Skills | SUP Safety Essentials with Expedition Expert Tom Jones

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst and accept advice from the experts. Photo: Andrew Dye
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, accept advice from the experts. Photo: Andrew Dye

Safety Essentials with Expedition Expert Tom Jones

Tom Jones is a name that ought to sound familiar to most standup paddlers. Jones’ accrued an impressive array of endurance accolades by way of standup paddleboard, including paddling 1,250 miles in 90 days down the California coastline in 2007, 1,507 miles in 93 days from Key West to New York City in 2010 and 520 miles in 15 days around Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake in 2012. With such a tremendous track record, suffice to say Jones is an expert in SUP safety. Here, he shares some of the paddling practices that see him safely between shores. —Shari Coble

Check your health before considering a SUP outing or expedition.
The first thing I'd suggest is to check with your doctor and make sure you're healthy enough to get out there. With SUP, you can easily get yourself out, but if you have a health condition, things can change quickly on the water. So first, check with your doctor because even a basic health condition can create big problems.

Consider the gear you'll need.
Look into some gear that is specific to the type of paddling you want to do. Generally, you should always have a PFD onboard—some type of floatation. Not many people can tread water for more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Consider wearing a leash so that doesn't happen. And, I suggest you take some form of communication in case of emergency—a cell phone in a few sealed baggies, a flare gun, etc. You can't use it if you don't have it.

Consider your physical condition and be realistic about your abilities.
If you don't have a paddling background, you shouldn't expect to be a strong paddler or have a great skillset, so make sure you're in decent physical shape to paddle out. If you aren't in shape, don't expect to be in good condition to paddle. I suggest people start by taking walks, doing squats, lunges and those types of exercises. If you have any soft sand around, take your shoes off and do some 50-yard dashes (walking or running sprints) to build up the smaller muscles in your feet that are typically protected by your shoes.

Hydrate prior to paddling out, and bring water with you.
Make sure you're well hydrated the night before you go paddling. The night before you paddle, make sure you've reached your daily, recommended water intake. If you're paddling a half-hour or more, you should carry hydration on your board. You don't know what will happen when you're on the water, so play it safe and be prepared for anything.

Protect yourself from the sun.
Several options are available to protect your from the sun. Sun protection clothing is available, which I highly recommend. From my experience being out there for hours in extreme heat, I noticed that if I cover my body with clothing, rather than putting on sunblock or zinc oxide and exposing my skin to the sun, it still does a lot better because my skin isn't completely exposed to the harmful sunlight the entire time. That's the advantage of having sun protection clothing on my body rather than sunblock, but both are options.

Plan your route.
I can't tell you how many people I've rescued—just in Huntington Harbor—who are lost, exhausted and even crying. It's important to know where you're going because it's easy to get lost, especially if you're paddling in an area with lots of inlets, like Florida, for example, where you can take a turn, or paddle a mile and have no idea where you are. Take a map, bring a GPS, go with an experienced local, or take a guided tour of your route beforehand.

Nothing beats local knowledge.
I've been paddling in Florida before and was knocked far off my board by a manatee. While I knew manatees were in the water before paddling out, I wasn't aware of the locally-known crocodile in the water that a local later told me about. If I'd known about that 'other local' before, I would've made sure I got back on my board a lot quicker and had kept an eye out for him.
More SUP safety here.