Thursday, January 23, 2014

SUP Downwinder Tips and Checklist

Downwind paddling is exciting, challenging, rewarding, and incredibly fun.   However, as the excitement factor increases, so do the risks.  Luckily, we have the ability to mitigate most of these risks if we prepare ourselves physically and mentally, obtain advanced training, adhere to safe boating practices, learn about the "four Ws" (Wind, Water, Waves, Weather), have a plan, and always paddle in conditions and venues that match our abilities and experience.  Here are some tips to help you have a fun, safe downwind trip:

1. Maintain good mental and physical fitness.  Downwinding takes a lot of energy, be prepared to work hard. Never paddle under the influence. Seek additional training and continue to refine your skills.

2. Be a weather "expert" and learn how the weather affects conditions in your area and how these conditions may change (sometimes rapidly) throughout the day.  Learn to use online resources for wind and weather forecasts.  Obtain information from various sources (NOAA Marine Forecasts, Buoy Data from multiple locations, etc.) as data points to help paint a picture of what the conditions will be like when you arrive.  Listen to marine weather forecasts and current conditions on your VHF radio.  Do you know what a "Small Craft Advisory" means?  Do you know how "winds 15 knots" vs. "winds gusting to 30 knots" affects your ability put-in, paddle, and take-out safely?

3. Gain some familiarity with the venue by going with someone who has experience there.  Consider how the tides can affect both the water conditions and the put-in/take-out locations.  Have a bail-out plan along with optional put-ins and take-outs.

4. Study nautical charts of the area.  Learn how to find respite from the wind.  Learn the navigational rules of road.

5. Keep your equipment in good working order.  Make sure you are dressed appropriately for the conditions and always prepare for immersion.  Prepare for wind chill.  Check your fin periodically, make sure it is secure.  If your leash is damaged, replace it.  Replace your leash cord (piece that connects your leash to your board) every so often.  Bring adequate food (gels work great for me), water, and sunscreen.  Carry a cell phone in a waterproof case and carry a VHF (marine radio).  Learn proper radio procedure and etiquette.  Consider carrying a tow rig and practice using it in rough conditions.

Wear a PFD on your body, not on your board!  A PFD provides buoyancy, thermal protection, impact protection, and most have pockets for storage (sunscreen, gels, radio, etc.). Many have reflective panels or piping. This is an essential piece of gear and is a Coast Guard requirement.  Learn how to fit it properly.  Have a whistle easily accessible.  This can serve as your Coast Guard required signaling device.

6. Listen to, and respect the advice of more experience paddlers or instructors.  Paddlers of other crafts (like kayaks, surf skis, and outrigger canoes) can make great guides, coaches and mentors.  Take advantage of their local knowledge and ability to read the water.  Reach out to fishermen and locals as a valuable source of information.

7. Go with a buddy and practice communication through hand/paddle signals and radio.  Talk about what to do if separated or in case of emergency.  Leave a float plan with someone and also leave a copy with your vehicle.

8.  Make your final "go or no go" decision based on your data points, the recommendation of your guide/instructor, your on-site observation of the conditions, and an honest assessment of your skills.  Experience creates confidence. Challenge yourself but trust your instincts. If it is too big, too rough, or if you don't feel right about it, don't go. Go have a beer instead and live to fight another day.

SUP Downwinder Checklist:

  •        Check weather, marine forecasts, and tide tables before you leave
  •        Create a float plan and a bail-out plan
  •        Soft Gear List:   thermal protection for your body (wetsuit), PFD,  sun protection (hat, sunscreen), footwear, water, food, container of warm water and a change of clothes left at the take-out
  •        Hard Gear List:  Board, paddle, leash, cell phone, VHF radio, cam straps (several in longer lengths for stacking multiple boards).  Make sure cars at the take-outs have straps.
  •        If your car is at the take-out, make sure you have your keys!
  •        Final “go or no go” decision for each participant.  This type of paddling requires a commitment to the journey.  Paddling upwind back to the put-in can be difficult or impossible.
  •        Safety talk - ABCD:  Area (distance, hazards, etc.) Boards (gear and clothing), Communication (hand and paddle signals, radios), Doctor (any medical conditions or concerns)