Saturday, November 17, 2018

Astral Hiyak First Impressions

Ever since word came out that 5.10 would stop making the Water Tennie, and their amphibious shoe line would be absorbed into Adidas (who bought them some years back), I've been searching for a replacement knowing that my last water tennies days were numbered.

Basically the other water shoe producing company of repute that's on my radar is Astral, so naturally my thought was to check out what they have. I found the Hiyak, which is somewhat similar to the Tennie, and the Rassler 2.0, which I couldn't yet find a live version of to check out. The Rassler seems to have a harder sole thank the Hiyak, but I'm not too familiar with it. Wanting a new set of shoes before I head to Ecuador this season was my paramount concern, I saw a set of Hiyaks (one pair left that happened to be my size) at Trailhead Paddle Shack in Ottawa and knowing I'd be there 11 November, jumped on it.

Now, I've only used them once, but they've made such a good impression on me that I decided to do a writeup.

The Tennies have been great over the years, with one major downfall, they seem to disintegrate after a year or two tops. Whether it's the back tearing off, the sides falling apart or whatever.

The Hiyak feel somewhat similar to the Tennie, but nudge a bit more towards the bootie end of things than a true shoe. They seem to strike a 'good enough' balance between the two, though I still prefer the harder sole and toe/heel caps of the Tennie in this regard.

The Hiyak is definitely more comfortable, they have a wider opening and wider lace area. I have an easier time getting my wool sock/gortex drysuit sock/neoprene sock covered feet in them than the Tennie. They feel like a set of slippers walking around, and seem to have enough rigidity to cope with environments you'd see on the sides of a creek.

Grip was a huge selling factor of the Tennie, 5.10's Stealth Rubber is hard to beat, but the Hiyak has their own recipe of grippy rubber that seemed to work just as well! My feet felt warmer in the Hiyak (-4 centrigrade out), maybe this was just due to the comfort.

There is still a tab on the back, like on the Tennie, to help pull them on over thick socks, and another neat little feature is a velcro cover that goes over the laces, in theory this should offer additional reinforcement if your laces detach, and will probably help keep them from detaching as well.

I normally wear a 10.5 Tennie, which is a bit too small with thick socks, the Hiyak only comes in single sizes (10,11,12 for example), I got size 11 which seems slightly snug with all the socks in the world on, but a bit less snug than my 10.5 Tennies. They definitely have more flex, I'm satisfied with the size, 12 would probably be too big, an 11.5 might be ideal...

What's left to be seen is how long these puppies last, but let's just say they've made a great first impression, and I'll now confidently throw away my last old pair of tattered Tennies.

The Hiyaks by my old Tennies

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


In 2011 or 2012, when I was just learning to boat, my main group of paddler friends in BC took a trip to Ecuador with Endless Adventure and had a great time with the warm (during our winter) temperatures and quality whitewater!

I remember at the time thinking 'why would I spend good money going south when you can boat here in Southwest BC all winter long'.. as I grow older I realize more and more that warm temperatures during winter are awesome, and a boating trip presents a unique opportunity to not just meet and boat with new people, but also experience a different place, culture and language and combine it together as a vacation. Though living in the Pacific northwest/Southwest BC, the boating all year thing applies a little more than here in Québec... speaking of which, fun fact/sidenote: of the 70-100 boaters I met total down there rotating in and out and sticking around for various lengths of time, around 30-40 were from Québec (or, to a lesser extent, France) and spoke primarily French. I remember always thinking to myself (or out loud)...better learn French if you want to boat in Ecuador! ...just like in Québexico!

After taking the plunge my first year here in Québec and heading down to boat in Mexico for 6 weeks in 2014/15, then taking 3 months in 2016 to boat mostly in California, combined with a cross country ski trip in 2016/17 to convince me how much the cold sucks while looking at my friends pictures from... Ecuador, I was sold. The tipping point was when Benoit and Emma basically convinced me during a Saguenay boating weekend in September and I found out that my friend Joni would be down there, so I'd at least have someone to boat with (turns out this is not even remotely a problem in Ecuador). I made the call.

Travelling to Ecuador is easy, if you wait for the right times it's also fairly inexpensive. If you want to take your boat you might pay a bit more for the ease of going with Aeromexico (in my case out of Montréal), as they take boats and paddles, usually for a fee it seems, but with little issue. If you have their 10 hour layover in Mexico City, you can get a pass to their premier lounge (unlimited food and beer and comfy chairs) for 20 USD, or extend your layover and grab some flows in Tlapacoyan or Valles.

Logistics in Ecuador are fairly easy as well, there are kayak hostels in most towns, or just regular hostels as well. In Tena there is Oso Perezoso, in Baeza there's Gina's, Rodrigo's or Trés Rios Cabanas of Endless Adventure in nearby Borja, and Abby's Hideaway in Banos among other places to stay in other cities as well and companies that run guided Endless Adventure. If you are 1-3 you can usually take your boat on a bus from place to place, 4 will usually require a Taxi. Everything down there functions on the US dollar, food is inexpensive and good quality, and there are boaters of varying levels everywhere it seems, especially Baeza. You typically will use the taxis to run your shuttles for the river.

There are good multidays, as well as other things to do in Ecuador while you're there if you want. If you get a crew together there are also exploratory rivers and zones. I recommend picking up the Ecuador whitewater guide, which can be had at most of the hostels as well. Also if you're in Tena, eat at 'Marquis The Grand Restaurant' and see the sloths (this is an expensive meal at $15.50 american, but well worth it!).

Temperatures range from 25-35 night/day in Tena to 15-25 or sometimes higher in Banos and Baeza, which are up in the mountains. Baeza is prime for levels and seems to get steady rain most of the time, while Tena can get lots of rain but is very flashy for river levels, though there are always low water options in both areas, Banos I don't have much experience with, but the classic Topo seems to run a decent amount the time.

I got on a decent amount of rivers while I was there, while still managing to leave some for the next trip. Rivers range from big water class 3 and 4/5 to low volume creeky style class 3 to 5, like most places with good mountains there is a wide variety of whitewater. My favorite run was the Upper Jondachi, more just because it's my type of run.

While there check out Quito (the main city you will fly in and out of most likely), the Papallacta hot springs, and maybe hike one of the many volcanoes in the country.

This is definitely a place I will be going back to, maybe even for extended stays in the future. True it doesn't have all the big water falls and class 5 that you find in Mexico, but it's got more reliable flow class 4 boulder gardens than you can shake a stick at, and is less expensive and easier logistics wise on average I found.

In an extremely sad turn of events, shortly after I left, three fellow boaters lost their lives in a flash flood event on a lesser known, or perhaps unknown river. Be careful out there in any event! We won't forget you Adam Vaughan, David Higgins and Alex McGourty. Hopefully you're paddling the greatest rivers you can possibly dream up in perpetuity.

Here is a little video I did of the Hollin: Hollin video

I wasn't very heavy on the media this trip, maybe next time.. but here's some photos from myself and friends:

Myself emerging from the cave on cave rapid of the Hollin. Photo by Adam Vaughan.

Gettin' started on day 2. Photo by Adam Vaughan.

Joni after the cave. Photo by Adam Vaughan.

Landslide rapid on the Cosanga. Photo by Joni Randall.

A bunch of the crew getting ready for a sweet run down the Jarunyacu I believe. Seven different countries of paddlers are all in this photo! (eight if we include Québec ;)
Oso Perezoso Kayak Hostel between Archidona and Tena. Photo Adam Vaughan.