Go Play Watch DOGS!

At ACK we have what we call “Go Play” days, which are days where employees can take a paid day off to go and play. There is also something in there for non-paddlers that I actually did for my Go Play day, not because I didn’t want to go paddling but rather because it was equally or more rewarding to do something for the community.

Last Thursday I got to spend the day at my son Jack’s Elementary School. The PTA has a program that isn’t unique to just his school but actually at 2,659 campuses covering 46 states — it is called WATCH D.O.G.S (Dads Of Great Students) (www.fathers.com/watchdogs).

The program is to engage men, inspire children, reduce bullying and enhance the educational environment at schools. It was originally started by two dads as a way to put more men on campus and a presence at schools. Honestly, it is perfect for me, I don’t see myself a PTA type of person, as a matter of fact, I didn’t know the PTA allowed men in until I attended a meeting. Sure you can call me sexist for thinking such but I grew up with PTA Mom’s so the idea of a “Dad” program was genius to me.

My day was laid out for me, they had a schedule and I wanted to share some of the highlights of my day:

To start the day I went to the front doors and greeted all the incoming students getting “parent dropped off”. First, OMG, I cannot believe how many parents drive their kids to school, those buses must be empty. Second, kids are very tired in the morning and not up for a friendly “Good Morning” from a strange man holding the door. What I did observe is that the younger the kids the more friendly. The older boys wouldn’t even acknowledge my existence at all, they were definitely too ‘cool’.

My first period was 5th Grade Science. I got a quick immersion course into Weathering, Erosion, Deposition. I then helped them come up with ideas for Ice, Rivers, Wind, Ocean and a few other weathering items and watched them attempt to draw the three stages of each. It is fairly interesting to watch them work in teams and come up with some really bizarre ideas, although most had the general concept. Their teacher was a cool dude playing some great Pandora radio while they worked.

After Science class I was on to 1st grade. Here I was a little more in my realm. I helped two children with their sight words and read books. This is in my realm of normal life as it is what I do with my son every night, it also allowed me to be proud that my Kindergarten son was better than these two boys with the same sight words, which I guess is sort of a sad on the inverse.

Next up was recess. It was 9:30am and recess time with my son’s class. Nothing too extreme, a lot of “Freeze” tag, which after running after kids for a few minutes had me purposely getting tagged so I could stop and relax. After recess I went back to Jack’s class and read the students a book. I’m not going to lie, I was scared. My wife tells me I am a boring reader and sometimes I struggle with reading to Jack, she keeps telling me I am Dyslexic, she’s wrong, I’m fine.

After my quick read of Abe Lincoln it was lunch. They eat at 10:30am; it is very weird for me, not to mention their food isn’t what I would call all that tasty. I told Jack I would eat whatever he picked, thankfully he picked the turkey sandwich as I don’t think I could have stomached the “ribs” which looked like a bad copy of the McRib. After lunch was another recess, this one was very different. The kids first decided that tackling me was more fun than tag and then when I got them to play a game they proceeded to spend 10 minutes fighting over which game. Some wanted Duck Duck Goose, some Hide-go-Seek but the majority wanted Plants vs Zombies. I had and still have no idea the point of this game and I spent 10 minutes trying to pretend that I knew what it was and that was fun.

My day really hit its stride when I went to 3rd Grade and got to spend time with a group of ‘advanced’ math kids doing conversions. I watched in awe as they did long division and multiplication without calculators. I just wanted to pull out my phone and help them get those yards to miles.

It was after 3rd grade that I got bored. Eating lunch at 10:30am really jacked with my mind, it was only 1pm and I felt like my day should be over but it was just halfway. I’m not going to lie, I thought about sneaking out to my car and taking a nap or doing some work but I could hear my wife yelling at me and instead took a 15 minute break in the teacher’s lounge, which was not at all how I pictured it as a child behind those magically secret frosted windows.

I had two periods left, 2nd grade and 4th grade. 2nd grade pretty much mirrored 1st grade, sight words and reading. However, it was interesting that the 1st graders tried very hard to get the words while these two 2nd graders would give up on first glance if they didn’t know the word. 4th grade was awful, I had 3 very bratty girls that wanted to hang out with the Watch DOG because it meant they were out of their classroom in the hall, they were also a bilingual class and spoke to each other in Spanish, presumably about me and probably not too positive.

In the end my day was great. The greatest part was the joy it gave Jack. He was so excited to have me at his school and tell all his friends that his Dad is the Watch DOG of the day. It was also very rewarding to give back to the school. I look forward to my next time, which is in April for now while my son lobbies hard to get me in there once a month until school is out.

Peter @ACK

Sailing with the Hobie Adventure Island

Woody in a Hobie Adventure Island before deploying the sail

I had never sailed anything yet but it has been something I have yearned to do. So, for my birthday I decided to take out the Hobie Adventure Island and fulfill this lifelong goal. After only have been shown once how to rig the kayak up with the sail, akas and amas, I set out to Galveston’s West Bay. I was a little scared, but was too excited to not want to try the kayak at its full capability. So I started the day off with just the akas and amas locked into place next to the yak and the 16 foot sail strapped onto one of the sides.

My fishing buddies, each on a Hobie Pro Angler 12, and I pedaled out north against the wind in search of a good area holding reds and trout. As expected from past experience, the wind does nothing to ruin your kayaking trip when you are using Mirage Drives. We reached a nice flat to drift across so I dropped my drift chute and stood up to begin casting. The stability was unmatched due to the amas and made it easy to turn and cast in any direction. After a few hours of no bites I decided it was time to do what I set out to do, sail. The sail is so light that it isn’t an issue setting it up out in the water even with 10+ mph winds and choppy water. In a couple of minutes I was fully rigged and ready to sail.

Got the sail up!

As soon as I pulled the rope and fully extended the sail it caught the wind and the kayak lunged off at full speed. All fear was gone and I felt like a kid again. I was surprised at how much speed it picked up and even more so at how maneuverable it was. When I felt I was going too fast or simply wanted to stop, I just released the rope from the cleat and would immediately lose any propulsion due to the wind and glide to an effortless halt. Having the sail made it easy to quickly position myself anywhere I wanted to start casting then 3 seconds later have the drift chute in the water and the sail rolled up nicely thanks to the awesome pulley system on the Adventure Island. Fighting the fish on the kayak was easy until I got the slot sized red near the boat and it realized it didn’t want to be landed and took off under the kayak. My mistake was fighting the fish standing up while having the amas fully extended. I later hooked on to a flounder and fortunately had corrected the amas to be up against the kayak rather than fully out and that made landing him a lot easier.  It was nice not having to paddle or pedal back to the launch point after everyone decided to call it a day. It even gave me time to fish the nearby docks and land the only keeper size fish between the three of us fishing that day, winning the competition we had going on. Birthday boy wins it!

Best fish of the day!

At first I thought the sail would be bothersome for casting and fishing since I would have a rope running overhead all the way to the back, but after the full day of fishing I had no issues with it. Going back to my Hobie Outback after using the Adventure Island will be difficult. I’m getting myself a Hobie sail for the Outback to make the transition back a little more bearable.

Woody @ACK Houston

Raccoon the Biggest Pitfall of Winter Camping in Texas

The other day I took an opportunity to “go play” at Huntsville State Park with a couple of my good friends. The weather was typical of a winter day in east Texas, a bit cool with some precipitation. However, I wasn’t going to let some weather stop me from going camping!

I find that winter camping can be rather fun when done with the proper gear. I used my NEMO Losi two person tent,  which I have been told can handle quite a bit. It held up even when the winds picked up to 15 mph accompanied with some rain. I was especially impressed with how easy it was to set up and take down.

Nighttime proved to be the most exciting part of the trip. Make sure that you bring plenty of dry storage for your food, because the raccoons at Huntsville (or any other campsite) are relentless. I was tending to my fire about 15 feet from our picnic table when I heard a crash and a clang. I spotted the little rascal with my Princeton Tech Quad Tactical headlamp. The little critter ran off with my marshmallows! I found them the next morning about 15 feet from my tent, but they were soiled on and mostly eaten. I know better now, appropriate food storage devices are a necessity when camping at Huntsville!

Brock @ACK Spring Store


Sharing The River Life w/ Family

One of the most fulfilling things about a life spent on the water is introducing family and friends to the joys of watersports. For my recent ACK employee perk of “Go Play For A Day,” I took my 13 year old niece on a kayak trip on the San Marcos River. My niece has a busy life consumed with school and sports so it was a great opportunity to let her sit back and enjoy herself for a few hours.

We put in at the very cool and historic Zedler Mill Park in Luling, Texas. This is not only a great put in for going upstream on the San Marcos River, but also offers the convenience of a boat ramp and plenty of space and facilities for a BBQ. On a lazy day, it is a great spot to paddle a short distance upstream and see what you can catch. However for this particular adventure, me, my niece and our canine companion Dexter paddled about three miles until we reached what I like to call ‘turtle alley.’ This stretch of river is home to more sunbathing turtles than you can count.

It was great to see my niece truly enjoying herself on the river while trying to overcome her fear of bugs and other river creatures. The weather was unseasonably warm so we had some snacks, let the dog swim and watched the turtles before heading back to the truck.

It is the simple days like this that remind me of why I have built my life around rivers. There is no equivalent experience to the memories and friendships that are built from a day on the water.

Our boats for the day were the Ocean Kayak Prowler Big Game which I love for its’ stability and carrying capacity. My niece, who has very limited experience, had no problem handling the Feelfree Moken 10.

What a great day it was, it couldn’t have been any better!

Luke @ACK

Paddling the Ride 115 with Some New Toys

I recently had the chance to take out my Ride 115 on the Colorado River (Little Webberville, Texas). It’s always a pleasure to take this kayak out, I truly love it. First off, at only 11.5’, it doesn’t stick out the back of my truck far enough to need a bed extender, which makes it a lot more practical for me personally. And I truly don’t find too much of a difference between paddling this and its big brother, the Ride 135. Sure, I might lose a little speed and it might not track quite as well, but it is negligible and not enough for me to take notice. It’s stable enough for me stand in easily, paddles plenty fast and tracks well, plus it can handle my 245 lbs. and any amount of gear I want to take with no problems whatsoever.

As it’s often said, the motor of the kayak is the paddle. Some people choose to skimp in regards to this item, but my recommendation is to spend as much as you can afford. For me, I’m very happy with the Camano FG (Fiberglass) paddle. It’s very light for times when I’m paddling long distances and has plenty of rigidity in the blades so I’m not wasting energy. I would recommend this blade to anybody!

For my recent birthday, my family got me some new toys and I got to put them the test for the first time on this outing. The first of which was the Malone Express Scupper Cart, which I have decided is a must-have! I don’t know how I made it so long without one. It’s easy to use and I can take all my gear in one trip. In the event I get another sit on top, it will adjust to fit nearly any kayak.  And most importantly, it has foam filled tires so I don’t have to worry about flats.

The next item I got that has made life a lot more comfortable is the Skwoosh Classic Kayak Cushion. At less than $50, this is money well spent if you find yourself getting sore after a short time in your kayak seat. Let’s face it, the most important part of any kayak seat is the support it provides, but a close second is some cushioning to sit on. The gel in this is great and makes for a more comfortable paddling.

Lastly, I got to use the Eco Extreme Speaker for the first time. Not only does it do a great job of keeping my cell phone dry, but puts out a decent amount of volume via Pandora or whatever player you choose to use. The fact that the unit floats is a major plus in the event that you knock it out of the boat.

This particular day was right after a cold front blew in, so the fishing was non-existent. This allowed me to fully appreciate my surroundings with its abundant wildlife and crystal clear water (at least on this day). I would always prefer to be catching fish one after another, but I’ve learned over time that nature sometimes pitches a shutout…..AND a bad day of fishing is far better than a good day of working!
Scott @ACK Austin

Go Play Day with the Remix and Commander

Working at an outdoor gear company does mean that I spend a lot of my time outdoors and being active. However, some days, us outdoorsy folks do enjoy a day inside and reaping the benefits of the city life. For my latest Go Play Day (a quarterly perk of working at ACK) I decided to meet in the middle.

I brought my dad along with me and started the day at Elevation Burger (a nice burger made from organic grass fed beef, and homestyle fries) and then headed for the ACK Austin store. At this point, we hadn’t decided what we would be paddling but ultimately we loaded a Wilderness Systems Commander 140, and a Liquid Logic Remix XP 10. Both of these boats are available for rental at the shop.

A couple of hours of paddling on Ladybird Lake in downtown Austin on a warm ‘winter’ day was really enjoyable. We swapped boats halfway through to get a feel for the differences. The commander is a very comfortable and stable boat, so much so that you can stand in it – a cool feature when paddling down a crystal clear creek. The Remix, is more of a creek boat. I had fun toying around with the small rapids at the bottom of Barton Springs Pool. Do not be fooled, the Remix can track very well on flat water with its built in drop down skeg! To cap it all off, we stopped in at North by Northwest for happy hour (a good one to remember), and had some in-house crafted beers and appetizers. Slightly different than my usual adventure days, this was a nice relaxing day with a little bit of adventure.

How do you incorporate a day of paddling into your daily routine?

Kristian @ACK

SUPs, Always a Hit

Recently a few friends and I rented a house in Gun Barrel, Texas on Cedar Creek Lake. I decided to bring along a few kayaks as well as a couple stand up paddleboard’s (SUP’s) and needless to say, they were hit throughout the weekend. For many of my friends, it was their first time on any type of kayak, as well as my first attempt at paddleboarding so it was enjoyable to both teach a little and learn something new myself. I’m confident that I can answer questions about specific boards and the performance factors that different lengths and surfaces give from my experience using them over the weekend.

As far as the kayaks go, it was pretty interesting to get to see all the different boats perform when put up against each other. Such as the difference between a 12 and 14 foot Tarpon. Obviously the 14 is faster but I didn’t fully understand how effortless it was to maintain that speed until I was able to try both back to back. The weekend told me that you don’t have to be a fisherman or a whitewater enthusiast (which none of us are) to enjoy a kayak or SUP.

Travis @ACK Austin

Mud and Mosquitos

As a kayaker, I am fortunate when I see new water but it never seems to come often enough. When you do find yourself somewhere new, it forces, and teaches, you to focus on finding a new technique or a different rhythm to the way you kayak or more importantly the way you fish. This is one of the reasons even a bad day of paddling or fishing is better than a good day at work. Trust me, I’ve had just as many unproductive days as I’ve had good ones. Being in the industry I hear so many people saying “you have to do this” or “there aren’t any fish there”. I personally find this completely wrong. There are different methods to productive fishing and it’s all different for each of us. It takes the ability to seek out those different places that allows you to learn new things.

I was able to tear out of town right after eating turkey on Thanksgiving to fish with a friend of mine, Jeremy Chavez, around the Houston area. After listing to so many tall tales about the fish around that area I had to see it for myself. Despite the endless cloud of mosquitoes and bottomless pit of mud, it was by far the most ridiculous area I had ever seen. Being so much closer to the Coastal Bend area, I’m used to fishing completely different water and having the opportunity to see such a different place is what makes kayaking so unique.

Anyway, check out these pictures (courtesy of Jeremy Chavez), I know you’ll enjoy!

Grant @ACK San Marcos

Quest for a Kayak Ends at Tarpon 120

I have been on a quest the past few months. No, not for hunting dragons, but for a kayak. I have tried out tons of different models from sit insides to sit on tops and have even had a chance in the Hobie Adventure Island. I was being somewhat picky on the model of kayak I wanted, and was trying to find one that I could paddle around Austin and occasionally take down to the coast. After a few months of trying out different models I think I might have finally found the right kayak for me.

Recently, I went down to Lake Bastrop with Kristian (Austin store‘s assistant manager) and we brought with us some of new boats for me to try and paddle around. I soon found myself in the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 along with our Werner Camano Fiberglass paddle. I enjoyed the tracking, maneuverability and stability of the Tarpon 120. It was a quick boat, especially with the Camano fiber glass paddle I was using. I was able to cover most of Lake Bastrop during my paddle.

The Werner Camano series is hands down one of my favorite paddles. Unfortunately, unless I earn a huge raise, the carbon fiber paddle is out of my price range, which is why I tried out the fiberglass Camano. I feel the Camano FG was a good middle of the road paddle as it is tougher and stiffer than a nylon paddle but it will not break the bank like a carbon fiber paddle will. Also the low profile button system on all the Werner Paddles made it very easy to feather my paddles on the water.

Here’s my final word: the Tarpon 120 and the Werner Camano FG go well together like chili cheese and tater tots.

Bill @ACK Austin