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SUP weather: how to interpret forecasts.

SUP weather and forecast data in general is abundant. Plenty of info can be found online. Daily weather forecasts, long range predictions, more in depth models and so on. It’s therefore no excuse to not have this info when you SUP. As much as maximising your enjoyment afloat it’s a SUP safety point. But how do you interpret weather forecast data for your chosen location?

SUP weather and wind.

Wind is seen as perhaps one of the most prohibitive aspects of stand up paddle boarding. It’s talked about often in SUP circles. WInd can be your friend or your foe. More often than not it’s the latter. Even gusts hovering around the low teens (if we’re measuring in knots) will cause problems. Particularly if paddlers have to battle against it. This is referred to as a headwind. The breeze blowing directly into the face of riders can make tough going. In the most serious of situations, a headwind can prevent paddlers getting back to their launch spot.

SUP weather and how to interpret forecasts. Getting the most out of your stand up paddle boarding and staying SUP safe at the same time.
One way of making use of the wind when SUPing.

One of the most important things to get your head round with wind is wind direction. Forecasts talk about wind being a certain direction. And by this it’s meant which quadrant of a compass dial the breeze if blowing FROM. Rather than which way it’s going. So if the forecast says NW (north westerly) breeze the blow’s coming from that direction and blowing to the SE (south east). Your job as a stand up paddler boarder is to interpret this for your chosen paddling venue.

As an example: if you’re standing on a beach that faces southerly a NW breeze will be blowing offshore (or more accurately cross offshore as it’ll have some angle to it) from the right looking out to sea. From a SUP point of view the wind will always be blowing you slightly away from the beach. If you couple this with an outgoing tide (which you should also understand) two forces will drag you away from your put in over time.

SUP at Lopwell Dam. But knowing what the weather’s doing upstream is key!

Wind terminology.

Sticking with wind for a moment we mentioned about a few phrases that relate to the direction of gust in relation to the beach you’re standing on. Here’s further clarification of those terms.

  • Onshore wind – wind blowing directly onto the beach.
  • Offshore wind – wind blowing directly off the beach and out to sea.
  • Cross shore – wind blowing from either the left or right across the beach parallel to the land.

You can further narrow these down with granulated phrases as follows.

  • Cross onshore – wind blowing onto the beach but with an angle. So not directly.
  • Cross offshore – wind blowing off the beach, and out to sea, but with an angle.

The Beaufort Scale.

For stand up paddlers, who are not wind savvy like windsurfers or kitesurfers, it’s sometimes hard to visualise what breeze strengths actually look like. In an effort to combat this a clever chap called Franci Beaufort invented the scale in 1805. His scale has been updated a few times with the modern version being implemented around the 1940s. Learning what each force (strength of wind) represents visually is best practice for all watersports people.

If you haven’t come across the Beaufort Scale before then this gives some insight.

And the following image will also help identify wind strengths and how to describe each band related to what you can see.

The Beaufort Scale – a visual representation of wind strengths.

Heavy rain.

It isn’t just wind that has bearing on SUP weather though. All other elements play their part too. Rain can be a SUP safety factor. Of course, you can paddle when it’s raining but there are a few things to consider.

If you’re out for a flat water jaunt and it begins to bucket down then you’ll get wet. Obviously. Depending on how you’re dressed, however, will determine how this plays out over time. Even if air temperatures are warm evaporative cooling can still occur. This article talks about evaporative cooling with relation to wetsuits and is worth checking out. Although take note you don’t need to be wearing a wetsuit for it to happen. Best advice is make sure you know if it’s going to rain, wear appropriate SUP clothing and carry some spare dry gear in a waterproof dry bag.

A more potentially more hazardous situation with rain is if paddling on rivers with flow. With rainfall predicted a few miles upstream you could be happily paddling on an easy stretch of water. Yet falling the downpour the flow increases significantly as excess water sluices downstream. This can catch the unwary out so be aware if SUPing on rivers.

SUP weather forecasts and interpreting them
Looks safe to SUP. But is it?

Cloud cover and visibility.

The thicker the clouder the lower the light. And with lower light comes less visibility. Cloud cover can also be much lower than you’d expect and hug headlands, steep cliffs and hills. If SUPing close to topography such as this, and the cloud rolls in, you may find your visibility suddenly impeded. It should be noted that cloud can also reduce what you see in flatter areas also.

Hanging cloud may also result in an air temperature drop. And, as with getting wet, you may start to feel the effects of being cold. Bottom line is to know what the day’s weather holds in store, interpret accordingly and wear the appropriate gear.

This sheds more light on clouds and how to ‘read’ them

Sunshine and heat.

It doesn’t have to be inclement weather that can pose a risk to stand up paddlers. Fairweather can cause issues as well. With heat comes the potential risk of sunburn, heatstroke and heat exhaustion. Also, if it’s particularly hot and you happen to fall into cold water then cold water shock is a risk. If you’re unfamiliar with cold water shock then hit this link to find out more.

Visibility can also be affected on a particularly bright day. All that UV can cause glare on the water making spotting potential hazards tricky. The sun’s warmth can also set up a sea breeze. A calm, glassy day at the coast may suddenly turn into a blowy affair that you hadn’t prepared for. The following article describes a typical sea breeze scenario.

SUP weather isn’t just about the obvious parts. There’s more to it than that. The word ‘interpret’ is one to mention again. All the forecast data you sponge up means little if you can’t apply that to where your chosen paddle location will be. And it doesn’t matter if inland or coastal. It’s all relevant. The more you know and understand the better your SUP time will be.

SUP weather websites.

The following websites off good sources of weather forecast data with watersports in mind.

Windguru – Windguru can be pretty accurate for predicted wind and, in some cases, swell.

Magic Seaweed – Magic Seaweed is the go to place for surf reports which are fairly accurate. You also get general wind and weather info. WIth tide times thrown in for good measure.

Big Salty – Big Salty has a lot of weather data pulled in from all manner of forecast model sites. It’s therefore pretty accurate with some decent info.

Met Office – The Met Office has loads of weather resource tools and offers location specific forecasts. Met Office predictions tend to err on the side of pessimism but it’s a good reference point.

XC Weather – XC Weather pulls data from local airports and aviation prediction models so if quite accurate.

There are plenty more weather related websites online if you search. And there’s nothing wrong with cross referencing info between them all. That way you’ll get the best picture of what’s most likely to happen.

For more SUP weather reading hit up the following –

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