It’s sunny, with blue skies in abundance. You have a window of opportunity and you’re keen to stand up paddle. Load up the car and off you go. Get to the put in but wait! Oh no! As idyllic as everything looked at home your chosen stretch of water is ruffled with wavelets. It’s a light breeze currently but as you stand and stare the wind’s picking up. Pretty soon there are white caps and your enthusiasm is waning. Having paddled in wind before you know how arduous it can be.
Is the above a familiar scenario to you? Has this happened before? Maybe it occurs frequently – particularly during summer, and especially if you’re a coastal paddler. Having scoured forecast data until you’re blue in the face, with no discernible indicators of wind, it can be disheartening to arrive with a blow in the mix.
So how do you go about scoring the flattest water for stand up paddle boarding during high season?
The first thing to realise is that most coastal venues, but particularly those on the southern fringes of Britain, are prone to the sea breeze effect during summer (although a sea breeze can set up at any coastal put in). In a nutshell, a sea breeze is the gradual warming of the land which sees that warm air begin to rise through the morning. Around the middle part of the day, the rising of this warmer air will become more rapid resulting in a void being left below. This gap needs to be filled. Through early parts of summer, in particular, the sea’s cooler than the air and it’s this chillier part that rushes in off the water to plug the gap, thereby resulting in a typical sea breeze. A recirculation mechanism sets up and there it stays until things cool off again. There’s loads more online about how sea breezes work which is worth looking up.
With the above in mind if you want flat water during high season then early doors SUP sessions are more likely to deliver glassy flat, calm conditions – the earlier the better if you can. Evening times can see late in the day glass offs but if the sea breeze is particularly strong, or has a gradient wind top up, it may last until after dark.
Shelter is also a good bet. Some venues allow paddling next to things like sand bars, or breakwaters/sea defences, which block the chop whipped up by wind. It may still be breezy when you go afloat but any form of chop/swell blocking phenomena will make for an easier time of it SUPing.
For anyone hitting coastal venues during a sea breeze then it can be better to look for somewhere that has a harbour, inlet, or estuary. This plays into the shelter point above. It’s possible to find flat water in harbours, for instance, whilst out in open seas the gusts are puffing. Just make sure you’re aware of tide times and understand how tides work in these locations as flow is usually prominent.
For inland stand up paddlers sea breeze effects aren’t as much a problem – it’s more general frontal wind born of weather systems sweeping across the UK. As we all know ‘weather’ can occur at any time in the UK, summer included. It’s still possible to score flat water though, as long as you’re paying attention to the conditions.
River SUPers may find glassier conditions on the side of the bank the wind’s blowing from. It may be a small jaunt across to the opposite side, if you launch into the face of an oncoming blow. But get across to the opposite bank and it’ll be much flatter. It’s the same with a lake. Although for larger lake water we’d suggest actually launching in the lee of the breeze is better than trying to fight gusts to actually get there.
Thinner waterways, such as canals, will (mostly) provide flatter water for paddling when it’s gusting. Inland SUPers would be well served to find such a put in.
In almost all cases of being confronted with wind there’s a way to paddle flatter water. It may require some prior planning and even a switch of location to that of your normal launch spot. Knowing local areas helps, some reccis to these destinations isn’t a bad idea to get a lie of the land. Understanding wind, sea breezes and how frontal weather systems affect conditions is always worth genning up on as well. The more knowledge you have the better your experience of SUP will be.
Alternatively get on the whole wind or wing SUP train with the McConks Go Fly 5m wing surfing/foiling wing and/or Go Free 9’8 crossover board. Both products offer another option to the paddle when there’re a few puffs in the mix.
If you enjoyed this article be sure to check out what other nuggets of info are in the McConks SUP Knowledge Hub.