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.

Monday, September 14, 2015

SUP Day Trip Tips

Last Saturday one of my instructors and I decided to paddle across Puget Sound, a distance of 4.5 miles from Seattle neighborhood of Ballard to Fay Bainbridge State Park on Bainbridge Island.

Daily I inform my students about paddling distances and what to do per their various levels. I point to Bainbridge Island pointing out it's distance, the skills required to make the crossing as well as the appropiate type of board to do so in a reasonable period to time. 14' to unlimited race board will take you about 1 to 1.5 hours whereas a surf style all arounder will take awhile longer.  Usually I joke, "Bring some ferry money just in case."

While 4.5 miles seems a short distance for many experienced paddlers the width of Puget Sound does include light current, wind can whip up quickly from 0 to 30 kts in 15 minutes, and there's considerable shipping traffic to avoid.  Some crossings feel like a cinch, while others can take considerably longer depending on the conditions.

During our weekend crossing I realized half way across that I left one of my power bars on the roof of my car and had forgot to bring my wallet in case I wanted to purchase more fuel near our destination. This was a last minute trip, with Joe and I deciding to do it only 2 hours prior, so the rush to get ready left us somewhat unprepared.  It ended without incident but we did both bonk (run out of energy) 1-2 miles from Seattle on our return trip. We paddled in at a snail's pace. During this period I realized I should pass on our mistakes for the day to my readers!

Here's a few tips on planning for successful day trip...

- Determine Your Route. Here on Puget Sound our crossings are short and we can see the other side SeaTrails which help me plan my route. Chart reading skills are necessary in using these and other charts by NOAA, an important skill.  Ask local paddlers about routes as well to get personal info to save you time. is a nautical publishing company that has many books and other info on gaining these skills as well as online classes.
View of Seattle from Bainbridge Island
without much effort. I use a series of waterproofed charts made for kayakers (paddlers) called

- Text or call a buddy or family with your trip plans, depart/arrival times, and contact info. This is called a Float Plan.  There are a few apps where you friends can track your movements via phone as well such as Boat Beacon and even Google Maps.  Make sure you have a full phone charge.

- Check weather and Tides via local weather sites and those with real time stats such as NOAA, National Weather Service, etc.  If in coastal waters check for swell and wind direction/size with NOAA again and surf sites such as MagicSeaweed, StormSurf, Surfline, etc.  We have a local version I use often.

- Skill Level - Once at the beach determine if the conditions are safe for your trip and skill level.  It's ok to cancel even if you've been planning this trip for weeks or just drove 4 hrs in traffic to get there.  Live to paddle another day.

- Always travel in groups - or not? If the group members are not skilled enough for the conditions and/or can't pay attention in rough water to you, then you may question if they're ready for the trip and/if you need to find more experienced friends to paddle with on that type of trip.

- Type of board. This is determined by your distance and how fast you want to get there.  A 11' surf style board will take a few hours to do  the 4.5hr crossing on way.  But a 14' or longer race board can cover that distance in a fraction of that time (with a good stroke). Both work.  Just a matter of your pace, time available, etc. I prefer my 17' and 18' boards for most efficiency long paddles.

- Check for Marine Traffic - Doing an open water crossing in a busy shipping area? We saw 4 cruise ships before we crossed back to Seattle. We had to determine whether to cross before the last one came our way. We decided to take a rest (as a sailboat did as well next to us).  Use and similar apps to get real time data on shipping traffic. You can also contact the Coast Guard to tell them your position and plan. They will broadcast your position to shipping traffic to watch for you.

- Skills. To paddle distances efficiently and injury free (no shoulder pain) learn how to get a great forward stroke using your torso/core for strength.  Straight ish arms, reaching from your waist, paddling straight with a vertical shaft, exiting at your feet and feathering the paddle will get you there a lot sooner with a lot less effort.  Take a class and researching distance paddler techniques, will help.

Additional skills to consider depending on your route and location preferred - learn to get comfortable in rough water up to waist high waves, self rescue (getting back on in bumps) and helping others get back on (flip rescue, etc), towing using a tow system (not your leash).

- Physical Condition. Our paddle on Saturday ended up being 15 miles which included a round trip crossing of Puget Sound in open water. At one point we had to book it across the shipping lanes to avoid an incoming cruise ship.  Aside from being low on fuel we had the stamina, cardio and overall endurance to make the trip without a problem. My paddling buddy like myself regularly races, surfs and downwinds in up to 30kts of wind.  We could tow each other if needed.  We also knew when to turn around. We wanted to explore more but knew where our stopping point was to get back safely.

- Fuel. Race paddling and long distance touring are similar in regards to looking at nutrition, hydration and preparation for a trip even days before. A 3 mile versus a 32 mile paddle will have different requirements for preparation. Check out Suzie Cooney's new online book "How to Increase Your Stand Up Paddling Performance" on Amazon for tips on this. She has done several channel crossings and interviewed others on that topic.  A friend loves her Coopers V02 Max Test to determine his personal health plan for preparing for long paddles and races.

During our paddle, I left with 2 bars and several liters of water. We refilled our water bottles at a state park. I was using NUUN hydration but don't have a plan down with that product. Most racers I know test their hydration and get it down to a personal recipe that works for their body type.  Looking back, I needed approx 3-4 Cliff bars (or similar) and extra items such as the trail mix I left on my desk at home.  I'd rather have too much then run out.  And bringing my wallet meant I could purchase additional food if available.

- Storing Gear. Coming from sea kayaking I'm use to carrying gear. Most SUP'ers are minimalists and refuse to carry any gear even if their life depends on it.  I have NSI plugs on my 18' boards which have spectral loops to attach my kayaking style deck bags. For our trip on Saturday, I have one Seattle Sports parabolic deck bag which carried my essential items and water bottles on top under bungies.  Some boards have leash plugs on the deck to attach gear to.  You can add leash plugs on a fiberglass board if you or a friend has the skills to do it properly.  I don't trust suction cups.

Basic Stuff to Bring:

First Aid kit.  I this I have my migraine medicine which goes everywhere with me. Also electrolytes (NUUN tablets), band aids, Advil, aspirin, Tylenol (in mini travel tubes), cake icing in case my buddy is diabetic, Benadryl in case my buddy has bee issues, and Nauzene for seasickness. Chemical heat packets, sunblock. This is a super basic kit - add more or less per your situation and people you're traveling with. Eli-Pen, an inhaler or other prescriptions would also go in this kit. The kit is in a dry bag that is placed in the dry deck bag.

Repair Kit. Foil tape for dings (cut into strips); elect tape roll, carabiner, para cord (for leash string, pfd and other repairs); extra fin screws, bungie, multi tool, super glue (or Solarez & 5 min epoxy).

Safety Stuff.  Rocket flares, reflective mirror, whistle (on body), VHF radio (I use the floating and waterproof Icom products); paddlers laser (option for night paddling); waterproof flashlights to attach to PFD, etc.

More Safety Stuff - PFD & Leash - Since a recent high profile death of a pro paddler the industry and public are finally on high alert about safety.  We always had our leash and vest PFD on, now it's the thing to wear.  But interestingly, the less is more SUP crowd is still trying to weigh between a leash or a PFD. For us it's a no brainer, we always (Wear) both.  Choosing to do none or one or the other in open water has a bit of Darwism going on - your choice! PFD on board but no leash means you loose you PFD when you lose your board.  Again I choose to gear myself up so I can paddle another day.

Stay tuned for future posts! Give me a holler for any questions! 

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.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Why I'm Not Racing in the Round the Rock 915

Since about 2009 ish a few SUP colleagues here in the Seattle area have run a well attended 13 mile SUP race around Mercer Island on Lake Washington.  Even in the sport's infancy nearly 100 showed up to race. In later years that number doubled and even rose beyond.  The last one I attended, to take pics for the mags, the starting line of the 13 mile race was in the 175 range. An impressive sight.  In recent years significant cash prizes have brought in the pros from California and Canada.  Vendors line the grounds for visitors to demo boards, talk shop, etc.

With this year's race in a few days, in certain circles of SUP paddlers there's a lot of chatter about what folks are doing for training.  Several have done the course 1-3x this week.  An out of towner is requesting a boat to circumnavigate the island to determine strategy. When it come around to me, many are surprised I'm not racing.  I do put on a weekly summer race, so I do race, but not this one.

Ultimately it comes down to two factors for why I'm not racing this weekend.. One, I've been teaching SUP daily, 5-7 days as week since June. We had a fabulous summer with temps in the 80's nearly every day so business has been great.  But the result of such success is I'm burned out.  Not from SUP, but I'm exhausted physically.  I was glad when we had a full week of wind and rain last week as I got no calls and a few cancellations.  I spent the week sleeping, taking it easy and getting caught up on business.

I'm also nursing a few minor injuries - a re-occuring shoulder injury which is probably from over use.    Aside from rubber band exercises, I find rest works well in reducing pain, even removing the problem on occasion.  When I race, despite an efficient low stress stroke, my shoulder gets sore.  I've been lucky thus far to not have shoulder surgery as many of my colleages have done by my age. I know when to rest, many don't.

Adding to my shoulder, I have a mysterious lower calf and archilles tendon ache that comes and goes. I've been nursing it the past 2 weeks with ice, rest, hottub, light yoga and Advil.  When it re-occurs, i get a sharp pain in my mid calf, then it finishes its cycle in my ankle, where it currently is.

Lastly, I'm more of a surfer personality.  I surf every ripple, wave, bump and boat wake I see.  Knowing there's one of our last summer/fall daytime low tides this weekend, which with good timing ends up in a surfable freighter wave - my eyes are on that ride, not on huffing and puffing in the forecasted 80F temps. I don't have the personality for long distance racing (but prefer a touring pace) and prefer my prize or goal to come a bit sooner.

It's easy to get sucked in to the hype and peer pressure of participating in our region's biggest race.  When I came back from a group paddle with a bunch of friends doing the RTR last week, my partner Christy nearly fell out of her chair when I said I was going to do the race.  I had spent years telling her why I'm not fit for the race and/or why it's not my cup of tea per se, suddenly I'm doing it?  Sleeping on it, I realized she was right, I know where my priorities are and I'm sticking to them. Talking to other paddling friends, I realized there are as many paddlers not doing the race there are those attending. Alternatively, one of my instructors and I paddled 15 miles that day at touring leisurly pace across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island and back. I was in search of a petroglyph on a shoreline rock. That's more my style!

Staying healthy is a priority, so I can paddle another day.

Check out the Round the Rock! 

If you do go...
- You can demo boards and gear from the vendors. Great opportunity to try new stuff!
- The 13m start is pretty awesome. Definitely worth checking that out.
- Fun to see all the pro racers, though they make me feel I need to work out more.
- Great time to talk shop and check out all the participants gear.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

13 Downwinding Tips for Safer (More Fun) Runs

Downwinding is hot in the SUP world. Anyone who has access to water and wind can catch waves whether in Ohio, Oklahoma or Oregon.  But a lot of folks see SUP as easy thus don't take the time to take a class or train with an expert. Downwinding can very easily be dangerous if certain cautions aren't taken.

Recently a respected respected pro paddler went missing on the Friday before the Gorge Paddle Challenge in big downwind conditions in Hood River. Friends were out during his run and reported back of huge waves and very strong wind conditions. The paddler did not wear a PFD or leash.

Here's a few tips on making you more safe on the water - so you have more fun.

Wear a Leash - Ya it's not required, but will save your life if you fall and lose your board in strong winds far offshore.  No matter how good you think you are, you will fall and it won't be by your board every time. Most downwinding deaths and rescues have involved not having a leash.  Two reports 2 and 3 years ago, one in Cali and the other off Maui were of DW paddlers 2-3 miles off shore with no or broken leashes and long swims in big water back to shore.

Use parachute cord or a similar strong string to secure your leash to you board. Some double leash or use two cords to attach a single leash. Consider attaching your leash to your waist strap on your PFD to keep you feet free and for a leash free fall.  Test your leash with a strong jerking motion before getting on the water. Paddlers I talk to use both straight or coiled leashes.

Wear a Lifejacket (PFD) - Similar to a leash, not having a C02 or vest style PFD on DW runs can 

make the difference between not making it to shore or coming home.  Your choice.  Sh..happens especially in 30kts of wind with swell.  If your leash does break (and it can) then the PFD allows you more options to get to shore.

Have you actually pulled the string on your C02 leash? If not do it!  Get in deep water, even holding your gear if you're not a leash type, then pull it and learn how to put it on. It's not as easy as you think.  Once paddler I spoke to this week was surprised his head was too big to fit in the yoke of the PFD once inflated.  Another said the strap attaching the PFD to the belt was too short for his torso.

Float Plan - Tell a friend of you DW plans, route, and time you plan on getting back. Check our the various float plan apps online which friends can use to track your progress.

Communication - Bring a fully charged water proofed cell phone and/or VHF radio.  Attach both so they won't go in the drink. Avoid wearing a soft wp bag around your neck.

Wear Bright Colors - Be seen and keep track of your fellow paddlers by wearing super bright colors such as fluro green, red or yellow.  Same goes with hats. Look for the paddler above in the pic. He's in 46 kts of wind on Puget Sound, November 2013. Paddler is Art Aquino.

Keep Track of Your Buddies - In all three DW incidents mentioned above, each of their friends only noticed the victim missing when they arrived at their destination.  Pay attention and in groups designate a member of your group to run sweep (back) and point (front) and slow down for slower or less experienced paddlers.  Don't get too greedy or compulsive about those epic rides!

Clothing - Bring extra clothing or prepare outfitting on your board to store gear. NSI and SurfCo have plugs which can be attached to add cargo netting on a kayak deck bag.  Cold waiting for that shuttle? Put a hat and coat on!

Have a Dedicated Shuttle Driver - One of my instructors has a driver who he's in contact with by 

phone. If he misses his destination or the wind reverses, the driver can adjust to next spot.

Get in Shape - Downwinding can be very physical.  If the wind reverses or dies can you paddle 8 miles back? Can you handle side and head winds for 5 miles or more?

Hydration / Fuel - Be prepared with proper hydration and fuel to keep strong.  Bring extras just in case you or a buddy bonks.  Food can also keep you warm in frigid temps.

Check Your Friend's Gear - Everyone gets stoked to hit the water. Check your buddy's gear to make sure his/her leash is attached, PFD on, and everything looks good. Gear failure is a bummer.

Skill Level of your Buddies - Don't go into 30kts winds with a novice. You'll end up wrangling that person the entire trip. Only go into high winds with strong experienced paddlers.  Can or will they rescue you?

Know the Currents / Waves - In May on Oahu I downwinded with a few students during our surf camp. We were in 20kts of Westerly wind with 6' swell crossing at an angle.  Messy situation which led to more survival paddling than easy fun wind waves.  Is you run a direct line with all the 

elements? Will the current pull you offshore? Do your research!

Downwinding with a Kayak or Ski?  Use a leash attached to your leg or PFD and boat.

Any questions? Additional Tips? Give me a shout.

Coming to Seattle? Our DW course is taught by two experts in the DW field both with extensive Hood River and Maui experience. More Info