The Common Sense of SUP Safety

Mike Tavares, dodging a low bridge at high flow during an early practice run last week. Photo: Tavares
Conditional awareness, common sense, safety precautions and equipment. Take these tools into your next SUP excursion to be prepared for whatever looms in your way. Photo: Mike Tavares

The Common Sense of SUP Safety

Last weekend, the paddling community took a heavy blow. A death toll of four in a count of two days. All capable paddlers. All seemingly innocent scenarios. All involving an absence of proper safety precaution.

Such tragedies are regrettably common in our community, and serve as a reminder that paddling is a double-edged blade. In the right environment, anyone can do it. In the wrong environment, anyone can be done by it. It’s one of life’s great pleasures that’s best approached with caution.

In honor of our fallen friends, we offer up these simple but easily overlooked safety tips to add to your arsenal. Take them with you every time you load up your SUP.

Know Before You Go

As paddlers, it’s common for us to load-and-go, to race the sun, to maximize water time by minimizing prep time. Nine times out of ten this may work, especially in your hometown watering hole. But nine times out of ten isn’t a hundred percent safe. Modern technologies offer accurate wind, weather and surf reports that forecast well into the future. Among our favorites are NOAA and Surfline. Familiarize yourself, embrace a habit of checking regularly and checking for changes at launch time. Look for high-wind advisories, current and tidal activity. Learn and respect the motion of the water we walk on. It’s an interesting part of the paddling process that can keep danger at bay.

Understand Your Ability

Paddling is an inviting, inclusive sport anyone can try. But when conditions are iffy, not everyone should try. Even the best of us are no match for nature’s extremes. Most veterans know this; often times the most experienced watermen are also the best prepared. As for the many novices among us, paddling can seem deceptively easy, an illusion that too often compels us to forego proper safety precaution. It doesn’t take a ton of strength to paddle, but even the strongest humans are no match for mother nature’s extremes. Heed this warning: Muscle is an underdog to Mother Nature. Need proof? One of the men who died last weekend was a college football player. Consider your ability objectively when evaluating conditions and your place among them.

Common Sense Comes First

Excitement. Anticipation. Eagerness. We all know the emotions that compel us to paddle. As is with any endeavor, it’s best not to let our emotions get the best of us. Consider the logic of all situations and adapt accordingly. Feeling tired or fatigued? Maybe that 12-mile downwinder you’ve been trying to squeeze in isn't the best idea today. Forecast looked good, but you arrive at the beach to whitecapping offshore winds? Don’t be afraid to switch up your float plan*. Exercise and trust your common sense. It's the best safety tool in the box.

*Any time you step into the drink, leave a float plan with an onshore ally. Tell them where you plan to paddle, when you plan to launch and when you expect to return. Going it alone is a romance best reserved for Hollywood films. Play it safe and add a second set of eyes to your safety arsenal.

Always, Always Wear Your Leash

Last year, a beloved and experienced paddler racer fell victim to the elements during one of the biggest races of the season. He disappeared in high winds and his board was later found with no leash attached. His body is still missing. This scenario represents an anomaly, and our goal is to keep it that way by encouraging everyone to wear a leash at all times on the water. All four of last weekend's SUP casualties involved paddlers separating from their crafts. All four could have been avoided if each were properly utilizing a leash. But safety equipment shouldn't stop there. Personal floatation devices ought to be adorned religiously, as well as wetsuits or drysuits on any extent of cold water.

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