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, February 23, 2017

5 Tips for Better Balance on a SUP

Balance is one of the biggest concerns from new paddlers. Often I hear 'I have bad balance." But I tell folks, if you're can walk fine without any instability, then your balance is good enough for SUP.  Of course many of you probably have had lessons where you've been given a board too small for your height/weight or in rough conditions, unsuitable for beginners.

Here's a few tips to give you more confidence on your board...


Start out on a board sized to your height and weight. I'm 6-5 230lbs, so I need a 32" or wider board and 5" thick to support my weight. And not all boards at those dimensions feels right for me. Wide or bull-legged stance folks need a board wider than usual, such as 33"-36" wide.  If you're 6-5 but 200lbs, you may find a 5" thick board is 'corky' meaning the thickness leads to a high center of gravity thus making it unstable.  A square tailed board will be more stable than a pintail. A round nose will be more stable than a displacement (pointy) nosed board.

- Start out on calm flat water with no current. Wait for boat wakes to pass. Find these spots in marinas, coves and bays vs open water. There's calm water even on windy days if you look around.

Tip: Once you stand up, place you paddle at your side, blade flat on the water's surface, like an outrigger. Want to look behind you? Place the paddle at your side, blade flat on the water, then twist around to take a peek.

Dealing with Waves and Wind:
Get low like JLo!

Boat or Wind Waves/Wakes Don't turn into the wave! Instead bend your knees more then do one of two things. #1. If not moving, place your paddle blade flat on the water at your side away from your board. This provides stability and resembles an outrigger. Let the wave pass under your board. Your bent knees will act as shock absorbers (like skiing).  Or #2 if you are moving, keep your course, bend your knees more and use short quick strokes. The bent knees will act like shock absorbers and paddling keeps you stable. Don't freeze or stiffen up when the waves pass, you'll increase your chances of falling in.  Breath - stay calm - smile - bend your knees and paddle, then enjoy the up and down of the waves.  But.. if you're surfing and the oncoming wave is 5' tall and breaking, then turn into it, bend your knees and paddle hard!

Get Low like JLo!  The guy in the pic is doing the #1 thing you don't want to do! When you get unstable, get low and slap your paddle (blade flat) on the water at your side or paddle! When in doubt, paddle!

Sweeping Brace - Use the sweeping brace when paddling in rough water. Instead of feathering your blade above the surface as you bring the paddle back to the catch, instead sweep the blade across the water's surface with the leading edge up. This provides of a ton of stability!  You can also use it when you're losing balance - sweep that blade across the surface then paddle for additional stability.

If you fall... Fall Flat away from you board. Fall like a pancake or the Hi-c plunge. Trying not to get wet and falling on your board can lead to injury. A friend broke a few ribs last summer down winding in Hood River by falling on his board. A vest PFD would've given him body protection when falling and falling away from the board would've prevented it altogether. If you're practicing, get into chest deep water. Don't dive off your board or go feet first.  **Dressing for the water temp makes falling a lot more fun!
unstable, raising your arms or paddle above your head is making you more unstable by increasing your center of gravity. Others will freeze and try to balance if on a tight rope.  Both of these are very common human instincts. But some things in paddling are counter-intuitive. That said - Get Low.  This means squatting vs standing then paddling vs not paddling or brace by slapping the flat part of your blade on the the water surface. An old kayaking adage works well here -

Safety - Always wear your leash to keep the board close to you. 

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.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Surfing Freighter Waves in Seattle

Freighter Waves Explained..(and how to catch them)

Common FAQ's...
- How do you predict the waves? Like any surfing there's some work involved with getting the best results. We use to track boats coming into Puget Sound. Then we need a low tide when the boat passes at specific locations for the best waves. We have a even more specific tide window we like for the biggest waves and longest rides. And we prefer low or no winds and light outgoing current from the Locks and boats going south over 17kts.

-Do you surf behind the boat?  No, like any boat wave, the waves come to us. After the boat has passed West Point headed south, the waves works its way towards Ballard, breaking on our beach across from Ray's in approx 20min. We're 2.5 miles from the boat when the waves reaches us.
-What's the difference between Freighters and Tankers? - Tankers carry oil and liquid material. Freighters are container ships often carrying containers, trucks, cars, etc. Our biggest boats from TOTE Lines carry vehicles and runs at 23 kts no matter the weather or tides.

-What board do I need?  Anything above 10' long is best. Although, our local Hawaiian Jon Kwon does body board the waves though! But longest rides will be from a board 10' to 18' long. Shorter means more play on the wave, longer (18') is a straight ride in.  Traditional surfboards do work on the waves if in the longboard lengths. The board in the pic is our Imagine Connector 14' (for sale!)

-Is it just one wave?  It varies. Usually if timed right, we can get one set (5-7 waves) or up to 1 hour of waves from one boat! The first set is always the biggest (up to chest high) and the following sets are usual waist to chest high. We've even had head high faces! Sometimes we get stumped and there's no waves (note disclaimer on our site). But this happens on the coast too!

- Where else do these waves break?  All throughout the Puget Sound where there's fast container ship traffic or high winds. We look at beaches that resemble what breaks on the coast. Usually beaches that are shallow aways out even at high tides. Strong wind can create nice surfable waves at these beaches. Ryan Deters has been scouting beaches south of Alki and have found good results at Dash Point, Saltwater State Park and the Cove park by 3 Tree Point. I know it also breaks at Marrowstone Point, Richmond Beach, Pt Robinson, Rolling Bay, Blake Island, 4 Mile Rock and Point Hudson in PT.  Not from the NW? Look for shallow beaches and points where wind or boat wakes could jack up and create waves. Watch the same spots over time in different conditions.

- Where can I learn? We offer Freighter Wave classes in Seattle March to Sept for daytime low tides. Wed is the best day for the biggest boat, but we get good rides all week. We also offer Tug Surfing but freighters are easier to catch with more options to become a better surfer, (tugs are one wave only).  Go as often as possible. Our coastal surfing classes will also help becoming a more confident skilled surfer. Freighters allow us to stay local and keep our skills up for bigger days on the coast.
Rob surfing in Seattle (courtesy

Watch my interview with Evan of on Freighter Wave Surfing in Seattle!

Tips for surfing - Always fall flat to avoid injury. Use a leash to prevent a loose board which can be a hazard. If you're not a solid surfer, keep your distance from others. Surf often to keep your skills up. Live on a lake? Surf wakes from boats and wind waves, everything produces a ride even if small.

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.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

9 Tips for Paddling the Coast

Surfing is what many think about when you think of paddling the coast. But there's other ways of paddling the coast. Touring can be a super fun option to explore the coastal shoreline while using a variety of skills from flat water to surf, downwind and specific coastal paddling skills. No surf? Get the 14' board out and go explore!
Deception Pass - Photo by Bill Hughlet

Here's a few tips on how to be a better coastal paddler..

- Take a Surf Class. Most coastal paddling requires launching and landing in surf. Knowing not only how to surf but also forecast surf can help you better plan your launches and overall experience. Many don't round Cape Flattery unless the swell size is less than 4'.  It can get pretty nuts out there over that size - or with wind opposing the swell direction and outgoing current from the Strait.

- Go when wind is non-existent or very light (less than 10kts). Wind can build wave size. Learn

- Always wear a vest PFD and Leash. Not one or the other, unless you want to get on the news.  We attach our leashes to our vest PFD straps to keep our free from getting caught in heavy kelp beds or on rocks below the surface. Tip: Bring extra leash string they can break.

- Bring Communication Devices like a VHF radio. Cell phones may not work in offshore places. For example here in WA State, Verizon is the only carrier that works in our most NW corner, 5 hours from Seattle in Neah Bay, WA. I use both a ICOM and Standard Horizon handheld floating VHF attached to a string on my PFD. Leave a Float Plan with a friend - info on your whereabouts, departure/arrival times.  There are a few Float Plan apps but make sure you have reception.

- Dress for Immersion. Our coastal waters are cold all year. The Strait of Juan de Fuca is always colder than Puget Sound. Full wetsuits 4/3 and warmer are best. Add a helmet for falls in shallow water. Gloves and booties for barnacled rocks walking or climbing on.  Ask about suits or check out my articles on Stoke Magazine on choosing wetsuits.

Strait of Juan de Fuca, WA State
- Bombproof Boards - Coastal rocks have barnacled or have sharp edges. A loose board even if on your leash can bang up against a rock and get severely dinged (damaged). Bring silver Foil Tape for field fixes. Inflatable SUPs are actually quite stout as are boards with a few layers of epoxy. Carbon boards will ding easily.  A shaper friends suggests Gorilla Glue to fill in dings quickly.  Solarez is another option, if you have UV to cure it.

- Take our Freshwater Bay Tour or Deception Pass Tidal Rapids Classes - Both take place in rough conditions that resemble our outer coastal regions. The 'FWB' Tour will be on the calendar soon, it's west of Port Angeles, WA 20min on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

- Bring Extra Gear - I always have an extra fin, leash, gloves and other small items in my car. For class trips I bring extra paddles, PFD's and a wetsuit in case students forget gear - and they do! Even I forget stuff. Nothing worse than driving 3 hours to find out your paddle is at home. One of my instructors did leave his paddle at home during a surf trip. But we found a backup at the Swain's Hardware Store in 'PA' Port Angeles.

- Deck Bag - Deck outfitting is smart to have along to carry extra gear on your board. I use kayaking deck bags to carry a First Aid kit, food, water, extra clothing and gear repair kit. Dry Bags are flimsy and roll around on your deck.  Bungees alone won't hold essential gear. The first wave will rip everything out. No leash plugs on your board? There's several products to stick on your board for attaching gear. If you have fiberglass skills or know a shaper, add leash plugs to your board.
how to forecast wind and how to read air pressure to plan your trip for less hidden surprises.  We can help with that.

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.