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

Friday, October 24, 2014

Safety Gear Tips for Paddling Trips, Rough Water and Instructors

Whether you're a paddling instructor, solo paddler or like to play in rough water offshore, being prepared means you'll have more fun and be better prepared if something goes wrong to you, a friend or a student.

Here's a few items I carry on me for a variety of paddling conditions both personally and as an instructor.  I vary the list of items depending on the type of water and/or paddling I'm doing. Everything can be stuffed in a small dry bag, can be carried in a waist mounted fanny bag and smaller bunches can be stored in a vest style life jacket.

Watch Video describing all the items and how to pack into dry bags.

Dry Bags..
I use SealLine, Outdoor Research and Seattle Sports bags. Seattle Sports has a few deck bags which are waterproof and can fit easily on my SUPs or kayak decks with proper outfitting.  I tend to double dry bag my items as dry bags can leak and some get condensation. I prefer bags with a daisy chain to attach with straps if securing directly to my board's outfitting.

Bag Contents..

Tool Kit:
- Extra fin screws
- Hex screw driver for thruster fins
- Multi-tool
- Foil tape for ding repairs. Sticks on when wet. Can double as an emergency reflector.
- Bungy and rope - For deck outfitting repair and PFD repair.
- Electrical tape - for PFD repair and other misc repairs.
- Super glue - Great for ding repair and can be used to close wounds (original use).

First Aid:
- Glucose - Energy bars and for diabetic emergencies, tube of cake frosting.
- Personal and student prescriptions. I store my migraine medicine in a waterproof box with silica gels.
- Neosporin for barnacle and coral cuts, open wounds, etc.
- Band aids for land use and duct tape to close wounds while on-water.
- Advil and Aspirin.
- Sunblock and/or zinc face cream.
- Electrolyte for dehydration. (not pictured)
- Chemical heat packets for warmth.
- CPR face shield.
*Students/Friends who are allergic to bee stings should bring their own epi-pen. You can carry their epi-pen to keep dry on-water but can't by law carry extra pens for friends/students on your own.  It's recommended that if an epi-pen is forgotten on shore that the person stays as well.

Safety / Rescue:
- Mylar thermal blanket for hypothermia. Also doubles as a bivy for sleeping bags.
- Rocket flares for signaling in an emergency. Sound extreme? I've used them in a rescues.
- Waterproof light for low light or night paddling. Keep in string if in PFD.
- Neoprene or similar hood to keep students warm.
- Mobile phone in a waterproof case attached to string.
- VHF radio attached to string.  ICOM makes a floating waterproof handheld VHF.
- Whistle (no bead inside).  Attach to PFD.
- Multi-Tool (listed above).
- Tow System for towing people to shore (or to rescue you).  Not pictured. We use NorthWater systems.

For remote areas:
- Spot Beacon or similar devices are a great solution to alerting emergency officials in case of an emergency evacuation.
- Solar re-chargers for communication devices.

Lifejacket (PFD):
Get one with external pockets to store stuff.  I use two from MTI which have adequate pockets but not so bulky they get in my way when paddling or climbing back on my board or boat. One has a quick release system to release a waist mounted leash or tow system in a hurry. Some CO2 life jackets have pockets for storage. A friend slides on a SealLine waterproof bag about 5" long onto his Co2 PFD waist belt to store his GoPro for boogie boarding freighter waves in Seattle.

Search this blog for more info on:
- Communication devices and Float Plan devices.
- Tow Systems.
- Choosing a wetsuit.
- Something you want to know more about? Give me a holler.

Overall bag contents

Seattle Sports bag on 11-6 board








Thursday, October 23, 2014

How to Figure out Surfing Forecasts, a Brief Tutorial

I surf on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a section of water that connects the Pacific Ocean with Puget Sound near Seattle.  It's an indirect link to the ocean, thus requires a funky forecast that skunks even the most experienced surfers.  Once you think you've figured it out, you get skunked or you get the best session of your life but had expected nothing.  Understanding surf forecasts can be very complicated but here's an attempt of explaining it, sorta, in brief..

Basic Terms -
-Period - Space between each wave crest (or wave top)
-Direction - The direction the Swell or wave is going, so West or East. Also listed as a compass direction such as 290 degrees.
-Wave Height - Height of swell (unbroken wave) coming in. 
-Wind Direction - West wind means the direction the wind is coming from (or Westerly).
-Tides - Each surf spot has a specific type of wave in ideal conditions at a certain tide level. Wind direction and speed can alter that effect.  
-Currents - Many surf spots are directly affected by longshore (parallel to beach) or outgoing current. Some places like the Strait list current speeds and direction.  Many miss this detail. 
-Wave sizing: Varies per region, some go by Waist high, overhead, double overhead.  

Beach & Wave Preferences - Some beaches only break at a specific tide, wave size/direction and wind speed. And some have a variety of wave types and each person may be seeking a favorable type of wave produced by specific conditions. For example I like a high tide at a location for a certain type of wave I like but a friend prefers a barrel wave which is produced at the same location at low tides.  

You'll find out what you like by going several times to a specific location.  In time you figure out the personality of that beach, how wind and waves work there and the type of wave that beach produces at varying different conditons.  

Wave Forecast Issues - I mentioned the funky forecasting issues we have here.  Many use online forecasting tools such as Magic Seaweed, NOAA, Surfline or StormSurf.  They're all good but not always 100% correct. Only NOAA lists the Strait specifically. Many think that the forecast on the sites is 100% correct - but it's a forecast which is just a prediction. Friends come home from surf trips pissed that Magic Seaweed skunked them again.  Truth is, you have to use a cross section of each to get an idea whats going to happen, then make the decision if its worth driving 3 hours from Seattle.  My rule of thumb is if it looks 80% good, I'll go and see what I get.  But I'm easy, I can surf any size and be happy. A few friends require only overhead waves to be satisfied.  

Today's forecast of the Strait varies widely per tool.  NOAA says 8' west swell, 5-25kt NE wind rising to 30kt NE winds later in the day, 12 seconds.  Magic Seaweed says 4' west swell, 12-15 NE winds and 12-13 sec period, 3 star.  Hmm... Magic says medium winds, NOAA says gale force winds.  

I know many follow Magic and similar sites because if they have rumored to have a great forecast our beaches get crowded and I see tons of cars with boards on top - and either great or no waves.  

What is Big or Small?  Usually I'll surf a big wave session, come home and post it on Facebook.  There's usually one or two people who feel that my version of big is just a bump, or 'that's not a wave!' Ya whatever.  It IS a wave.  But for some big is Mavericks or Jaws.  Small is 6'.  Make sure you know what work for you and what your friends translate size to before you go.  As a beginner go for 2-4'.  Some say those aren't waves but you'll scare a beginner and they'll never go again if you insist that those are too small.  

Hazards at our Beaches - As fun as surfing is it can be dangerous quick if you're not paying attention.  Biggest hazards we have are offshore wind, which pushes from the beach out to sea and can push unsuspecting surfers out into bigger waves.  Even breaks by little creeks can create enough outgoing current to send you to China. Watch your position - keep yourself in a little box to stay close to the beach. You can be a hazard. If new to surfing, keep a good distance from others until you can control your craft.  SUPs with a leash means a roughly 20' radius around your board when you wipe out.  We don't get much localism but there area few dorks at every beach who occasionally will give your some flack, usually if you're not riding their exact board size. I usually ignore or get some distance from them. Life's too short - I'm surfing today.  

There's many more conditions which I can't fit here, so check out my SUP book for a whole chapter on wind, waves, beach types, surfing terminology, hazards, people issues, gear, etc.  Even if you're a kayaker or traditional surfer the chapter is pretty detailed for all surfers.







Wednesday, October 22, 2014

10 Tips for Better Wind Paddling

10 Tips for Paddling in Wind
With Autumn in full force, we've already experienced strong wind, rain and dropped temperatures.  Many have put up their boards till Spring, while others are stoked to get into the changing conditions. This is prime Downwinding season. Here's 4 tips to help you paddle in wind more efficiently and thus have more fun.

1. Look for the Lee to paddle upwind.  The 'Lee' are sections that are protected from the wind. Behind hills, docks and other obstructions which create areas of calm water. Paddling a curvy path is easier than in a straight line to your destination. Lee are similar to an eddy in a river.

2. Use short quick strokes to paddle upwind taking the blade out at your toes or sooner. Longer strokes mean you'll be pushed back on the recovery.  

3. Bend over at your waist and drop your head to reduce your footprint when paddling upwind.  

4. Wear bright colors so you can be seen and you can see your friends. (see pic).

5. Wear your leash.  Losing a board in wind is very easy.  

6. Feather your blade on the recovery and keep the blade as close to the surface as possible to reduce drag going upwind. 

7. Keep your buddies close.  Wind, current and surfing waves can separate you from your friends very quickly. Last Spring a few guys landed at their cars after a downwind run only to notice they were short one guy. Meanwhile he was swimming 3 miles back to shore in 30kt winds from not wearing a leash. This happened again off Maui with a 2 mile swim by a paddler in September this year.

8. Use wind to your advantage when going downwind. Instead of paddling for power only, use your body and flat part of your blade as a sail. 

9. A Southerly means the wind is coming from the South. Common winds in Seattle are NE, SE and SW. Each section of the Sound has a different wind pattern. If it's SE in Seattle it could be W in Port Angeles. Use a real time wind forecast app like SailFlow or WindAlert. 

10. Take a Downwind and/or rough water class. The more you know the more safer you'll be while having more fun. We offer a Downwind class in Seattle. Also check out Art Aquino in Seattle. If in Oahu check out Blue Planet Surf; on Maui, Paddle with Riggs



Saturday, October 18, 2014

How to deal with a broken roof rack..

Last week was a crazy week. After surf wax melted to my dashboard, a day later while taking the car in for my weekly car wash to clean the salt off, I heard a loud POP sound.  I figured it was the already broken plastic thing on the top of my hatchback (ignore in pic), so I didn't worry.  A few hours later while getting ready for a paddle, I noticed one of my Yakima roof rack towers was broken and the bar was hanging partially over the side of the car. Uh oh. (see picture) 


I pulled the bar back into place then taped it to the roof rail with foil tape which I use for board dings.Rack & Road, a rack shop near me and the guys there worked on finding me a Yakima tower that would match my others. They did find one with a hand tightened screw. I also contacted a favorite paddling shop NW Outdoor Center but they didn't have extra parts.  If Rack & Road hadn't worked out I would have to purchase 4 new towers, approx $168. Certainly worth starting new but during my slow season, I'd rather spend the remainder on something else.

Taking it home, I re-installed the tower but couldn't tighten the screw enough to properly secure the tower to the rack (was wobbly).  Back to the Rack & Road store, they fished out a wrench tightened screw (excuse my lack of tool/parts vocab). After some work, the guy there got it to tighten properly, leaving the tower secure to the roof rail - good to go!

Back at home, I did the shake test where I push up hard on all the bars and push and pull them side to side to make sure the rack is secure.

Rack Pads - I use both store bought pads that slide over the bars and insulation pipe foam. Both work great. Sponsors donated the pads but I'll soon be using only the insulation foam as they stick better to the boards and when surfing at spots where localism is a problem, I don't like showing up looking like an advertisement and getting wax on my car in another location. Hasn't happened to me but friends have experienced it.  :)

Roof Rack Solution if Entire Rack is Broken: Worse case if this happens to you on the road far from a good rack store, you're still in business using a bit of creativity.  Remove the other tower (unbroken one) then store the bar in your car.  Then think like a surfer without a rack - look for a towel, yoga mat thin block of foam and place on the roof in the location of your previous bar (ideally at same level as other bar).

Place your board(s) on top of the material and other bar.  Tie the board to your existing bar as you normally do.  Then place your strap or rope over the board then through your doors and secure both ends in the car so the board is tight above you. If using rope or your strap doesn't have a buckle use a Truckers Hitch to get the most security - unless you're one of those boater or trucker types that knows 5 other better ways to tie things down - but us non industrial minded types stick to granny knots and trucker's hitches. If you have one of those roof rails with holes in it, see my post here on how to tie it down. Test the board after tightening to make sure it's secure. If it's a touch loose on the roof pad end, consider attaching a strap or rope to your bumper. Attach via your leash plug.

Don't Try This at Home...
If that doesn't work try this innovate method of building your own roof rack from the Red Green Show.  Starts at 7:35.

We don't recommend this one





Friday, October 17, 2014

How to not melt your surf wax...

I always lose my board wax. I usually store it in the back of my Subaru or my wet bucket. Providing I remember to bring the right wet bucket (where wet stuff goes).  Last week, I found it and placed in on my dashboard after waxing my boards and paddle shaft.

My class ended four hours later and upon returning to the car I reached in my window to grab the bar.  Or maybe not - it had melted to the dashboard on one of our rare sunny October days.  A week later it's still there.  I could pry it off with a paint scraper but figured I'd leave it there til needed for the next time - better than searching for it in two wet buckets or from the back of the car.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Feeling Lost? 4 Apps & Devices to Get Noticed in the Outdoors

A week or so ago a 21 year old hiker got lost while hiking with her two dogs in the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle.  She was unprepared for the elements which include two nights in the wilderness.  A friend who works for search and rescue showed me a video of the rescue helicopter and their finding of the lost hiker.  In this case the hiker was found by sight as she lit a small fire and was heard yelling by other hikers.

Several years ago a group of kayakers greeted a solo kayaker rounding the Brooks Peninsula on northwest Vancouver Island, a rugged exposed coastline. The kayaker was never heard or seen of again.

Use Float Plan whenever you paddle solo and go on extended trips offshore or into the back country.  A float plan is simply telling friends where you're going, your route, when you plan on getting back and leaving contact info.

To avoid getting into those predicaments and ending up on the News, consider using some of the following devices and apps to either be in contact with your friends or family if needed or be found easier using satellite tracking devices.

ACA's Paddle Ready app - Track weather and send a float plan to friends of your trip and current status.

The Float Plan app - Just that.. send out alerts to your friends of your whereabouts.

Spot Trackers - These devices send folks to your location via satellite signal. Ideal for an evacuation.

VHF Radio - Old school, VHF's allow a direct line of communication to the Coast Guard and other boaters.  Most also have a button to check real time NOAA and Canadian marine weather channels and can be used as a walki talki with your friends and/or guides. I use the ICOM waterproof and floating handheld radio. Each of my guides carry these during classes and especially open water tours.

The downside to the apps is that you need a strong mobile signal.  All of the above need working batteries in you phone/device. Consider a mobile solar charger to keep batteries fresh. Test and know how to use all before leaving home.

Icom waterproof floating VHF




Paddlers Guide for Tracking Shipping Traffic

About fifteen years ago a friend and I were kayaking near our home on Puget Sound in Seattle and came across a large surfable wave.  We surfed it and then wondered where it came from.  We realized that ocean swell wouldn't get into Puget Sound so where did the wave come from?  A few days later, we were out paddling and noticed a few container ships going by.  Twenty minutes after it passed we a sweet wave set of 4' faces rolled in - and we put it together.  We looked the horizon and saw a black dot and soon the dot came closer, and it was another ship, then another wave.  That was 2004.

For several years after we would look the horizon for boat or use bluff parks or road ends above the beach to spot ships.  I later found webcams in locations north of us to help track ships.  Another piece to the puzzle was figuring out which tides were best for these waves. I can't remember when we noticed it, but one of us came across MarineTraffic.com which solved all our problems of hanging over steep bluffs looking through trees to spot ships coming in.  Marine Traffic is a Greek run app that uses ships AIS systems to track their whereabouts and ID.

The Automatic Idenification System is required be be on all boats above 299 gross and lists the boat's name, dimensions, home port, voyage details, photos and it's route.  It runs in real time, allowing us to track ships from the Pacific into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, then into Puget Sound.  Boats appear in several different colors depending on the type of boat it is - ferry, recreational, tanker vs container ship or military.  Many military ships and subs don't appear, so we rely on friends to spot those, as the waves are often good.  You can turn on or off any selection of boats to only see what you're interested in.  So we only like the green boats which are the biggest container ships and ferries which put off nice waves in specific spots in our area.

This app is also great for planning paddling trips where you may need to cross a channel or section of water and don't want to run into a 300' long ship on your route.  A paddler in Sweden asked how we tracked ships. I sent him the link and he realized he had nearly 50 ships passing his home waters daily, thus got a great source of surfing in miles from the Atlantic.

Check it out.. http://www.marinetraffic.com  or on Facebook

Coming to the Pacific Northwest? Give me a holler if you want to join us freighter and tug wave surfing. We even have a class to show you how and where to catch the waves. More Info