Field Notes | Four Winter Wonderlands for Standup Paddlers
Interviews by Rebecca Parsons
Winter is a lot of things. It's short days and long nights, it's Christmas lights dotting the streets, it's curling up by the fire with a cup of cocoa and unfortunately for us aquatic humans, it's dropping temperatures. But if you're a committed athlete, dropping temperatures aren't necessarily a bad thing. In exchange for a few extra layers and some thicker neoprene, wintertime provides vacant views and the opportunity to score killer surf to yourself. If it's not frozen it's fair game, and there are plenty of spectacular spots where winter actually enhances the experience. We scouted out four snow-covered SUP sanctuaries and got the inside scoop from the locals on paddling them in the wintertime. —Rebecca Parsons
Avg. Air Temperature: 23.4°F
Avg. Water Temp: 36°F
“Winter paddling can be some of the most tranquil paddling experiences. Over the years, we have seen as many as seventeen eagles in one paddle. We have also seen river otters, deer, turkeys and even a wolf on the shore. The colder the air temperature, the more the water mists up into the low hanging trees on shore, creating a sparkling effect when the sunlight hits. It is truly pristine and the best way to enjoy it is through the silent sport of paddling. My safety equipment and gear consists of a standard USCG approved paddling jacket, board leash, warm knit hat, warm base-layer shirt, leggings, 4/3 wetsuit, neoprene booties with pre-warmed, air activated foot warmers and gloves.” –Jane Montag
Lake Tahoe, California
Avg. Air Temp: 27°F
Avg. Water Temp: 40°F
“Winter paddling on Lake Tahoe is great! There are no powerboats on the water and lots of high-pressure weather conditions, which make for glassy water paddling. The only real difference from summer to winter paddling is the water temperature drops about 40 degrees, which can make launching your board quite chilly. The only paddling gear we add in the winter is neoprene booties and pants. I think one of the biggest mistakes winter paddlers make is overdressing. Even though the calendar says it’s winter, the temperature on the water feels like summer.” –Phil Segal
Avg. Air Temp: 52°F
Avg. Water Temp: 49°F
“We mainly paddle out in Puget Sound. The key in winter is to go out when it's calm; we don’t wear wetsuits so not falling in is very important. If it's really cold then I wear more layers and a beanie. The beauty of going in winter is there are hardly any boats and very few paddlers. One of my best SUP outings was three years ago when it was snowing; the wind was completely dead calm and the whole scene was very surreal.” –Andrew Drake
Avg. Air Temperature: 38°F
Avg. Water Temp: 49.8°F
“My favorite places to paddle in the winter are in New York and New Jersey. The ocean is an amazing place to be during a snowfall. If you turn your back to land and just stare out, it is a pretty surreal feeling. I will paddle in almost any form of weather, just as long as I know I will live through it. I have definitely had some close encounters surfing before some blizzards, but it's hard not to grab the paddle and head out when a nice swell comes through. Especially here on the East Coast; you take it when you can get it. The type of equipment that I use when I am out during the wintertime is definitely a 5/4/3 Body Glove Vapor X hooded suit with 7mm booties and gloves. When I go out surfing I try to get away with a 4/3 with gloves and booties as much as I can.” –Andrew Dima
*Editors note: Hypothermia can occur in water 70 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. In extremely cold environments, such as those described above, we highly recommend either a drysuit or a 5-millimeter wetsuit with booties, gloves and a hood. And of course, always wear a PFD and a leash, even on flat water, as the shock of submersion is disorienting and can make swimming or recovering your board difficult.
Cover photo: @breezeturner
Stay comfy on the water through winter with these tips for cold-weather paddling.
Looking to escape the cold? Look no further than Tortuguero, Costa Rica.