Additional pics: Jo Andrews, Richard Smith.
With lockdown restrictions about to be lifted (all being well – as of May 5, 2020) there’s a good chance newbie stand up paddlers will be in a position to get on the water. Total beginners may also have the opportunity, but as we’re all aware, social distancing will still be a thing for a while yet. And that could make getting a SUP lesson tricky.
So could you go it alone and take those first tentative steps with SUP all on your lonesome? Simple answer: yes! It’s a “yes, but” however, There are some points to consider first, particularly safety elements. So if you’re looking to get involved with stand up paddling for the first time, here are the things to consider.
Online SUP resources
Plenty of SUP resources exist online. Simply do a Google search for what you’re after – in this case beginner SUP tips – and you’ll be presented with a raft of results. The trick from your point of view is softy through the ‘noise’. Stick with reputable sources. If it’s a brand, such a McConks, you’re getting info from then you’ll also need to research the company in question – just to make sure. If it’s a media outlet then check who’s actually giving the advice and whether they’ve got pedigree. Yes, this is time-consuming but it’ll stand you in good stead.
Research accredited SUP schools/coaches online
Chances are you’ll come across a bunch of SUP teaching establishments and/or coaches whilst researching online. Most likely there’ll be videos you can watch that’ll give some advice on starting to SUP. You may have to navigate to other platforms, linked to the coach/school in question (such as YouTube), but it’s worth it if you can glean knowledge. As with above make sure the coach/school has the relevant qualifications and endorsements. Check out the map below with some of our recommendations where to get help and instruction.
Choose your stand up paddle board equipment wisely
Length of your SUP isn’t as critical as its volume and width. You’ll need a board that’s got adequate float, so go high volume if unsure. As far as width is concerned this’ll help with stability. Something around 31″ will be fine for average-sized paddlers (smaller SUPers can go a tad less). If you feel like increasing the dimensions of your board then do so. There’s nothing wrong with making life as easy as you can.
When you begin an adjustable paddle will be best course of action. This way you’ll be able to learn what length of paddle shaft is optimum for you. Don’t go too short but equally don’t go too long either. When you put a stroke in your knuckles, on top of the handle, should be more or less level with the bridge of your nose. Top tip: remember to paddle with your blade the correct way round. The blade’s rake (or bend) should face forwards.
Don’t go afloat without a leash! Your leash will keep you in contact with the main form of buoyancy you have: the board! We’ll talk about water states in a moment but either a coiled or straight leash will be fine for placid, flat water.
Temperatures are certainly on the increase here in the UK. But don’t forget we can still have chillier days – even in summer. Layering is therefore the best option. A wetsuit works while you’re still in the falling off stage but during warmer periods this may be too hot. There’s plenty of paddling gear available from brands and retailers alike, including McConks. Thinner bottoms and tops, with perhaps a fleece on top and maybe even booties will be the go. If you find you’re getting too sweaty then layering allows removal of garments. Likewise if you start to feel cold then get off the water and warm yourself up! Have a flask of tea or other warm drink ready. Pay attention to how you’re feeling, in terms of body temperature, when afloat.
If you’re paddling solo then having an additional form of flotation is a good call. Whilst your SUP is primary sometimes leashes can break and paddlers become separated from their board. A buoyancy aid will work well as would an inflatable float belt that fills with air upon deployment, via ripchord and Co2 canister. This is worth having a dig about online for additional info as well.
A means of communication is essential. Carrying an older or less valuable mobile phone, carefully secured in waterproofing, is worth it. Waterproof VHFs are also available although you’ll need to know how to operate correctly. A whistle and other means of attracting attention ‘on the ground’ should be thought about. Some experienced paddlers also suggest things like flares can be kept onboard your SUP in case of emergency.
Paddling grounds – beginner specific
Where you choose to paddle is extremely important. As much as possible it’d be wise to keep things local and also you’re not looking to cover distance (yet) so keep fairly close to your launch point. The stretch of water you plan on going afloat at should be devoid of all but minimal movement. If it’s coastal then aim for a sheltered venue with little tidal flow. Open seafront locations can also work if the weather’s playing ball. Inland water users need to steer clear of rapid water flow and obstructions/hazards such as weirs, dams and locks.
Weather and tide info
Understanding and knowing weather forecasts and tidal information, for each of your sessions, is something to get your head around. If you’re inexperienced with tides, for instance, then at least know what times high and low water is. And how this affects your location, which is info that can (again) be found online. Also, there are many groups available, such as with Facebook, where seasoned SUPers will only be too happy to impart knowledge about paddling locations. Before you head afloat get an up to date weather report and ideally have some prior understanding of how conditions may affect your chosen location. As with tides, and interpreting this info, weather and local affects info can be sought from experienced paddlers who know your area.
Before you head out (and this applies to any level of paddler) tell someone of your plans: what time you should arrive, how long you’ll be out and what your return ETA is. Stick to the itinerary as well as you don’t want false alarms raised!
Know your limits
We salute anyone who makes moves to get involved with SUP, especially going it alone. It’s definitely a slightly harder route. As much as enthusiasm shouldn’t be curbed, however, you should also be aware of your limits. If it’s blowing dogs off chains, big swells are running, the river’s banks are fit to burst or anything else looks untoward then perhaps can it and wait for another day. You want the best experience possible and in the absence of a qualified instructor to hand calmly calmly, softly softly should definitely be the aim.
Some resources to help you out when learning to SUP without an instructor –
McConks SUP advice for beginners – https://mcconks.com/are-you-a-sup-noob/
Paddles and paddling – https://mcconks.com/paddles-and-paddling-still-the-most-important-aspects-of-sup/
Windguru (wind and swell forecasts) – https://www.windguru.cz/
Magic Seaweed (swell, surf, wind and tide info) – https://magicseaweed.com/Bracklesham-Bay-Surf-Report/3764/
Met Office weather forecasts – https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/
Big Salty weather info – https://bigsalty.com/en/
RNLI SUP safety and tips – https://rnli.org/safety/choose-your-activity/stand-up-paddle-boarding
McConks paddling rashvests – https://mcconks.com/product-category/technical-sup-clothing-sunglasses-rashvests-recylced/mcconks-rash-vests/
McConks paddle selector – https://mcconks.com/how-to-choose-a-sup-paddle/