Paddleboarding Alone: What You Need to Know
The ability to get our alone, away from noise, phones, and distractions is an amazing part of our sport. This article details some things to consider when you're setting out by yourself.
Solo paddling is something that can inspire very mixed opinions. Sometimes you just want to get out, but there's just nobody available to join you for an adventure. Maybe you work odd shifts or have time off when others are working. Or maybe you enjoy time alone in nature. It’s important to remember that, as with any watersport, stand up paddle boarding alone can be dangerous, especially if you get into difficulty.
Before setting out, you need to make some educated decisions on whether or not it's a viable option and take the correct precautions to ensure your SUP session is safe. Think carefully about your own individual circumstances and how to paddle each solo session safely. Even pro riders will have the same thought process, whether crushing waves or heading out to cruise on flat water. Paddleboarding is more fun with others, but sometimes the peace and tranquility can be a nice place to reset the mind and get away into your own thoughts for a while. Consider the following aspect before paddling solo:
If deciding to head out alone, you need to think carefully about the location where you will be paddling. Will it be a static spot? Or are you going on a journey or loop? Try to think about worst-case scenarios, such as equipment failure or a broken paddle and how far will you be from your vehicle, land, or even rescue resources. It's important to consider your own paddling ability and stay safely within the confines of this, whether in terms of distance traveled or class of water. For coastal environments, pay attention to tides as well as surf reports detailing changing wind or swell conditions.
When paddling alone it’s a bad idea to try and push your ability with unknown factors such as more challenging water conditions or high levels of exertion. The better option is to stay in a controlled environment, such as flat or slowly moving water, but push your ability through skills such as sprints or technique training, or take advantage of the quiet and actually just relax a little.
Communication is an important aspect of paddling, both alone and with others, so you need to have a process in place so that people know where you are, what you are doing, and when you are expected to return. People that you communicate this information to should have previously agreed upon instructions in case you don't check in or are if they are unable to reach you in a specified period of time.
Carrying a mobile phone is obligatory, especially if you are out alone, as it can really make a difference in an emergency or rescue situation. A waterproof dry bag will make it possible to have your phone with you on the board at all times.
Any time you head out for a paddle, you should check the weather, not only for what's happening outside the door right now, but also for what is expected hour by hour. This is really easy, with lots of apps available providing access to weather, waves, wind, and surf reports.
Learning how to read a dynamic weather map or surf report is an essential skill, as is understanding basic weather conditions such as wind directions and speeds. It is also vital to check water temperatures, especially on the fringes of the season when the air temperatures could be warm, but water temperatures can create dangerous conditions that could lead to cold water immersion effects.
Weather can change in the blink of an eye, so be prepared, and pack some extra clothing layers, jackets, and gear for unexpected situations.
The amount of time you'll be out on the water is something you need to consider when paddling alone. With friends, it's OK to spend a longer time out having fun but when alone, it's better to set yourself a limit. Knowing your paddling limitations so you can avoid overexerting yourself and getting into difficulty is very important. Some of the best solo sessions are the shortest ones and having a specific plan will also help to give you focus and a target to achieve.
If you're paddling a loop, keep in mind the energy required to do that. If you have a tailwind while paddling out, you will inevitably have to deal with a headwind coming back in, and the situation is similar with currents. Makes sure you have reserved enough energy for the paddle back. If you can ride a tailwind or river current on the way back, it's much easier to get back if you run out of energy. If possible, take this into account while planning your route.
Essentials on the Water
Even more important when out alone is to be properly prepared. You don't have the option of simply relying on others to bring forgotten items, so you need to be organized. Check your kit before you even leave the house and verify that everything you need is in the bag. On the water, it is certainly worth carrying a few essential items for your own safety and security that normally you just might not bother with but alone can make a critical difference. Some items to consider are:
- Phone - Very important for emergency communication, the use of GPS, and a camera. Be aware of how fast GPS can drain your battery, and ensure you have a spare charging battery if required for longer paddles.
- Clothing - Extra layers, even a windproof/waterproof jacket, to give you some protection in case the weather turns for the worse.
- Food - Everyone loves a snack, whether a small chocolate bar, energy bar, or a trail mix, which can give you that energy boost when you need it.
- Water / Fluids - It's important to stay hydrated, so a bottle of cool water in the hot months or a flask with a warm beverage in the cooler months can be a great part of the overall experience.
- First Aid Kit - We aren't planning for full waterside surgery, but some band-aids, maybe some Tylenol, and some alcohol wipes are good to have on hand. Cuts and grazes are some of the most common minor injuries, so come prepared for them. A mylar/space jacket can be very important for warmth in an emergency situation for yourself or other water goers. It packs down to a fraction of its size, so it should always be in your kit.
- Tow Tether Rope - There may be a situation where you require rescue or are in a position to aid a fellow paddler. Having a tow rope in your kit is essential for these occasions. It can also be useful for tying off your board if you intend to dismount to explore the shoreline.
You don’t need to set out in US Marine mode, but just have enough essentials to deal with any problem that may arise.
Your planning and preparation should be commensurate with the challenge ahead and should include a reasonable level of redundancy so that you know you are more than prepared. Paddling a river or heading to the coast for a quick surf will each require different approaches, and preparation for each outing should be appropriate for the specific environment.
These items listed above should fit easily into one or more 15 Liter Earth River SUP drybags that, once rolled up, can clip under your bungee cords and you won't even notice them. You can even keep a 'solo' dry pack with these essential items always ready, and pack gear for the specific session in your other dry bag.
The final word is to just use common sense. If you think something might not be a good idea, then it probably isn't. The water will always be there, so be sensible and don't take unwarranted risks, because the next session is something you always have to look forward to.