Standup Paddling: Flatwater to Surf to Rivers

Rob Casey’s book on standup paddling, published first in 2011, was the first guide for the sport. Written when SUP was still relatively young, it still holds up today. Not only is it a comprehensive guide to paddling on a standup board, it anticipates certain niches of the sport becoming far more popular than they were when it was published.

Rob Casey was a kayaker and instructor before he began standup paddling. The language of the book reflects that. It’s precise. When he wants to teach you a paddling technique, he gives you not only clear language but accompanying photos of people demonstrating the skills. What makes this book especially valuable, besides the breadth of topics, are the little details. Rob goes over all the different pieces of equipment such as gloves, booties, and even camping gear for SUP expeditions. You’ll feel ready to tackle the wilderness after reading the section. When he’s discussing the various strokes a paddler might employ, he includes photographs of paddlers demonstrating those very techniques. Sometimes he has those paddlers on the sand, outlining in the sand the movement of the paddles. You will not find breezy passages leaving the reading want more anywhere in this book.

standup paddlers, rob casey, sup examiner, paddle examiner, dana point harbor, infinity sup, infinity blackfish, paddle4ray, performance paddlingMany beginner paddlers learn on flatwater in ideal conditions. Those first memorable paddleboard trips are usually done under ideal circumstances with a doting instructor. One you start paddling on your own, then you need to rely on your own knowledge of the water. As an instructor himself, Casey thinks about safety, and makes a point of listing the typical hazards a paddler might encounter. Most beginning paddleboarders don’t think about current, or how current and wind together can overpower a novice paddler, but Casey makes sure at least that his readers are armed with as much knowledge as he can give. Even in a book, safety is first.

Since he comes from a flatwater background, the emphasis is on the flatwater experience. The surfing chapter is well-written and useful, but if that’s your exclusive interest you might be better off with Nate Burgoyne’s book. Not that the surfing section won’t get you started, but it’s not the focus of the Casey’s book, which is more of a survey. However, if you’re a traditional surfer coming to SUP you might be pleased there’s a section just for you. It will let you know all the skills you already know to begin this sport. Someone with a kayaking background will (unsurprisingly) get the same hand-holding.

One criticism I do have with this otherwise very useful book is the photos. Rob Casey is a professional photographer, so the framing and angle is always good. However they are universally dark, sometimes so dark that it’s difficult to pick out detail. Ultimately though this is not Casey’s fault but his publisher’s, who is responsible for ensuring the photos work well in print.

When I first read this book I was surprised by the large chapter on whitewater paddling. (It’s longer than the one on surfing.) When this book was published, whitewater SUPing was a very small niche, much smaller than SUP surfing. Honestly I skimmed it. But since then whitewater has grown into a much bigger niche, with many SUP companies offering whitewater specific boards. It seems I was wrong here, and Mr. Casey was right. Give him credit for being prescient!

Of course a book can’t beat a good paddle instructor, but Rob Casey’s book is a great addition to your library. His knowledge of flatwater and whitewater makes him an unqualified expert, and he still knows enough about surfing to help you catch your first wave. Even with the dark photos, you’ll learn plenty. He is also active on social media, and even answered a couple of questions for this review. The most current edition (not the one reviewed) includes a new section on downwinding, with help from experienced downwinder Jeremy Riggs. More value for an excellent book. Be sure to check it out.

Ian Berger

Ian Berger grew up in love with the ocean, so discovering stand up paddling was a bit of revelation. Once he bought his first paddleboard, he realized this was the sport for him. Ian Berger lives in Peekskill, NY with his wife Kirsten and three children. He teaches middle school English and drama, and also has a passion for writing, which he shares with his students. Every morning Ian wakes up to write — sometimes science fiction or comic Young Adult novels, sometimes plays, but very often about stand up paddling. The Hudson River is his home turf, and you can usually find him there when the weather is good.