Rob Casey is the owner of SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle, co-founder for the PSUPA and is the author of two paddling guides.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wetsuits vs Drysuits?

Up here in the Pacific NW, most kayakers wear dry suits and sometimes scoff at anyone with anything different. That sort of thinking comes from dated info stating that a paddler will survive longer in a dry suit in cold water. But in recent years, wetsuits have come a long way and are as warm if not warmer depending on the product. Materials such as the Japanese limestone neoprene, the Merino wool lined Patagonia suits, and the toasty battery warmed wetsuit by RipCurl are changing perceptions.

After owning two $900 dry suits over the years, I quickly became a fan of my $350 4/3mm Xcel Infinity wetsuit not only for the price, but contrary to what others told me, the wetsuit was more flexible than the dry suit. I found the neoprene to be super stretchy and comfortable unlike the baggy and sometimes partially air filled Gortex fabric. Yea, off course I always remove the air from my suit, but there always is some left nonetheless. There are also no seasonal gasket repairs on wetsuits, or weekly maintenance with the lubricant 303 to protect the latex gaskets, not to mention purchasing new gaskets. I found it easier to swim as i am more aerodynamic and if i get a hole in a wetsuit, no big deal. Not so with a dry suit. Tired of the neck gasket strangling you? Not an issue with wetsuits. I also don't get the nasty neck rash after a long day of surfing from the salt and sand mixture.

Want to stay dry? Wetsuits such as the Xcel Infinity Drylock will keep your core dry, just as a dry suit will do, sorta. I always had tiny fabric or gasket leaks in my dry suit, and perspiration after a good paddle left me somewhat damp. So much for being dry. For men, the advantage of a dry suit is the pee zipper, but then most surfers I know just pee in their wetsuits and immediately flush the suit out or do so with fresh water after the session.

Wanna stay warm? I get cold easily. In a kayak class last Feb on the Washington Coast, we had daily temps in the 30's, and windchill much cooler. We weren't doing much activity, mostly sitting in our boats on the water for hours. I froze my a... off. I had a full dry suit, one thick polartech layer, and two fleece layers under. Not to mention two hoods, gloves and 7mm booties over my Gortex feet. I was feeling a bit blimpish, and still cold. I wished I had brought my wetsuit, which not only allows me to wear a capilene or polartech shirt of any thickness under, but also gortex drytop over the suit. I had used this wetsuit combo in similiar conditions before, but wore the dry suit thinking I'd could layer more stuff under and stay warmer. Maybe not. Also surfers in our region are regularly spending considerable hours fully immersed in the water in winter without an issue.

What does 4/3mm mean? 4mm chest, 3mm arms and legs. a 5/4/3, means 5mm chest, 4mm legs, 3mm arms. Some friends own 6mm, others a 4/3. it depends on your body and how you perceive cold. I'm open to layering, so the 4/3 quickly becomes a 6mm by adding non cotton synthetic clothing under, or my trusty RipCurl hooded vest over the suit. If I get too warm, I can strip layers.

An alternative to a full wetsuit is the Farmer John/Jane armless wetsuit, usually 3mm, and a Gortex drytop. If in warmer or very safe conditions, this combo allows for warmth yet more options for layering or removing clothing. The downside is that a considerable dunking in cold water will affect you quickly as there's no way to prevent water from entering under your drytop.

Trusted wetsuit companies: Patagonia, O'Neill, RipCurl, Xcel, Matuse. Axxe I'm told makes a very custom warm suit.

Tips for wetsuits:
- When putting it on for the first time, the pull string goes on your back. Newbies often put wetsuits on backwards.
- Wetsuits with no zippers are warmer and leak less, but will be more difficult to put on. Got old stiff shoulders? Get a zipper.
- Does the suit feel stiff at first? Neoprene loosens up when wet.
- While rental wetsuits are often not in the best shape, renting is away to find your preferred thickness and suit type.
- It's ok to put on a rash guard or capilene layer under your suit to boost warmth. I also put a kayaking dry top over in cold temps.
- Do your arms get cold? Put bicycling arm warmers on under your suit.
- It's ok to mix brands. I have a Xcel suit, RipCurl hooded vest, Kokatat hood with a chin strap, and Glacier Gloves.
- Need warm under clothing? O'Neill has thick crew neck fleece shirts, as does Kokatat, and Immersion Research. Check kayak shops too for gear.
- Most importantly, each his own! Find what works best for you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Orca Network - Where to Post Sightings of Whales

I've followed the Orca Network for several years. A great org, they have created a site that helps protect marine animals in the Pacific Northwest by posting recent sightings, then gives more specific info on each whale or dolphin spotted. They're also contact the appropriate agencies if you find a dead or injured marine animal. I've found a few dead seals over the years and report the location, time of day, and type of seal found, (usually Harbor Seals).

For more info:


SUPs Made in Seattle - Hemel Stand Up Paddle Boards

I've joined Seattle based surfboard shaper Steve deKoch in designing and marketing stand up paddleboards. Steve of Hemel Board Company is now making SUPs as well as his usual fare of paipos (the orginal boogie boards), and surfboards. We currently have a 8' Fish, and a 11' touring/surf SUP, and have a 10' on the way. We have plans for a race board and other sizes of the touring boards for different folks.

If you're interested in trying one of boards, give me a holler.

More info here:

Join us on Facebook..

Also come demo our boards at the Deception Pass Dash in Washington State on December 12th...

Follow us on Twitter..

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

South Puget Sound Paddling Locations

This is a quicky guide to paddling on the South Puget Sound area. The info is copy and pasted from a posting I wrote this morning. Will add more and edit later...

The South Puget Sound is pretty nice. Some areas have strong fun currents to play with as well. A few paddles i'd recommend:
*NOTE: get a tide chart as currents can be strong. Best to plan with the currents.

From Boston Harbor as a starting point (north of Oly a few miles)..
- Paddle to Hope Island, a great island only available via non motorized craft. the WWTA have a campsite there. There's fun light currents that circle the island. A walking trail is nice for a poke around as well. About 1-2 miles north of Boston Hbr.
- Across from Hope is Squaxin Island, The Squaxin indian rez that has no development on it. It's very pristine and resembles what the area looked like prior to the pioneer's arrival. Paddling around Squaxin is also fun. I believe landing is illegal. There's a few currents to the south of the island that might put off standing waves on an opposing wind. Check tide tables, etc.
- Paddling to the right of Boston Harbor to the south end of Harstine Island is pretty scenic with a few currents as well.
- If the tidal push is right, head up Hammersely Inlet, i hear there's standing waves at the entry to the Sound on occasion.
(note: i love rougher water, hence the info on currents, waves, etc.).
- Also Henderson Inlet to the right of Boston might be nice, less developed.

Resources: (develops kayak camping trails)
Local Tides:
Local paddling guide:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tips on Staying Warm Before and After Your Paddle

With temps dropping into the 30's at night, I've had to accept the hard reality that it's winter and I'll have to start wearing more clothes to stay warm. As much as I like winter, I already miss the simplicity of a t-shirt, shorts and sandals. I've already begun to wear a polar tech shirt under my 4/3 and a full neoprene hood. Disregard this post if you live in Hawaii.

One thing I've found that helps in staying warm on the water, is to make sure that I am warm before I get on the water and maintain my warmth after getting off the water. Often on frigid days, I'll use my glove less hands to untie my board or kayaks off the car rack, and that alone has been enough to get stiff fingers from the cold. Usually, my fingers would not thaw out during the paddle, making me even colder on the water.

Here's some suggestions on staying warm on land while getting ready or after your paddle:

Before the Paddle:
- Cut a foam camping pad in half and stand on it next to your car while putting your gear on. It really helps.
- If putting your wet or dry suit on, leave your hat and coat on until you absolutely have to remove them.
- Put your neoprene or other warm gloves on to put remove your board off the car. A fleece or similar hat helps as well.
- Bring along energy bars to eat before the paddle and/or store one on you during your paddle. (in PFD, fanny pack, etc)
- Going out at night? Attach a waterproof white light on your board and/or body to prevent collisions with boats. Turn it on if you're paddling into a busy boating area. Check out the Guardian LED light. I attach one to my rear PFD or fanny pack to preserve my night vision. I have another wp flashlight to pull out if needed for extra protection. Some use waterproof lasers pointers to shine at boat pilot houses if an collision is imminent. Tie your flashlight on a short string to your PFD or fanny pack to avoid losing it in the water.

After the Paddle:
- Put your board on the car first and tie it down, then remove your wetsuit, PFD, hood, etc.
- Bring a thermos of hot soup or non alcoholic beverage to keep in the car for a warm up.
- Fill a large container of hot water to pour on yourself to wash the saltwater off. It'll still be warm after 2hrs.
- Remove your wetsuit while standing on your foam camping pad.
- Start your car as soon as you get off the water and put the heater on. It'll be warm by the time you're ready to drive home.
- Store some energy bars or a preferable munchy in the to refuel your body.
- If removing your suit, consider storing warm dry clothes and a towel in the car.
- Have a back up key just in case stored in a secret spot.
- Keep a headlight in the car to assist with tying the board on the rack after dark.
- Sounds nasty, but stand by your running car's exhaust pipe to keep your legs warm.
- Bring along a winter coat or warm fleece to put on after your paddle, particularly if you don't remove your suit.

Any questions give me a holler: / 206.465.7167
Check out our SUP classes - beginning to advanced instruction and PSUPA Certification.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Must be Winter, Blowing 35kts..

900 PM PST SUN NOV 15 2009






For real time NOAA forecasts and data, click HERE.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Stand Up Paddling at Deception Pass State Park, WA

December 12th is the annual Deception Pass Dash, a six mile race through the tidal rapids of Deception Pass State Park in Washington State. Last year high winds and ocean swell created six foot standing waves challenging the paddlers even more. Traditionally the Dash has been sea kayakers, surf skis, and outriggers. This year, SUPs are allowed. These images were from a test run where the race organizers wanted to see how SUPs could do in the race. The 6 SUPs and two paddle boarders did well, although the conditions were glassy and nearly calm. Many are curious how they will perform in gnarly winter conditions.

Other Links from yesterday's test paddle at Deception Pass from the racers themselves..

Random Tips on training for a winter tidal rapids race:
- Practice going upwind (or up current). Everyone talks of down winders, but how about going upwind? Where I paddle on Puget Sound, in order to go downwind, you have to go upwind first, which is great exercise and training for inclement weather. And if you happen to get caught in unexpected weather, then you're good to go. Try kneeling to cut wind Resistance and feathering your blade. Sitting works well too if you have a double bladed paddle. Possibly store a kayak paddle on your board with bungis.
- Take a whitewater kayaking (or SUP?) class to understand how current works and how to negotiate and read current or a river. Learn how to paddle up current using the eddies, how to peel out, ferry across current, and how to paddle in whirlpools, boils, etc.
- With a buddy, go out on rough water days in wind, funky current, tide rips, or in surf to gain your sea legs on bumpy water.
- Wear a full surfing wetsuit or dry suit in water colder than 65 degrees. I try to avoid getting on the news.