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, July 30, 2011

Groupon Type Discount Rates for SUP Lessons - An Observation

In Seattle where I live there are several locations to now learn stand up paddling. None of these existed two years ago. The trend for the summer are Groupon and Living Social type discounts where a class will be advertised as 50% off. Hundreds have been signing up to these, and one shop claimed they had over 1,500 signups in early summer.

The other options are surf and kayak shops mostly with waterfront locations who offer lessons for less than $30 mainly to draw interest from the customers to buy their gear. The third option for instruction is what I do, where I offer higher priced lessons where you get a lot more for your money and come away being an intermediate to advanced paddler.

The reality of Groupon discounts is if they offer a $60 lesson for $30, that means each party only gets $15 per person, usually for 2 hr lessons. So they make money from volume, thus being willing to accept several hundred sign-ups. Most who sign up are generally curious about the sport or are looking for cheap intro 'just to try it out' without investing more. At the tail end of a recession, it may also cater to those who are still low on their finances seeking an affordable activity.

The downside to those offering the above model is that the quality of instruction is usually poor. With so many to cater to, who has time to make sure every student gets enough attention? Two shops offer such discounts in my neighborhood. We've sat having drinks at a waterfront restaurant, and noticed dozens of beginner SUP'ers floating by below us. After a two hour lesson, most are still on their knees, paddles backwards, and a few standing rigid in bikinis fearful of falling in our 55 degree water. On windy days all are on their knees, some prone, or in the water swimming their boards back to shore. Most are dresses as if they were in Bikini, but in Seattle where water temps rarely get above 55F in summer

A busy boating channel is located just below where the the paddlers launch. With little or no instruction, they paddle directly across the 100' wide channel often into the path of power and sail boats coming from two directions. A 1-2kt outgoing current from the Chittenden Locks upstream pushes the paddlers into the Sound, and closer to oncoming boats. Most beginner SUP'ers fall over with any sort of bumpy water, and especially boat wakes. We've seen a few fall right in front of oncoming boats forcing the boat to swerve towards the shallow sandbar just out of the channel. Others have been caught or blown downwind. One guy two weeks ago had to walk his board 2 miles upwind back to the shop. A few have been rescued by boaters, a Police boat, and other paddlers.

Many shops who have regular priced lessons are fearful of these discounts as they may drive the price of paddling lessons down - or what customers are wiling to pay for such lessons. Since SUP appears easy, many aren't willing to pay much or anything for instruction. Two local shops laughed me out the door when I mentioned a SUP instructor certification course coming to town. But driving through town past the various paddling locations, nearly 95% of those on SUPs have poor technique, are on their knees, or are swimming their boards back to shore. Occasionally, I'll chat with paddlers who are frustrated with the sport as they thought it was easier. After struggling to stand for two hours, they had decided SUP wasn't for them.

As the old saying goes, "You Get What You Pay for."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Towing Techniques for SUPs

If you're a paddling guide or instructor you may come across a situation where a student/customer needs a tow after becoming fatigued, sea sick, or in a worse case scenario injured possibly from a shoulder or other injury. In my neighorhood SUP is growing so quickly, many are getting on the water with little or no previous experience or are getting into trouble paddling downwind without being able to get back to their put-in.

Here's a few options for towing a fellow SUP'er..

- Carry a kayaking throw rope or kayaker's rescue line (in a waist mounted pouch). Ask the person being towed to hold onto the carabiner or rope. Consider asking them to sit down if they can't stay up in rough seas, or if you're paddling upwind. The waist mounted systems can be easily detached from your waist with a plastic fastex buckle. You could alternatively attach your end of the line to the loop on your leash plug. It's wise to have a quick release on both ends in case of entanglement. Another option is to carry another leash and ask the person being towed to hold it while you attach your end from your leash plug.

Options for kayaking safety tow lines:
Salamander Outdoor Gear
North Water


- Similar to the technique above, some life vests have quick release strap systems to attach a safety line to. These are great for attaching your leash to while paddling whitewater. Flipping the plastic buckle or pull tab open, the attached line will slide free of the vest. Some vests have a short tow line built into a pocket. The Astral Green Jacket PFD is a good choice.

- Suggested by the ASI, give your leash to the person being towed to hold on to. Paddling standing up or sitting you can make good progress this way without adding additional lines. The downside of course if that you'll be without a leash.

- Similar to the method above, attach the leash of the person being towed onto your leash plug. Again the downside is that the towee will be without a leash.

- Attach a leash plug to your nose for connection point in case of a tow.

Suggested by PonoBill on 7/15/11:
Three ways. Bare board (no rider) put one foot on each board and paddle.

towing--the best is if there's a leash plug under the nose--I only know of one board that has this--the Starboard 12'6" -- and not all of those do. Now that I think of it my 12'2" AST might as well.

--otherwise, take the fin out and tow it backwards from the leash. You can't tow backwards with the leash in place.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Follow Ken Campbell for his Circumnavigation of the Olympic Peninsula..

The Olympic Grand Circle

Tacoma, WA resident Ken Campbell, an experienced kayak and SUP guide, is currently on a 23 day expedition to circumnavigate the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. His first day from Tacoma was a 8 hour sea kayak paddle on Puget Sound, followed by hiking, then canoeing a variety of small to large sized rivers flowing eventually in to the Pacific. Ken will SUP from Ocean Shores to Cape Flattery - the NW corner of the continental US camping along the coastal strip of Olympic National Park. He'll sea kayak from Neah Bay back to his home on Salmon Beach in Tacoma.

He's updating his trip frequently on his blog, the Last Wilderness.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Choosing Your Paddle Length

A common question I get is how to choose your paddle length.

Here's a fool proof method of determing paddle length:

- Extend your arm straight above your head, then flatten your hand.
- Your paddle handle should tuck snuggly into your palm (blade on ground).
- A few inches longer is ok, but shorter may will lead to back issues and less control and power.

Many paddle companies say the paddle should be 8" - 12" above your head. This is actually a bit short and will affect your forward speed, directional control, and bracing in rough water.

Some say a shorter paddle is better for surfing. Personally I prefer a longer blade for power and speed in getting out through the break.

A few tips to prevent arm and wrist fatigue while paddling:

- Use a very light grip on your paddle with both hands. (unless you're creekin or surfing big stuff).

- A narrow width blade will have less torque on your shoulders. I use the Werner Nitro for everything and can feel the difference on my shoulders.

- Use your torso in your forward stroke and for turning. This will take stress off your armsa and shoulders.