I put on a weekly Summer paddling race in Seattle. We get a good turnout of about 25 racers of all levels and race on Puget Sound which challenges racers with current, wind, waves and boats.- Downwind More – Often when racers have an opportunity to downwind they don’t do it. I’ve seen this many times, even from racers who downwind locally or at Hood River in Oregon.

Some who only downwind in big wind conditions also don’t see small waves as something that can be surfed. Truth is, any size wave can give you a push. This push means a free ride – a moment to catch your breath and give your muscles a break, not to mention just being fun.

Last night during our race a 16 NE wind on the flood was pushing in 3′ wind waves which created nice rollers that were easy to surf. I only saw one racer out of the bunch getting nice glides, the rest were muscling through it which actually slows them down and will fatigue them sooner.

When you see a wave going in your direction, take it, chill out and enjoy the glide.

– “I’m not good at side chop” “I don’t like right turns” – I got these comments after a race last week. Both racers asked me to avoid these during our race course. As an instructor I’d like to train my racers to improve and represent our region better at bigger races, I refuse give them a flat easy course that won’t improve their skills. In fact these racers should learn to improve and master those issues to become better racers.

Don’t like side chop, also called reverb or the nautical term clapotis, go find a gnarly reverb spot and get if figured out. This means getting low and using quick short strokes for balance. Stay loose, allowing your board to rock and roll a bit and trust your board’s rails for secondary stability.

Are you left handed so only like to turn or surf left? Start going right, you may not rock it but get better so it’s not an issue. You can’t expect to show up to a race and expect it all to fit your personal needs, if so you’ll probably come in last.

Instead of paddling offshore to avoid reverb, plow right through it.  Paddling offshore increases your race distance.

You want to win and even compete on higher level? Master both sides, all conditions and paddle smarter.

Buoy Turns

We do a lot of buoy turns. No matter how often I recommend racers to not bunch up and jam into each other around buoys, they keep doing it.

A few thoughts.. 

Go wide around a buoy. I’ve found going wide still keep me competitive and I don’t lose speed. I can plan my turn before I get there and avoid the traffic jam.

Jamming around super tight next to others, sometimes losing balance while doing a pivot/buoy turn kills your speed so you have to start out from 0 once you get around to speed back up – so that you can slow down again for next buoy.

Avoid the pivot turn. The pivot is a braking move, you’re jamming your tail into the water thus slowing the board down. Ya it lifts your nose but you also slow down nearly 100% to a stop while do little side turns to swing the nose around, the run back to center, then speed back up, to do it all over again on the next buoy.

Instead try a cross bow, stay wide around the buoy thus not slowing down (or much), not losing your balance and not running into folks.

Use Wind and Waves to go around a Buoy

Why work around the buoy when the wind and waves can do the work for you?

Wind – If the wind is coming from the right, and your buoy is straight out, then go right into the wind/waves letting it push you around the buoy at a 90 degree turn.

Not doing so means the wind will push you left down wind/wave to where the buoy is now on your right and will require a 180 degree turn to get around it

Waves – Got waves rolling through from the Right? As you approach a buoy in front of you, go slightly right so the waves don’t push you too far left (see above) making for a harder buoy turn. But.. also if you have a wave approaching the buoy, aim into one that will lift your nose. Once it lifts your nose, do a sweep stroke on your right side on the crest (top) of the wave to swing the board around – in the direction the wave is going for a super easy free flowing turn around the buoy and down wind/wave.

Or ignore the waves and try to power through them doing a pivot in a bumpy place losing balance and falling in onto the other racer thus losing crucial ground in the race.

Start Ballard Summer Race in Seattle

– Look at Where You Want to Go – I teach this to my beginning students. Don’t want to hit that rock? Don’t look at it.  Going around a buoy? Keep your eyes on where you want to go, not at the buoy itself. Are you doing a cross bow turn? Look at where you’re turning, not forward (common).

Paddling Up Wind and Current

Paddle in the Lee and Use Eddies – Last night during our race, we had a 16 kt upwind section. A few guys were ahead of me at a buoy but chose to paddle directly upwind (and up current on the flood tide). I chose the wind and current protected shore (lee shore) which was also glassy. Though my route looked longer, I met them at the next buoy.

If you don’t have a protected shore or eddy, use short quick strokes (to your toes) with a good

feather (flat blade on your recovery) to paddle up wind. Not all races require you to stand, so sit or prone paddle up wind for best results. Why ruin your shoulders if you’re not in a pro cash purse race?

Start Ballard Summer Race in Seattle

Paddling Up Current? At your race we often send racers up Salmon Bay which is the outlet for the Ballard Locks, which is essentially a dam.  There’s always outgoing current. Add a SE wind the wind pushes (the surface) water very fast. But if a N wind opposes the current small waves develop.

Tips for padding into wind and current – Find a protected area along the shore such as docks, moored boats, cliffs or sections of land jutting out. See the glassy section behind each? Aim for those pockets and link them together.

Tips for paddling in opposing current and wind – You won’t know till you get in it whether the wind is stronger than the current or opposite.  In our location the current is always stronger than the wind. So for going up current, like the tip above, I look for eddies which are protected areas behind obstructions that will give me an area of no current to work with. Link those together.

Diversify your Skills
I see a lot of racers only practicing on flat calm water. What if race day isn’t? What if it’s blowing 20 kts?  When you downwind, also paddle up wind and side wind. Get good at each.  Learn to surf both ocean waves and boat wakes (hard to catch). Learn to surf your 14′ board. Paddle in rivers, in reverb, try different ways around buoys (develop a new technique?).

Race Strategy Tip –
You might think hanging with pack or more experienced racers is the best route? But each of them are trying to beat you. Find your own smarter route. Not all packs are taking the smartest route.

Join us!
Join our weekly Monday evening races in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. May-Sept, starts at 7pm. $5pp.  Contact me for details. Rentals available.

Need more info or to take our classes give me a holler..
Rob Casey
Seattle, WA USA

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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