk from the grief in my heart. Of course, I wonder at the worth of chasing dreams, especially when the cost can be so goddamned high. And how does it make me feel about my own climbing, about surfing, about life?
Any imagined symbolism between a new surfboard and a dead friend is tenuous at best. The new board and my ice axes are simply tools, taking me to places I couldn't otherwise reach. And the mountains? The sea? These are my dynamic, inspiring, and sometimes frightening pathways. I don't always get them, but I get needing to be among them. The quality of the wave or pureness of the climbing line doesn't matter, at least not always. Just knowing I have the opportunity....
First immersion always has a bite to it in these parts, but the wetsuit does what it's supposed to and I ease into the line-up. Only shoulder high, the waves hold a gentle, forgiving ambience that fits perfectly. I glide into an A-frame on my new board and slide to my feet. The sun reflects off the water around me, tiny slivers of intimate light. The carpet rides beautifully, without thought.

I guess my feelings have been compounded by recently losing another friend Marty to the mountains. Marty was considered a world class high altitude climber and guide. He died, with his only son Denali, high on the slopes of K2, the world's second highest mountain. Jamie and I had caught up for lunch not long after Marty and Denali's death, when I was up working in Christchurch. We talked about how it made us feel about our own climbing. Shelley and I had been busy planning a trip to Nepal to attempt an unclimbed mountain but, after Marty and Denali's death, we wondered whether our hearts were still in it. I remember Jamie saying that we 'just had to go', that we 'would regret it if we didn't'.
'Just be careful, Paul,' he added, 'you're good at that. You understand your limits.'
Jamie was killed a week after that conversation.
The waves do what they need to. I sit between sets and watch the water, the denim-blue of the sky and the effortless sweep of an albatross further out to sea. Ocean current carries me down the coast, towards another point. There, on the shore, a lone yellow-eyed-penguin stands and watches. No doubt he wants me to piss off so he can safely enter the water. I figure it's perhaps time to head in.
At Jamie's service, before a sea of light-shrouded faces, I spoke of my treasured friendship with him, how he inspired me to strive for things, even if I didn't think I'd reach them. Jamie always liked to challenge my ideas or way of thinking. I can see him prodding me now to come up with something positive. 'Come on Paul, all that thinking and writing you do. What's your intuition on this? Give us some insight.'
I don't really have any insight, but maybe an observation: When we lose someone close, like this, we fully realise what it was about them that we valued so highly. Yet in society we don't tend to do it so much, or express it, when they're alive. I never told Jamie how much I appreciated his company and friendship, how much I cared for his views and attitude to life. I mean, we had some pretty snuggly bivvies together – on cold, windswept mountainsides – but that's not quite the same.
Maybe it is, as Jamie so often illustrated to me, the case that actions are always stronger than words.