How to enjoy safe SUP when Stand Up Paddle Boarding anywhere.
SUP IS BLISS. And like most sports, when done properly it's safe. But we have to respect the power of the oceans, lakes and rivers we paddle. My top SUP safety issues are the things that people are ignorant of as untrained beginners. Or take for granted if they're experienced. Feel free to add you comments and we'll create a 'Top 10' list. Here are my top 6.
1. Always paddle with a 'SUP buddy'
Why? A recent news article described two stand up paddle boarders who rented SUP equipment in Florida. Somehow they became separated. No reason to panic, it was very windy but not dangerously wavy. At the end of the day, one SUP'r called police just in case. His 'buddy' was later found - cause of death unknown. Was it a heart attack? Accidental drowning? In either case, he may still be alive today if his paddle buddy had been with him during his crisis.
2. If you do stand up paddle alone, don't rely on inflatable PFD's
'Fanny pack' pfd's have become really popular with SUP'rs lately. Compact and inflatable with one tug on the rip cord, they're a good compromise for the surf culture that looks down their nose at safety gear. Once inflated, you put your head through the opening and it's an effective life preserver. But they may provide a false sense of security in some conditions. If you're paddling alone and suffer from a cardiac event or cold water shock you're likely to be immobilized for a minute or more. In the minute or two it takes to recover use of your limbs, you could drown - wearing your uninflated pfd. If you must paddle alone, wear a PFD that doesn't need inflating. And always wear a leash to remain attached to your stand up paddle board.
3. File a float plan whenever you SUP
It's not as formal as it sounds. It just means tell someone where you're going and how you're going to get there. Then make sure you follow that route. If you're stand up paddle boarding in Toronto, you might be facing open water on a lake hundreds of miles long. Conditions can change suddenly and you may find yourself unable to manage getting back to shore. The good thing about Stand Up Paddle Boards is that they are most often unsinkable, so if you can't stand up and paddle, you can just sit or lay down on them until help comes. Help comes faster when someone knows where to look for you.
4. A little planning goes a long way
If you're going to spend any serious amount of time on the water you really need to give it some thought. The obvious, sunscreen, hats, UV rated quick dry shirts (never cotton) are all important tools to keep you safe and healthy. Less obvious, if you're planning a longer trip carry water, check the marine weather forecast before heading out and plan a couple of way points on your route for rest stops. Travelling in new & unfamiliar waters? Ask the local marine police or Coast Guard about currents, tides and riptides and submerged hazards before you set off.
5. Cold water shock
Not hypothermia. Cold Water Shock (CWS)can occur when a person experiences sudden immersion into water 15°C (59 F) or below. When Cold water shock occurs the muscles can spasm, paralyzing you, even though you're fully conscious. At this point it's difficult/impossible to put on a PFD in the water, so having one on your Stand Up Paddle Board isn't an effective option. You may not even be able to pull the rip cord on your inflatable PFD (see #2). The muscle paralysis usually only lasts a minute or two.
During CWS a person will usually gasp for breath and may experience a sudden rise in heart rate and blood pressure. The gasp reflex can cause a person to aspirate water and drown. A rise in heart rate and blood pressure can result in a heart attack or stroke. So this is serious stuff.
The curious thing is that it doesn't happen all the time. You may go in 10 times without incident, then experience CWS the next time. And some people are more likely to go into CWS than others. All you can do is be prepared.
Most everyone knows something about hypothermia but there's still a lot of confusion. Cold incapacitation happens gradually over the first 10 minutes of immersion. First you lose the effective use of your fingers, then arms and legs. Even good swimmers won't be able to function. At the same time mental confusion sets in, and simple problem solving becomes just about impossible. Without a PFD, you're done. But wearing a PFD you'll remain floating and conscious for about an hour - even in ice water. Knowing how to delay the onset of hypothermia will increase your chances of survival. The first rule is - get as much of your body out of the water as possible.
Renting a Stand Up Paddle Board in Toronto?
At this point you probably understand why we're just not comfortable renting SUP boards to people without any kind of training. We ask that you take our Quick Start Introductory Lesson before requesting a rental. And despite the sunshine and warm weather, if water temps are below 15 degrees C, we require you to wear a wet suit and full flotation PFD.