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Being a coastal SUP paddler.

SUP paddlers can inhabit any waterway (in theory). Inland or coastal it’s all ripe for some stand up paddle boarding fun. As it stands many stand up paddle boarders congregate on inland waterways. Rivers, canals, lakes and so on. But there’re also plenty of SUPers who put in a coastal venues. Here’s what it means to be a coast SUP boarder.

SUP and the wind.

Coastal paddling locations are generally much breezier places than inland stretches. Being more exposed any puff going will affect coastal paddling environments to greater or lesser extents. And because of greater fetch (distance of water) wind can kick up that dreaded chop and flotsam which can be bigger and more significant.

There are glassy days to be had at the coast for sure. Just as with anywhere. But these are fewer and further between. More often than not coastal SUPers will need to seek out shelter from the wind. Particularly if it’s flat water they crave.

SUP surfing the underdog wave.
If you SUP at the coast chances are you might enjoy paddling in waves.

Waves and surf.

In some areas of the UK coastal beaches – right through the season – can see wave action. This is why paddlers (and proners) head to Cornwall, Devon, Wales, parts of Scotland and North Sea locations. In search of waves these areas are prime for some liquid wall sliding.

During high summer, when the biggest numbers of paddlers can be found afloat, swell is at its smallest. Whilst Channel coasts and sheltered parts of the North Sea do get waves it’s this time of year it goes flat around these areas (unless there’s a big storm). But we’re talking proper breaking waves. Even when it’s flat you may still get localised wind slop pushing in. Again, the breeze phenomenon can drive what is essentially glorified chop. So it’s not always plain sailing, or rather paddling, if you’re a coastal SUPer wanting flat water.

SUP and tide.

Tide is ever present at coastal paddling locations. And tide can flow in various ways. Most people think of tide moving vertically up and down beaches. But it can also flow sideways (commonly referred to as tidal streams). These streams can race around headlands and islands parallel to the coast. If you’re indulging in some coastal adventure SUPing then it’s worth noting this as tidal streams can help or hinder.

Not directly related to tides per se but still a ‘current’ coastal paddlers will encounter are rips. Rips form when incoming swell energy (waves) need to find a path of least resistance back out to sea. The dissipated energy flows back out to sea via a deep water channel, usually in between where waves are breaking on shallower sandbanks and reefs. Rips can also flow along the beach as they race to find that deepwater channel back out to sea.

Rips and tidal streams are hard to spot with an inexperienced eye. But they can be problematic, and even deadly if you’re not aware.

A coastal SUP boarder’s thinking and behaviour.

Based on the above an experienced coastal stand up paddler will think slightly differently to that of an inland paddler. He/she will plan their sessions around the wind, swell and tides looking to find the best conditions at the optimum time for whatever type of SUP they plan on doing.

The additional layers of interpreting and understanding weather, surf and tide data can be a challenge to newbies at first. It takes a period of genning up to acquire the necessary knowledge. In some instances, direct experience of each phenomenon will also be needed. We’re not suggesting paddlers should put themselves in harm’s way. But there’s no accounting for actual experience.

Being a coastal SUP paddler.
Bing a coastal paddler means you’ll be in tune with all the elements of tide, wind, swell and so on.

Chances are the paddler in question will be a wave head. Or perhaps be into things like downwinders. And maybe there’re additional watersports in the mix to maximise time afloat. This can also be a factor with inland paddlers, although on the performance side of SUP it’s probably white water river running rather than SUP surfing.

First time coastal SUP paddlers.

For anyone thinking of heading to the coast this summer (for their first time in tidal waters) having a grasp of the above concepts is important. Also your chosen put in should be given due consideration. Exposed Cornish beaches, for instance, aren’t going to be great. Whereas a sheltered location away from surf zones could be.

Respect areas like estuaries and inlets where tide and water flow can be strong. And don’t tackle mammoth routes to start with. Easy and slowly does it first off. The idea being that you develop skills and knowledge to be in a position to SUP all waters.

For more McConks knowledge articles check out the knowledge hub here.

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