SUP hazards litter every stretch of water going. Whether inland or coastal there are obstacles that can trip any stand up paddle boarder up. Spotting these before you go afloat is important. And in some cases may dictate whether you sit it out. Sometimes canning your SUP session for another day can be the best course of action. Below are some hazards to watch for. There are many others. Some may be location specific. If you’re unsure then do ask those who know the area.
SUP hazards at inland waterways.
Autumn and winter see more rainfall (generally) than during summer. And more rainfall sees river levels rise and flow increase. Sometimes a placid looking stretch of river can in fact be moving quite quickly. Stop and observe and look at the speed of water flowing downstream. If your chosen SUP location has water that’s moving quickly then consider what that means for you and where you’ll end up.
A rece along the river to check out what’s round the corner is always a good idea. Your put in may be clutter free but a few yards out of sight may reveal things like rapids, drops, weirs and overhanging tree branches. Submerged rocks should also be taken heed of as these can snag if not properly navigated.
If any tributary runs spill water into the main river then consider how this may affect your session. Additional water flow can increase the volume and send a calmly flowing stretch into a speed frenzy. The current can also be turbulent with water swirling about. If your experience doesn’t cover these types of scenarios then don’t paddle. Likewise, if you’re in the dark about a spot will pan out as you paddle along give it a miss. Going on a less hectic day or better yet, with an experienced, qualified guide is a much better option.
SUP hazards at coastal locations.
In some ways hazards at the coast are easier to spot than with rivers. Although there are still some things to watch out for that require a more trained eye. Waves are ever present at beaches. How big depends on the weather conditions on the day. Some swells are easily navigable on your SUP whilst at other times this isn’t the case. If you’re looking to play in surf you need to consider your ability. Too big will result in the least amount of fun. And you may get into difficulty. Beach breaks are generally considered the ideal put in for SUP surfing. Especially if you’re an improver.
Just as with rivers the ocean has flow and current which may not always be obvious. Tide moves vertically as well as horizontally to the coast. You can be pulled in out as well as side to side. Where there’s a squeeze, such as two land masses being closer together, the current can increase in speed. Adventure paddlers should look out for this.
Tide can also dramatically change a beach’s personality. Some beaches disappear completely at high tide. Others can reveal hidden dangers, like rocks, once it recedes. Having this knowledge in your head beforehand is key. Sometimes sticking to your tried and tested location is best. especially during the off season, leaving discovery missions for when there’re more people about in summer.
Rip currents are another factor of beaches with waves. Swell energy comes but has to head back out to sea. The energy finds its path of least resistance. Often a deeper channel along the seabed. This can make the water look much smoother than where waves are breaking. A rip will suck any paddler and their equipment out to sea. experienced paddlers can use rips. But without experience, they can be dangerous.
Suitable weather for SUP.
So far we haven’t talked about weather conditions. But the UK’s weather can affect your paddle sessions as much as water state. Wind, in particular, will catch stand up paddle boarders out. You may start off paddling with idyllic conditions but pretty soon things change. Perhaps you decide to head back in the direction of travel, only to find a stiff headwind hampering progress. In some cases, your progress may be completely halted. So best to have a get out strategy.
There are plenty of stories about newbie stand up paddlers heading for a session, only to have the offshore wind blow them out to sea. Being blow away from your put in can result in emergency help being required. Offshore winds, especially if coupled with tidal flows going in the same direction, will see rapid progress made out into the deep blue. Getting back is then extremely tricky.
Prohibitive weather isn’t just wind related though. Visibility can be reduced by heavy rain or mist/fog. The same heavy rain can result in a sudden increase in water flow – especially on rivers. Air temperatures can drop with a weather front moving in. You should always remember that being the UK our weather is extremely changeable. And this can happen quickly.
Efficient preparation prior to paddling.
The bottom line is preparation. whatever level of stand up paddler you are prior planning and preparation is required. You and your SUP gear should be up for the task first off. Any maintenance needs to be undertaken well in advance of your session. Get yourself up to date weather and tidal info (if you’re heading coastal). Know how to interpret this info for your chosen location.
Research your paddling spot or have scoped it prior. Know where your get outs will be and what potential hazards you may come across. Should the whole thing look dodgy then skip it. Don’t take on conditions that are out of your comfort zone. Be honest about your experience and don’t take unnecessary risks.
Wear appropriate clothing and have spares close to hand. adventure paddlers may stash spare clothing in a waterproof dry bag attached to their board. As much as possible prepare for kit breakages and malfunctions. Just like spare clothes you could carry a back up SUP paddle onboard.
Have a means of raising the alarm, should you need to. A mobile phone or VHF can be well worth carrying. Wear a quick release SUP safety leash belt. And know how to use it! Be as safety conscious as you can and your stand up paddle boarding should continue to be as fun as possible.
If you have any SUP safety tips related to this article then get in touch.
Have a look at the following articles for further info on being SUP safe.