by Rob Casey
When I first spotted a stand-up paddleboard in my home waters of Shilshole Bay in Seattle, it looked like a lot of work and I was able to easily glide past the paddler in my 17’ sea kayak. Friends who had tried it were excited by the view from the board. As a dedicated sea and surf kayaker, I didn’t understand how the view could be better than a sea kayaker’s vantage point so close to the waterline.
Eventually curiosity inspired me to try it. My first time on a SUP was at a resort in Kona, where I spent more time in the water than on the board. My 6’5” frame was too big for the narrow, rental SUP. The following summer, a surfer-owned flower shop by our local beach began renting SUPs. He recommended I take out a bigger board to match my size. I immediately stood up, and soon found myself embracing the SUP and its distinct set of appeals for paddlers.
I didn’t master SUP overnight, but as a kayaker, I was able to use many of the strokes and techniques I already knew—sweeps, braces, forward strokes using the torso, the dufek, side-slips (side-draws) and bow/stern rudders. Sitting on the board to rest from standing or for paddling upwind, I was able to use both ends of the paddle like a kayak or just the blade by itself using a canoe stroke. At the time there were no books, videos or local instruction to learn how to SUP, so I was on my own.
Balancing on the board while going over boat wakes or chop was a skill that took some practice at first. My kayaking skills in whitewater proved helpful with the old adage, “when in doubt, paddle.” Other new skills included walking back and forth on the board to adjust trim, putting the board on it’s tail/stern by standing on that end, also called a pivot turn, and paddling on one side which is more efficient than changing hands every few strokes to maintain a forward direction. The first time I surfed a SUP was on a freighter wake in Seattle. Standing while surfing had an interesting feel; I could see the sand bottom rushing only a few feet under my feet as I was whisked along.
SUP is also a full-body exercise. Some compare its health benefits to cross-country skiing. Many have quit their gym memberships and instead paddle several days a week. As much as I still love kayaking, I feel more thoroughly exercised after SUPing. Developments in SUP design have also led to fast boards, which can keep up with 17’ sea kayaks and can perform in the same environments.
Also, the view is better from a SUP. I began to see new perspectives during my daily paddle on Shilshole Bay in Seattle. I could see sanddabs and dungeness crab below my feet. The local harbor seals would zip under me doing circles below the board, sometimes stopping to look up at me—something I’d never been able to see from a kayak. I still remember the first time I noticed the beach below my board, which I had paddled above for years in a kayak, slowly drop off into an abyss of blackness. It was pretty cool. I also began to enjoy the freedom of standing on an open platform on the water. I could slip off at anytime and climb back on without any effort.
Years later, I still sea kayak often and see it as a method of cross training, but I prefer a SUP even in the surf and tidal rapids. With a SUP, self-rescue is easier, I have more control of the craft since I can walk the length of the board to adjust trim, and I get a better-rounded workout.
Seattle native Rob Casey began sea kayaking nearly 13 years ago and became addicted to surfing, which led to surf kayak, whitewater, and in recent years, stand-up paddling. Rob is the author of two guides from Mountaineers Books, Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers and the revision of Randel Washburne’s classic guide Kayaking Puget Sound. Rob is the founder and director of PSUPA, Professional Stand Up Paddle Association, which offers instructor certification and education for SUP. He also offers SUP instruction and tours through his business, Salmon Bay Paddle.
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