Drone Life

After thinking about a DJI Mavic Pro for months I bit the bullet and got one on pre order from a store. After waiting for 2 months and finding out DJI are just shipping their b2c orders instead of b2b whilst stock is limited – I just ordered direct, cancelled my pre order and 5 days later had a drone.

After the initial excitement – I got everything charged up only to find my phone would not connect to it. Some online research later I figured I needed to be on a later version of Android. A little more research and before I know it I am wiping my phone and updating the OS. It worked! It was now definitely the night time and too dark to fly, and the risk of having a first flight indoors did not seem worth it.

The next morning it was time for my first flight. A quick youtube tutorial then lift off! The drone is so ridiculously easy to control. The sensors make it fairly hard to crash into stuff too!

Everyone loves a new toy! Finally hopped on the drone bandwagon. #dji #mavic #mavicpro #mayhill #aerial

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The menus on the other hand are alot less intuitive. There are loads of settings which need fiddling with and it seems pretty bad at remembering them. I swear I have to change photo file format from jpg to RAW every time I fly.

Drone face! Super windy today but hopefully get a bit more flying in! #dji #mavic #mavicpro #drone #dronestagram

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The portability is by far the best feature of the drone – the fact it fits in a rucksack so easily means you can actually take it all over the place and fly whenever you fancy. It is pretty fun to just fly and not even bother with photo and video at this point. I enjoy exploring areas from above.

Sunset flying before those big rain clouds ruined my fun! #dji #mavic #mavicpro #sunset #gloucestershire

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I have not played with video too much yet. I spent a few hours at Bugsboarding though and from under 5 minutes of footage cut together a quick edit. The follow modes are pretty tricky to use. It seems to stop following a lot – either due to obstacles or the subject changing direction too quickly. Also with gravity sports where you go downhill, the drone does not descend whilst following.

Much more practice needed!

The 365 Steps to the Eagle’s Nest

Today I hit up one of the local viewpoints that has been on my to do list for some time – the Eagle’s Nest – not the Nazi one but a viewpoint in the Wye Valley. The Forest of Dean is a bit of a mobile phone signal dead zone so it would have helped to have the exact directions saved offline but I made it eventually. The roads are at least enjoyable to drive.

There are two ways up to the Eagle’s Nest viewpoint – the easy way or the hard way. I went with the hard way – aka the 365 steps. It is not an arduous hike by any means but it is very uneven ground as well as steep and slippery. Not one for grandma basically, but fine for most.

The view is pretty good – you can see the Wye below and the Severn Estuary in the background. The Severn Bridge is clearly visible with the Cotswolds in the background. On a clear day it would be great!

Freezing in La Clusaz

Last week must be the coldest week of my life. We drove into town in solid snow, the snow tyres got us up the mountain, but it was early and the ploughs had only just started. We grabbed a pain au chocolat and a coffee whilst waiting for the supermarket to open. Once stocked up on supplies it was time to head further up the mountain to the chalet and up the nightmare of a drive. Steep, 90 degree corner, a drop on one side and a foot of fresh snow on top of a layer of ice. Great. The chains just got us up there.

It was all good. The scenery was amazing. After driving all night, the key is keeping yourself busy and entertained so you stay awake. I figured it was time to grab some photos of the new boards. Always handy to have! Once the camera was out it was easy to find things of interest. I just walked around and shot. As I looked back across the chalet I noticed AJ flying down the hill opposite the chalet on a snowboard. I grabbed a quick shot then headed back – I wanted a go. Before I knew it, we got carried away, the shovels were out and we fashioned a jump. After riding the jump for an hour and a few cart wheels it was definitely lunch time. It did not stop snowing till late that evening.

Every morning for the next few days we woke up to temperatures ranging from -16 to -19. The van was not enjoying it at all. It was clear skies day and night giving great sunrises and sunsets. Setting up a stand and being outside not moving too much for 8 hours a day was bitterly cold. A few runs were needed to keep warm – plus I was desperate to check out some of the new boards! Read my thoughts on the new Never Summer Insta/Gator and Maverix here. The cold weather kept the snow in great condition and pistes were as good as they get. The stand was busy too which stops you from dwelling on how cold it was! After three days of testing it was time to hit the road and move on!

Dunraven Bay Cliffs

Dunraven Bay is a huge beach which is hard to access and easy to get stuck on at high tide thanks to the high cliffs which line it. We walked along the cliff tops from Southerndown through the gardens and ruins of Dunraven Castle towards Llantwit. Out of nowhere you drop into a lush green wooded area full of ferns and trees, cross a stream then back up the other side to more cliff tops. Without people in the shot it is hard to see the scale of the cliffs which stand out from the background with their text book sedimentary layers and bright orange colour.

The Scotland Road Trip

Between Christmas and New Year there is always a great few days when we are off work and I like to make the most of it. Last year we had amazing kitesurf conditions every day. This year I was already in North Yorkshire which is halfway there as far as I am concerned so I decided to head up to Scotland. Everyone loves a road trip and the first key ingredient is some great roads to drive. The way up to Scotland definitely delivers on this front. Next you need things to do and people to see.

Day one got off to a good start – a trip to Hyper-Trax – a new indoor electric motocross centre – this was super fun and has fueled my desire to get a bike myself!

After that a mission across to Edinburgh – the base for this Scottish road trip. A dinner in town then time to check the forecast for wind. It was looking like Troon would be the best option for a kitesurf, so the next morning we headed that way. We were greeted with sun and wind. Perhaps not as much wind initially as I would have liked but it picked up after an hour or so. It is always great to get a session in – it felt like it had been a while too! Scottish waters were quite different from my last kite session in Vietnam. It was full winter wetsuit, boots and hood – didnt need the gloves though!

The third day was dedicated to mountainbiking. Another early start from Edinburgh down to Glentress Mountainbiking Centre for a day on the trails. I recently picked up a full suspension bike so was keen to get a solid days riding in and put it to the test. It is always fun to ride new places too. The bike held up great and I felt really comfortable on it.

The Scottish landscape is always breathtaking and when the cloud lifted we got some great views. I packed the little Sony A6000 as well as the GoPro to get some shots. As well as a few of the group I got one of a tandem getting air off a drop being chased by a collie – not something you see every day! A great few days in Scotland!

Tokyo Diaries Part 2

Wednesday – time to hit the streets again and get exploring. This time by myself. First up the Imperial Palace East Gardens. I managed to navigate the trains successfully – in itself an achievement. A local sim and google maps is really essential here. The gardens were nice. Tokyo really does get great autumnal colours.

I strolled away from Chiyoda where the palace is and towards Korakuen. I found a much smaller and less touristy temple to check out. After stopping for a coffee and some food I kept strolling towards Akihabara – stopping to grab some street shots. The rail network which is everywhere looks pretty cool.

Finally Shibuya – this is where the famous road crossing with hundreds of people flooding the road every time the lights change. It is an amazing people watching spot. It is probably the most famous/iconic spot in Tokyo. An essential part of the Tokyo experience. Plenty of nightlife round here with endless bars and restaurants.

Thursday was a more mellow day and I was not up for covering as much ground. I headed to Shimokitisawa – a really cool area with a totally different vibe from busy areas like Akihabara and Shibuya. It is way more mellow, pretty trendy, with lots of small streets full of shops, cafes and bars. Grafitti and cool bicycles and mopeds are everywhere. A great place to hang out. I loved some of the typically Japanese details – the innovative bike and car parking, the incredibly realistic fake food displays, the horrifically busy presentation and white light in some stores, the proud display of certain items – like Campbells soup.

Thursday evening was a mellow affair. Dinner at a local place followed by a movie.

Friday I ventured a little further and went down to Yokohama. I kinda wish I had come down here at night when it was all lit up but it was still cool to look at. It was good to spend some time by the water and taking in the sights. The area is again much quieter than central Tokyo and the coastline has a distinctive look to it. After a lunch stop I moved more towards the older part of town away from the shiny new buildings and strolled around.

Wary of how busy trains get at rush hour I headed back to Shibuya to meet Andy. What followed was a night of debauchery culminating in me yet again not going to bed but instead racing across Tokyo with my board bag and other luggage, just about making it to the airport in time to start my long journey home.

Tokyo Diaries – Part 1

My flight from Ho Chi Minh was meant to leave at 2am but was delayed for a few hours. A sleepless night for me. After a quick and easy connection in Taipei I landed in Tokyo Narita in early afternoon. After a minor hiccup at immigration (not knowing the address I was staying at) I was allowed into the country. Next step customs – bags xrayed and searched but all good. Now to figure out a train to Tokyo itself. It went surprisingly well and the Narita Express as a fair bit more comfortable than my flight over. As planned Andy was on the platform in Shibuya to meet me. The original and preferred plan was to grab a taxi – but it soon became apparent board bags and taxis do not mix in Tokyo. Back to the trains. This was as awkward as you could imagine – dragging a surfboard bag and other luggage up and down stairs and escalators, on and off trains then finally a 15 minute walk. At this point the three hours sleep over two nights was catching up with me. I smashed some food then passed out.

A new day and a new beginning. We kicked off with Sunday Brunch at the New Sanno hotel. An odd concept but basically a US Navy oasis in the middle of Tokyo – I was ok with feasting on some western food though. With full bellies we started strolling around and taking in the sights. The weather in December is cold, but dry and with blue skies. As long as you are wrapped up warm it is very pleasant indeed. We walked, talked and sipped beers and chuhais till late. It was nice to be out and about, taking in the sights and learning about Japan.

Monday I grabbed the camera and we headed out for a full day (fuller than I thought it would ever be) of taking in Tokyo. We cruised around town on foot mostly, stopping for food and drinks. We knocked a lot off the generic tourist list – saw a temple, had sushi for lunch, checked out the mad video games stores, all the crazy busy streets and bright lights, sampled other traditional foods etc. There are lots of less traditional details which I loved – people queuing in neat lines for trains, the style of the taxis with their automatically opening and closing doors.

Before long it was the evening – more traditional food and beverages. I am into the oolong-hai. All the refreshing goodness of iced tea but with a little kick. It was my drink for the evening. That night we moved from bar to bar chatting. I am not sure what happened with time but as we left one bar it was clearly daylight again. After some corner shop snacks, it was a taxi home and time to pass out.

After the incredibly long monday, Tuesday was uneventful. A write off really. It was raining anyway so was mostly spent wrapped in a blanket, only leaving the house to get food. Food is tricky in Japan. There are very few pictures which help much and little to no English on the labels. With most prepared foods being either wrapped in rice/batter/breadcrumbs, it really is hard to know what you are going to get.

Vietnam – Kitesurfing Mui Ne

After a long coach ride we hit Mui Ne, a resort area near Phan Thiet. It is a pretty popular place for kitesurfers to visit looking for warm steady winds and warm waters in winter. Their windy season corresponds with the northern hemispheres winter. The beaches are relatively small but there is enough space to launch and land. Despite a less than stellar forecast we got lucky. The wind is meant to start light and pick up through the day up to about 25knots.

Tuesday morning I slept till 7. Solid improvement. The wind was already howling. We went round the coast to Blue Shell beach resort and set up camp for the day. There was a bunch of new product to check out and test. I went out stacked on a 10m Enduro and had fun in the waves. The water was so warm and salty you were pretty much sweating when you came out if you had been riding hard. The wind died off at lunch time so I grabbed a bite to eat. A couple hours later it was back and stronger than ever. As good as it was watching Paulino and others ride, it was 8m weather now and I wanted to get out there. Another couple of hours smashing waves then the sun was setting and time to head back. I could barely keep my eyes open over dinner so it was an early night for me.

Wednesday morning, the sun is shining and the wind is up again. Back off to the blue shell beach resort. The wind and waves were in the same direction as the day before which worked out well. My lack of hours on the water recently meant I didn’t have much stamina. Before long the sun started to drop and the day was over. Another early night for me.

Thursday was different. We woke to no sign of wind. Not ideal but a rest day was pretty welcome at that point. We went and checked out the red sand dunes in the morning. In the afternoon I did some work, chilled out and soon enough it was dinner time. The final night in Mui Ne was celebrated with a big BBQ. Everyone who had an early flight left after eating. The rest of us stayed and kept sipping beers. As the bar closed we moved to dragon beach – the local late bar/club. Typically I went overboard the day before an early start and a coach ride.

An early start, quick breakfast, packing, then onto the coach for the trek back to the city. I slept most of the way. By midday we were back in Ho Chi Minh. I didn’t need to head to the airport till after 11pm so it was into town to explore some more and grab lunch with Gavin and Charlie from KOW.

A quick shower, some dinner and a load of beers later it was time to say goodbyes and head to the airport to continue my travels. Next stop Tokyo!

Vietnam – The Ozone Factory Tour

Again I woke up before five – damn jet lag. I managed to snooze for another couple hours before getting up. We needed to be out of the hotel and on the bus by eight anyway. This was the day of the factory tour. No photos allowed unfortunately but the Ozone crew were there taking plenty of shots.

The main point of the trip was celebrating 10 years of Ozone Kitesurf and getting a tour of Parapex aka the Ozone Factory. We were lucky to have David, the man who set it all up over to give us a detailed tour of the factory and the processes he implemented which make it all so robust. We are so familiar with some elements of the factory from our day to day work – so it was fascinating to learn about what happens at the other end.

The tour starts with the raw materials. Fabric and lines mostly which arrive at the factory and immediately undergo thorough quality controls. It was interesting to see fabric is not simply spot checked but every single roll is examined under a light and any imperfections marked. This is important as it means the imperfections are seen early and stopped from ever being used on a kite or wing. The bars are also tested under load to find any weaknesses.

The process of putting together a kite is often thought to be relatively simple, but when you see all the steps yourself, the amount of detail and the precision required are really quite impressive. It is easy to see how some brands might struggle with production issues. There is no such thing as kite making machines – it is a very manual process. From cutting to sewing the fabric and splicing lines – it is done by hand.

The Ozone factory is all split up into small teams which operate independently. Each team will have workers, supervisors and quality control inspectors. The entire kite or wing is made by the same team. We were lucky to see the team making my buddy Lance’s custom kites (pictured below).

Every bladder is made on site then left inflated for a while before being fitted into the kite. Every tube kite is inflated and left inflated overnight to make sure it is holding pressure and there are no leaks in the bladders and one pump system. Likewise foil kites and wings are inflated, hung and inspected.

All in all a great day learning more about the factory! Next up a coach ride down to Mui Ne on the coast for some riding! The less said about the coach ride the better. Instead – a team photo!

Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh – the first 48 hours

It was smooth sailing to Vietnam. Managed to get my sports luggage through as normal checked in baggage and no surcharge. There was an hour delay taking off but what is another hour on a plane when you were going to be there for eleven anyway. Can’t fault the flight or service of Vietnam airlines except for the dodgy inflight entertainment system which kept pausing itself and had limited options anyway. I watched a couple of films, played some games and before I knew it we were almost there. Best airline food I’ve had too.

The daytime flight made it pretty hard to get any solid sleep. Just naps here an there.

The Connection
We landed in Hanoi at half five local time. My connecting flight to Ho Chi Minh left at 7. I had to clear immigration in terminal four which took 45 minutes, grab my luggage which was dumped on the floor by the belt at this point and figure out how to get from terminal four to terminal one. As I ran out I saw a group of four security guards. One pointed outside and right so I started running. There was a t3 and t2 clearly sign posted but nothing about t1. The side of a bus caught my eye. A shuttle to t1. Not a great sign if its so far it needs a bus but better than running with luggage. I hopped on. 8 mins transfer time. There was obviously no queue at the check in at this point. It was time to be at the gate. After a brief discussion at check in about whether or not I should have brought my bags or not it was decided I would run to the gate and they would deal with baggage. Security was fast. I have the x ray bit pretty dialed now. Despite the usual slow group who seem to never have used this before I managed to get to the gate just in time to board. Panic over. No problem sleeping on this flight.

Ho Chi Minh
A mellow connecting flight. No immigration to pass through and bags came out super fast. I walked outside and found my ride within 5 minutes. Perfect. The 20 minute car journey to the hotel had me grinning from ear to ear. All the stereotypes you hear about entire families on mopeds and guys transporting vast amounts of stuff. Bikes weaving in and out of cars and riding alongside each other so closely. So little margin for error, so much beeping. It was organised chaos and so fun to watch. I do not look forward to trying to cross the road. Zebra crossings mean nothing here.

Despite my body clock being at 4am I couldn’t sleep. I decided to go and explore my surrounding’s. Mission one was to get some cash. I withdrew a million dongs. First time I’ve been a millionaire. Turns out that is barely £40. As I cruised around the place is so vibrant and mad. I saw a nice coffee place but couldn’t quite see how to get across the road to it. The only option seemed one step above closing my eyes and running. I opted out and carried on walking. It wasn’t long before I found another cafe on the same side of the road as me.

My million dongs came in the form of two 500k notes. I felt a bit bad ordering a single coffee needing 450k dongs in change but you have to break a big note somehow. After wandering and exploring the heat kicked in so I grabbed an ice cold beer from street vendor. It set me back 40p. I carried on wandering and snapping. I loved the chaos of the mopeds and the mental electrics.

The lack of sleep was kicking in. I headed back to the hotel for a nap. A few hours passed. I showered and went on to find everyone else. The beers flowed freely. Dinner was good then it was on to a street bar. The atmosphere is vibrant. The heat and humidity add to that. The plan was to stay up late so I slept through the night. We called it gone midnight.

I woke up way earlier than I had hoped at half five. At breakfast I was reminded of this mornings itinerary – rent mopeds and race around the city exploring. Never having ridden a bike for more than five minutes down an empty country lane I was pretty nervous. Once we got set up (luckily no bike license or insurance required) and going it was nerve racking to start but I eased into it. Stu and I were the only two who hadn’t ridden before so we lost the main pack early on and made our own way. After a while I started to feel more at ease and enjoyed cruising about. It is not nearly as crazy as it seems from a car, though it is still bonkers.

We had agreed to meet up with the rest of the bike gang at the War Remnants museum – which was sobering. Grim to be honest. After that we rode out together and hit the old market which was classic. Before I knew it we were tearing around in a pack all wearing wigs. A sight to behold.

A shower then a bus to the factory for the festivities. The factory party was wild. We were greeted with a red carpet. We were joining over 1000 employees on their Christmas party. Three hours of eating and drinking later things got pretty merry with a load of dancing.

By the time we got the bus back to the hotel it felt like midnight but in reality it was barely gone eight. The group splintered off. I hung in the lobby for a bit then headed to dinner at a place round the corner in a smaller group. By the time I got back the guys from king of watersports had just arrived after being stuck in Dubai for a day. Having been cooped up for a couple of days travelling they were keen to go eat and drink. We had some drinks in the lobby before heading out for dinner at another place round the corner.Three dinners, as many hours sleep and over almost ten hours of sipping beers was catching up with me. Time to call it a night.