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 30, 2013

Winter SUP Clothing for Cold Water Areas

Tis the season for thick neoprene for those of us in the cold water regions. Many give it up until summer, but if you really love paddling you'll find a way to keep warm on the water.  To me skiing is colder, infact frozen, expensive, a long drive and standing in line isn't much fun in the front country.

Here's what I wear on water in winter.  Note that I tend to get cold easily, so my choices may sound hot to others. A kayaking friend never uses gloves or a hood.  If i don't, my fingers go white and numb, not a good thing.

Type of Paddling - Mostly rough water, surf, tidal rapids, downwind, boat wakes, etc.  Also basic SUP lessons require a lot of low activity which can get chilly.

Wetsuit - ProMotion Storm 5/4/3mm.  ProMotion is a Hood River, OR based company which makes their own gear, has quick repairs and a ton of options for clothing.  I'm not a drysuit fan and had two in my earlier kayaking days.  I prefer less gear maintenance, no ripped gaskets, and the more streamline feel of a wetsuit when swimming. Warmth? I stay warmer in a wetsuit.

Under wetsuit to boost warmth -
Top: Capeline or polypro thin or medium weight top. The goal here is to add warmth without adding bulk or restricting my shoulder movement. I'm not a fan of top loading wetsuits as the shoulder areas can be too stiff.  If the windchill is in the teens or I'm doing a lot in-water swimming for rescue classes, then I may add the Season5 Barrier top over the suit to reduce windchill and boost heat a touch without adding stiffness.

Bottom: Neoprene shorts or Season5 barrier short or Reed Chill Cheater shorts.

Gloves - 
Currently using NRS Maverick.  In summer or early fall I use a $19 Glacier Glove bought at Swain's in Port Angeles, WA.

Booties - 
NRS Paddle Wetshoe. This is a fleece lined bootie with a thick sole and grippy bottom for rocks.  Unlike surfing booties this flushes with water. It was great til it got in the 30's.  I now line it with a SmartWool sock and waterproof sock to keep dry.  $40+ plus waterproof sock.


7mm Xcel DryLock, RipCurl FlashBombs or similar.  These have little grip on the sole for rocks but are waterproof and quite warm. $80+.  **I'll be switching to these in a week or so as the latter option becomes too much of a hassle adding socks, liners, etc.

Been a big fan of neoprene hooded vests for years.  Both sleeveless and with sleeves.  Currently using and loving the ProMotion 1.5mm hooded vest. This one has a wind block layer, helpful in windchill.  These are worn under or over the wetsuit. Great for layering over a sprayskirt for kayaking.

Helmet - 
Love the Gath helmets for their innovative full head shapes, ear protection, lightweight feel, and options. Helmets also help keep me warm on frigid days in tidal rapids, surf, etc.

Other Options for Rough Cold Water Paddling?  Patagonia's R5 Merino wool lined wetsuit with hood; 7mm booties (Xcel, RipCurl or Patagonia), Ocean Rodeo's Soul drysuit.  Or move to Hawaii.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

On the Cutting Edge of Sea Kayaking - Sterlings Kayaks

Tired of lugging around a super heavy Brit style sea kayak, I purchased a 37lb carbon Sterlings Kayaks 'Illusion' about 2009 ish. The Illusion had a perfect blend of superb tracking and enough rocker to nail a bottom turn for surfing.  The boat's exterior was nearly bombproof allowing me to thrash and trash the kayak without worry of puncturing the hull.  I'm not a big fan of a pretty boat, so chipped gel coat is fine with me.

In the years since, Sterling and his right hand designer legendary whitewater kayaker Reg Lake have developed some of the industry's most innovate boats.  The Reflection is a result of two Illusion sterns.  Reg introduced a retractable skeg located in the day hatch (right behind the seat) of the Reflection a few years ago.

This week, the guys presented a surfboard style thruster fin system, the first I've ever seen on a sea kayak.  Surf kayaks and wave ski's have had these for years, but I believe this is a first for a sea kayak. More info about Sterling,

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Search for the Perfect Winter Bootie

Here in the Pacific Northwest, winter temps hit the mid 30's the past two weeks. After a stellar summer I refused to put away my Chaco's and have been wearing my Summer/Fall paddling gear. I've been wearing my ProMotion 5/4/3 wetsuit, booties, holey seasonal gloves and a hood since October. I added a SmartWool sock under my booties when the temp dropped.

But last week I had two SUP classes in a row on Friday.  The first started at 35F and was in a calm marina with little paddling or chance to generate heat. At the end of the class, my right foot was frozen solid as were a few tips of my fingers. It was time to winterize and purchase warmer booties.

Coming from both kayaking and SUP, I get my gear from both types of shops. As I've blogged in recent years, each shop carries different gear suited for paddling whether on a SUP, kayak, or canoe.

PNW kayak shops tend to have drysuits, dry tops, NRS booties and gloves, helmets and vest style lifejackets.  'Wetsuits' are farmer john's.  They do have a lot of safety gear - flares, tow systems, lights, drybags, knives, etc.

Surf / SUP shops instead have full neoprene surfing wetsuits, neoprene tops, wax, ding repair kits, no safety gear, limited vest style PFDs (more C02 PFDs).  Booties and gloves come from surfing companies such as QuickSilver, O'Neill and BodyGlove.

But each shop still lacks what I consider the perfect bootie - for my purposes.  I teach in Deception Pass State Park which has a rugged rock shoreline, surf the Strait of Juan de Fuca which also a varied shoreline with a few rocky breaks, and stand on the shore preparing for and teaching basic SUP stuff. For me, I want a bootie with a solid grip underfoot. The NRS booties achieves this with the fleece lined Wet Shoes with a wrap around sole that grips to everything.  Overall the bootie is pretty solid.  But it's not a dry bootie so in frigid temps, my feet can't generate enough heat to warm the water.

I've been using 7mm Xcel DryLock booties for the past few years. Totally waterproof and super warm these have been ideal except they fall apart after a half year and have minimal support in the sole. Walking over barnacled covered rocks feels like going barefoot while slipping on the bare spots.

Finding a bootie that covers both a great grip and enough warmth has been tough.  I added a waterproof lining and Smart Wool sock to my NRS bootie but it still got wet from water leaking down my leg into it.  It was warmer for sure but wouldn't stay for a paddle longer than a few hours.  Plus having all those layers gets old after awhile.  I know contacting the companies will result in 'what I'm looking for is a niche product.' Just like trying to find an ideal touring SUP, the answer is - make my own!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

SUP Straps Review

I'm currently using two kinds of straps to tie down my SUP and kayaks.

Riverside Straps
The first are the standard 1" wide webbing with a galvanized buckle by Riverside Straps.  Each buckle is backed by a rubber sleeve to prevent dings on your car and board when throwing over the car. I like the rough webbing texture which helps the buckle grip better.  Each strap end has a hard tip to prevent from fraying making it easier to slide into the buckle.

The straps come in a variety of colors and lengths.  I have a pair for a one board tie down, then extra long for tying down 2-4 boards per side.

Riverside Straps

Mile 22 Straps
These straps are 2" wide which really locks down your gear.  I began using them recently immediately noticing the benefit particuliarly in tying down big loads of 3-5 boards at a time.  Mile 22 have big plastic buckles which unlike metal buckles are actually quite stout and don't slide at all.  I have seen metal buckles slip when the spring gets rusty or stretched.  Also the plastic buckles are great for throwing over the car, no worries of breakage on vehicle or board.  Releasing the buckle is a cinch by pulling up on the tab from underneath.

Safety Tips for Tying Gear on your vehicle: 
- Always do a shake test of your rack to make sure it's 100% solid on your roof.
- I tie a knot behind each buckle just in case of slippage.  Even with the Mile 22 straps.  Though I have never seen slippage, it's my experience with others that keep me doing it.

Check our my post on 10/16/13 on SUP Rack Tips for more ideas.

Mile 22 Straps

Paddle Instructor's On-Water Tool Kit

I always carry the following for most SUP classes and tours...

All stored in a small drybag then stuffed in the Seattle Sports Parabolic deckbag.  I find not all drybags are always dry. Important gear should be double drybagged.

- Extra fin screws and plates.
- Extra leash string. Can double for blown deck outfitting.
- Foil tape for dings. Sticks on when wet.
- Solarez, alternative ding repair. Requires UV to work. I prefer Foil Tape for on-water.
- Multi-tool for misc repairs.
- Sand paper to rough surfaces for ding repairs.
- Extra GoPro battery.  I always forget to charge mine.

*Duct tape doesn't stick on wet surfaces well but is great as a bandaid on cut or scrape on a customer.  BandAids don't stick as well to wet stuff.  

Stickers or packing tape are also great for quick ding repairs on dry surfaces.

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.
Wanna Learn? Contact Vince at
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.

- 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.)

-  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:

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.

Taking C02 Cartridges on Airplanes

A student of mine who was flying to Seattle from the East Coast inquired if he could bring his inflatable PFD with him with the Co2 cartridge. Not knowing the answer, I posted the question on Facebook and immediately received 30 comments.

The TSA lists on their site the following info: 
Small compressed gas cartridges (Up to 2 in life vests and 2 spares. The spares must accompany the life vests and presented as one unit) - OK for Carry-On & Checked Baggage.

Many who posted about their experiences said they had their cartridges taken by TSA officials.  One had the entire waist inflatable PFD taken as well.  Some had a few positive experiences.

Since like anything with these things, you can bring yours but it may or may not be taken.  Plan ahead for finding a new cartridge in your destination if yours is taken from you!  And probably best to separate it from the PFD to you don't lose both.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Surfing the Mosh Pit - WA State

Just off the Highway 101 on the Olympic Peninsula in WA State is an intermittent standing wave called the Mosh Pit. Named by local whitewater kayaker Gary Korb, the feature is on the Sol Duc River and only fires during flood stage. It's a great winter alternative when La Push is blown out.

Find the wave at the Fish Hatchery exit at Sappho just before the town of Forks (heading west).  Follow the Fish Hatchery road towards it's end and park at the derelict concrete building.  I'm not sure about access permits, etc.

The Pit is the result of a weir which is actually a dangerous hydraulic at low water.  Last I heard there was a log in it, so scout and determine if safe before going in.  There's eddies along the shore on both sides. Only surf if you're an advanced intermediate or advanced paddler, preferebly with strong river skills.

Jon Almquist & Chris Totten, about 2007ish.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How to Fall off your Board & Get Back On

Falling off and getting back on a SUP board is something that many paddlers fear.  I have a few students who hired me just for a falling/recovery clinic. And there's others who have never fallen and probably look stiff while paddling. I've heard a few times, "I've paddled 12x (or 2yrs) and haven't fallen off yet!"  The downside here is that their paddling experience is mostly uncomfortable while fearing the unknown.  There's no shame in falling, I do it all the time. You'll be a better paddler if you do fall and can get back on by yourself.

All my beginning students learn to fall of and get back on. Here's the methods I use for each. I teach both how to get on in the middle of the board and on the tail. Here we'll cover getting on in the middle.

Jumping Off
Many who jump off a board do so as if jumping of a dock. My main suggestion to to never dive off a board unless you know for sure it's deep enough to avoid a neck injury. Also make sure there not other boards or fins in your path.

In my classes we do a pivot turn to fall off - so you learn how to push your pivot turn skills and also learn how to fall of the board with style.


Wear a Leash - Ever fall of a board and have it take off, then you have to swim after it?  Imagine doing so in light to heavy wind or current. Good luck catching it. Falling it a lot easier when you don't have to chase your board and can keep it right next to you when it's time to get back on.

Wear a Vest Style PFD (Type 3) - In every environment except surf, the vest style PFD will keep you afloat when injured or tired and will keep you warmer when cold.  When you fall off a board it prevents you from sinking down very far and when you're not treading water to stay afloat, it's a lot easier to gather your paddle and board to get back on.

Fall to the Side - Usually we don't have much choice of how we fall.  But if you do, try to fall to the side of your board. When falling don't try to brace your fall with your hand as you can sprain your thumb (been there) or wrist if it catches on the rail.

Fall Flat - For surfing, a friend suggested always falling using the NesTea Plunge - that is flat on the surface of the water to prevent your body from sinking. Usually surf happens in shallow water, so diving is sketchy, falling on the side could be an issue of ankle sprain but falling flat is most safe.

Hold on to Your Paddle - Whenever you fall of the board, hold onto your paddle. Certainly there are times in shallow water where doing so may be an issue of a shoulder injury but in deep water you don't want to go find your paddle after falling.  If you drop it - get on the board first then prone paddle (on your chest, hands as paddles) to the paddle.

Getting Back on in the Middle

Look Around - Before getting back on, look around to make sure there's no immediate hazards such as oncoming boats, waves, etc.  If there's strong wind, climb on facing downwind (wind at your back).  If you get on facing the wind, the board may flip you back in the water when the wind hits the rail you're pulling up on.

Move yourself in the water to the middle of the board. If it's not deck up, then flip it over so the fin is down. Moving slightly on the board to grab the opposite rail then falling back can flip it as well.

Hold on to the Paddle - and put it on the deck while holding with one hand.

Grab the deck handle or if you have longer arms the opposite rail.

Kick your feet in the water vigorously.  Make sure the water is splashing behind you, like a strong kick when swimming.  This will bring your body to the surface which makes it easier to get on the board.  If you don't do this and have poor upper body strength, you'll be pulling your body up vs sliding on from the side.  Keep kicking until you're 100% on the board and can turn around to sit or stand back up. Remember to face the nose or front of the board.

Downsides of this approach:
- Some bulky Type 3 PFDs, front positioned inflatable PFDs or large chested folks may catch those items on the rail as they try to climb on.  Kicking so your body rises flat on the surface minimizes these issues.  Can't get on at all? If with a buddy, consider learning the Flip Rescue, (search blog) or get a board with less volume thus thinner rails.

- Rub on surfer's wax on your rails to make them easier to grab onto while in the water and climbing on.  Some even wax slippy deck pads as well.

- Practice in shallow water (chest deep) with a friend.

- Learn the Flip Rescue to help others who can't get on or to instruct a rescuer to assist you in getting on.

Plan B for getting back on a SUP?  Cowboy Rescue - from the tail.  I'll cover that soon.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

How to Choose a Wetsuit

A good wetsuit can extend your paddling time from one season to all year. Choosing what to purchase can be confusing and for some may lead to buying the wrong suit and having to return it.  Here's a few tips to hopefully make the process easier.

Determine what type of paddling you'll be doing to decide how much coverage you need.
- Flat water paddling in no waves or wind - Farmer John/Jane and/or wetsuit pants and separate top.
- Surfing, downwind or river SUP in water 60F or less - full wetsuit.
- Racing on flat water, slight chop all year. Many get super hot so wear wetsuit pants and/or a top.
- Coastal racing, whitewater or downwind in cold water - full wetsuit.
- Tropical locations of Southern Cali in Spring - 2-3mm suit or wetsuit top only.

Dry suit vs Wetsuit?
Dry suits only keep you warm from the insulation you add underneath, such as a fleece shirt and long john's. They're not always dry and sweating is another factor. Most look and feel baggy though the Ocean Rodeo Soul is the first cool looking dry suit. I switched from dry suits to wetsuits as with SUP I swim more than I did with kayaking and found wetsuits better for this as the dry suit fabric flap in wind/water.  I also don't like maintenance which dry suits require to keep latex gaskets in shape or if they tear on a trip, they're difficult to fix. Dry suits range from $500-$1,200 and wetsuits range from $125-$650.

Cons of a full wetsuit?  No pee zipper.  I rarely have to pee in my suit. If I do I wash it immediately.  Students do occasionally so I separate their suit from the others and give it extra soaking in soap. On hot flat SUP days full suits aren't very comfortable to paddle in when pulled down to your waist.

For slightly cold water or for flat water paddling you could get away with a Farmer John/Jane armless suit. These provide good insulation especially layered under with a fleece and/or neoprene top. Most are 3mm. Brands may include NRS, NPX, O'Neil and Xcel.

Cold water upper 50's and below you may consider a full surfing wetsuit (with arms).  These come in varying thicknesses:
4/3mm = 4mm in chest and legs and 3mm in arms.
5/4/3mm = 5mm in chest; 4mm in legs; 3mm in arms.
5/4mm = 5mm chest and 4mm arms and legs. These are often too stiff in the shoulders for paddling.
5/3mm = 5mm in chest and legs, 3mm in arms.

Zipper vs Top Entry?  
Some say top entry suits are warmer but I disagree. I've never had a leaky or colder back zip suit.

Top Entry: The downside to top entry is that they're hard to get into especially if you have sore, lack of flexibility or injured shoulders. Often top entry suits have too much neoprene in the shoulder area thus making it harder to paddle.

Back Zip: These are easier to try, get into and I've never felt they're colder than top entry. Sometimes getting it fully zipped on your own can be difficult. There are a few techniques to use to make this happen such as securing the pull strap to a door knob and dropping below thus zipping it up.

Hood or Not?
Hoods are great if you know you'll use it a lot.  But if you're not sure how often you'll use it. consider getting a hoodless suit, then add a separate scull cap (hood) or hooded vest when needed. This way you can leave the hood at home in summer then add it when necessary.  

Getting flushed with water has pros and cons.  Some suits flush or 'leak' more than others.  This is OK if your body temp can warm the water which acts as an additional layer of warmth.  I've found suits in the $300+ range such as the Xcel DryLocks don't flush at all and their insulation alone is enough to keep me warm in our winter NW conditions.  I'm currently using a ProMotion Storm 5/4/3mm suit which flushes but keeps me plenty warm. Some suits have loose fitting necks, which will flush every time you fall in, sometimes a bit shocking if it's really cold water.  A hooded vest prevents this for me.

High end suits such as Patagonia have a Merino wool layer underneath making them quite warm.  These run from $350ish to $600 ish.  Still cheaper than most dry suits and better bang for your buck.

Cost of full suits vary.  I've found the $125 range 4/3mm suits are better for warmer water or summer use but not as good for water in the 50's or lower.  Whereas a 4/3mm in the $200+ range begins to have more features such as a layer of neoprene behind the zipper, neck enclosure strips, and slightly better neoprene. When you hit the $350+ range suits tend to flush less, last longer and be warmer overall.

Life of a Wetsuit?  I'm not good with taking care of things and I paddle often in saltwater.  So my suits are in their best condition for only a year. Friends who paddle only on weekends and/or only a few times a month or seasonally can have suits last for a few years or longer.  First things to go are the seams.  I also get neoprene tears which create leaks. U can fix your own but I send my rental suits in bunch after my working season to ProMotion Hood River, Oregon. They're cheap, do an amazing job and have very quick turn a round.

Environmental Materials. Brands are saturating the marketplace with terms such as sustainable, green and organic. If you're worried about all this rubber being in the environment, worry no more.  Most brands now boast about limestone or charcoal neoprene and the like.  Patagonia's suits are described as "the post consumer recycled polyester jersey increases durability while minimizing environmental impact.." TreeHugger has a good article on the subject of green wetsuits, Here.

Layering clothing on top of or under your suit works great to add warmth to any suit.  In winter I wear a thin Capeline synthetic top under my 4/3mm or 5/4/3 to increase warmth.  Additionally, I'll add a neoprene hooded vest under the top as well.  This bumps up my chest area to 5mm but keeps my arms free for movement.  The hooded vest hoods provide neck protection as well which also reduces flushing.  Kayaking paddle tops made from Gortex or nylon can also bump up your heat and cut wind exposure. Consider neoprene or SeasonFive shorts under for well in frigid temperatures. SeasonFive also has arm and leg sleeves which area great option for warmth without reducing flexibility in your shoulders or knees.

Rule #1 - Try before you buy.  I just had a student return a suit which didn't fit which he bought online.  Everyone's body is different so what works for one may not fit for another.

#2 - Neoprene tends to be rated bigger than it fits.  I wear a XL shirt but have to wear a XXL suit.  Same goes with booties. A student who normally wears a XXL shirt can't find a suit his size.

#3 - Wash regularly. I wash mine every other use. Soak in very hot or cold water with a non detergent soap or wetsuit soap from McNett.  Rinse and hang dry.  I have a floor heater to bake my basement bathroom.  Dry inside out, then the outside.

What I use:
RipCurl 5/3 Dawn Patrol and their 5.5/4mm Flashbomb for winter.
ProMotion 4/3mm for Summer offshore paddling and/or surf.
NRS Rodeo Pants for summer or mild fall-spring days.
SeasonFive or Reed ChillCheater top for summer.
NRS WetShoes booties, Glacier gloves, ProMotion hooded vest.

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