Friday, February 19, 2010

Kayaking from Sierra to sea on DVD

Looking for that dream kayak adventure this season? A previous post highlighted some guides to great paddling trips in Northern California. Now a new DVD puts you in the kayak cockpit for tours from the Sierra to the sea.

“Paddle California” is a 75-minute video produced by Bryant Burkhardt of Folsom, a veteran paddling instructor. His film offers ocean, flatwater, and whitewater trips – the Mendocino Coast, Kern River, the Channel Islands, Lake Tahoe, and Feather River, plus some kayak polo action – yup, polo. Kind of like bumper cars in the pool.

First and foremost, this disc offers very good video quality, considering the challenging environments in which it was filmed. The picture looks fine whether it’s on a 17-inch computer monitor or a 37-inch flat screen TV. Much better than kayak videos typically found on YouTube. I’m impressed, since I find it darn difficult to take still photos sitting in a kayak in relatively calm water. So I figured Bryant had some formal filmmaking experience when I spoke to him after he returned from a recent promo tour of the Pacific Northwest.

“Actually, I’m an amateur who benefited from digital technology,” said Bryant. “I just shot hundreds of hours of video in the best places I knew…basically, I shot whenever I was paddling, starting in February of last year through the end of October.” He improvised with a homemade helmet-cam and a second, high-rez digital camera for additional shots. The results are clearly worth that exhaustive effort.

My favorite segment is the Mendocino Coast, including some rock garden and sea cave paddling. It’s well-paced, action-packed, and completely realistic – right down to the moment when the camera scrapes a cave wall and then pops off the kayak. Give it an “A” for authenticity.

Ditto for whitewater segments in the Kern and Feather rivers. Some of the best moments in the Kern segment involve a split-screen technique that provides a paddler-eye view as the yak sweeps over rocks and waterfalls. Meanwhile, the second screen captures the same scene from vantage points onshore. Very effective without being too gimmicky. whitewater river kayaking sea kayak Lake Tahoe kayak
Narration and background music blend in well and complement the camera work. In some spots, Bryant shares voice-overs with some of his paddling companions, who remain unidentified until the credits. I would have liked to see names and faces, if only briefly. Each segment opens with a locator map, a good touch. A bit more info on access, parking, and other logistical tips would be nice, but you can get those details from other sources.

The one segment that doesn't click for me is kayak polo. But I've never been a fan of Marco, Ralph Lauren, or even backyard croquet. Of course, I also never captained the national kayak polo team that went to the world championships in Amsterdam, as Bryant did. “I’ve gotten more favorable response to that segment than I expected,” he told me. And in truth, it is a unique aspect of California kayaking, true to Bryant’s concept for the video.

What’s next? Bryant is planning another DVD on multi-day expeditions that could include Big Sur, a full tour of the Channel Islands, the North Fork of the American, and Upper Cherry Creek near Yosemite. While you wait for that one, warm up the popcorn and enjoy “Paddle California.”


The “Paddle California” DVD costs $29.95 and may be ordered online. It’s also available at California Canoe & Kayak stores in Sacramento and Oakland. Check out Bryant Burkhardt’s Paddle California blog for more kayaking video – a recent one-day “gonzo” tour of  San Francisco Bay is a real kick. sea kayak whitewater kayak Tahoe kayak river kayak sea cave kayaking rock garden kayaking
© 2010 Glenn Brank