Sunday, July 6, 2014

Vermont SUPsets

Of all the reasons Stand Up Paddling makes so much sense in Vermont — our abundant waterways, our human-powered ethos, our board-riding culture — the quality of Lake Champlain sunsets is the most vivid.

Something just feels right about standing up for the setting sun — paddle idle at your hip, facing west. It's a like salute to the cosmos.

I’m grateful that when those oranges and pinks start to mix before dusk that it’s all happening over an Adirondack backdrop. And if you’re out far enough on the lake, the dark purple of night that hangs over the Green Mountains becomes visible to the East, with a rising moon floating above the ridgelines.

The SUP media landscape (yes, there is such a thing) is obsessed with silhouetted SUP'ers standing in front of the setting sun. I suppose it derives from paddleboarding's surfing roots (this iconic "Endless Summer" movie poster is exhibit A).

But I’ll put our SUP sunsets up against any West Coast or Pacific island backdrop.

If there was any doubt that Vermonters belong on paddleboards, there is always affirmation at about 8 p.m. in the middle of Lake Champlain on a calm day in July.

 Paddle on!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

'A slight chance'

I had the occasion to meet meteorologist Steve Glazier from the local FOX affiliate this week and give him some feedback on summer weather forecasting from a paddleboarder’s perspective.

I got my snide jab out of the way first, mimicking him and his colleagues in Lt. Frank Drebin tones: “Okay, we have a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms this afternoon, but there’s only a 10 percent chance of that.”

Then things got serious. Meteorologists have been relying on percentages so long that they’ve lost sight of how little value they offer. As a Lake Champlain person, you can’t do much with a “40 percent chance of …” forecast, especially if it’s more than 12 hours out.

Steve acknowledged this, as well as the general shortcomings of forecasting through audio/visual media — the flashing lightning bolt graphic that is displayed when there is a slight chance of thunderstorms offering a prime example of the disconnect between reality and covering your bases.

Being surprised on the lake by a pop-up lightning storm is no joke, and meteorologists have an important role to play in helping us avoid that. But some phrases should never be uttered, like: “there is a slight chance of a passing shower.” Really, don't bother. We’ll see it coming. We’ll experience it as it passes by, and we’ll enjoy the calm lifting clouds on the other side.

So I offered a suggestion. Keep the computer-generated percentages to yourself, and if it’s less than a 40 percent chance of precip, just say: “Showers and thunderstorms are unlikely.”

It’s positive. It’s accurate. I really think I got through to Steve on this.

But he had a counter.

“How about, ‘Showers unlikely — but possible,’” he said.

Redundant? Yes, but I’ll take it. There's even a slight chance he'll use it on the air.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Spring Mendoza Line

Sixty degrees. That’s the magic mercury, for both water and air.

After the typical Vermont freeze, when the strength of sun becomes noticeable on your cheeks, it’s not until the air reaches 60 that you first feel free of winter’s clutch. Sixty degrees brings the toes out to wiggle in sandals and reveals legs all around us after so many months of mandatory pants.

For Vermont Stand Up Paddlers, that first 60-degree day starts the clock ticking to the moment you’ll hear the slap of your board hitting the water for the first time in the New Year.

Finishing the ski season strong, thoughts shifting to leis and the Lake

This was an especially chilly winter as far as recent memory goes — although typical by Vermont folkloric standards. Lake Champlain froze completely for the first time in ten years. March was cold. April was cool, cloudy. May has been all over the place, but decidedly not warm. The last patches of mountain snow are just now dispersing into creeks and tumbling toward the valley.

Water temps in Lake Champlain remain in the upper 40s …

Dry suits and jackets — spring in Vermont
But they are rising toward 60! — that next plateau in our SUP season. Sixty degree water marks an unofficial beginning to the Lake Champlain summer. It’s when Stand Up Paddling in Vermont can be what Stand Up Paddling is meant to be.

This is a Hawaiian sport, rooted in surfing. It's brought a real connection to that sunny spirit of Aloha to the Green Mountain State. We have no doubt added our twists, donning dry suits to play with ice chunks on the Winooski River in March and pushing early season outings on Lake Champlain.

But as much as we can gear up for some guerilla spring SUPing, the sport goes best with summer days and sunset colors. That iconic surf vision of running over sand toward water with a board under your arm can only happen in-season.

And it all starts at 60 degrees.

Behind schedule perhaps, but it's coming ...