Rodrigo Silva de Paula
SUPing solo can be extremely dangerous: what can you do to reduce risks
Updated: May 15, 2021
Knowing all these 7 safety measures, including clothing and researching about the place where you are paddling, can make difference between a fun and a life threatening adventure
Well, in short, unless you have a good amount of the combination between experience with SUPing combined with high knowledge about the type of body of water you are in, paddling alone is never a good idea.
Fun and amazing adventures in the ocean and all bodies of water are all about safety first (yes, and that includes your bathtub if you are 1 or 81 in age or experience). That works for all levels of SUP proficiency.
As someone who has been surfing and paddling for more than 320 days a year since being 4 years old — and because of this, and the life threatening mistakes I've witnessed — safety is always my top priority.
The 2 reasons why I started a SUP Community social media were: 1) To help people without the necessary experience to find paddle buddies; and 2) For people to learn about safe adventures based on their skills level in our incomparable, extensive, gorgeous and challenging backyard.
Not only as a beginner but also in general, it is rarely a good idea to go paddle boarding alone. The best cold water swimmers can drown because of passing out on their boards if they don't have a life vest on — which is not the average PFD.
Unless you are well versed on SUP safety and have the right safety equipment, always have a buddy with you on your paddles so that should anything happen to either you or them, someone is always with you to help.
But if you do decide to go paddling alone there are key factors to take under consideration in order to make sure you come back with good memories.
Number 7 can save you many times, including from financial problems as not having the right safety gear in every paddle is an infraction that will cost you more than the safety items themselves.
1- Ask and learn all you can about where you will paddle: are there conditions I should specifically take under consideration?
Before heading out to your destination, doing your homework and studying the place is crucial. You should make sure you know every bit of necessary information about the place you are going to.
Do I know what the safety items are?
Do I have clothing for my swim level?
If I pass out, will I survive, how?
Are there currents, winds, tides? What's the direction? How strong?
Is the area where I will paddle part of a shipping lane?
Am I psychologically ready for winds that make you go backwards fast even by paddling as hard as you can?
How about an encounter with a curious orca whale whose fin is larger than yourself?
What is my plan to call for help? Do I know distressed signaling?
What's my plan B, C, D... if all that could go wrong happens?
Those are the moments where the local SUP Community must help.
Ask all the safety questions way before you go. And don't leave after you get all the answers.
Being safe in the ocean — a part of the universe we know less than about the Moon or Mars, is about asking astronaut questions of "how would I solve this if this problem arises and what could arise? If Ogo Pogo's cousin would try to chase me out of here, what would my plan be for the tsunami?
2- Check the weather to learn the wind direction and tides and be prepared for them, including physically and mentally
The weather on the coast and lakes close to mountains changes extremely fast and would affect your SUP experience greatly and can put you in danger if you don’t know enough. Winds can blow faster than you can paddle and you might end up stranded for the night at below 0 temperatures. So always check the weather first before actually going out using apps such as Windfinder, which gives you wind, tide and temperature.
3- Always tell someone where you will be and have a backup plan in case an emergency should arise and you need to signal you need help
Pick at least one trustworthy emergency contact and tell them about your plans before you head out. When you get to your location, open your maps app and screenshot your location to share with your contacts. Some of the most beautiful paddles in BC are somewhere without service, so you will have to decide in advance where you are going and stick to the plan.
Tell them when they can expect you home. Text to let them know that you’re alright, and then tell them exactly when they will hear from you next. The ocean is bigger than anything on this planet, that's why ships always have a map.
4- Never be overconfident or do anything that’s beyond your paddling ability
When you are out on the water with no company be as close to the shore as you can swim, in shock, in cold water. Period. Choose small inlets or small non glacial lakes and bays, over open ocean or straits. Never paddle in rivers unless you know details about their current speed, depth, traffic rules and obstacles and have the river type of safety PFD. If you are going to a lake, choose a small one where there are people around who could see you in need of help.
5- Be prepared for everything and learn necessary self-rescue skills when you are in a dangerous situation
In the ocean, everything can happen. Everything, literally. There are currents that pull you under and wind that can blow you to the open ocean and mean seals bigger than your board. Although it might not be what you want to think about, there are adolescent sharks bigger than your board less than 2km from Downtown Vancouver — although there are no records of accidents involving them and humans. If your inflatable hits a nail in a piece of wood, what’s the plan? Are you paddling too far from the shore that you wouldn’t be able to swim in cold water?
If you haven’t practiced getting back on your paddleboard after falling off, maybe you should consider practicing it more before going solo. Being able to get back on the board as fast as you can is important in a lot of situations, especially in cold water and in areas where there are a lot of boats and large marine animals.
6- Paddle in calm waters and close to the shore
Fjords and protected bodies of water are some of the most fun features of British Columbia’s Natural World. Although its reputation for not having the cleanest water, Vancouver’s False Creek is a great place to winter paddle as one can warm up fast if they end up in the drink, which has basically the same water quality of English Bay.
Together with the fact that you can paddle along river otters, seals, herons, wales, dolphins, sharks, herring and even salmon, the world’s most urban fjord is also a great place for night paddling, as the city being close by works to your advantage.
But the main feature of a fjord like False Creek is the fact that you can be close to the shore 100% of the time and also visible in case of an emergency.
If you feel bored about doing the same route every paddle, try circumnavigating it in different directions or competing with yourself by using apps like Strava.
I love approaching paddling on a cold overcast day like I would lane swimming compared to swimming on the open ocean: it can feel repetitive but if you make it about high-intensity energy output you can sure be entertained. Try to go as fast as you can on those days. It can warm you up.
If you decide to go on a lake or river avoid ice or paddling glacial lakes. Ice is very unpredictable, especially to your inflatable SUP board. Needless to say, don’t launch from the ice on a lake as it can break and put your life at risk.
7- At last but obviously not at least, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE/BRING ALL THE mandatory SAFETY EQUIPMENT:
You can buy most of the safety equipment for cheaper than the fine for not having them.
A SUP leash must be worn at all times
A Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is a must at all times
A rope in case you need to be rescued by another paddler or small boat
Change of clothes for the sudden weather changes that happen often in this part of the world
Visible lights on the front and back
If you are going on a longer paddle:
First aid kit
Repair kit for your inflatable SUP board
A map of the area
High energy snacks
Adequate warm gear for cold nights and if you fall in the water
Anyways, it is never too much to repeat: fun and amazing adventures in the ocean and bodies of water are all about safety first. Take care of it as a first step and the next ones should take you on the planet’s most amazing playgrounds!! Safe and fun adventures!!