A Guide to SUP Safety
The popularity of stand up paddle boarding has been skyrocketing across the ocean, rivers, lakes, canals, and ponds everywhere. Because this new sport is so thrilling, people often forget how dangerous it can be and that safety precautions have to be taken before paddling out. To educate you, we offer up some important advice on important safety gear, weather monitoring and the different terrains of paddling along with some helpful suggestions so you can stay safe on the water!
1. Paddle Board Safety Gear
The most important tool when it comes to paddle board safety is a leash. Whether it is your first time out or you are an elite paddle boarder, this piece of equipment could be the difference between life and death. A leash is what connects you to your board, which is your personal flotation device that can float away from you in seconds. With a leash you are protecting your own life and the lives of those around you.
The best leash to use is one that is a foot longer than your paddleboard, and the style depends on the terrain in which you are paddle boarding. If you are an ocean paddler, a straight leash is the best. This type of leash provides safety without the potential drag and tangle that might occur in turbulent white water. If you are paddle boarding on flat water, the coiled leash will be your best friend as it stays on top of you board and will not drag in the water and slow you down. However, if you are a river paddler, it is mandatory to wear a breakaway or quick release leash because that prevents you from getting dragged in the event of you getting tangled in underwater branches.
The second most important tool in stand up paddle board safety is a PFD, or personal flotation device. Another aspect of standup paddle boarding you should know is that a paddleboard is considered a vessel when it is used “beyond the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing, or bathing area”. In these zones, it is required by law that you wear a United States Coast Guard approved flotation device every time you paddle out past the designated “swimming, surfing, or bathing area.” Here you want to use a life jacket that provides maximum buoyancy.
Even when inside the regular surf and swim zones, as you now know, a board will float away from you in seconds and chasing your board with a paddle in hand is a recipe for exhaustion.
2. What to Monitor Before Paddle Boarding
Standup paddle boarding may look effortless but it is important to note that it is a skillful sport that demands awareness of dangers that may arise due to the changing forces of nature.
The first and most important weather condition to be aware of before paddling out is the wind. Higher wind speeds create choppier waters that are dangerous for inexperienced paddlers. On days that wind speeds are high, you may find yourself battling to stay afloat and balanced as opposed to paddling out to where you had planned. Therefore, it is important to check the wind forecast before paddling out. As a general rule of thumb, if the wind is traveling under 10 knots, it is typically safe for you to paddle out at any skill level. However, when wind exceeds beyond 10 knots (which is very rare in San Diego but can happen in other areas), you may want to think twice before you paddle out.
Another way to work with the wind during your paddleboard session is to take note of which way it is blowing as you paddle out. If you feel a breeze at the beginning for your paddle, you will want to change your direction and paddle against it so that your trip back to the shore won’t tire you out.
Swells give us bigger waves and therefore harsher waters to paddle on. Rising wave heights can lead to you paddling out and getting tumbled, so it is important to never underestimate the power of water. Even if you are confident in paddling out into calm waters of the ocean, waves can add a whole new level of difficulty that requires more physical strength than you regularly need. If a swell creates bigger waves than you are used to at your local beach, you should consider you energy level and route of paddling before you go out.
A basic understanding of tides and what causes them is key to ocean navigation on your paddle board. Awareness of the tides will prepare you as they can carry you very far in a small amount of time. Paddling back may take much longer than it took you to paddle out and therefore be exhausting if you don’t plan on it ahead of time. Therefore, it is important to plan your route around the tides so that you make it safely back to shore and avoid exhaustion.
Sunrise / Sunset
It is important to know the times of sunrise and sunset so that you are never paddling when it is dark. Knowledge of the times of sunrise and sunset can help you time out your paddle so that you never go out before it is light out and also so you have enough time to get to shore before the sun sets.
3. Different Terrains of SUPing
While SUP surfing, it is important to be considerate of everyone around you. Be humble and know your ability level before surfing in zones around other paddlers or surfers. The lineup is considered the “impact zone” because you are putting yourself in high danger of potential collision. Beginners should never paddle into a crowded lineup filled with other surfers and boogie boarders, because surf skills come from experience.
To make it easier to paddle out, you can also search for the easiest way out; whether it’s a rip current to assist you to the lineup or a channel. Always use good SUP surfer etiquette by being courteous to other surfers and staying out of their way if you’re a newbie.
You can also refer to our 10 SUP Commandments of the Ocean.
The current of a river can be fun for paddle boarders, but also dangerous as you can get dragged by it once tangled in underwater branches. You want to avoid being submerged or dragged and you can do this by using your detachable leash in order to stay close to your paddleboard, your biggest flotation device.
Touring stand up paddleboards are designed for paddling long distances. It is important to be humble and know your limits on these. If you are new to this, don’t try to paddle a marathon, and talk to others about safe places for you to paddle.
It is also important to be defensive. That includes not paddling where you are not supposed to and avoiding other swimmers, boarders, and fellow paddle boarders.
Paddle With A Partner
Paddle boarding with a partner or in a group is always a good idea because it is more fun and much safer. It is always a good idea to use the buddy system when on the water because you never know when a mishap will happen to you. A mishap could be as little as your leash snapping off shore or something that is life threatening. If somebody else is there when this happens, that somebody can either help you or call for help and this lowers the risk of a mishap.
Yes, this article is about paddle board safety but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider the harm of UV rays that deeply penetrate your skin. It is even more important to practice protecting yourself against these on the water than land because here you are subject to little shade and solar glare reflecting off the surface onto your skin.
The most effective way to protect yourself against the UV rays are physical barriers. To keep your face protected, you should wear a hat that shades your entire face and to keep your upper body protected, you can wear a rash guard.
However, to protect the areas of your body that are still being directly hit by the sun, the next best tool to protect yourself is the use of waterproof sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. You should always check the label of the sunscreen you are using, but most screens require reapplying every 90 minutes so you should keep some on deck during your paddle.
We hope you took away some valuable paddle board safety pointers as we believe that the use of safety gear, awareness of what to monitor before paddle boarding, and knowledge of the different terrains in which you can paddle board, are the tools you need to have the safest paddle board session. For more information visit the Coast Guards, Top 10 Tips For Standup Paddle Boarding.
Feel free to call or email us regarding any questions or guidance you need when looking for a standup paddle board or surfboard.
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