Tony Bain SUP knowledge – preparation is key

Words and pics: Tony Bain

Too many times recently we’ve heard about people coming unstuck while paddling. As new recruits’ skills grow they take on more adventurous routes and scenarios. Blown out to sea; caught by a leash in a river current; fins being snapped off in the shallows; separated from boards in high winds because of not wearing a leash; the list goes on. I don’t want to stop people progressing, as that would be a case of pot, kettle, black – I love adventure! But let’s think about where, when and what before diving right in.

Tony Bain

Whenever you go paddling you have choices. The choices you make determine how much you’re going to enjoy your session and ultimately if you are going to make it back in one piece. First choice to make is the location; WHERE you intend to paddle. Second is WHEN and for how long, and finally you need to decide WHAT equipment is needed.

Your location will help you decide what type of board and paddle will be used. Short or long board, for flat or moving water or a surf shaped board for a wave session. And of course your leash type: straight for surf or coiled for leisure and/or moving water, i.e. a river.

Your leash type and the point where you attach it to your person (super important!) may seem an insignificant decision. But it’s probably one of the key things to consider. To have the leash attached where you cannot reach, at the moment you really need to remove yourself from your board, could prove fatal. But so can the decision to push off without a leash.

Both paddling with and without a leash can have risks. Being blown from your board or falling off in a river and having the board swept away can have dire consequences.
For surfing a straight leash attached at the ankle allows the board to travel away when you fall off in waves. This reduces the risk of being hit by your board. A straight leash also doesn’t get tangled as much when you are rolled and tumbled during the rinse cycle. It also travels much easier through the water as a large proportion of it will not be on the board while you are moving.

A curly leash (or coiled) is great for leisure and river paddling. It’s much shorter and sits on the board when you wear it. They don’t travel easily through the water if it should start trailing. This causes unnecessary and annoying vibration, plus drag, and reduces your speed. It may also alter your course.

The point at which you attach a leash to your body is important. For leisure paddling on the sea or lake, where there isn’t too much current, you may attach it to your leg. If connecting below the knee this keeps it off the deck area where you could stand on it. If you chose to attach it around your ankle then the bulk of your leash will be on the deck or in the water. If it is on the deck there is a real risk of tripping and falling.

On moving water there really is only one area your leash should be attached. That is somewhere you can easily grab and release, which is the quick release cam buckle on a river belt worn at your waist.

Tony Bain

When and how long your session is going to be will determine the personal equipment you will need to think about taking for your chosen paddle. The time of day has a big influence on the clothing you will wear, the same with seasonality. Mornings and evenings you may think about wetsuits or drysuits, but during the middle period, when it’s warmer, boardies and a tee shirt may be more suitable. Just keep in mind how much evaporative cooling will take place should you become wet. Even on the hottest of days hypothermia can set in.

If you’re on a short duration paddle, and not straying too far from shore, there isn’t too much that can go wrong – although always have your wits about you. But if you are planning to be out for the whole day, or travelling a bit further away, or even days, chances of issues arising are greater. It is then that your equipment and clothing choice will really count. A dry bag with some extra warm layers is well worth lashing to your board.


What other essentials you may need with you are also worth considering. A form of communication that will work while you are on route is advisable – especially during off the beaten track sojourns or open ocean touring. This may be a mobile phone or a VHF – you’ll need a licence for the latter, however, or at least be familiar with best practice.

Food and water is always great to have. A quick energy booster could spur on that second wind – don’t underestimate fatigue. Energy bars or pouches are worth stowing aboard. If you’re paddling coastal waters then a flare is always a good idea.


The right clothes, the right equipment and the right training will help you to make better informed choices. These decisions could save yours and other lives. It will also mean that you have a more comfortable time afloat. Each situation is different yet should be carefully considered in terms of gear you’ll need. With more time aboard your SUP your knowledge will increase. To start with, however, make sure you’re adequately prepared for all eventualities.

Tony Bain

Tony Bain is owner and operator of Green Dragon Activities. A qualified SUP instructor Tony is also the Fastest Local Bog snorkeller (20 secs off the world record) and the holder of the World Bathtubbing record for 100 metres in a time of 1 min 26.41 secs. Find out more at

Green Dragon SUP School in North Wales offers SUP beginner and improver sessions for individuals and groups. Fun water Activity sessions, SUP Polo arena, SUP Jousting and Jumbo board racing.

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