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Coastal touring is super fun for exploring hard to reach shorelines while enjoying rich marine life. You also get to utilize a variety of skills from flat water to surf, downwind, specific coastal ‘rock gardening’ paddling skills, as well as working with swift current.

With the right equipment, smart outfitting and packing, marine navigation knowledge and a good plan, you’ll be more prepared to have more fun.  My tips below are just an introduction into coastal paddling.

Deception Pass State Park – Photo by Bill Hughlet

Learn to SUP Surf

Most coastal paddling requires launching and landing in surf. Knowing how to surf and forecast for surf will help you better plan your route and where to launch and land.

If negotiating offshore rocks, reefs plus surge channels, river and bay mouths, knowing how to not only surf but read the water to get around obstructions will make or break your day.

Surfing 14′ and Unlimited Length Boards

Learning how to surf a loaded touring board 14′ and longer length will open up a lot of doors for new places you can go. Boards of those lengths not only carry more gear, they also go faster so you can travel further distances easier.

An extreme example is when Karl Kruger paddled his 17′ custom Bark board 750 miles in the Race to Alaska for 14 days from Puget Sound to Ketchikan. He carried all his own food and shelter.

And surfing big boards is super fun! I’ve been regularly surfing a 14′ Imagine Connector for several years as my main board. I can now almost rip on the thing – nailing mild bottom turns and carving wave faces. Paddling out in waves especially in onshore conditions is super fun. I blast threw everything, get out quicker thus get more waves with less effort.

I have custom 17′ and 18′  boards that also surf ok. Being so long, there’s no fancy turns on a wave, just long curves. But with planning each ride, I can get longer rides from the outside then plan my slow down and turn a round knowing it’s going to take longer. If practicing on a surf break with others around, pay attention to your path down waves in case another surfer gets in the way, big boards are hard to stop once you are gliding.

Paddling with Karl Kruger in the San Juan Islands, 2017 – Karl is riding a 19′ Kings board. 

14′ and Unlimited Length inflatable boards do surf with some practice. They have a lot of buoyancy and may get pushed around in wind, and with vertical rails, you can’t do much carving. But getting on the tail will turn the board. I add a quick cross bow rudder (nose rudder) to turn the nose if it gets locked in while firing down a wave face.

Learn to Downwind Surf

Downwinding is key skill in knowing how to paddle in open water, offshore and in wind. And it’s super fun to ride wind swell which will also allow you to cover longer distance easier.

Downwinding has became a hot sport in recent years for those who SUP, prone, foil, outrigger canoe and surf ski because you can downwind (surf) anywhere there’s wind. Whether it’s a lake, large Class 1 river, bay, or open ocean, if it’s blowing, you got waves that can be surfed. Whitecaps (approx 12-15 knots of wind) are a sure sign of a good time!  World class downwind spots include Hood River, OR and the north shore of Maui (Maliko).

Downwind Basics

Start on small wave days and build to larger, heavier winds.  You don’t need much to get water to develop into wavelets. You can surf knee high bumps. The key is learning to read the water by looking for troughs your can ‘drop into’, then the next trough ahead or adjacent to the first. Eventually you learn to link waves together making for a continuous ride, then another.

Rob downwinding his 18′ SUP on Shilshole Bay in Seattle

Downwind waves don’t pack the power of an ocean swell/wave.  Longer boards (14’+) are required to gain enough speed to catch a wind wave. Once comfortable on big wind/wave days, you’ll be riding epic rides 30-50 yards or longer per glide. Sometimes longer.  Check out my Downwind tips posts. 

Downwind Safety – How to Stay off the News

Safety is a big issue in downwinding as you can get blown past your take-out. Or you may get so focused on what you’re doing, you don’t realize your buddy’s leash has broke and he’s swimming 2 miles back to shore. It has happened several times. Check out my Downwind Blog posts on how to prepare it.  Also check out YouTube videos from Blue Planet Surf and Clay Island. I also teach downwinding in Seattle all year.

Practice with your loaded board as it will feel much different than when free of extra weight.  Think about where to secure you gear so you can still stand back and control the board on steep wave faces.

Start out in small wind swell, knee to waist high then build as you get more comfortable.

Forecasting Wind with Wind Apps

Use apps like WindAlert and Windy and sites like NOAA Marine Forecast to forecast wind and check real time wind data. Hand held VHF radios can also give you 24/7 weather forecasts and real time weather data. You can learn a lot about how wind varies in specific regions. Windy’s animated feature shows how wind works through valleys and over mountains or below cliffs.

Rock Gardening

Rob’s students exploring pocket beaches at Deception Pass State Park

Rock gardening is paddling in ocean swell through rocks, reefs, below cliffs and in surge channels. Or rather negotiating through all that without getting hammered by a wave, rock or getting pinned or stuck in a kelp bed.

Rock gardening was put on the map by an extreme kayaking group called the Tsunami Rangers who were based on the coast of Northern California. They developed videos and coastal kayaking safety guides to support the activity.  It’s extreme as they’re going out on big swells and taking pour-overs over rocks that were dry a few seconds before. They wear full on body protection, helmets and are really good at ding repair!  The photo below explains in short what they do.

You don’t have to be an extreme paddler to rock garden on smaller days. But it is a great skill to learn for exploring the beautiful and wildlife and marine life filled tide pools, channels and pocket beaches of coastal environments. My students learn the basics of rock gardening during my Deception Pass class and Freshwater Bay tour. 

Tsunami Ranger running a slot

Coastal Paddling Safety

Always wear a Leash.  We attach our leashes to our vest PFD straps to keep our feet free from getting caught in heavy kelp beds or on rocks below the surface. In fast moving current, or coastal backwash, you definitely want the leash on a quick release system on your waist. Foot entrapment is the #1 cause for fatalities of paddle boarders on rivers and tidal streams.

Coiled vs Straight Leashes? Coiled stay on you board, don’t drag and catch sea grass and kelp. But coiled can spring your board back at you after a fall.  Straight leashes don’t come in 14′ and longer lengths. I like bright colored leashes so I don’t forget them at home or in the car.

Life Jacket (PFD).  We always wear a vest PFD. They provide pockets for essential easy to access gear, body protection in a fall and warmth in cooler temps. Buy a bright color (not black). Look at kayaking stores for more variety, body types, female vs male pfds, better fit, etc. PFD on your board is useless if you loose the board or can’t climb on.

C02 vs Vest PFD? Maybe Co2’s in hot climates but not in big water. Friends in Hood River, OR are wearing vest PFD’s now to protect their rib cages during falls in big water days. If you do a C02, know how to use it and how to self-inflate.

Tip: Use two strings for your leash string. Carry extra string in your kit.

Communication Devices

Bring Communication Devices like a hand held waterproof (and tethered) VHF radio. Cell phones may not work in offshore places. For example here in Washington State, Verizon is the only carrier that works in our most NW coastal 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.

Use the VHF for communication:

  • Between friends like a 2 way radio. Choose non-commercial channels like 69, 71.
  • For a direct call to a boat in case of collision
  • Check 24/7 weather forecasts and real time conditions
  • Emergencies

Know how to use a VHF. Watch this guide.

Float Plan

Leave a Float Plan with a friend which is info on your whereabouts, departure/arrival times, type of craft you’re in, your route and when you plan on coming back. Check-in once you’ve arrived and/or come back.  There are a few Float Plan apps but make sure you have reception. Friends in Seattle have a float plan set up on Facebook Messenger.

Dress for Immersion

Our coastal waters are cold all year. The Strait of Juan de Fuca is always colder than Puget Sound. Full wetsuits 4/3mm and warmer are best. Wetsuits these days are very dry, warm and flexible. I prefer these over drysuits as a hole doesn’t ruin the suit. But some like drysuits.

Friends who don’t like a full suit, wear tops and bottoms from companies like Vaikobi and NRS.

Helmet

Add a helmet for paddling in shallow water such as reef environments, rocky areas and/or surf. You can leave it on your board while offshore, then put-on when landing in surf or rock gardening. I’m a big fan of NRS and Gath helmets.

Gloves

Gloves are essential for not only keeping warm and protecting your hands from the paddle shaft, but also for protecting your hands from barnacles and sharp rocks on shore. I use the NRS Maverick gloves most of the year and Glacier Glove pre-curve fleece lined gloves for extreme cold.

Booties

Like gloves, booties protect my feet, help me in walking over barnacles and sharp rocks, provide traction on slipper surfaces and keep me warm. NRS Freestyle wet shoes are fleece lined and not as thick walled as many surf booties. They’re just as warm but not difficult to get on and off.  And they’re affordable and have lasted several seasons.

Strait of Juan de Fuca, WA State

Ding Repair

Coastal rocks often have barnacles 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 or Gorilla clear 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. I use superglue.   Solarez is another option, if you have UV to cure it.

First Aid Kit / Repair Kit

When on coastal tours, I always have a small First Aid kit with the essentials and a repair kit.  Aside from the above stuff for repairs, I’ll bring an extra fin screw and plate, parachute cord, batteries, head lamp and a multi-tool.

First Aid kit will have Advil, Tylenol, Benadryl, cake icing (for diabetics), band-aids, sports tape, ace bandage, tweezers, chemical heat packs. NRS had paddler’s first aid kits that come in handy small dry bags.

My kits are in zip-lock bags then put in a small dry bag. A mini kit can fit in my PFD.

Outfitting your Board

Outfitting is important for attaching gear so it doesn’t shift and slide or fall off your board. Unless you have internal storage, store you gear in dry bags. Store important gear such as a down sleeping bag in 2 dry bags as they can leak.

Unless your board is already equipped with D-Rings or leash plugs fore or aft, then you can either have a pro (or yourself) attach leash plugs. Or get NSI plugs which are bomber, as loops to attach. These are so good, I’ve used them as leash plugs on custom boards and they’ve held my 230 lbs of weight falling off boards many times.

Everyone has their methods, but I attach rope around all 4 of my NSI plug loops, then place my dry bags in between the rope, then strap car rack strap under the ropes and over the dry bags, cinching the ends down to secure.

My Packing List for Trips

Check out my packing list for SUP trips

Marine Navigation

Navigation can be simple or complex. Most use dead reckoning (make it up as you go) for navigation and sometimes you need to do work with marine chart and GPS to find your route, especially in fog or at night.

There’s several great apps which you can download charts (iNavx and Navionics).

And should carry a miniature version of your chart on your deck in case your phone dies or gets lost/broken. U can waterproof a map/chart in a large zip-lock bag or specific chart sleeve. Google Maps works in a pinch if you have reception.

Check out Seattle based Starpath.com and Captain’s Nautical Supplies for charts, chart books, world wide tide and currents info and navigation gear.

Misc Gear

  • Rubber Fins for shallow water, tide pooling and surf. I use Surfco’s Superflex 9″ fins.
  • Keep regularly forgotten items in your car – Fins, leashes, hat, sunblock, hydration.
  • I keep a Paddling Washington book in my car for last minute paddles.
  • Do you have current parking permits, fishing licenses, etc?
  • Hi-vis colors. We always wear bright colors on-water to be seen.
  • Night paddling lights – White non-blinking light in US plus extra flashlight to shine at boats just in case. Both attached via tether.
  • Hydration – I have both a NRS and Kokatat hydration bladder systems attached to the back of my PFD.

Expedition Resources

My bookKayaking Puget Sound and at San Juan Islands, 60 Trips

This is a favorite, even though it’s kayaking, it applies to SUP

The Saavy Paddler, 500 Trips, Doug Alderson

 

Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing,
coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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