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.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tow Systems for SUPs

I always tell my students that one of the issues of stand up paddling is having deal with wind. If you're an experienced paddler, you know how to use wind to your advantage by surfing it downwind, or using your body as a sail to go downwind even with no waves around.

Last summer when SUP finally become popular in Seattle several surf shops and those offering SUP concession trailers at city parks began offering Groupon like discounts which brought in high volumes of renters. Since SUP is considered by many as easy to learn, most of those businesses put their customers on the water with minimal instruction, clothing and gear. A shop in my neighborhood began to build a reputation for sending novice paddlers out in 50 degree water with no wetsuits and little if any instruction. In Seattle in the summer on blue sky days, the north wind jacks up by noon to late afternoon resulting in up to 3-4' wind waves. The combo of sun starved Seattleites and a stiff northerly pushed many unsuspecting renters south, sometimes 1-3 miles. Friends and I towed several back to the launch beach, and a few had to be rescued by commercial fishing, police, and recreational boaters. With summer approaching again soon and with SUP still growing steadily, we're already thinking of those long tows back to shore.

Kayakers have for years used tow ropes to tow seasick, fatigued, or injured paddlers or other water sports enthusiasts to safety. Tow systems come in several varieties. Some are mounted on the deck of a SUP or kayak. Most often you'll wear a fanny pack like bag around your waist with a tow rope in it. And some PFDs (Type 3) now have a short tow system tucked in a pocket. In all three cases, it's recommended to have a quick release buckle to release the tow rope in case you get into trouble yourself.

I'll get into more detail on methods of towing a SUP in future posts, but the most basic technique is to have the rescuee lay prone on their board for a low center of gravity, holding their paddle under their chest with the shaft sticking out forward. Ask the person to hold the end of your tow rope or even wrap the rope around the paddle shaft (if held sideways) if that helps. For towing, standing will give you the most power but obviously you may have to sit if paddling into wind or if in rough conditions. While many like to kneel, sitting is most efficient in going upwind (when towing).

Towing methods in brief:
- Tail/Stern first: Attach the tow rope caribiner to the leash plug (string) loop.
- If the rescuee has leash plug tie-downs on their nose, attach to these and tow nose/bow first.
- Wrap tow rope around the shaft of the rescuee's paddle if held across the board and tow bow first.
- Wrap the tow rope in a figure eight configuation around their board and tow bow first. I'll do a video on this soon for a better explanation.
- Use the leash of the person you're towing if you don't have a tow system. Downside obviously is your rescuee will be unleashed.

- Ask the rescuee to keep their legs on the board when towing. If they dangle over the sides and drag in the water, you'll go 50% slower - not fun for the rescurer.
- Ask the rescuee to sit or lay prone instead of standing.
- Don't tow in surf or coastal rock gardens. Waves can push the rescuee's board into yours creating more problems.
- Get training for rescues in whitewater:

Myth: You can't tow a SUP backwards fin first. I've tested this, and it does work if towing using the leash plug loop to attach to. Someone on StandUpZone said you'd have to remove the fin for this to work - what if you loose the fin and screw in the process? Bummer.

Find a Tow System:
- Throw Bags are designed for whitewater in throwing a bag/rope from shore to someone in the river. For onwater rescues, get a non throw bag system. Wanna make your own? Use floating rope, a caribiner on one or both sides, and a floatation device to keep the biner from sinking.
Check out these at NRS.. HERE.

The Astral Green Jacket PFD has a short tow system built in.


Canoe Sailor said...

This is something I'd like to see. I cannot imagine towing someone for 1 to 3 miles into a 3 to 4 foot chop. That means each breaking wave is crashing over your head as you sit down and paddle while towing someone. It's got to be quite a workout.

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