Rob Casey is the owner of Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle and is the author of two paddling guides.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

8 Tips for Running a Successful Surf Camp

I've always wanted to host a surf camp. After some time of researching locations we decided on Oahu for the ease of travel, popularity being a destination and gurantee of surf somewhere on the island at anytime.  Writing this, we're midway through our first camp week and am sharing some tips on running a successful camp. So far it has been successful and we'll run another Oahu SUP camp in the fall.

Pick a location you're familiar with. 
While Mexico sounded great, I've never been there and didn't have the bandwith to travel there to check it out prior to running our camp.  We picked Oahu because we've been there several times, know the breaks, culture, language and it's an easy flight from Seattle where most of our customers came from. If you're not familiar with a location - travel there prior to scope out lodging, local contacts, board vendors and any permits or fees you need to pay to run our camp.

Find a reliable local surf shop that has a good reputation. 
We also chose Oahu as we already had a good relationship with Blue Planet Surf, a Honolulu based surf/SUP shop. The owner is one of our certified PSUPA instructors so we trust him, know he's safe and responsible and runs a professional business.  Plus provided us with gear and his own local certified instructors who know the surf culture, permits, rules, breaks, etc.  Why certified? That's one more level of responsibility and safety from instructors when working in a foreign or unfamiliar location.

Have Your Own Reliable Transportation
Make sure you have your own transportation if the local shop doesn't provide it to run students to the beach, carry boards and gear and run additonal trips to town for food and supplies.

Have Several Instructors
Our camp included three local SUP instructors who each had their own way of doing things thus provided us with a well rounded experience.  Students will identify with each instructor differently as well.

Mix up your days
Sure, I wouldn't mind surfing all day for 7 days straight but most don't have the stamina or drive and would prefer to mix of their days with other activities.  Whether is be yoga, beach walks, private time, island exploration or flat water paddling or kayaking, mixing up your agenda will make those surf sessions even better.  We offered an off day for folks to go their own way or in my case, stay local and get caught up on work, check out the neighborhood etc.

The above point leads to.. How much do you want to socialize with customers?
In remote areas you'll be with your customers most of the time.  In some camps with famous surfers people sign up to hang with famous paddlers so the hosts most likely are there for social time after paddling/surfing.  I inquired to a colleague who hosts surf camps about how he spends his camp time with participants. He said he felt responsible to be present for those that wanted to connect with him and pointed out that the independent folks will take off on their own from time to time.  In contrast to the military where officers and enlisted soldiers stay and socialize in separate quarters, you have to make the call what works best for your situation, personality and location.

Hold Briefs of Daily Sessions
At the end of each session or full day, gather your students for some time to talk about what they learned for the day.  They are there to learn so maximize their time in doing so.  Half way through our week I realized we were surfing and downwinding but not talking about tides, currents, forecasts etc. Evening is a good time to go over land based learning.  But don't over due it by providing so much info that students are always tired and/or may get burned out from info overload. They are on vacation and need need their own time as well.

Course Evaluations
Be willing to ask participants how their week is going, is it going the way they had hoped and what could improve or change.  At the end of the course send out a document again stating the above questions as well as - how was the signup process? did you like the food? was the camp well planned? etc...  The more info you get from them the more successful you'll future camps will be.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2 Rookie Mistakes for Paddle Boarders

When the masses appear on the waterways in summer (or anytime in tropical places), we begin to see a lot of poor paddling form.  Here's 2 most common mistakes:

Backwards Paddle - "They told me to do it this way."  We've heard that one a few times and unfortantly some of lesser quality instructors probably did teach it. I've seen entire classes with a backwards paddle. What confuses people is that most SUP and many outrigger and canoe blades are canted. This is the 10-13 degree angle of the blade to the paddle shaft.

Correction: The Power Face is the smooth curved spoon shaped part of the paddle that you paddle with. In otherwards it faces behind you while at your feet.  We use the power face as it gives you extra reach forward at the catch (nose) when you take a stroke.  At your feet the blade will be vertical in the water thus will allow for a cleaner exit leading to a smoother transition to feathering then the recovery (bringing blade back to the catch).

If the blade is backwards, you get a shorter reach to your stroke, and at your feet the blade will be curved at a backwards angle thus will scoop water up when you exit the blade from the water.  You'll have to cock your wrists back way back to get a feathered blade on the recovery.  For bracing at your side, the powerface will be upside down and won't give you as much surface area to slap the water with.

Super Long Forward Strokes - I saw a guy yesterday putting the blade in at the nose then with the help of really bent knees, pulled the blade all the way to the tail, then bringing the paddle forward in the air at shoulder length plopped it back in at the nose. It looked like a lot work and unfortantly is very common.

The super long stroke people do to the tail means you're working twice as hard. If paddling upwind we use shorter strokes or cadence to prevent the wind from pushing us backwards sometimes taking the blade out at our toes. If you're pulling the blade out at the tail, you have twice the recovery distance to get back to the catch thus in some wind conditions you won't move forward and even may be pushed backwards. Also when the blade goes behind you your body rotates slightly and can lead to the board turning a bit thus making it hard to go straight. If you finish on the left tail, you'll turn the board right. Use a slight bend in your knees not a full bending which also doesn't add any benefit other than looking like you're working out.

Correction: We take the blade out at your feet or slightly behind as the most useful power for the forward stroke is in the forward part of the board.  Placing the blade in at the nose actually slightly lifts the nose up thus lightening the board. By bending at your waist (called hinging) we reach as far forward as possible putting the blade in adjacent to the nose (or catch), then with a lower straight arm we rotate our torso leading the paddle parallel to the board (power phase) back to the feet.  Using the above correct use of the power face, we exit the blade from the water out to the side slightly and rotate the blade forward into a feather to lead it back to the nose/catch (power face up) just above the water surface (a few inches) while reaching forward again to the catch.  Keeping the blade just above the surface means it's going to have less wind resistance, a more efficient recovery and if you need to brace, the blade is flat and close to the water thus ready for a nice slap on the surface to keep your balance.  While paddling keep you hands super loose on the paddle and body over the center line. How to stay straight? I'll cover the next.. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Seasickness Tips for Paddlers

Here's a great article on Seasickness for Paddlers (Kayakers and SUPs) from

Any paddler who has suffered the green-gilled demon of seasickness, with the dizziness, nausea, excessive salivation (or worse!) has wished he were instead sitting under a stationary shadetree.
Kayaking SeasicknessWhat is Seasickness?
Seasickness is characterized by dizziness, vertigo, nausea, and/or fatigue brought on by a perception of chaotic motion such as the pitching and rolling of waves. These are debilitating enough for sailors, or airplane or train passengers. But for open-water kayakers, who rely on their own ability to remain upright and under control, the problem can be downright dangerous or even life-threatening.
Preventing the onset of seasickness, or coping with it once it rears its ugly head at you or others in your party, can be a matter of life and death …
What Causes Seasickness?
Seasickness or motion sickness is caused by a part of the inner ear sending signals to the brain that do not match the sensations of motion generated by the eyes. For example, while seated comfortably reading a magazine aboard a ship or plane, your immediate surroundings appear to be a stable, motionless place, when in fact the vessel is pitching and rolling. Your eyes see one thing while your built-in motion/balance sensors detect something very different.  Read Rest of Story...

Author Info: 
Jeffrey Lee edits Superior Paddling, a kayaking website that seeks to inform, inspire, and compel sea-kayakers to explore and appreciate the endless possibilities of paddling and kayak-touring in the upper Great Lakes region. He considers himself an "enthusiastic student" of the art of sea kayaking.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review - Imagine Surf Mission 14' - Inflatable SUP

Review - Imagine Surf Mission 14' - Inflatable SUP

Admittedly this was the first 14' inflatable SUP (iSUP) I've been on and it was a blast!

Board Dimensions: 14' x 6" x 30"

Rider: 6'-5" x 230lbs, Experienced rider.

Test Conditions: 3 different days - 1 - flat calm; 2 - light wind to 15kts; 3 - flat calm with large tug waves.  

Product Link: Imagine Surf - 14' Mission iSUP

Benefits of this board:
- Tracked really well even with a 9" plastic surf fin.  

- Will float small to large paddlers. Large = over 6' and 230lbs.  
- Bright color for on water visibility
- Only a short pump or two was required to keep it fully inflated after a few days.
- 4 tie-down rings on the front deck. 1 ring on tail plus fabric strap for alternative or double leash attachment.

- For my 6-5 230lb frame, I felt 100% stable on flat water and in bumps.  The 6" thickness displaced my weight well and the rails provided secondary stability in bumps.
- At full PSI the board was super stiff which helped stay stable in bumps.  

Single fin, takes any fin.  I used my standard ProTeck 9" rubber fin for rocky bottom conditions then tried the stock Imagine plastic click-in fin which worked well both for quick release and for stability/tracking.  

Directional Control:
Super straight control with little effort.  I think the straight rails in the deck area allow for easier forward control.  

The nose doesn't have much rocker so you have to pay attention to avoid pearling. Luckily my tug waves last week were steep enough the nose was clear on the drop. The board accelerated easily to catch the wave then it took the drop well and bottom turn down the line.  My first time surfing this board (or any board) I expected to wipe out, but didn't, nailed the wave (tugs waves are tricky) and had several fun rides before wiping out on my own accord.  No worries of being clocked by my soft inflatable board or plastic fin.  

Getting Back On:
Like any inflatable 6" thick, I had no problem getting back on but a smaller person may struggle. I recommend waxing the rails to help get on any 6" inflatable board.  Ready my post on Inflatable safety                     tips for more info:

Like most inflatables, it was light to carry versus a fiberglass board of the same size (I am getting a 14' Mission epoxy soon to review). The only con is that the carrying handle is too tight against the board thus was difficult to get my neoprene glove (yes it's cold here) underneath. But easy to lift on the car, drop on the ground with no     worries, etc. Would be fun in rivers.

Tug wake surfing the Mission in Seattle 2015 >

Thursday, April 9, 2015

5 Hand Stretches for Paddlers

Here's five easy stretches for your hands.  Each will help loosen your hands and arms before and/or after paddling.  Make sure to only pull lightly, it's easy to over do it thus leading to injury.  These are also benefitial for those typing on a computer.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

How to do a Backside Helicopter on a SUP

Helicopter? This means doing a 360 on your SUP while surfing down a wave.

I found this great instructional video on Stand Up Journal's website.

This is a great video minus the advertising from racer Chuck Glynn showing this maneuver in 8 easy steps.  As he says in the end practice is what makes it successful.  The more you paddle and surf, the better you'll get.  Be willing to make mistakes, wipeout, then try again.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Standing Out in the SUP Business

How to Stand Out in a Crowded Marketplace

In the SUP and Kayak business, most shops or businesses do the exact same thing which is usually having a brick and mortar location, rentals, retail sales and lessons. That model works but is very expensive, time consuming and can be stressful managing employees, buying and selling gear and dealing with the usual woes of weather which affects business considerably. Some love that type of work and others do it as they don't what else to do. In the Pacific NW where I am, outdoor businesses then need to figure out how to survive in the 'off season.' Our usual peak season is only 2-3 months long in summer, depending on the weather. Some offer skiing and kite surfing retail during that time, others shut down and leave to warmer regions.

When I went into business as a SUP instructor few were doing it here. That was 2010. Now Seattle now has 10 businesses focusing on SUP or offering it in addition to kayaking or rowing. In addition to the 10 there are another 5-10 retail locations that sell SUPs, not including online businesses.

That's a lot of saturation mostly operating mostly during summer only. When I got into business, I didn't have deep pockets so I didn't have the ability to secure an expensive lake side shop, or even as many do, go buy 10-20 boards, a trailer then operate full service tent all summer. Plus that sounds stressful (to me), maybe profitable but no guarantees. With a kayaking background I've learned a lot of efficient paddling techniques that really help out my customers, so wanted to find a method to share those.

Being Unique & Following Your Path

I decided to folllow the path of a successful kayaking business here that offers small classes originally without a lakeside presence, shop or staff. Being an introvert this model also allows me to have more 1-1 time with students vs being overwhelmed by big volume. Several years later, i'm relieved that this model has worked for me as I'm not only operating in a way that fits my personality but we're doing well and loving it.

Our business is based upon offering small individualized classes and tours with a big focus on safety and using common sense for SUP and kayaking. Many don't take safety in SUP very seriously, but we do and it's paying off for us. Not everyone who wants to paddle is keen on the minimalist t-shirt and shorts, no leash or PFD only point of view. Here the water is cold most of the year, and we've taught our students that wearing appropriate water temp clothing allows them to relax on their boards vs feeling stiff because they don't want to fall in. As a result they'll push themselves more becoming better paddlers and many are now interested in paddling all year, thus providing us income in November and January when most shops are closed.

A guy who works in a local Surf/SUP shop was quoted as saying 'Rob is too safe'. The benefit of the safe guy is that I get the folks who had bad experiences with the volume shops, or are concerned with their balance, think they may look bad in public, are overweight thus can't fit on most rental boards, are over 70, or have various water based phobias. Being dyslexic, learning wasn't easy for me, so I've learned to be very patient, which has payed off with regular business, great referrals and reviews. Many of my customers may simply prefer a small group or 1-1 and as a result appreciate the ttime we spend with them. Offering smaller classes means we charge more but it all works out as the above folks appreciate what they're getting and come back for more training.

Here's 4 tips on standing out in the crowd:

- Got 5 shops in your town all doing the same thing? What are they not doing that you could do better? Not every customer wants the same experience. Some want small classes, advanced training, or unique classes.

- In a seasonal SUP/Kayak region? Become a mobile business to keep your overhead down. We're mobile. I use my Subaru Forester with 66" rack bars which can carry 8 boards. Aside from corporate groups, 99% of my classes are 1-7 people so we rarely need a lot of gear. This also means buying and maintaining less gear. For corporate gigs we outsource for more gear adding that to the budget. This year we're adding inflatables which can fit in my car.

- Offer unique classes no one else if providing. We teach how to paddle river SUP in tidal rapids, SUP surfing on the coast, Freighter Wave & Tug surfing, advanced skill training, race training and downwinding. No one else here is doing anything close here. We thought about Yoga but didn't follow through, too much additional overhead and programming.

- Become known for a specific specialization. I'm the safe guy and the small class guy. Because I'm patient I get a lot of folks who need more attention and/or an instructor paying attention.

Unique classes that few offer: SUP fishing, paddling with your pet, SUP yoga for seniors, planning trips, SUP travel, marine navigation, rock gardening/rock hopping, boat wake surfing, racing in bumps, etc.