It’s no secret the onset of winter brings colder air temperatures, chillier waters and harsher weather. With that in mind you’d think it a mad idea to learn a brand new watersport at this time of year wouldn’t you?
The right SUP clobber
Taking a dip in winter, and surviving to tell the tale, has a lot to with the gear you choose to wear. Wetsuit technology, for instance, has improved vastly over the last few years. It’s not unusual to find yourself TOO warm in some of the suits available. We’ve seen it for ourselves: paddlers trying to flush cold brine through their wetties to cool down – even on the chilliest of days. It’s still better to be warm though. Cooling yourself down is easier than warming yourself back up in winter – especially outdoors!
Rubber might not be the answer for everyone, however, and there are other choices. Drysuits (or surface immersion suits) are increasingly popular for all SUPers to stay toasty during the off season. Brands such as SUPSkin, Ocean Rodeo, Palm Equipment and Nookie all offer protection against the elements. And the beauty of a drysuit is not actually getting wet – well, unless you forget to close the zipper properly! Drysuits may be more expensive than their neoprene counterparts, but they offer a much dryer (and for some a more comfortable) experience than donning rubber.
Consider your stand up paddle board location
Even during warmer months we’d advise against slinging yourself full tilt into waves and trying to get to grips with SUP that way. But it’s not just the obvious dangers you have to consider. Hazards you can’t see can be an issue. Wherever you’re thinking of taking those first SUP forays it’d be wise learning as much as you can about the area. You don’t want to come a cropper when a little bit of prior research would’ve prevented this.
Speak to locals – especially other stand up paddlers – and authorities. They’ll all point you in the right direction. And let’s not forget the huge digital resource we call Google. You can learn a lot about a location by genning up online. This’ll at least give you some clue what to expect.
Avoid moving water – such as waves, fast flowing rivers and heavily tidal areas like harbour mouths – and aim for the calmest and most sheltered stretch you can find. Above all – DON’T PUT YOURSELF OR OTHERS IN DANGER! If your chosen put in looks dodgy, then it probably is. Also, consider why no one else is about if you rock up to a deserted launch spot.
Use the right SUP equipment
Narrow low volume boards won’t do you any favours. To start with, at any time of year, you’ll need a stable platform to get to grips with SUP. The more stable the board the less time you’ll spend falling in – an important point if learning during colder months. Cold water, particularly if you’re constantly immersed in it, will sap strength and energy quicker than you can blink. Exhaustion can set in quicker during winter than summer – another reason to be wearing a warm wetsuit or drysuit.
A flask of hot beverage (your choice) and energy foods should be kept close to hand. Taking time out from you on water antics is always a good idea. This gives you chance to reflect and more importantly refuel.
It might actually be worth starting your SUP career with an inflatable. At least if you take a tumble the soft deck won’t cause as much of a scrape as a hard board. That said, iSUPs aren’t the best fit for everyone.
For your paddle we’d suggest an adjustable – at least to start with. Adjustables have come a long way since SUP’s renaissance and while they might not be for everyone they do allow the user to identify the shaft length that feels most comfortable. In time other paddle factors can be looked at but this is inconsequential at the beginning of your stand up journey.
There’s been much chat about the need for wearing a leash – whatever stretch of water you find yourself on. This is still important – make sure you wear one. The type shouldn’t matter as you’ll be avoiding any kind of moving water and instead learning on placid, calm H2O.
Adding another form of floatation would be a good call. A buoyancy aid will not only provide extra float, it’ll also give the wearer more warmth.
Lastly, don’t forget booties, a warm neoprene hat (or balaclava) and possibly gloves. Neoprene palmless mitts can be a good option as they do an OK job of fighting off hot aches while allowing the user to maintain firm grip on their paddle.
Get a stand up paddle board lesson!
So far in this article we’ve talked about learning to SUP in winter as a solo paddler. While this is fine, within reason (we don’t advise you be truly on your own – take some mates or family members with you) the best course of action – especially if you want to be as safe as can be and have lots of fun – is get a lesson from a professionally qualified SUP school or instructor.
These guys teach stand up day in/day out and know all the best places to head for, whatever the weather, have all the equipment on hand, so you don’t have to, and provide an inspiring and educational experience that will see you nailing those SUP fundamentals quick smart.
After a few sessions there’s no reason you can’t head off on your tod and continue your SUP journey without constraint. For those first tentative steps, however, we can’t recommend SUP Schools enough – especially during the off season.
As we said at the start: there’s no real reason why you can’t learn to stand up paddle board during winter. You may find it more of challenge during colder spells, but the principles of learning are the same whatever the time of year. Plus falling into cold brine embeds the need to learn to stand up without tumbling quicker than if learning in warmer climes.
We can’t recommend enough how much better (and easier) it’ll be under the tutorage of a professional coach, but if you’re determined to go it alone make sure, above all, you stay safe and sound.
Finally, for those looking to take the plunge with SUP who simply can’t stand the thought of Baltic air temps and chilly water, the only answer is to hop on a plane. Jetting off somewhere tropical to learn the art of SUP will stand you in good stead (pun intended) for when reality bites and you find yourself back on home waters.