Winter is Coming
This is an account from our very own Scott Knorp who co-owns our Glide Paddlesports!
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There is much to love about breaking your SUP out in the wintertime: no crowds, invigorating air, and little chance of a sunburn. You will want to be properly prepared as we outlined in an earlier article this year. For me, it’s the winter months are an exciting time to SUP because you can never be sure exactly what you are in for.
I take all the normal precautions that we recommend for all weather conditions: I wear a PFD, make sure I’m leashed to my board and protect my cell phone in a waterproof case that floats.
I also make sure that I’ve got a pretty good idea about what the weather is going to do and how cold the water is. Knowing the water temperature helps me determine how quickly I’ll need to get out of the water if I fall in and have chosen not to wear a wet or dry suit. The 120-degree rule is an easy way to determine your wardrobe. If the combined temperature of the water and the air are less than 120 degrees, you will definitely want to throw on a wet or dry suit.
If the water is icing up, I will not take chances and will throw on the dry suit. I also change my paddle habits to keep my SUP within 20 feet of the shoreline so that I can get swim to land quickly if I fall in.
A note here on the dangers of hypothermia from falling in very cold water if you aren’t wearing a wet or dry suit. You always want to know the water temperature of the waterway you are paddling. Because water is a far better conductor than air, water will cause hypothermia 25 times quicker than air will. If the water temperature is 32.5 degrees Fahrenheit, your survival time is roughly 45 minutes. However, the body becomes exhausted and damaged in less than 15 minutes. Wearing a PFD will definitely increase your chances of survival.
Whenever you are paddle boarding in the winter, it is smart to not wear cotton. Cotton is a terrible insulator and wet cotton becomes quite heavy and can drag you down. You are much safer wearing a fabric close to your skin that wicks moisture. An insulation fabric like wool or fleece on top of the wicking fabric are recommended. Gore-Tex is a good material for keeping the cold off your body for longer and it won’t pull you down the way cotton will.
If the conditions are windy, I’ll have a little extra “pep in my step” as I head out to my local lake. Over the years, I’ve learned how much wind is manageable and how much is just ridiculous.
I’m reminded of a time when the wind was quite strong and the only people on the lake were kiteboarders. One seemed intent on taunting me as I struggled to get 15 feet off the shore before the wind would push me right back where I started. After he had done 5 gleeful circles around me, I decided to tuck my tail between my legs and head home in a state of complete exhaustion.
It’s important to double check your equipment before heading out in the winter and paddling with a buddy could be a lifesaving decision. I always make certain that my fin is secure, my paddle doesn’t have any cracks in it and that my PFD is in good shape.
I learned this lesson the hard way on another windy excursion. I had spent a good solid hour paddling against the wind and was now looking for the payoff of a little downwinder thrill ride. I had previously leant my SUP to a friend who apparently didn’t understand how to install the fin correctly.
My downwinder turned out to be a lot more exciting than I bargained for as I started flying down the lake and my SUP’s tail kept fish tailing and sending me into the drink. On one of those falls the SUP flipped over which exposed that it was finless.
If you are paddling in a lake that has snow all around it, you will want to invest in some neoprene wetsuit booties. Typically, 5mm or 7mm are required to keep your tootsies toasty. Neoprene gloves are also a wise investment. 1 mm to 3mm thickness on the gloves should work just fine.
Make sure that your cell phone is handy in case of emergency. You will also want to store it in a container like the Aqua Vault so that it floats and is easy to find if it ends up in the water. You definitely don’t want to have to dive for your phone in the dead of winter!
Starting your paddle into the wind no matter how light it may seem is always the intelligent choice. I’ve known many a paddler who found paddling with the wind to be so easy that they ended up going twice as far as they intended to and when they turned around to head home, they realized that they were going to have to work 10 times as hard as they had on the paddle out.
Better to expend your energy while you are fresh and let the wind do most of the work for you on the way home.
When it comes to winter SUP surfing, you will want to make sure that you have a wetsuit that is in the 5/4 mm range. If you haven’t worn a wetsuit in a while, the technology has changed quite a bit. These days wetsuits can be purchased with a light fleece inside. The newer wetsuits also don’t let in that rush of water that the older variants used to. Now they just let a little leak in which is much more manageable as that little bit of water doesn’t take long to warm up. You will be amazed at how much more comfortable you are in the bitterly cold ocean.
The benefit to surfing in the winter, is that the swells can be so much larger in many parts of the country because they are driven by winter storms. World famous Rincon beach in Santa Barbara has small knee-high waves in the summer because much of the swell is blocked by the Catalina Islands. In winter, the swell direction changes and you get those monster waves that we have all seen in the surf competitions.
Some of my greatest winter SUP memories are heading out on a still morning when the water is pure glass and reflects the snow on the hills. It’s such a wonderful time for contemplation as all my cares just slip away.
I always make sure to pack a thermos full of piping hot coffee which seems to take on an otherworldly flavor when I’m done with my paddle.
In closing, I would just say that for the true SUP aficionado, there is no “SUP Season”. With the proper gear and by taking intelligent precautions, you can enjoy the sport and the conditioning it confers year-round.