Sunday, May 20, 2018

Patriotism: Good, Bad, or It’s Complicated?

Spoiler Alert: It’s complicated.

Before I can talk about patriotism I have to talk about altruism. Webster’s Dictionary defines altruism as, “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.” The dictionary also includes a second definition of altruism; one that I learned in my biology classes in college: Altruism is, “behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species.” Basically, it’s risking or sacrificing yourself to help others.

In nature, as in humanity, altruism is prevalent among close kin- for example, parents helping their kids, siblings helping each other, etc. Biologists theorize that altruism evolved because of a type of natural selection called “kin selection.” I.e., families bearing the genetic mutations that cause altruistic behavior were more likely to survive and pass on their genes than were families made up of purely selfish individuals. Thus the altruism genes spread throughout the species.

Altruism in nature is not strictly limited to closely-related individuals, though. Kindness to unrelated group members, and even to strangers, also occurs. That kind of non-kin altruism probably evolved because of the shared benefits for individuals cooperating in pairs or groups. It’s the “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” principle. The classic example is birds in a flock each contributing some time to predator lookout duties while the rest of the flock feeds. The individuals on lookout duty don’t have as much time to eat, but the whole flock gets the benefits of having an early warning of approaching predators, and there’s an understanding that every member of the flock will contribute some to lookout duty. Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. For example there are complex and still-evolving theories regarding the cost-benefit tradeoffs of various selfish vs. altruistic behaviors, mechanisms for enforcing reciprocity of non-kin altruism, etc. To make a long story short, biological science has shown us that the capacity for altruism, the instinctive desire to help relatives, partners, group members, and even strangers, is millions of years old, predating the human species.

Human altruism is particularly interesting and challenging to study because of our high intelligence, and complex, hierarchical, social structures. Our considerations of altruism weigh costs and benefits to the self in relation to family, coworkers, community, religious/ethnic group, city, sports team, political party, state, nation, international alliances, humanity, and/or the global ecosystem. The relative well-being, safety, and stability that many modern humans enjoy, as compared with non-human animals that live short lives of constant stress and mortal peril, owes largely to our advanced (albeit imperfect) altruism. However, the overlap among the levels of human altruism creates a lot of potential and real conflict in our altruistic decision making processes. Consider, for example, whether you would serve your nation at a risk or cost to your family. Conversely, would you serve your family, at a cost to your nation? And would you serve your nation at a cost to humanity or the global ecosystem? These are difficult and important questions.



We are now ready to talk about patriotism, which, for the purposes of this discussion, I am defining as altruistic attitudes and behaviors at the level of state or nation. Patriotism is seen by many as unequivocally virtuous, but I’ll contend that patriotism can go a lot of different ways, and that it should be considered carefully in the context of broader ethical principles and the other levels of altruism. I will begin my “patriotism is complicated” thesis by outlining some kinds of patriotism that are bad. Then I will conclude with a recommendation on what I view as “good” patriotism.

Bad types of patriotism:


Bad Patriotism Type 1: Being patriotic to a bad country

*If your country’s goals or actions are bad, your patriotic support of the country furthers that badness.
*In a bad country, a noble alternative to simple supportive patriotism would be participating in efforts to reform the country. However, I think that trying to escape the country, or simply laying low in defense of one’s own life would also be understandable and forgivable.
*Some criteria that I think could classify a country as “bad” are: 1) the government violates fundamental human rights, for example by endorsing slavery, 2) the government is seriously corrupt or incompetent, resulting in the suffering of its citizens.
*Some examples of countries that I think are bad, according to these criteria, are: Isis, Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Confederate States of America, Taliban-led Afghanistan, North Korea, etc.
*Note: There can be good people in a bad country.
*Also note: A country can be bad for a period of time, under the thrall of a particular bad group of leaders, but may not be permanently bad. For example, Germany has been a pretty good country since Nazism was defeated in WWII. The opposite can happen, too- a good country can go bad.

Bad Patriotism Type 2: Unquestioning patriotism

*I would define unquestioning patriotism as loyalty to country in the absence of any objective assessment of the quality or morality of the country and its actions.
*It is associated with a false assumption that the country is permanently and inherently good, and that everything the country does must be supported.
*In its extreme form, unquestioning patriotism views questioning as not merely unnecessary, but as actively unpatriotic. “How DARE you question America!?”
*A variation on unquestioning patriotism is unquestioning patriotism applied just to certain parts of the government. For example, some believe that the military, police, and president must have our unquestioning support, but that it’s OK to question other parts of government like the congress, the courts, and the IRS. “God damn the IRS, but how DARE you question the military!?”
*The reason this type of patriotism is bad is that it can easily lead to Type 1 bad patriotism, by failing to recognize and correct the country when it’s going bad.

Bad Patriotism Type 3: Misanthropic patriotism; aka "Hate-triotism"

*This is the angry type of patriotism that involves hating other people, both inside and outside the country, in order to strengthen a kind of in-group cohesion.
*It depends on the generally false notion that it’s those “others” who are a threat to the greatness or the security of the country, and that the others and their filthy ideas must therefore be subjugated or purged.
*Some of the hate is stirred up by demagogues, who intentionally provoke fear, jealousy, and hate against scapegoats both inside and outside the country. “The foreigners are taking our jobs!”
*Some of the hate starts when unquestioning patriots feel “attacked” by others within their country who do question things. (See American death skull "Love it or Leave It" t-shirt design.) Then strife grows between the questioners and the unquestioning defenders.

Bad Patriotism Type 4: Fake/Hypocritical Patriotism

*Practitioners of this type of patriotism emphasize patriotic rhetoric, displays, and symbolism while making relatively little effort to actually behave altruistically with regards to the country.
*Fake/hypocritical patriots are quick to condemn others for being or seeming unpatriotic.
*If you plaster national flags all over your yard and denounce those protesting the government, yet you refuse to pay taxes, you may be a fake/hypocritical patriot.
*Fake/hypocritical patriotism is common among politicians, who may use it cynically to manipulate unquestioning patriots into acting on their behalf.
*This is also known as “chicken hawk” patriotism.
*The song “Fortunate Son” by the band Creedence Clearwater Revival provides a good critique of this kind patriotism.

Good Patriotism:
*Despite all the ways that it can go wrong, I think that patriotism is an important type of altruism. It has a valid place in the nested hierarchy of the types of altruism- somewhere between altruism to family and community and altruism to humanity and the global ecosystem.
*Over thousands of years there has been a general expansion of our species’ bubble of altruism from small family groups to tribes, cultures, city-states, and broader levels of organization. But the instinctive sense of in-group mutual interest kind of fades and weakens at the broadest levels. Likewise, our logistical abilities to organize and care for our groups are increasingly challenged as the groups become broader. For example, we may not yet have the will or ability to ensure universal medical care at the global scale, but we can do it at the national scale. Global goodness should be the ultimate goal, but national goodness is an important and achievable level to focus on to get us there, and patriotism can help with that.
*I don’t have a fool-proof prescription for creating good patriotism, but I think it can start with taking a sober inventory of the state of one’s country, including both its strengths and its faults, and working to make it better.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Race Report: Edisto Island Classic



Race: The Edisto Island Classic 2018

Date it happened: 12 May 2018

Location: In the saltmarsh creek backwaters of Edisto Island, South Carolina, starting at the Edisto Beach State Park boat ramp.

Course / Distance: There was a long race and a short race, both following the same out-and-back path through broad, tidal creeks. I GPS'd the long race at 7.9 km, and I reckon the short one was about 5 km. I'll post my GPS track when I get back to a computer with a usb bluetooth dongle.


Conditions: It was hot and sunny, with a slight breeze that picked up during the race. There was a strong ebb tide current at the race start, but the current diminished as slack low tide approached by the end of the race. A few places on the course were shallow. The area requiring the most care was the steep concrete boat ramp where we entered and exited the water. There were some minor injuries and embarrassments there.

Participants and Gear: There were around 58 participants, relatively evenly divided between the short and long races. About 1/3 of the participants were on SUPs, and the rest were on kayaks or outrigger canoes. I was surprised how many serious, surfski kayak racers showed up. Kayak racing must be more popular in the Carolinas than in Florida. As a new surfski paddler it was interesting for me to scope out the other racers' "skis" to see the differences in design that I hadn't paid attention to before. I realized there's quite a difference between the relatively flat bottom shape on a stable surfski like the Epic V8 as compared with the U-shaped bottom on a tippy one like the Epic V12. (Now I know why I'm having such a hard time learning on the V12.) One of the race organizers was paddling a weirdly modified surfski that had a gull-wing "training wheels" outrigger setup. It hovered out of the water most of the time but would prevent capsize if it touched down. My setup was a 14'x23" Riviera RP with a Riviera Bump 7.0 paddle. There were only a handful of other guys in the 14' sup class, but they all looked pretty fit and experienced, with fast equipment. There was an amusing moment when Ken Bowman and I met each other in person and both admitted we'd checked out each other's results and profiles on PaddleGuru. (Gotta size up the competition!)

Results: In the long race, the top 3 finishers were in surfski kayaks- Pete Green (0:36:37), Bruce Poacher, and Larry Dixon. Justin Schaay and his daughter were in 6th place overall in their tandem surfski. Anne Kelly was the first solo female surfski in 0:47:26. I was the first SUP finisher, with an official time of 0:47:44, though I think my actual time was around 0:52:34. Ken Bowman was second SUP, Ernie Eller third, and David Jeffcoat 4th. Jeff Hood and William Dion were the first OC2 and Krista Wilson was the first OC1.



Play by play: The race organizers anticipated the difficulty of staying behind a starting line while being swept forward by a strong current. Thus they arranged a start facing upcurrent, with a short upcurrent sprint followed by a hairpin buoy turn that would send us downcurrent into the longer portion of the race.

It was clear that the marsh shoreline had less current than the center of the channel, so the savvy racers bunched at that end of the line. It was controlled chaos as we all sprinted off together. Ken Bowman and I started well and I inched into his side-draft to stick with him and save energy. Moments later we were passed by a wave of surfskis who had better speed than us but hadn't accelerated as quickly. I slipped into their wakes and used their energy to help me get to the hairpin turn before Ken. Nobody had articulated any rules about not drafting, so I reckoned it was a free-for-all. Heading downriver I briefly drafted the surfskis. I was too slow to keep up with most of them, but there was a prolonged period where the slower surfskis were gradually overtaking me, and I would draft them for a while when I could.

After the first downcurrent leg, we turned into a different channel and went upcurrent. I employed the side-hugging strategy again. The bank dropped off quickly in most places, but some spots, especially around bends in the creek, I ran afoul of shallows that reduced my speed. The surfski paddlers call the drag-inducing shallows "suck water." The lead OC2 team was creeping up on me as we headed into the shallower, bendier section of the course, but I think they were more affected by the suck water than me. I could tell I was getting ahead of them as the sound of their grunting signals to each other faded out.

I didn't know where Ken Bowman was until the turnaround at the halfway point. I was relieved to see that he was 100 m or so behind, giving me some room to breath. For the second half I tried to paddle efficiently while maintaining a strong pace. It helped that the wind and current were at my back for most of it. I gained some distance on Anne Kelly when she stuck the nose of her surfski down the wrong channel. I very briefly drafted her but she wasn't having it and pulled ahead. In the final upcurrent leg to the finish I tried to keep pace with Anne by taking a route closer to the bank while she was more in the middle of the river, but she kept the lead.

It was delightful to cross the finish line as the first place SUP with my parents and aunt and uncle cheering from the dock at the boat ramp. Then dunking myself cool in the muddy creek was also nice. Here's my track from the race:

After everyone finished we made our way to Edisto's "Dockside Restaurant" where we had lunch on a covered pier over the water while the organizers did the raffle and awards. The trophies were made of driftwood debris topped with marsh grass baskets woven by a local Gullah artist. My mother is nuts for decorative baskets, so I was happy to give the award to her as an early mothers' day present.

I hope this race continues in coming years. It has a good, family feel, it's in a beautiful, quiet spot, and it's a great excuse for me to drive up for a little vacation at my folks' Edisto Island beach house. When we're not here you can rent the house yourself. https://www.atwoodvacations.com/vacation/rentals/239-dragonfly

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Race Report: Special Olympics Benefit SUP Races

Draft train early in the race: Packet Casey, Mark Athanacio, me.


Race: The 9th Annual SUP Luau Race benefitting Collier County Special Olympics.

Date it happened: 6 May 2018

Location: In the Gulf of Mexico at Vanderbilt Beach, Naples, FL.

Distance: The competitive race was approximately 5.7 km. The course was four laps around a big rectangle that was pinched like a bow in the middle. After the competitive race there were shorter races for the Special Olympics athletes, and "family fun" races. My track from the race is below.



Conditions: The weather was warm and sunny with hardly any wind. There were some tiny swells and wakes on the Gulf, which could occasionally provide a little speed boost.

Participants and Gear: There was a good group of Special Olympians, with a lot of family members and volunteers supporting them and participating in the family fun races. For the competitive race we had a smaller group, but it included experienced studs Mark Athanacio, Packet Casey, Cindy Gibson, and Meg Bosi, among other race-savvy competitors from the CGT tribe. There were no divisions by board size, so most people used 14' boards if they had them. Some of the women on 14s included Meg Bosi, Damien Lin, and Donna Catron, while Cindy Gibson went with her trusty 12'6 Hovie Comet. Packet Casey used a JP Flatwater 14x25; 2" wider than the 14x23 JP that he used last year. I used my 14x23 Riviera RP, with an 18.5 cm Fins Unlimited seagrass fin that I now use for anything other than perfectly flat water.

Results: Since this was a low-key local race focused mostly on the recreational paddlers and Special Olympics athletes, I don't think they are going to post our times. They did keep track of who got what place, though. Packet Casey got first, I was second, and Mark Athanacio was third. Next was Mark Hourigan on a 14x25 Infinity Blackfish, followed by the amazing Cindy Gibson, who was the first place female. Cindy was a bit ahead of new dad Justin DiGiorgio, who was a bit ahead of Bill Mussenden. I think the 2nd and 3rd place women were Meg Bosi and Jen Hayes.

Play by play: I haven't been as obsessive about SUP training this year as in previous years, because my mind and my hours have been more occupied with work-related goals and struggles. I've still been getting time on the water, but not doing such intense intervals training as I was doing before, and not going to the gym. For the past month I've also been doing about half of my paddling on my new surfski kayak. So I wasn't sure how well I'd perform in this race. I knew that I'd be in the top three with Packet and Athanacio, but had no idea who among us would be in the lead.

After the running start from the beach, Packet was first to the first buoy, closely tailed by Athanacio, then me. Justin DiGiorgio also had a good start but dropped behind after the first buoy. The nearshore leg of the course was tricky because one of the buoys brought us into shallow water near shore. There was some strategy involved in deciding whether to take the most direct path to and from that buoy, or to try to stay in deeper (faster) water as long as possible. Following Athanacio and Packet I also played around with trying to ride various parts of their wakes, or getting in clean water and riding the micro-swells and swell-rebounds from the beach. The numerous buoy turns were another opportunity for skill and strategy. One could either step way back on the board to do a tight "pivot" turn, or one could try to just paddle a wider arc around the buoy. Athanacio has a quick pivot turn technique, and he got frustrated with me and Packet for doing slower turns. I reckon that polishing my buoy turns could gain me a board length or two each turn, which in a close race like this could end up making a big difference in final standings.

We did the first lap at a wicked pace around 9.6 kph (6 mph), and I was hurting in the second lap. Athanacio and I had dropped a few board lengths behind Packet, and I proposed that we work together to try to catch him. Athanacio let me around and I put in a good effort for a half lap, with the intention to yield back to Athanacio for the next half lap. But somehow I ended up losing Athanacio, and then I wasn't inclined to wait up for him so I just kept paddling, trying not drop too far behind Packet. That's how things stayed for the whole rest of the race. At times I got a little closer to Packet, but his buoy turns and accelerations were great, and he put on an extra effort in the last lap to get safely out of my reach by the finish.

Though I didn't win first place, I really enjoyed myself, and felt pleased with my pace and performance. My average speed was 9.3 kph, which is quite good for me, especially in a race with a lot of buoy turns. They gave out beautiful, handmade wooden trophies for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, and had a little podium set up for us to stand on. I was pleased to be up there with Packet and Athanacio. My trophy says, "Special Olympics - SUP Race - 2nd place," which is slightly embarrassing because I got my trophy without having to overcome the disabilities that the actual Special Olympics athletes face. Maybe next year they can have slightly different wording on the trophies for the non-special athletes, or just give us a little ribbon or something instead of a whole huge trophy.



After the competitive race was over, it was delightful to watch the Special Olympic athletes in their surprisingly fast and closely contested race. I stood in the water by one of the buoys and helped direct the athletes. The course instructions were a bit confusing for me, and I imagine more so for the athletes. Good on them for paddling as well as they did.

What's Next: Next race for me is next weekend in Edisto Island, near Charleston, South Carolina: it's the Edisto Island Classic 2018. It will be a heck of a long drive, but it's where my parents live, and I'll be staying in their beach house there for a few days of vacation.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Learning to paddle a "surfski" kayak

Lately my standup paddleboard racing buddies have been branching out into other forms of paddling. In our local club, the CGT Tribe, we now have about four new outrigger canoers, and three new surfski kayak paddlers. I am one of the new kayakers. These are the reasons I chose to try surfski kayaking:

1. I like to go fast. Racing kayaks are about 30% faster than SUPs, and generally faster than outrigger canoes, as well. Among paddle-powered craft, only rowing shells are faster than kayaks. But rowing shells have more rigging to fuss with, are more restricted to flat water, and force you to sit facing backwards, which seems unappealing. Also, nobody around here rows.

2. I like ocean paddling and "downwinding," which is what surfski kayaks are designed for. Surfskis are basically stretched-out versions of "sit on top" kayaks, which means they float like a surfboard and you don't have to worry about them sinking when you tip over and fall out. They do get some water splashed into the recessed "cockpit" area, but they have a one-way valve under your feet to drain that water out while you're paddling.

3. I had seen some exciting videos of expert surfski paddlers scooting down ocean swells, gliding from one peak to the next faster and with less effort than a SUP paddler would expend in the same conditions.

4. Most of the big SUP races in Florida also offer the option to race surfski or outrigger canoe. For really long races (>10 km) it would be nice to be on the faster craft that gets the race over earlier and easier. Also, being lower to the water makes sit-down paddlecraft easier to paddle upwind than standup paddleboards, and having a foot-pedal operated rudder lets them adjust for side-winds while still paddling symmetrically.

5. I ruled out outrigger canoe because the asymmetry of the outrigger on one side offends my slight OCD tendencies. That and the fact that OCs are supposedly not as fast as surfskis... Although I think that difference depends a lot on conditions and abilities. I.e., I think it's easier to adapt to rough water and downwinding on an OC than a surfski. That point is illustrated by my friends Justin and Matt, who got a surfski and an OC, respectively, around the same time. Justin is now easily faster than Matt in flat water, but Matt is faster and more comfortable in rough water and downwinders.

6. I heard that my buddy Murray, the most experienced kayaker in our group, was selling a very fast, advanced-level surfski for a ridiculously cheap price. Justin said that if I bought Murray's surfski, he'd give me his own older surfski paddle for free so I could get started right away. I suspected I'd never get such a cheap opportunity to try the sport again, since the boats are normally at least $3000. How could I refuse?

My surfski: The boat I bought from Murray is a 2009 model Epic V12. It's 640 cm (21') long by 43 cm (16.9") wide. The version I have is the second cheapest/heaviest construction offered, and it weighs around 15 kgs. The bottom is very rounded, which makes it extremely tippy for anyone not already skilled in paddling racing kayaks. If my boat choice weren't dictated primarily by what I could afford, I would have bought a much wider and more stable one, but I went into this with the full expectation that it would be very difficult.




The paddle I got from Justin was an Epic "wing" paddle, asymmetrically sculpted to effectively grab the water when swept out to the side of the board. Based on some online research I set up the paddle to have zero "offset angle" between the blades. The old wisdom was that the blades should be twisted 60 degrees so that while one was sweeping through the water, the other would knife through the air with minimal wind resistance. The new wisdom is that little is gained from that, and it just makes the stroke more complicated to learn. I've recently switched from the Epic paddle to a new Braca XI 705 paddle, because someone I lent the surfski to lost the Epic paddle and bought me the Braca to replace it. That was actually a boon for me, because the Braca is a fancier paddle. I have it set up with 0 offset, too.



My experience so far: My first surfski session, not counting the once or twice that I sat in Justin's beginner surfski, was 26 March 2018, in a bay with flat, shallow water. I got my butt in the seat of the Epic V12 and immediately capsized. I repeated this several more times until I was able to keep my butt in the seat, but only by straddling the kayak with my feet dangling in the water on each side. With my feet in the water it was just stable enough for me to tentatively begin paddling. For about 20 minutes I worked on getting my feet out of water and into the boat, but never managed more than a few frantic strokes with the feet in before capsizing. Finally my brain accepted the balance task I was asking of it, and I magically found myself able to keep the boat upright long enough to make substantial forward progress. I actually felt quite pleased with myself and ended up covering a lot of distance, even venturing out of the bay into the calm but slightly bumpy Gulf of Mexico. There I fell more often, and started to get tired. By the end of the session I was falling quite a bit again as both brain and body were worn out.

After the breakthrough on that initial session I expected to learn fast, but in fact my subsequent gains in stability have been more gradual. On my second session I was able to put my feet in the footstrap that covers the steering pedal area, as opposed to on top of the footstrap as I'd done initially. But I still fell a lot. Worse, I ended up with terrible bruises and sores in the area of my rear over my coccyx bone. I think it was from pushing with my legs and pressing myself into the back of the hard, bucket seat. After that session I went to a marine biology conference in Texas for three days, and it killed me to have to sit on my poor behind for hours watching presentations each day.

The first thing I did after Texas was duct tape some pieces of foam camping pad into the seat of the surfski to make it softer, copying a surfski seat pad design I'd seen online. I also added a little patch of pad on the under-knee area of the surfski, not to pad my legs but to pad my head because that's where I balance the boat on my head when walk it to the water. With my butt not in pain I was more comfortable in the boat, and started to be able to go faster. On my 6th session in the surfski I was finally able to go faster than my SUP speed. With new confidence I ventured to the Gulf of Mexico again, and was absolutely hopeless at staying in the boat.

Now after more than a month paddling the surfski, alternating with the SUP so I can rest my rear, I feel pretty comfortable in flat water. I'm able to concentrate more on the paddle stroke and its strange mechanics, which seems to be the key to tapping into the speed potential of the surfski. I have a long way to go with that, though. I'm still way behind Justin in speed even though I'm faster than him on SUP. In rough water I am still absolutely terrible, but not quite AS terrible as the first time I tried it. I've been able to get myself upwind enough to turn around and experience some of the exciting, downwind "bump riding" abilities of the surfski. My current efforts are on improving my stroke and speed in flat water, and improving my balance and upwind/downwind abilities in rough water. My goals for the time being are to able to hold a good 11+ kph pace in flat water, and to be able to get comfortable enough in rough water to try a downwinder with the other guys. I'll keep y'all posted.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

What am I resisting?

After work Thursday I came home and walked the dog. Then I loaded my formula windsurf board into the van and drove to the beach with the windows down. It’s a good life here in SW Florida in April. On the way to the beach a man in a black SUV burst my bubble by pulling up alongside me and asking in a confrontational tone, “What are you RESISTING?”

I gathered that he was referring to my “RESIST” bumper sticker. The sticker was designed by the progressive liberal organization Moveon.org to be an inspirational message to those discouraged by Trump and the GOP’s wins in 2016. To me, it’s a reminder to do whatever I can to resist attempts by those in power to weaken or degrade the things I value- Things like environmental protection, public education, race and gender equality, social services and infrastructure, etc. It would have been hard to explain all that by shouting through the window of a car to someone who didn’t want to listen. All I managed was, “The president- Trump!”

I’m sure my answer was no surprise to the man in the black SUV, but it gave him permission to shout his pro-Trump views. I listened and nodded and periodically gave a sarcastic “thumbs up” sign, but kept my eyes forward on the road and didn’t say anything else. I had no illusions that I might change the man, and I didn’t want to drive unsafely or escalate things into a road-rage situation. I don’t remember all of what he said, but I do remember that one of the first things was, “Trump is the greatest thing ever to happen to America!” And one of the last things he said was the ridiculous non-sequitur, “GET A JOB!” Eventually our paths diverged.

Although I am fairly good at keeping calm on the surface in an emotionally-charged conflict, such situations stir me up a lot on the inside. My thoughts race and my “fight or flight” hormones pump. I felt I’d handled this particular situation well by only minimally engaging, but afterwards I was stuck with some bad vibes that I’m working out of my mind now by writing this blog post. I hope to express to the universe some of the thoughts I was unable to articulate to the man on the road.

First, I would like to contest the man’s assertion that Trump is the greatest thing ever to happen to America. Below are some examples from American history of things I think I think were much greater than Trump’s election in 2016. In no particular order:

1. The 1st Amendment of 1791, which guarantees freedom of speech, freedom to protest, freedom of (and from) religion, etc. My RESIST bumper sticker is covered under the 1st Amendment.
2. The near-elimination of illiteracy by the investment in public schooling, starting around the time of the nation’s founding. "The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." — John Adams, U.S. President, 1785
3. The abolition of slavery in 1865, ending centuries of torture and inhumanity.
4. The development of public utilities including safe drinking water and indoor plumbing.
5. The anti-trust laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which protected public interests from some of the worst abuses of power by big-business monopolies.
6. The spread of rapid travel and communication systems, connecting our country coast to coast and with the rest of the world.
7. The 19th Amendment in 1920, which finally gave women the right to vote.
8. The elimination of many diseases by the spreading science of vaccination and antibiotics in the early 20th century.
9. Various hard-won gains in workers’ rights, such as the fair labor standards act of 1938/1940, which limited the work week to 40 hours.
10. The sacrifices of hundreds of thousands who fought to free the world from fascist tyranny and genocide in World War II.
11. The development of effective and dependable police, fire-fighting, and medical first-response systems.
12. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1961, which greatly reduced the power of the Mafia and other criminal groups.
13. The triumphs of a non-violent civil rights movement over racial segregation in the mid 20th century.
14. The Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972, which protected Americans from the worst ills of rampant pollution.

Secondly, I would like to establish that I DO have a job. I worked hard to get my PhD and I continue to work hard seven days a week as a scientist and university professor, notwithstanding the occasional breaks for watersports and surfing the web. My primary motivation to work hard is not the avariciousness glorified by Trump. Rather, it’s a combination of scientific curiosity and a sense of duty to protect the ocean environment and educate the next generation.



PS- The formula windsurfing was great. The wind was a healthy 11-15 knots and I was well powered with my 9.5 Ezzy Cheetah sail. I had a good time buzzing around my buddies Cindy and Carlos who were doing a grueling paddleboard workout. For the first time I got some jibes on the formula board where I maintained the carve nicely and stayed fully-planing through the exit.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Downwind Paddling, and Windsurfing a Downwind Paddleboard

Lately the CGT Tribe of standup paddleboarders, kayakers, and outrigger canoeists has been getting into a specialized paddling discipline called "downwinding." I've jumped on the bandwagon, too. This post is a brief introduction to downwinding, with a couple videos of our downwindwind sessions.

As one might imagine, paddling with the wind at your back is easier and faster than paddling into or perpendicular to the wind. This is especially true in standup paddleboarding, where your upright body catches a lot of wind. Thus, when it's windy, the idea of a downwind-only paddle outing, a "downwinder," is appealing.

The logistics for a downwinder are complicated, requiring either a non-paddling chauffeur, or multiple vehicles and carpooling exchanges.



You also need wind, and the wind must either be parallel to the shoreline, or the shoreline must be a curve subtended by a line from the upwind start to the downwind finish. The closer the path is to straight downwind, the better, but 10 or 20 degrees off is still OK. There is no strict wind minimum for a downwinder, but most people won't go unless it's windy enough to be whitecapping. 10 knots will do, 15 is good, and 20+ is excellent. Of course, those wind strengths are also great for windsurfing, which brings up the important question of, "Why paddle if you could sail?" My answer to this question is complicated, and still evolving.

Indeed, my first assessment of downwind paddling was that it was a third-rate alternative for people too stupid to windsurf or kiteboard. Why work much harder than a windsurfer, only to go to 1/3 the speed and be unable to return to where you started from?

I might have continued to dismiss downwind paddling if not for my back-door entry into the discipline via paddleboard racing. Since races were sometimes held in rough, windy waters, I started doing paddle workouts in the ocean on breezy days. I practiced paddling at all angles to the wind and chop, but of course enjoyed the downwind bits the most. I realized how engaging and rewarding it was to try to sync up with small, wind-driven waves, feeling the speed-boosting energy of each one. "Riding bumps," as they call it, offers some of the same challenge and gratifying feelings as the traditional mode of surfing waves breaking in shallow water. In windy conditions on open water, downwind paddling essentially becomes surfing, with the same dynamic of paddling hard to catch a ride, then gliding along effortlessly at thrilling speed. In a way, riding bumps downwind is better than surfing, because instead of having to turn around and paddle out again after each ride, you can keep your momentum going and link that first ride into another and another. On flat water, my fastest paddleboard speed for a mid-distance race is around 9 kph, but on a decent downwinder I can average over 11 kph, with peak speeds of 16-18 kph on the good bumps.

Another fun discovery with downwinding is that my "old beater" race paddleboard, a 2014 model Fanatic Falcon 14'x27.25", happens to be a rocketship for downwinding. Its bulbous nose combined with a narrow tail and rounded rails let it catch waves of all shapes, sizes, and angles with aplomb. The teardrop shape of the board also minimizes the amount of footwork you have to do keep the board trimmed properly in the waves- On other boards you're constantly stepping towards the nose to help catch the waves, then scooting back to the tail to keep the nose from plunging under as you surf down the waves. For example, my Riviera RP 14'x23" is a lot faster than the Fanatic in flat water, but is much trickier to use, and therefore slower, for downwinding. I haven't managed to take any "epic" GoPro videos of downwinders yet. The one time I wore my helmet camera for one was a grey day, and the wind sort of died in the middle of the run, but it was enough to get the idea.



Some better downwinder cinematography has been done by my avid downwind partners Greg from Belarus and Matt from Sarasota. Greg does most of his downwinders on a SIC Bullet (a specialized downwind board) or a Starboard AllStar (an all-around raceboard). For some of this video he was also trying out my Fanatic, which he said made everything incredibly easy.

DW-2-4-2018-NAPLES from New Ground Photography on Vimeo.



At the end of the run in Greg's video he let me try out a special contraption that I'd built to mount a windsurfing sail to his SIC Bullet. I'd been eager to do it since noting that the rocker and rail shape on the SIC Bullet was very much like an oversized windsurf board, and I suspected it would be fast and efficient under sail power. Indeed it was. This demonstration was also my not-so-sneaky way of trying to persuade Greg that windsurfing can be a lot of fun. For the next step, I'll loan him the adaptor plate and a small sail so he can mess around with it.

Windsurfing SIC Bullet from New Ground Photography on Vimeo.



My big challenge with downwinding now is keeping up with Matt from Sarasota, who has been doing the downwinders on his 20'8" Puakea outrigger canoe. With Matt's increasingly skilled piloting he has gotten average downwind speeds of 12.0 kph, which beats my best 11.8 kph on the same run with the Fanatic SUP. (This is our most common downwind run. It works in NW winds but requires a strenuous side-wind "traverse" to get offshore to the starting point.)


Is the need for downwind speed enough to tempt me into a sit-down paddlecraft myself? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

FL Keys Marine Lab field trip, Spring 2018

Every semester I take my FGCU Marine Ecology class to the Florida Keys Marine Laboratory for a few days of educational snorkeling. I bring lots of marine life guidebooks and encourage the students to identify all the organisms they see. I think learning what species you're looking at is the first step towards assessing the state of the ecosystem. It's also something I enjoy as a hobby, so I really look forward to photographically "collecting" new-to-me species.

This year I "scored" a few species that I was particularly excited about: Ocellate Box Crab, Batwing Coral Crab, Golfball Coral, Barred Hamlet, Reef Butterflyfish. You can find them and lots more, with descriptions, in the album of all the pictures I took this year, which is posted on my science facebook page.


The next part of this post may fall into the "too long didn't read" category for some people, but I felt like I should share these impressions about how the underwater habitats in the Florida Keys are doing lately, what with Hurricane Irma and some man-made problems, as well. Below is a summary of the changes I've seen at five of our regular snorkeling sites.

Site 1- KML Cove. The Keys Marine Lab is on the shallow, sheltered waters of Florida Bay. We do our first snorkeling activity in a little cove behind the lab. The cove has lush beds of seagrass and algae, with a few sponges and small, inconspicuous corals. I haven't noticed much change in the cove since Irma, besides some sunken branches and debris. However, there have been major impacts further north in Florida Bay, where lots of seagrasses died out due to salinity changes, murky water, and algae blooms. While boating through the Bay this spring we hit a line of the "post-Irma bad water," which was olive brown and totally opaque. Damage in Florida Bay can have a harmful domino effect, because when seagrass dies, it releases nutrients that cause algae blooms, which cause more seagrass to die, which releases more nutrients, and so on.

Site 2- Zane Grey Creek. This is a mangrove-lined, tidal channel that drains Long Key's shallow, internal lagoon. The creek waters can be tea-stained with tannins from seagrass and mangrove detritus, but they are generally fairly clear and high in salinity. Strong ebb-tide and flood-tide currents through the creek, coupled with its stable, high salinity, allow for the development of rich communities of filter-feeding organisms on the mangrove roots. In past years, sponges of all sorts- purple, blue, orange, white, brown, green, etc., covered the mangrove roots, and truck-tire sized loggerhead sponges studded the creek bottom. Those ALL died after Irma. Every single sponge. We speculate that they were done in by a combination of fresh water from the extreme rains, and the choking clouds of brown silt that were suspended in the water all around the keys in the weeks after Irma. I thought some sponges might recolonize the creek between November 2017 and March 2018, but they didn't. KML staff said that something similar happened in the creek after Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and it took about 7 years for the sponges to recover.

Site 3- Cheeca Rocks is a "patch reef" in shallow water relatively near the shore of Islamorada. It's designated as a Special Protected Area (SPA), which means that there's no fishing or collecting allowed there. It's unusual for a near-shore reef in that it still has a relatively high percentage of living hard corals, including the massive brain corals and star corals responsible for building the rocky structure of the reef. Since I first visited Cheeca Rocks in 2012 it has suffered from coral bleaching and disease outbreaks, which have killed or partially killed a substantial portion of the coral colonies. For example, some types of brain coral and maze coral are no longer present there. That said, Irma didn't seem to kill any corals at Cheeca Rocks that weren't already dead before the storm, although it did tip some colonies of star coral on their sides, and it moved sand that partially buried or un-buried portions of the reef. The main difference I noticed at Cheeca Rocks between November 2017 and March 2018 was a big increase in the amount of macroalgae (seaweed) on the reef. The algae and other soft-bodied organisms were probably blasted away by Irma's waves, but later took advantage of the vacant real-estate to recolonize. Algae compete with corals for light and space, so too much algae can harm reefs, especially if its growth is fueled by excess nutrients from pollution, or if the reef lacks algae-eaters like parrotfish and urchins.

Site 4- Alligator Reef. The saddest reef site, ironically, was the furthest offshore one that ought to be the most pristine and beautiful. Alligator Reef is a SPA like Cheeca Rocks, so it does have a lot of fish. It just has very little hard coral. Less than 1% of the sea bottom there is hard coral, whereas on a healthy reef it should be >30%. When I first visited Alligator Reef in 2012 there were at least a few colonies of hard coral studding the reef top. Those colonies included one endangered Elkhorn Coral, a remnant of the forest of Elkhorn Coral that covered most of Alligator Reef before it began dying off in the 1980s. Even though the reef was basically "dead" before Irma, inasmuch as it didn't have enough hard coral cover to keep its mineral growth rate apace with the rate of erosion, it at least looked pretty because there were lots of soft corals, sponges and algae on the reef skeleton. Irma swept those organisms away, highlighting the reef's depressing desolation. In November 2017 Alligator Reef just looked like a dusty concrete ledge. Since then the fast-growing algae have recolonized, and some of the soft corals and sponges are beginning to recover, as well. The hard corals really seem to be gone for good, though, which is crazy and awful.

Site 5- Stag Party. Staghorn Coral is a relative of Elkhorn Coral. It looks like deer antlers. It used to be one of the most common corals on Caribbean reefs, but it started dying out along with Elkhorn Coral in the 1980s. The "Stag Party" snorkel site was one of the few places where one could still reliably find Staghorn Coral in the 2000s, but bad bleaching and disease events in 2014, 2015, and 2016, related in part to mismanagement of water flow to the Everglades and Florida Bay, have almost completely wiped it out. I snorkeled the site for about 30 minutes this month before I found even one remnant patch of sick and pale looking Staghorn Coral. There have been big hopes that this potentially fast-growing coral will make a comeback, but I don't think it will happen unless we take big steps to fix our water pollution and climate change problems.