SUP in all Seasons
A Quick Guide To Staying on the Water Year Round.
Paddle Boarding in Cold Weather on Lake Tahoe
As the old Scandinavian saying goes, there is no bad weather, just bad clothing. And that is really the key to taking your love of SUP to a year round affair. Flatwater paddlers who see the change of seasons as solitude from summer crowds and the return of buttery, boat free glassy conditions, will tell you how they look forward to Labor Day and beyond. With all the new technical fabrics and paddling specific products on the market now, jumping on your paddle board on a sunny January day is as easy as going for a trail run.
Of course, winter hits some parts of the world harder than others, so understanding and respecting the effects of exposure to cold water and making decisions based on safety is an absolute must.
The temptation for that snowscape SUP selfie is strong, but the true enjoyment of year round paddling comes from being prepared with the knowledge and gear that keep you confident and WARM.
With some advice from our EXPLORE Project team who has been on their boards in just about everything Mother Nature can deal out, we’ve compiled a few tips that will at least help extend your SUP season into the colors of Fall and get you on the water at the first hint of Spring.
Check the Forecast Before You Transport the Boards to The Water
Wind direction and speed matter exponentially when temps are tumbling and bikinis and boardshorts are way out of season. Excessive side and head wind increases the degree of difficulty because there is so much surface area when you are standing.
A calm and sunny 48 degree day can have you shedding layers on a flatwater outing, but the wind chill from just single digit wind speed can make it feel like it’s in the 30’s and have you wishing you stayed in the car, heater blasting.
Become familiar with how certain wind directions affect your favorite SUP spots and you will begin to make decisions based on how you would prefer the water conditions to play out for your session. Watching the water before heading out speaks volumes and helps make better decisions. Check out maps and forecasted wind directions and you will soon be discovering the stretches of water that are tucked out of the wind from any point on the compass.
Paddling in choppy and windy conditions for any level of paddler in cold weather carries an increased risk of falling in. Safest decision is to always assume you will get wet and pick your attire accordingly.
Dave Defoe enjoying a winter SUP session on the Klamath River.
What The Experts Wear on Their SUP Adventures
Our team of SUP adventurers from the EXPLORE Projects wanted to emphasis that there are many types of stand up paddling and many gear possibilities that can be discussed. Our application here applies to flatwater lakes and ocean, recreation, fitness and touring paddling.
The most essential piece of gear that gets pulled out first as the days shorten to fight the chill are booties. The neoprene surfing variety are most popular and widely available in thickness ranging from 2ml to 7ml. Think 2ml for a Southern California crack of dawn paddle and 5ml for crunching through snow or iced up shallows.
From there it all depends on the air temp and each paddlers skill level or self assurance of staying dry. For example, early Spring days can heat up enough to “skin it” but that water washing over your tootsies could still be in the 40’s. Booties will keep you in your comfort zone while you soak up some rays or sweat off some winter insulation.
On cold days booties are obvious but the question becomes “wetsuit or no wetsuit?” For flatwater conditions when the expectation is very low that you will take a dip in the water, or if you are seeking an aerobic level, our team of experienced paddlers prefer more breathable materials on the upper body but may choose neoprene or waterproof pants. The repetitive motion of paddling generates body heat that gets trapped inside a wetsuit and can become uncomfortable.
More comfortable than a wetsuit and best worn if there is any chance of falling in cold water, a Drysuit is the choice of many paddlers, allowing range of motion and layers to be worn underneath as the enclosures are waterproof.
Lel Tone enjoying a cold weather paddle on the Klamath River
Game of Inches
Besides protecting yourself from the elements with proper threads, the next best decision you can make is riding a board that offers a stability level that lowers your concern of an unexpected mishap.
Summer months are perfect for getting a little fancy, pushing your limits of mobility or experimenting with a tippy board, when the consequence is a refreshing dip and the easy excuse is “I was getting hot”. But when the sun is lower in the sky, more clothing is needed and a dry return to shore is imperative, a board only 2 inches wider than your normal “fast” board will raise your stability as well as your confidence and frequency of getting out on the water.
The addition of a wider board to your quiver is immediately appreciated during unexpected changes in weather during colder months and will be the best selection for choppy side wind or downwind conditions in the summer. Our team members who enjoy entering events with narrow and light racing style boards, also utilize wider boards to train on for building strength and conditioning.
Not All Who Wander Are Lost
The freedom and escape that SUP paddlers enjoy, is a big part of making stand up paddling the fastest growing watersport in the world. Unplugging and setting off on your own course to explore or exercise is certainly what has drawn us to the sport.
In the name of safety though, even the most prolific paddlers wisely stay connected in a couple ways. Wearing a leash is a staple not only in the recreation paddling segment, but required to participate in many events and races. Being tethered to your board always keeps you within an arms reach in the event of falling in the water. This is most important in cold water when it is vital to get out asap. In windy conditions unmanned paddle boards can quickly get away even from strong swimmers. Take no chance, take a leash.
Having a cell phone on board may not be your idea of getting away from it all. But when heading out for a solo paddle or into remote areas, you do not ever want to be left wishing you had your phone. With all the waterproof cases available, many SUP’rs will utilize GPS apps to track distances, speed and heart rate. Certainly everyone has a favorite playlist of songs on their phone and taking tunes on the water is common amongst those paddling long distances, for fitness, or training to race. Your cell can be a lifeline if you need it so turn off the ringer if you are headed into your “zone”, or crank up your favorite jam for some motivation. Heck, take a few calls on your headphones….they don’t need to know you left the office!
Everybody knows that! Basic Safety Tips
Paddling in groups or with a friend is not only a safe decision in all seasons, but it is becoming a social movement across the country. Facebook pages organizing events and meetup groups are not hard to find and it is very likely that your local SUP shop puts together scheduled outings.
In the colder months choose routes that hug along the shore with easy access to shelter from the elements. Cold temperatures escalate every potential situation.
Personal Floatation Device (PFD) requirements are a mixed bag across the nation and across the various law enforcement agencies. Rule of thumb is to always carry one or wear one whenever paddling outside the surf zone in the ocean and on lakes. Interested in trying your hand at SUP on rivers and whitewater? There are no exceptions. Proper protective gear (helmet, quick release leash, pads, shoes and PFD) are required everywhere by every skill level of paddler. Swift moving water is a completely different segment of paddling and should never be attempted without professional instruction, guidance and supervision.
Was the weatherman wrong? Imagine that! The safest and best course of action in unfavorable winds that threaten to knock you off your board in cold water is to go to your knees and keep paddling. Lowering your center of gravity will increase your stability and offer less surface area for the wind to steer you off course. Choke down on the paddle and you can make efficient strokes towards home or the closest shore.