You’ve read all the McConks SUP User Guides (if you haven’t hit this link to discover what we’re talking about), had a few lessons and are progressing well on your SUP journey. Now you feel ready to unlock your freedom and paddle somewhere new. This guide is about your next steps and responsible and safe stand up paddle boarding.
Responsibility and safety are not alternative words for boring and, boring. It’s about the best way to enjoy the environment we live in, making sure you can go back again and maybe leaving things better than you found them.
Stand up paddle boarding transport.
As a McConks paddler you probably have an inflatable SUP and while the easiest thing to do to go somewhere is to pop that in the car and drive it can be more of an adventure to hop on a bus or get on the train, that’s the huge benefit of an iSUP. When combined with a travel paddle an iSUP is really easy to move around and public transport, where available is a great way to get to a paddle spot.
Sadly public transport timetables rarely make any consideration for tides and as we all know time and time wait for no one so car sharing is a great idea, or it was before 2020! Hopefully soon getting into a car with non-family members will become a ‘thing’ again.
An iSUP on your back is an option on a bike but it really isn’t easy, unless you live somewhere really flat with a good cycle network, like The Netherlands! Bike trailers work really well or borrow a cargo bike and then share the images with us!
Leave no trace when stand up paddle boarding.
Leaving no trace is pretty easy to understand, it should be self explanatory. Thankfully many paddlers seem to have taken that further and have a ‘Leave it better than we found it’ mentality, SUP litter picking is a really big thing all over the world.
But leaving no trace isn’t just about taking your rubbish home with you.
A SUP can take you to places that are not accessible to other craft and we do need to consider where we are paddling. For example at low tides it’s best to avoid paddling over sea grass meadows if your paddle or fin will uproot this incredibly important plant. Similarly shallow gravel beds in rivers are often spawning grounds for fish so avoid if you can.
Be aware that the places we use to launch and recover our boards are used by others, not just paddlers and especially in the spring try not to disturb the nesting birds at your favourite launch spot, it’s a good prompt to try somewhere else.
Paddling close to marine mammals when stand up paddle boarding.
A close encounter with a dolphin or seal is an incredible experience, if you ask any paddler who has paddled with dolphins about it and you may be listening for a while. But it is super-important that you do not paddle to them, let them come to you and make sure you do not harass them in anyway.
There are laws that are designed to protect marine mammals from harassment and interference but just from the practical point of view consider that a male bottlenose dolphin can be 4m long, can weigh more 200kg and is capable of taking care of a shark so you really do not want to annoy one!
Many organisations have published recommendations for people who see marine mammals, we’ve read lots of them here at McConks and here are the main points to be aware of:
- Keep your distance.100m is the recommended minimum distance to keep if you are by yourself, stay further away if you are in a group. This applies on water and with seals on land.
- If you see seals hauled out on rocks do not paddle close to them, enjoy them from a distance without disturbing them. If you force them to take to the water then you’ve messed up. Never block their path to water, if there is a seal where you want to launch go somewhere else.
- Don’t stay too long, 15 minutes seems to be a commonly used duration. The presence of humans hanging around can be unsettling for many wild animals particularly if they are looking after their young.
Invasive species and why you should clean your stand up paddle boarding gear.
Here at McConks we are all guilty of being in a rush and putting away kit that is less than clean but there is no excuse for putting a dirty board back in the water, especially if you are paddling in a different location. Cleaning your board, paddle and kit like dry bags takes minutes and can prevent the spread of any tiny hitchhiking nasties that are using you as a taxi service between bodies of water. Don’t forget your board bag, if you’ve put your rolled up McConks board in it wet then it too could be providing a home to a hitchhiker.
Even if your board looks clean rinsing it off will get rid of most things but washing it properly with something that isn’t going to pollute water systems is the best thing you can do to look after your kit and the places we like to paddle. A quick straw poll of paddlers we know reveals that most use environmentally friendly washing up liquid and a sponge with a scrubbing brush for deck pads but there are plenty of specialist products now available like SUP Scrub that may do a better job particularly for the long term care of your board.
More SUP hacks can be found here –
Preventing bank erosion.
River banks are incredibly important places, they are home to a vast array of wildlife, they protect the land near the river and they define the character of the waterways we like to enjoy. Protecting river banks is important.
Unless you are a SUPer athlete you are unlikely to produce a strong enough wake to cause any damage but getting in and out of the water in places where you will cause damage is something we should all avoid whenever we can. Keep to proper paths and launching points where they are available, cary your board don’t drag it down a river bank and don’t trample vegetation to get to the water, find a better way.
This is not a new horror film that Andy is about to commission but a round up of things that you should probably be aware of when you go for a paddle in the countryside or at the sea.
Everyone hates ticks but they love us. Nasty, nasty little things that like to hang out in long grass waiting for an unsuspecting victim to brush past it. They can carry Lyme Disease and Tick Borne Encephalitis and more. Prevention is better than cure so paddle in the sea! We’re joking but that does work.
You really do not want to leave a tick in you once it’s latched on so carry a tick remover in your first aid kit and know how to use it. You have a first aid kit, right? Make sure you get all of that nasty little so and so out of you, an infected tick bite is not nice. Did we mention they are nasty …
Leptospirosis (Weil’s Disease).
Chapter two of Andy’s new film concentrates on Leptospirosis. This is a blood infection that in its most acute form is known as Weil’s disease and you don’t want to catch this, thankfully it is very rare in the UK with less than 50 cases a year reported.
It can be caught from contact with water or moist soil that contains urine from infected animals and transmission is through skin cuts or abrasions or from the mucous membrane (thanks Wikipedia!). Symptoms are wide ranging from none to chills and severe headaches. The NHS website has good inflation on this and can be found here
Good personal hygiene and some common sense help protect from this. Wash your hands, thoroughly clean any cuts or grazes you have and wash yourself (and your kit) after paddling.
It can take a few weeks for symptoms to show so if you are unwell seek medical attention.
Stand up paddle boarding with Cyanobacteria (blue green algae).
Hopefully you’ve not been put off paddling and are still reading, now something that is dangerous to paddlers and can be fatal to dogs and horses but thankfully it’s easy to see and therefore to avoid.
Cyanobacteria are a naturally occurring algae that are found in waters all around the world, they are most visible in warmer weather when algal blooms can be spotted on the surface of fresh and brackish water. An algal bloom looks like a coloured film on the water, it can be really thin almost like oil would be and isn’t always blue or green, it can be brown.
Avoid it when you see it, definitely keep your dog (and horse) away from it and make sure you do not ingest it. If you are paddling with a horse please let us know, we would love to see pictures!
To prevent issues with Cyanobacteria wash your hands after paddling, thoroughly clean any cuts or abrasions you have and as always wash your kit after use.
If you are unwell after paddling seek medical help.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water Andy’s next horror is the innocently named Swimmers Itch. This one is caused by a tiny flatworm but the good news is that this one won’t cause any long term harm, just makes you itch.
In a nutshell a tiny beastie is looking for a new host, usually a duck or other aquatic bird swimming on the surface. When it comes into contact with our skin it does what any parasite would do and latches on but then it dies almost immediately. The itch is the reaction our skin has to the tiny bite.
There is no way to prevent this but outdoor swimming associations recommend using a wetsuit, staying away from the shallows when you can because that’s where you are most likely to find the flatworm larvae and towel yourself off vigorously after paddling. There is some anecdotal evidence that the use of waterproof sunscreen prevents bites and vaseline will do the same job.
For the itching moisturiser can help as can over the counter medication but if the itching persists seek medical help.
Viruses and bacteria when stand up paddle boarding.
The final chapter in the fresh water SUP Survival Guide is in some ways the worst, and if you’ve stayed with us this far you may wonder how can that be?
There are any number of micro organisms that thrive in water, it’s the source of life on earth after all. Many of those things can cause paddlers a lot of harm and if you Google Waterborn viruses and bacteria in the UK the list might surprise you. It includes Cryptosporidiosis, Hepatitis, Giardiasis, Botulism, Viral Gastroenteritis and E-Coli.
To limit the chances of you going down with any of those requires some common sense, washing your hands, keeping cuts and abrasions covered and clean, use shoes to protect your feet and try not to drink the water. You can also avoid rivers after heavy rain, that will wash more ‘stuff’ into the river from surrounding fields and increases the likelihood that some of that ‘stuff’ will find its way onto you.
As always, if you are unwell after paddling seek medical help.
Stand up paddle boarding and Weever fish.
It isn’t always safer at the beach, next up is a little fish that can really ruin your day, the lesser weever fish.
The weever fish family have no swim bladder and aren’t great swimmers so the lesser weever fish often buries itself in sand with its eyes and dorsal fin exposed waiting for a meal to pass within range of its oversized mouth. It is that dorsal fin that causes problems for beachgoers as it has a very sharp spine in it that is used to inject venom into any predator wants to make a meal of the weever. Sadly that spine will easily penetrate skin, even the tough skin on our feet. Although you are most likely to find weevers on sandy beaches in the SW of England and Wales you can find them all around the UK.
By all accounts a weever fish sting can be incredibly painful but it is relatively easy to treat, put the sting into the hottest water you or the victim can stand and wait, after 15 minutes or so the pain should ease. There is no real evidence that … relieving yourself on the sting will help but there is no evidence that it won’t so if you haven’t got hot water handy then … we will leave that up to you! If stung then make sure the spines are not left in the wound, that will prolong the pain considerably. A healthy adult is unlikely to have any significant problems after a sting but the elderly or young children can suffer more and they should seek medical help.
Prevention is better than a socially awkward moment so shoes on sandy beaches help or you can do the weever shuffle, slide your feet and jiggle the sand as you go before putting weight on your foot, that should encourage any weever to swim away before you stand on it.
If you have had a go at surfing on your McConks SUP you will know that it isn’t as easy as the dude in the video on the McConks home page makes it look. The internet is a great source of surfing info and of numerous guides to the rules that have evolved in surf culture. Adding to that here are some McConks words of wisdom.
If you are a beginner in the surf then a lesson is a great investment. One session with an experienced coach could save you hours of frustration as you enthusiastically paddle for wave after wave and wonder why the magic hasn’t happened. Top tip, patience and timing are key.
Before you run down the beach Baywatch style stop and look at the sea. You are looking for flags, rips, peaks, hazards and other surfers.
As a beginner stick to beaches with lifeguards, look at the flags they have put out and listen to their advice, they know what they are doing and are there for reason. You do not want that reason to be rescuing you!
Use your leash, always. Not only does it keep you with your board it also helps stop your board making new friends and believe me there are few things more worrying than seeing a huge board heading towards you with no paddler / surfer on it! Even inflatables are solid enough to really hurt someone. Make sure your leash is in good condition, that the velcro is clean and holds firm when done up, that the swivels are working and there are no nicks in the leash. If it is damaged replace it.
Learn to fall.
You will be doing this a lot so try not to go in head first as the water may be shallower than you think. When you fall in deeper water guard your head, fins are hard and they hurt if they catch you. Your leash will bring that board back to you quite quickly if you are under to when you are under keep an arm bent over your head / face until you get to the surface and locate your board.
Read up about rip currents, both a blessing and a hazard they are often used by the experienced to get out back, all too often they take the inexperienced or unsuspecting out further than they want to go. Similarly, if you’re new to this you want to avoid any water where the waves get big fast, leave those to others.
Check for hazards.
rocks are obvious, shallow water and reefs should be obvious if there are waves. If there are any buoys inshore remember that they will be tied to something solid and you don’t want to get tangled up in that and although shooting the pair looks super cool the surfers that do that have been practicing for years.
Check where other surfers are, you might want to avoid a crowd if you’re a learner. Everyone who takes a board into the sea is doing it for fun but there are a small number of people who don’t want to share that fun, if you meet one of those paddle away. The benefit of a SUP is it’s easy to move away and find somewhere away from the crowd.
Once you’ve got the hang of catching a wave you’ll quickly realise that surf culture has a whole set of terms and rules you will need to know. Dropping in, snaking, right of way and more are there to make sense of the line-up.
If you are dreaming of a quiet, lazy paddle down a river with nothing but the sounds of nature accompanying you then a SUP is the perfect tool for the job. But, as always there are some things that you should know to make your paddle a bit safer for you, and others.
Be aware of other river users. Boats don’t have brakes, rowing boats are going backwards and boats with sails, well they are dependent on mother nature for propulsion and that can make their course hard to guess sometimes. Almost always they will be bigger than you, even if you are on a McConks Mega SUP so the best thing is to stay out of their way.
In the UK the general rule is to stay to the right or other vessels. The problem with general rules is that they are more like a recommendation. Some boats will need to stay in deeper water so may be unable to stay right, long boats will sometimes need to take a wider line than other craft to navigate a bend and some boats will be under the command of someone who’s never been in charge of a boat before and may be less aware of the general rule than you are.
Luckily as a Stand Up Paddler you are more visible than a sit down paddler, you can also see more when standing up so you will often get advance warning of boats coming around a corner that you need to be aware of.
On busier days you will encounter people who think that the river is theirs and theirs alone to play on. There is nothing you can do about people like that, ignore them, they will get bored and go away. Or you could suggest that Andy makes a McConks Harpoon, I am told there are no plans for one at the moment and there are legal and technical issues with mounting them to an inflatable SUP.
People who fish.
Anglers are a different sort of fish altogether. Most are fine, they want nothing more than to be at peace at the side of the river engaged in their hobby. If you see an angler ahead watch what they are doing and, if possible pass them as far from their spot as you can. Wave, smile and paddle past quietly trying not to disturb the fish. As with all hobbies there are some who take things so seriously that they will get angry at the mere thought of another person using ‘their’ bit of river. It’s best to leave them be, don’t let them ruin your day.
If you’ve taken a picnic with you and find that perfect spot to pull over then be aware that river banks are special places, as are the fields and woodland that rivers flow through. Do not damage the bank when you get out and then back in, take your litter home, do not cause damage to any fences and leave no trace that you were ever there.
Lastly, paddle with friends, paddle alone, just paddle. As safely as you can.
Check out more from the McConks SUP User Guide here –