tips for sup in winter

Photo: Kim Lennert


Field Notes | 4 Tips for SUPing in Subzero Temperatures

Stay standing on water through winter with these tips from Great Lakes paddler Matt Lennert

If you live somewhere warm – California, Florida or Hawaii, say – then you're lucky enough to be in the water year round. But what about we poor SUPing saps who are landlocked? Surely our SUP season stops right about now, when the mercury in our thermometers drops as quickly as the snow falling on our favorite paddling spots, right?

Well, not necessarily. For determined and resourceful Great Lakes paddlers like Matt Lennert and his crew, the start of winter signifies the beginning of their prime paddling season.

"Paddling in winter allows you to see your favorite SUP spots in a whole new way," Lennert said. "They're beautiful in summer but having snow and ice on the ground creates a whole different visual environment for you to explore on your board."

The message is this: As long as your local body of water isn't frozen, you can continue paddling until the snow thaws and beyond. Here are Lennert's top tips for doing so without endangering yourself:

1) SUP Safely

When you fall into freezing water it takes your breath away, even if you're in the right gear. For experienced paddlers used to cold conditions this might not be an issue, but less experienced people might panic. That's why it's essential to wear a leash. This way, you're attached to your board and can quickly get back onto it without wading through frigid water to retrieve it. If you're wearing a wetsuit for SUP surfing this will be an adequate buoyancy aid, but if you're flatwater paddling or doing a downwinder you need to wear a PFD. I recommend using the jacket style because if you fall in, you don't want to be fumbling to pull a cord on an inflatable waistband PFD. Finally, make sure you go with a friend or two. You don't want to be stranded if something goes wrong.

cold water paddling

When the temps drop below freezing, proper attire becomes imperative. Best to bundle up tight. Photo: Kim Lennert

2) Gear Up

There have been amazing advances in wetsuit technology in the past few years. You used to need the thickest suit and it was heavy and stiff. Now I wear a thinner 5/4/3 suit that's lightweight and flexible. You'll also want 7 mm neoprene boots and a 5 mm hood as you lose a lot of heat through your head and feet otherwise. If you're touring instead of SUP surfing, ditch the wetsuit and use a layering approach instead, just like you would if you were skiing or snowboarding. That way you can add layers when you get chilly and ditch one or two if you get too hot. If you have the right gear, you can be perfectly comfortable on the water in winter.

3) Get Out, Get Warm

When you get off the water, you need a plan that doesn't expose your bare skin to the elements. It's a good idea to put waterproof cover on your car seat so you can drive home in your wetsuit and then take a hot bath or shower. Another way to warm up is to leave a Thermos full of broth, and another with tea, coffee or, if you don't do caffeine, warm water in your car. If the broth is salty or you add a pinch of sea salt to the water (to increase the osmolality), it will rehydrate you, too.

4) Get Your Fuel On

You burn more calories in cold weather because your body is striving to stay warm. Before I go out SUP surfing or flatwater paddling I'll have a big breakfast – lots of eggs with some toast or oatmeal. I try to add a few hundred extra calories a day to make sure I have enough fuel. It's also important to hydrate before you hit the water and to remember to drink when you're out paddling or surfing. Make a deliberate effort to take a few sips every 20 to 30 minutes so you don't get dried out. Once you're off the water, don't be afraid of going nuts with a big meal. You need to eat, so eat!

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Great Lakes winter

This is what SUP surfing in wintertime on the Great Lakes looks like. Photo: Mike Killon