SUP safety considerations wherever you paddle.

SUP safety considerations wherever you paddle.

SUP safety is paramount, whatever stretch of water you use to indulge your passion for stand up paddle boarding.

From the first moment you step aboard a stand up paddle board there needs to be safety consideration in place. What looks like a completely safe and placid water activity can lull riders into a false sense of security. Every stretch of water carries its own set of risks. It mightn’t look unsafe, but looks can be deceiving.

SUP ability.

Over and above every other aspect, all stand up paddle boarders should be mindful of their own personal ability. Being honest and opting to sit out sessions is sometimes the best policy. If you’re not comfortable or confident then don’t put yourself in a situation you may regret.

And certainly don’t take or guide others in harm’s way. Often newbie SUPers will invite their mates along for the ride. Whilst in theory this isn’t a problem, with the wrong SUP conditions the whole affair can go awry quickly.

SUP safety considerations
Checking things out. Can you cope with the SUP conditions on offer?

Everyone needs to improve. And this does mean stepping it up in terms of what type of paddling you do. And where you do it. But incremental small steps rather than pushing the envelope off the bat!

SUP weather – know before you go!

Wherever you stand up paddle, the weather will influence your session. And in most cases, this influence will fluctuate as each session wears on. Ask any experienced watersports bod (not just SUPers) about weather and he/she will confirm the need for amateur meteorology. The following article from the Met Office gives a basic run through of how to read a weather forecast.

At a base level, simply knowing what inclement weather will be on your chosen day is important. From that, however, knowing how to interpret weather forecasts for your chosen venue is best practice. This may seem like homework is needed to ‘learn’ weather – which is true – but this will knowledge will keep you safe and allow even more enjoyment of SUP.

More on weather forecasting and interpreting the data can be found here.

Tides and SUP – know before you go!

If you’re paddling at coastal venues then you need to know tide times and understand the effects of tides. There’s a whole load of information readily available online about tides. And it’s not just as simple as water ebbing and flowing up and down the beach.

Tides explained in a simple fashion.

Tides can catch so many people out. How often have you seen footage of unfortunate souls who’ve parked their vehicles in the path of tides? At the start, a seemingly dry, safe spot quickly becomes a nightmare as the tide pushes in. The vehicle is engulfed by saltwater and the conversation with the insurance company will be tricky. From a SUP safety point of view, however, getting it wrong with tides can be lethal and result in emergency service help being needed.

Here’s an example of getting caught out by the tide.

Stand up paddle board clothing.

What you wear to SUP not only relates to comfort afloat it also can affect your safety. The most common issue is cooling down and having the onset of hypothermia bed in. Wearing too little clothing or the type that cools the wearer rapidly should he/she get wet is common.

In contrast overheating can also be a factor. So best practice dictates that for flat water paddling layering up is the route to take. Having a waterproof drybag onboard where you can stow dry clothes is then a good idea. Being able to remove or add layers as necessary should then allow you to regulate your temperature according to the weather and how damp you end up.

SUP surfing: waves are where you find them.
Wetsuits and wetsuit boots for SUP surfing. But is this the correct clothing for your kind of stand up paddling?

For anyone paddling in immersive scenarios – such as SUP surfing – wetsuits are a must. But you need the right thickness of wetsuit based on the time of year and conditions. It’s no good thinking a 3mm summer wetsuit will work in January. It won’t! And a good quality wetsuit will keep you warmer than something cheap.

Stand up paddle boarding equipment.

It should go without saying that your SUP kit needs to be in tip top conditions. If it’s not then it’s time to sort it out. And do so BEFORE your next paddling session. Dings and/or punctures should be fixed. Any dodgy leashes swapped out for new. Paddles checked and replaced if cracking or breaking. The list goes on…

SUP surfing a hard board vs an inflatable - the main differences.
Make sure your SUP equipment’s in good working order BEFORE you head out!

Checks of your SUP gear should be carried regularly as this will impact your SUP fun negatively if things start to fail. But more than this your safety afloat will be impacted as well.

Communication afloat.

If you’re carrying a drybag, securely lashed to your SUP, then you could store away a mobile phone. Or better still have this is a waterproof pouch about your person. Having the ability to raise the alarm if assistance is needed can be the difference between avoiding hazardous situations and ending up in a far worse predicament. Waterproof VHFs can be another good option. But you need to know how to use one. There are plenty of courses available for those paddlers looking at VHF use.

RNLI tips for raising the alarm with a VHF radio.

In some instances, you may also want to carry things like flares. But, again, you’ll need to know how to use them. Flares can run out of date and be hazardous in their own right if not treated with respect. But should you get into trouble they’re a good method of communicating distress. Especially in low light.

SUP leashes.

There’s much written and said about SUP leashes. Or rather, using the wrong types. For instance: a straight surf leash being used on rivers with flow can be deadly. If they snag and catch around a fixed object, pulling rider one side and board the other this is where the situation becomes serious. Flow pulls a paddler and board downstream. The leash that’s wrapped around the fixed object becomes taught. And there’s nothing the rider can do to stop from going under.

This video demonstrates exactly what we’re talking about.

Best practice these days is any paddler navigating flat water, rivers or inland stretches should be wearing a quick release safety belt. The leash attaches to the belt and in the event of disaster, riders can unclip themselves. It’s worth familiarising how they work BEFORE going afloat though. To make sure you can release the belt and get out of trouble.

All new Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co inflatables will be supplied quick release safety belts from January 2022.

Additional floatation.

There are plenty of options when it comes to additional SUP floatation choices. Why would you go for this? Consider the scenario described in the SUP leashes section where the rider becomes separated from their board. Whilst leashed your SUP is the biggest form of floatation you have. But if you lose it, what then?

SUP specific buoyancy aids are an option but not everyone favours them. Whilst some models can impede paddling movements, a BA can serve to lock in additional warmth and keep you toasty on cold days. Other options are waist worn, Co2 inflated lifebelts. These fold away into a bumbag style carry pouch and can be forgotten about until needed. As with all equipment familiarisation of use is key. And you’ll need to replace the Co2 canister after use.

This video shows how a Restube device works. Apply thinking to SUP, obviously.

More knowledge.

One of the biggest elements with SUP safety is having knowledge. Experience is one thing but actually having information in your head will serve the experience side of things well. This is particularly obvious when it comes to interpreting weather forecasts and tide data. The not so obvious are things like being able to read what’s going down on the water. A smooth, calm sea may have hidden dangers you’re not aware of.

For instance: tide flowing in the same direction as wind can cause that aforementioned silky smooth appearance. The result to you the paddler means you go in the same direction as both. And much fast than you’d imagine. If this is offshore wind with outgoing tide you’ll be heading towards the horizon quicker than you can blink. And trying to paddle back against the elements will see you fatigue just as fast.

SUP safety
Tides and currents flowing around headlands and rocks need to be accounted for when paddling your SUP.

It’s the same with inland waterways as well. Understand that rain sluicing down a mile or so upstream of a moving river will eventually wash in your direction. That means the river’s flow could suddenly increase in speed significantly.

Staying safe on your SUP is important to all of us. Here at Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co we want all riders to have as much fun as possible without coming unstuck. If you have any questions about this topic or others then please get in touch.

And don’t forget to keep an eye on Freshwater Bay’s blog for more articles like this.

SUP surfing: transitioning from flat water paddling to waves.

SUP surfing: transitioning from flat water paddling to waves.

Core skills for effectively crossing over to stand up paddle board surfing.

With autumn rolling through, and surf more likely in all corners of the UK, thoughts of riding your stand up paddle board in waves (SUP surfing) may have entered your mind. Transitioning from flat water paddling to waves, however, requires more than just throwing yourself headlong into the fray. Not least because that would be unsafe! Fundamental skills need to be in place beforehand as well as base knowledge. You’ll then need to consider your options. 

What follows are the main points to think about/work on BEFORE heading into the surf. It may be that a lesson or two, with guidance from a qualified and experienced professional will also be of benefit.

SUP experience.

It should go without saying that when contemplating your first stand up paddle surfing session, the amount of time you’re going to spend up on your board is far outweighed by time spent in the water. Constantly falling, before clambering back onto your platform gets exhausting. Fatigue sets in with all the physical demands of the process. And a cold sea, cooler air temperatures, thick (more restrictive) wetsuits and the constant battering of waves won’t help either. 

Moving from flat water to SUP surfing
Making that transition from flat water stand up paddling to SUP surfing.

The surf environment – even on the mellowest of days – has current, tidal movement and the surf itself aims to unseat you. Without being prepared, swimming will be mostly what you do. A short session ending abruptly. We all have to start somewhere but having some key building blocks in place will stand you in good stead.

Ideally, you’ll have some time under your belt stand up paddling in rougher coastal water. We’re not suggesting you head out into ‘orrible conditions but understanding how things like side chop, breeze and current affect you and your board are key. Then, being able to cope with this and navigate your SUP should be ticked off. Paddling in adverse conditions is as much a safety thing as it is SUP surfing skill!

A solid stand up paddle boarding stroke.

Your paddling and piloting of said stand up paddle board is extremely important. And not just for SUP surfing either. Paddling is your source of momentum and the way you move from A to B. It’s how you maneuver and avoid situations that may otherwise go awry.

Being able to fully bury the paddle’s blade and transfer all your energy into a forward stroke will see maximum efficiency in terms of propulsion and glide. Knowing when to hammer down and when to back off is also important. Changing cadence, and altering the subtleties of each stroke are skills born of time spent on the water. This transfers directly to SUP surfing as it allows riders to hone their take offs. Improved board trim, once on the wave, is a byproduct.

Transition to SUP surfing from flat water
Ready to jump in? The SUP surfing transition explained.

Having other types of SUP paddle stroke in your arsenal is another good idea. Whilst waiting for your wave you’ll need to be moving and positioning yourself according to where the waves are peaking. Waves don’t break in the same place – unless you’re surfing a reef break (which isn’t the best idea when starting out). Sweep strokes, reverse paddling, sculling, J-strokes, C-strokes and more are all worth researching and practicing. 

The SUP pivot turn.

One key skill in SUP surfing is being able to step back onto the tail of your stand up paddle board, sink it, perform a wide sweeping paddle stroke and spin your SUP 180 degrees. This is the most effective (and quickest) way of getting your stand up paddle board in position for taking off on your chosen wave. And it’s super easy to practice on flat water. In fact, the SUP pivot turn is an essential skill across all areas of stand up paddle boarding.

Catching waves on your inflatable stand up paddle board is perfectly applicable.

On a safety note being able to pivot turn means you can avoid sticky situations in the surf. If you need to ‘get out of Dodge’ quick smart then spinning 180 and zooming off in a different direction may help you avoid being wiped out by an incoming wave or other riders.

General SUP surfing knowledge.

‘Knowledge is power’ so the old saying goes. And it’s especially true when talking about surf environments. You mightn’t realise it but there’s a lot going on where breaking waves are concerned – even if you can’t immediately spot those tiny tell-tale signs.

From flat water to SUP surfing
Knowledge is power – especially in a SUP surfing wave environment!

Nothing equates to actual hands on experience. But this should always be backed up by theory. (We can hear the groans already!). The more knowledge you have about waves, how they break, types of surf, tides and how this affects the surf, wind and its effects on swell, how to interpret weather forecasts and apply them to your local break (or most frequented) and so on means the better your SUP surfing sessions will be. On top of this, you’ll be safer. Heading into a surf zone with a blissful state of ignorance can be a recipe for disaster. And it only takes a small amount of genning up to accumulate understanding.

We appreciate this may befuddle at first. But have it in mind and slowly all will be revealed. A classic example is riptides and how they play a part. Rips can be your worst enemy or best friend. Learning about them beforehand and then heading to the beach to see if you can spot rips is good practice.

Flat water paddling to SUP surfing transitions
Surf breaks – friend or foe? With time, practic and perseverance definitely your friend.

One big piece of understanding to wrap your grey matter round is surfing etiquette and how to behave in waves next to others. Best practice dictates you should be well away from surfers and water users whilst learning to SUP surf. But having a grasp of surfing etiquette is super important and will play its part as you move in closer proximity to wave shredding bethren. Surfing etiquette commands its own article so in the meantime hit this link to learn more about it.

Patience: waiting, watching, absorbing.

One of the biggest skills you can own as a SUP surfer is patience. You’ll certainly need this in the UK as weather forecasts, swells and all manner of other factors conspire against you to scupper plans of wave shredding.

We often get flat days through the year (even in winter!). This can be a good opportunity to head down the beach and check out your chosen venue without too much froth and flotsam in the way. It’ll give you chance to assess where potential hazards are you mightn’t have seen before. If you’re keen then head out for a dip and put the diving mask on. Observing the break’s bathymetry will tell how the waves form and spill. You’ll get a better idea of where to sit for optimum take offs and score the longest, most fulfilling rides.

You often see surfers sitting, watching and looking at the forming and pitching waves for long periods of time. On particularly solid days the experienced crew may sit and scope what’s going on for considerable minutes, before getting suited and booted. Learn from this and understand why. Fools rush in and all that…

SUP surfing equipment and suitable conditions.

Coming off the back of an idyllic summer flat water SUPing with your trusty 10’6 inflatable and heading to SUP surfing spots may be your situation. Alternatively, you could have stumped up for an 11’ plus pointy nosed touring board and now contemplating swell rides. In the back of your mind, thinking could be your current stand up paddle board isn’t the ideal for those first forays into SUP surfing – which may be true. If you have aspirations of ripping waves, rail to rail shredding and busting sick airs then the aforementioned equipment isn’t ideal.

For most, however, SUP surfing is about a longboard surf style – after all, stand up paddle boards are big and oversize so they suit this niche arguably much better than shortboards. Not to take anything away from those who pilot short surf SUPs well but in terms of mass appeal, it’s the longboard ethic that rules. And with the original point in mind: any type of stand up paddle board can be taken into waves. And by waves, we’re talking dribblers and up. Waves come in all sizes after all.

charlie SUP surfing a Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co longboard style SUP
The aim of the game – Charlie Cripwell SUP surfing in Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co’s backyard.

You don’t need to be aiming for overhead pounders to begin with. In fact, many paddlers enjoy stand up paddle surfing in much tamer conditions. Ankle slappers are perfectly fine (and encouraged) for your first forays into waves. That trusty 10’6 inflatable SUP will catch and glide along happily, giving you much needed muscle memory and experience. Same with touring boards. Some touring/race SUPs actually do a sterling job of surfing waves, albeit smaller ones. They glide for ages and can deliver super long rides. The point is: consider your location and the conditions on offer. If in doubt don’t go out. If others don’t reckon it’s a good idea give it a miss. But do paddle out on the right day with your already owned SUP gear. You can always upgrade to specialist kit later.

As an example, Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co’s Classic range of longboard SUPs is at home both on flat water and in waves. With a SUP like this versatility’s a given. If you’re pricing equipment up it’s worth keeping this in mind as you’ll be getting more bang for Buck. See what’s in the Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co shop via the link below –

Summing up.

This isn’t a conclusive guide to stand up paddle surfing – far from it. But hopefully, it’ll give anyone transitioning from flat water to waves a starting point. Have fun in the surf but above all stay safe!

If you have any questions about Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co’s gear or SUP in general then get in touch. We’re only too happy to help.

For more articles like this check out the following –