SUP Safety | 5 Critical Tips
Paddling is a relatively safe sport when care and attention are given to safety. This article provides some important tips that should be applied to every paddling session.
Making Your Time On The Water as Safe as Possible
Getting out on the water is the perfect pastime. It provides us happiness and the unique sensation of floating across water from a standing point of view. Outdoor sports, and especially water sports, carry inherent risk, and reducing and minimizing that risk to ensure that every adventure is as safe as possible should be an important part of your approach to the sport. We have created a basic risk assessment composed of 5 critical areas;
The Correct SUP Leash and PFD for the Environment
Any time you are on the water, you have the advantage of the board as your primary safety device. What we really want to do in all but a few specific scenarios, is to stay connected to it. This means a lot less swimming and reducing the rate of fatigue if you do fall off and need to remount. Using a leash means you can get back on the board quickly and easily and that your board doesn't potentially drift from you from in winds, waves, or current.
The leash does present its own hazards. Being able to safely remove the ankle cuff is a skill that should be practiced in the event of entrapment, and in a whitewater / moving river water scenario, a separate quick-release system should be connected to your torso or PFD. This is a skill you can practice before you even hit the water.
A personal flotation device (PFD) is a vital piece of equipment that should be worn every time you are out. A PFD ensures you will have adequate flotation when separated from your board and is a critical component of SUP safety.
Things as simple as telling someone where you are going and when you will be back and carrying a mobile phone help make for a safe paddling session. You don't need minute by minute roadmap but you should at least have the reassurance that you can be contactable or more importantly can contact others in the case of an emergency.
Remember to pack your phone in a small drybag close at hand and attached securely to your board so it can be easily accessible. For whitewater paddlers running downstream, keep your phone and car keys in your PFD so that, if you are separated from your board, you still have this emergency equipment on your person.
Weather and Environmental Factors
The level of risk will vary according to where you are paddling, but the prevailing weather conditions are often the most important factor. Understanding both what's happening now and what's due to happen over the next hours is critical, and this can be achieved by learning how to read and understand a weather map with precipitation/wind forecasts.
Wind can present a major risk for paddlers in coastal or open water environments. Knowing the wind direction and speed forecast can help you plan the timing, course, and nature of your paddling session. Knowing how to recognize and deal with wind if it does become a problem is another skill to obtain. Getting low and underneath the wind on your knees or prone and learning to use the shoreline or bank for shelter is something every paddler needs to be skilled at.
If you paddle in open water or near harbors, you need to be aware of other craft and sometimes large ships. To minimize the risks of collision, you can check the shipping forecasts and harbor masters for traffic movements, then just be sensible by staying out of the channels and towards the bank to keep you out of traffic's way. Spend a few hours learning basic boat protocols, which will allow you to spot markers and understand traffic flow.
For whitewater and river paddlers, it's important to check both the current water level and trends relating to water rising or dropping and what that means for the section you are navigating. Checking the local gauges and asking for local knowledge will assist you in navigating a run. It's still important to remember some basic whitewater skills, and don't run anything blindly. Always look ahead, and if unsure, hop off for inspection.
Choice of clothing is just as important for a novice rider as it is for a seasoned professional. Cold water has the same effect on basic human biology, regardless of experience and skill level. Dress accordingly, whether that means a wetsuit or drysuit for cold water or bikinis, t-shirts and boardshorts for warm climates.
It’s important to remember that sunstroke and sunburn can cause just as many problems as cold environments. Don't be lazy with your clothing. A UV-resistant top is just as important as a wetsuit. Remember to always take spare clothes to change into after and, if necessary, pack clothes to take on the board with you in the event that conditions change rapidly.
Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing. If you fall, loose clothing items can hook onto things, and if you get wet, it can stick to you and will make paddling more difficult and unpleasant.
Skill Level and Ability
Having the correct skillset for your chosen paddling environment is a must. We understand that you want to progress, but you need to do so in manageable steps by starting small and gradually progressing both your skill and mindset. For a novice surfer to head out to a huge break at Mavericks or Nazarre would certainly end in a bad day out and is a completely unnecessary level of risk. The same logic applies to stand up paddle boarding.
Having the skill set is one of the biggest reducers of risk and can really make your time on the water much more fun. A simple skill like remounting the board correctly is more important than an intermediate skill like a pivot turn, as it's something that can quite literally get you out of trouble. Take a lesson, better yet take several, and get the basics down.
You need to learn how to walk before you can run.
We recommend that you spend time with a qualified instructor as part of your initial approach to the sport. An instructor will be able to teach you basic skills as well as tips and tricks to help you carry boards or pump your board in ways that reduce the risks of injuries. Getting out on the water should always be fun, but please don't ever compromise your own safety or the safety of others.
Always plan for the worst-case scenario and overcome barriers safely to minimize the risks involved. Remember the water will still be there tomorrow, and make sure that you stay fit and healthy to be there with it.