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.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Rock Gardening or Hopping for SUP

Rock gardening or hopping is a genre of paddling where one works with coastal swell and waves to negotiate paddling through the maze of coastal rocks along the shore. Paddlers will time the swell by watching a rock section, then run it when they feel it's safe or of their liking.  For example, if you want to paddle in a sea cave or under an arch, you shouldn't just go.  Wait, watch it for awhile, then paddle through it when you feel you'll make it and not get your head crunched against the top of the arch or cave. It's essentially a mix of surfing, whitewater and coastal paddling and great cross training for each and many other types of paddling.

Back in the day, the 'extreme' kayaking group the Tsunami Rangers in the Bay Area of Cali, began shooting video of their trips along the rugged northern Californian coast.  Being responsible paddlers, they began to educate others how to safely rock garden, which in turn followed with a book, videos for sale and now their online site.  Their experiences in this environment also led to the group developing solid rescue techniques for extreme rough water environments which are taught in coastal paddling courses (including mine).

Many of the videos depict the paddlers taking huge drops over pour overs, negotiating sketchy surge channels and often rescuing each other.  I came to rock gardening from sea kayaking and have memories of getting caught high and dry after not timing a channel properly as well as getting several thrilling rides getting shot through other channels like a rocket when I did time it right.

Check out this video from SUP Magazine's Will Taylor of Vince Shay and Fletcher Burton at their backyard spot of Shell Beach in Cali.  At 5:15ish Vince talks about gear they use, especially safety gear.  http://www.supthemag.com/videos/creative-sup-ocean-rock-hopping/
Wanna Learn? Contact Vince at http://avilabeachsup.com
In the NW, we also do light rock gardening during our Deception Pass and Freshwater Bay tours.



If you go.. As Vince states, it's a dangerous activity and requires good skill, common sense, and proper gear.

I recommend the following for safe paddling:

Common Sense
- Small swell, 1-3' to start.  Get a feel for it before going big. Learn the spot, how it breaks in different conditions and swell/wind heights.
- Know the area especially if coastal. Can you get in and out of the area without getting caught by heavy wind or current? Rescue from these areas can be difficult.
- Take a buddy who can rescue you (and will) or vice versa. Blind leading the blind doesn't help.
- If you find a feature you want to run, watch it for several minutes to see how the swell rolls in and out.  You'll be glad you didn't run it once you see how often they run dry between swells.

Gear
- Very durable board either inflatable or something like Surttech's Tuflite, B1 Bomber or similar.
- Fins - Rubber or plastic.  I use ProTek fins for my classes and myself in surfing, etc.
- Paddle.  My Werner Nitro has been through it all - ww, surf, rock gardens, etc. A few chips here and there, but not substantial damage or repairs. And I don't tape the blade.
- Leash - personally mine is attached to my waist where I can easier remove it if my foot get entrapped underwater. Whitewater break-away leashes or the XM PowerClip quick release leashes are recommended. Another method of release are vest style PFD's with a safety release harness.
- PFD - Type 3 Vest style.  Protects your body, and if you get injured helps you float, also the pockets allow you to stash safety gear, a camera, etc.
- Tow Rope - (and know how to use it).
- Helmet - Whitewater or surf helmet like the Gath.  I use the Gath Gedi and Hat.
- Skateboarding or motorcycling pads for knees and elbows.  I know Corran Addison uses a spine protector in whitewater.
- Dress for immersion and the water temp.  Wetsuits help protect you as well.  Dry suits get ripped.
- Hand protection  - neoprene glove or similar.
- Communication - VHF and cell (if there's bars).
- Float Plan - tell others you're going out, when coming back, and where ya going.
- First aid kit - nothing fancy but be prepared for cuts, bruises, etc. (Advil, duct tape, etc.)

Resources
-  Sea Kayaking Safety & Rescue, John Lull, Wilderness Press. (Lull is a Tsunami Ranger).
- My SUP book of course (above right). I have section on coastal paddling, rescues, currents, etc.
- *Tsunami Rangers main page: http://tsunamirangers.com


Check out our SUP classes in Seattle - Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.

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