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.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

10 Tips for Safer Downwinding

When the wind blows in Seattle, Facebook posts start buzzing with paddles discussing forecasts, which spots are firing and who's going and when.  Like many inland waterway locations a few hours or more from the ocean, downwinding is the next best bet for a adrenaline pumping good time.

Despite the excitement, downwinding can get out of control quick due to being offshore, dealing with strong winds, current and paddling groups who may not be prepared for the conditions.

Here's a few tips for keeping your group in control so you will have more fun.

1. Only go out in conditions you and your group can handle.  Not sure? Start out in smaller conditions and see how they do. Keep in mind who is slower and who likes to dart ahead.

2. Check all gear prior to leaving shore. Check to make sure your crew all have leashes, PFDs and the appropriate boards for the conditions.  Race boards are fun on flat water, but in big bumps they can be very unstable leaving you in the water more than on the board.

Tip: Everyone forgets gear. Stock your car with extra leashes, paddles and fins - the most commonly forgotten items.

3. Communication Devices. A smart DW crew will have VHF, walk-talki or waterproofed cell phones (in range) for each person. Use to check on slower paddlers or your shuttle drivers if you overshoot your take-out.  Check to make sure everyone's device works and is synced before leaving.

4. Pick a line for your run and stick to it. Discuss the line with each member of your group and determine a backup plan if one or all of your group overshoots the take-out. Again a good time to have communication devices and a backup plan.

5. Be selfless on your run. It may be the most epic conditions of your life but how are your buddies doing behind you, or ahead of you? is someone struggling to keep up or has a faster paddler overshot the take-out? In either case, your epic day will lose it's appeal when you start losing your buddies. A few years ago, a DW crew off of the coast of Cali didn't notice their friend was missing until they got to shore. Meanwhile, he was paddling 3 miles in 30 knot seas back to shore (he made it).

6. Be in great shape for downwinding.  DW runs don't always go as expected.  Sometimes the wind changes 180 degrees and require a long paddle upwind to your shuttle pick-up or back to your put-in. How are you upwind paddling skills? Do you know and are in shape for proning your Sup upwind?

7. Be willing to sit or prone your SUP.  If you're unstable going downwind, consider sitting or kneeling. You will have just as much fun and get plenty of rides. Instead of walking the board, lean forward or backwards to trim.  Choke up on your paddle holding it just above the blade.

Going upwind?  Prone is the most effective but also exhausting if you don't practice it often.  Prone is also a good skill if your paddle breaks or your lose it and in non emergency situations - great cross training.  Lots of folks kneel but if paddling upwind, you're still quite tall thus making it hard to move forward. Sitting keeps you lower than kneeling with more wind resistance.  Again choke up on your paddle. Holding the handle will turn the board at each forward stroke.

8. Rescues. Sh.. happens and it's nice to be better prepared when it does.  I always carry a tow rope, VFH, flashlight for late arrivals and wear a helmet in big conditions. Many a friend have bonked their head on their board during falls.  Do you the a plan if a buddy's leash breaks? How about a Plan B or C if you miss your take-out? Get tow ropes from NorthWater, NRS or Kokatat.

Tip: Only rescue someone if you know 100% that you can.  If doing so puts your life in danger or a difficult situation, perform a visual rescue by directing others more qualified for the task.

9. Learn how to surf. Not just downwind but coastal surf.  Having consistently shaped waves will allow you learn board control, turning, footwork and how to work a wave to your benefit.

10. Ever have your board fly over your head like a leaf after a downwind wipeout?  Get on your board from the upwind side. Doing so from the downwind side will expose the upwind rail to the incoming wind which will lift and launch it over your head.  Another reason to have a helmet.
I like helmets from NRS and Gath Sports.

Tip: Having trouble standing up after a fall?  Start paddling before you stand up. The forward momentum and paddle in the water will create stability before you're on your feet.  Short quick strokes!  Can't stand up? Don't worry about it, just sit or kneel.  Trying continuously to stand up will tire you out.

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.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why Freighter & Tug Surfing is Safe

Recently someone said they felt the Freighter and Tug Surfing we do sounds frightening as the boats are so big, going so fast, how could it be safe?  Truth is, it's actually quite safe as we are quite a distance from each boat when the waves arrive. We're never in the shipping lanes, block marine traffic or take unnecessary risks.

The number of us surfing these waves are just a handful especially in non summer months.  The waves take work, patience and skill once the wave comes (not having a prior wave to show where it breaks or how it'll break).

Freighter Waves

Using we track freighters coming into Puget Sound on the AIS system.  We like boats going over 17 kts for a bigger wave of course resulting in a better ride and longer duration wave sets.

After the boats pass West Point (see diagram), it takes the wave nearly 20-30 minutes to arrive to the shore where we're waiting.  That said, the boat may actually be 5-10 miles from us in Ballard when the wave arrives. On the faster boats going 23 kts the boat may be passing Three Tree Point (Burien, WA) when our wave arrives.  Southerly winds and/or an ebb tide can slow the wave. Northerly and/or flood tides can speed it up.  Strong outgoing current from rain emerging from the Locks adjacent to our break can flatten waves coming in.

Learn more about our Freighter Wave Surfing class.

Freighter Wave Surfing Diagram

Tug Waves

Our tugs come out usually as a pair and pass through Shilshole Bay in a curve originating from the Chitenden Lock, passing West Point and then head south towards Harbor Island to pickup a load. Then they cruise up the Inside Passage to Alaska for 2 weeks.  If I have students out I'm in touch with the tug company to confirm we'll have a boat during our class time.

We catch the boat wave about .25 miles from their outer curve in the Bay. This is several hundred yards from the boats.  Like all boats big or small, their waves leave each side and push out forward but away form the boat.  Even if we were on it's stern, the water pushes at great force out thus pushing the boat forward.  There's no way we could get in there if we wanted to.  In a Seattle Times article on our surfing a few years ago, concerned folks who commented on the online page felt we were endangering ourselves and thus costing tax payer money for rescues.  Basic physics of how boats move forward work here thus there's is no way we can get sucked into the props. At any rate we're quite far from this section of the boat.  And we've never been rescued. But wedo get wet, but that's standard in surfing.  Our crew wear PFDs, leashes (sup) and dress for immersion.

The tugs can put off large waves but are very safe in that they don't put the gas on when there's other boats nearby. We don't have a tug day if rec boats are nearby.  If free of such boats, their standard wave at full speed can be up to 5' tall. We get 3 waves which we have to work dropping in.  On a good day we can surf nearly a half mile to West Point. Note our inside track vs the tug path.  This path is in a non boating area partially due to submerged rocks near shore at lower tides.

Learn more about out Tug Surfing class

Tug Surfing Diagram

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.