Paddle Boarding Safety Tips
As a recreational activity, paddle boarding offers some tremendous health and fitness benefits ranging from a full body workout engaging many of the core muscles albeit in a low impact way through to improved balance, improvements in endurance and stamina, injury rehabilitation, weight loss and improving our cardiovascular health. Its an exciting way to unwind and decompress whilst at the same time engaging with nature. As one of the fastest growing water sports globally, if you have access to water then it’s definitely worth giving it a go.
If you are new to the sport however, it’s particularly important that you keep both your safety and the safety of others around you very much front of mind. The water won’t always offer you a second chance so by all means get out there and have some fun, but play nice and keep it safe.
Let’s take a look at some of the key safety ‘need to knows‘:
Can You Swim – I know, a bit of a no brainer but you’d be surprised. You don’t need to be winning medals, but it’s a water sport and you will end up in the drink. Being comfortable in and under the water and having some basic swimming skills is crucial. If this is a challenge, then best to play spectator.
Technique – like most activities but more so with recreational water sports, learning the basic fundamentals is quite important. If you’re a coordinated person with reasonable balance and are confident in the water then you should be able to jump on YouTube and pick up some quick tips for beginners. Play it safe in calmer waters and then slowly develop your skills. Taking a lesson or two from an experienced instructor is also a great idea as it will help you get it right from the outset so you do not pick up bad habits or do yourself an injury.
Leash – this is pretty much the first thing you do prior to entering the water. It’s a must for paddlers of all levels. The leash will ensure that you and your board do not become separated. You will find yourself in different water and weather conditions (choppy waters, waves, currents, strong winds) so falling in the water comes part and parcel with paddle boarding. If you do take a spill it is very easy for your board to get away from you in these conditions so for both peace of mind and your own safety, leashes are a must.
Leashes can be worm on either your ankle (preferable) or below the knee. Coiled leashes are best for calmer conditions or flat water recreational paddling as this will keep the majority of the leash out of the water thus minimising any drag as well as making the board easier to control and manoeuvre. A straight leash is better suited for surfing and river / rougher water paddling as it will be less likely to become hooked on underwater objects or debris and will remain free from the board without effecting your positioning.
Your Board / Paddle – depending on your size (weight in the main) as well as the nature of paddle boarding that you will be doing, it’s important that you’re on the right board. When it comes to the basics, your board will impact stability, buoyancy, and tracking all of which are particularly important in terms of remaining a float. Performance (speed and manoeuvrability) are other board considerations but to a lesser extent from a safety perspective. See Paddle Board Size Guide for more information on getting yourself on the right board. Ensuring that you have the right sized paddle is also important as this is fundamental to your technique as well as being key to maintaining your stability and balance. See Paddle Board Paddles to learn more.
Buoyancy Vest / Personal Flotation Device (PFD) – whilst leashes are still very much at the top of the list, a PFD is perhaps the most critical boarding item particularly for children or inexperienced riders. Falls will be inevitable and as there is no price that you can put on your well-being, taking your safety seriously should always be a priority. In some countries, wearing a PDF is compulsory for juveniles in particular as SUPs can also be referred to as ‘vessels’. Understanding the local regulations in the country / region where you are paddling is an important safety requirement so if you’re unsure, then find out more.
Attire / Sun Protection – whilst it’s not unusual to see pics of insta-models SUPing all over social media, you won’t always be floating around in paradise – nice one if you can mind you. Even so, using water resistant sunscreen, wearing a hat and sunglasses are also important as you will get burnt in both sunny as well as overcast conditions. If you’re out on the water in cooler or windy conditions, then dress appropriately. Wetsuits are an option particularly in cooler conditions unless your quite confident that you won’t be taking a spill. You can otherwise wear multiple layers, gym gear or a spray jacket depending on the weather so make sure that what your wearing suits the weather – use your commonsense in essence.
Know Your Capabilities – do not be too adventurous straight out of the gate. Stay within your limits particularly whilst you are a beginner and still trying to get a feel for your board and technique. SUPing can be physically intensive and you will need to build up stamina over time so play it safe and don’t put yourself in a challenging situation.
Weather & Water Conditions – it’s really important that you pay attention to both the water and weather conditions. Check the forecast before you head out as weather conditions can change very quickly. In particular, pay attention to water currents and offshore winds as these can present a genuine danger if you’re not an experienced or strong paddler.
If your not in open waters then paddle against the current or winds on your outward journey so you will have enough energy when you return to shore as the currents and winds will be in your favour. If you are not familiar with the waterway, get a feel for other watercraft traffic and underwater rocks and debris as this too can present a danger in the event you collide or come off your board.
Communication / Paddle Partner – most activities are more fun with a friend or in groups so wherever possible play it safe and take to the water with a friend. You’ll be able to watch out for each other and act as a second pair of eyes. You should also let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
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Other safety tips include remaining hydrated when you’re out on the water. Paddling takes effort particularly over longer distances so it’s quite easy to become dehydrated. Your board will typically have a bungee system so you can stow your waterproof bag and store your phone in case of an emergency as well as any other personal effects.
SUPing is great fun for a whole bunch of reasons but play it safe and take care of yourself while your out there. Mother Nature isn’t always our best friend so stay in her good graces and all should be well.
As always we would love to hear from you so please feel free to leave your comments below and we will get back to you.
Until then, stay safe and get wet.