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.

Monday, January 9, 2017

SUP or Kayak Rack Hack for Getting in the back of your Car Easier

I purchased a Subaru Outback in the Spring. After I installed my Thule rack, I placed my board on the rack and tied it down. Then I opened by back hatch but noticed it only opened half way with the top real brake light pushing up agains the bottom of the board. In order to get in my car I'd have to squat down and snake my 6'-5" tall frame into the back of the car. Bummer.

Not long after, Jim Ramey, an outdoor industry rep for our region mentioned he had the same issue with his Toyota Sienna. Being an innovative type of guy with tools, he devised a hack to raise the rear rack towers allowing the rear brake light section to open just enough more to solve the problem.  

See below for his solution.. That's closed cell foam glued to the top of the wood block. 

How to Install..
- Place block on rack bar under your board or kayak (Here I have square Thule rack bars)
- Place your craft on top of the block.
- Secure your craft to the bar using straps or rope as you normally would. Pressure from the strap tie-down secures the block to the rack bar.  

Board in pictures - Bounce SUP

Thanks to Jim Ramey of Adventure Sales. Jim reps Bounce SUPs, Imagine Surf, KanuLock, Accent and Cannon Paddles, MTI Lifejackets and a few more lines. Contact Jim

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.


Friday, January 6, 2017

How to Downwind Shilshole Bay and Stay off the Jetty

Note: This post applies to any downwind run, even if you've never hear of Shilshole Bay. 

Downwinding is super popular for SUP paddlers as well as outrigger canoe paddlers. Here in Seattle when the 20 - 40 kt wind start cranking in winter, the paddlers come out to ride the bumps made from the wind waves. Winter paddling has increased as a result of downwinding because it is surf and waves you can ride anywhere there's water and wind.

As with anything that gets popular especially in water, accidents begin to happen usually as a result of unskilled paddlers (for the conditions) getting blown offshore, into a jetty (see below) or they'll paddle past their destination. Accidents also happen as a result of new paddlers joining up with other paddlers who don't have adequate skills to keep one or both of them out of trouble. Safety in numbers doesn't work out if your buddy is as inexperienced as you. Two paddlers downwinding on Maui's north shore were rescued in November as a result of the above.

Check my posts about downwinding and downwind safety to learn how to prepare for and pick your partners for downwind surfing.

In the pics below, both show the most common ways to get into trouble on my home waters of Shilshole Bay in Seattle.  Downwinding Shilshole isn't easy. It's hard to get a good long line unless you're going from West Point to GG or north to Edmonds, or vice versa. I like to surf the inside bay doing loops on strong NE winds, using the lee (wind protected areas) of Ray's and Elks to paddle back upwind.

This is a very urban paddle so getting to the shore isn't a problem, unless it's a jetty where you'd rather avoid to prevent from banging up your board or being stranded on in case of big winds and waves.

Twice in 2 months from 2016 and 2017, local paddlers whose skill level wasn't appropriate for the conditions ended up on Shilshole jetty, one nearly destroying his board due to wave action.  Using the diagrams below, you can avoid this situation.

In this diagram, the red arrows show the flow of waves/swell generated from the Northerly winds. A NE wind wraps around Meadow Pt (Golden Gardens) and swings into the bay.  If you're coming out from the marina or from the beach at GG, paddle straight out (west) about a quarter to half mile to get in line with with the straighter direction swells headed North to South.  Even if you're not paddling (swimming or resting) these swells will bring you to Magnolia vs into the jetty.  Not going out that far will mean a lot of hard work trying to keep your nose from going into the jetty. Not fun!

NE Winds around Meadow Point on Shilshole Bay - Paddle Route in Green

Below is the diagram for a SW wind coming from West Point into Shilshole Bay and Ballard.  I heard of two groups in December that launched too close to the jetty from the Elks and got blown into the jetty due to the swift Locks current and SW winds. Instead, paddle upstream towards the Locks by Ray's, then cross at the channel at the narrow bottleneck, then paddle directly below the Magnolia bluff to the big erratic boulders below Day Break Star Center. Then begin to paddle offshore heading north to Golden Gardens.

Note a SE or SW wind can wind tunnel down the Locks speeding up current 2x. Rains will also speed up the current. Use a ferrying angle to cross (45 degree angle facing up current - look at where you want to go (prior post). Use the edges (eddies) of the channel to paddle upstream to save energy. This means directly below the pilings at Ray's etc.

Avoid the Rip - On a strong SE wind, as mentioned above, the wind will push through the Locks speeding up the outgoing current up to 2x. Add an outgoing tide (ebb) and paddlers trying to paddle up current (south) in the channel between the south end of the Shilshole Marina and the outer red buoy will find themselves in a rip. It can be so strong, even strong paddlers will struggle to paddle back to shore. Instead paddle straight towards Magnolia to get less Locks current, then cross the channel by Ray's.

SW winds and Locks current into Shilshole Bay. Paddler route in green. 
New to Wind?
SE - means wind comes from the SE. 

Most common wind directions in Seattle - SE, SW and NE.

Tip for choosing the right 'line' to your destination.  In strong winds or current, aim for a spot just before your destination in case you get blown downwind too far.  Always wear your leash. 

Downwind Posts to Check out.. 
Great post from Suzie Cooney on Maui on Downwind Safety

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, December 28, 2016

How to Not Paddle into Pilings, Rocks or other Paddlers

In 1985, a driver's ED teacher told me, "If you look out the window at a dog, you'll drive off the road!" She was right. Same goes with paddling. If you don't want hit that piling, wall or buddy, look where you want to go and your body will compensate.

For those that have taken our Tidal Rapids class or do river paddling, you should have learned to ferry across current. This means angling your board at approx a 45 degree angle up current, then watching your destination. If you look away from your destination (up or down stream) the current will push you away from your destination.

Paddler ferrying tidal rapids at Deception Pass near Seattle
In teaching, we've noticed couples run into each other on their first day - because they're watching each other.

And don't look at what you fear. Years ago, a whitewater kayaking buddy saw a big rock he didn't want to hit - but he locked his gaze on it, and run into it thus capsizing his boat. I've seen many nervous beginning students do the same. They'll lock their gaze on an obstruction vs looking where they want to go. We teach to look and turn away from the obstruction or worse case, stop asap (back paddling).

When performing turns such as the Cross Bow, look in the direction your paddle is going when crossing over our nose/bow. Many look straight during the turn thus limiting their flexibility and result of the turn.

In learning to surf a SUP, we may contradict the above by looking at the wave behind you as you paddle forward. This allows you to determine when to pick up speed, where to be on the wave and look for other surfers - while paddling towards the beach (using a vertical shaft). That conversation is for another future lesson.

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, December 14, 2016

How to Dress for Winter Paddling

Below are tips for what to wear when paddling in cold region areas in winter. I'm in the Pacific NW, its currently 29F out. Send in tips for what you wear for this or colder temps!

- Wetsuit - Modern wetsuits not bought from your local general sports store are actually quite dry and have less issues than more expensive drysuits. I prefer a RipCurl 5.5/4mm suit which has a fleecy interior. It looks thick but is quite flexible and comfortable. Mine is top loading which isn't fun to get into, so I wear a rash guard under for additional warmth and to help get out. Most 5/4's come with hoods. Slightly less thick would be a non fleece lined 5/4mm or an upper end 4/3. These should be seam sealed either with a hood or not, and back zip or top loading. If you have shoulder issues get a back zip. I find them as warm and dry as the top loaders. If yours doesn't have a hood buy one separately (or scull cap) or get a hooded vest to wear over or under. Try before you buy. You'll lose your no tax benefit online ordering from Oregon or elsewhere if your neck is too tight or your arms are too short.

What does 4/3 mean? 4mm thickness in legs and chest, 3mm in arms. 

- Drysuits - Drysuits are good option for cold temps as well. Personally, I prefer wetsuits as they're easier to swim in, aren't toast if you get a hole and have less maintenance (no latex gaskets). Some drysuits have neoprene gaskets making it less work to keep in shape. Kayakers tend to prefer drysuits. I did have two Kokatat Meridians in my kayaking days here in the PNW and I find I stay warmer in a good wetsuit. But I know others prefer drysuit, it's a personal thing. Drysuits do come with pee zippers (often women now wear men's versions to assist with this).  Good brands are Ocean Rodeo, Stohquist, Kokatat, NRS.  

-Making your Wetsuit Warmer - Have a 3/2 or cooler 4/3? Wear a thin polypro or SmartWool top under your suit, add a hooded vest under your suit as well (either or both). Over your suit, wear a nylon or Gortex shell or paddling jacket to cut the wind chill. Add a hood/scull cap (below). On cold days I may put a scull cap over my hooded vest hood. :)  NRS has a few nice zip up and pull-over neoprene jackets. Got a Farmer John? Get a full suit for winter. If you run hot, that's great but if you fall in you'll take longer to warm up, if at all and I don't like worrying about whether I'll fall or not.

-Booties - 7mm surfing booties are popular, but I found mine only lasted one season after the pull tab ripped out. I now use the NRS Desperado Wet Shoe (and Freestyle shoe). Both are fleece lined, waterproof and quite warm but not as thick and hard to get on as the 7mm versions. Zipper booties tend to leak but are fine in warmer seasons. I haven't found a sock-bootie combo yet that keeps me warm. On a few super cold days, I've been wearing a SmartWool sock under my bootie. Make sure to place your wetsuit legs over your bootie to reduce water seepage. The Desperado bootie has a nice thick sole with a good tread. Many surf style booties have a thin sole to 'feel the board' and every rock on the path.

-Gloves - I use Glacier Gloves which are fleece lined. The Maverick glove by NRS is good but not as warm.

-PFD/Lifejacket - Vest style will keep you warmer and overall is more safe than a c02 version which will inflated slower in cold temps. Get one with good visibility, a pocket or two and again, try it on first. Great brands are MTI, Kokatat, NRS, Stolquist, and Astral.

-Scull Caps / Hoods - I carry an extra in my PFD even with my hooded suit. I prefer one with a chin strap so it stays on when I surf or fall off the board.  Kokatat has a toasty fleece lined cap. ProMotion ( has a few nice options. Some sell a full neck/head thing but we've found those make turning your head difficult.

Read my 30 Tips for Staying Warm in Winter on SUP Magazine / Contact me for any questions or to demo rentals.

How to Choose a Wetsuit - (Stoke Mag post) - Click Here

PSUPA members get a discount at ProMotion, MTI, Astral) 

Spokane River surf wave day with the Cindric family, winter 2015. 

Check out our SUP classes in Seattle - beginning to advanced instruction and PSUPA Certification.