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Knowing what to expect at your favoured paddle location before you get there not only increases your enjoyment of a session, but will very likely form the cornerstone of good practice that will keep you safer during your years of paddling to come.

It is a great way to more fully engage with your paddling environment, constantly providing you with unique experiences while out on the water, and is a good way to impress your friends with your worldly knowledge!

Glenn Eldridge is an ASI Master Trainer, owner of ASI school, Ocean Sports in Carbis Bay, UK, and is also the ideal candidate to talk us through the elements in determining if your local paddle spot is a suitable one. Over to Glenn…

Very broadly, locations can be classified into three main types:

  • Enclosed
  • Exposed
  • Surf

Each of the above have inherent characteristics which make them unique and very likely the reason why you paddle there.  

Part of knowing what to expect is to gain a clear understanding of what conditions each location is likely to exhibit most of the time. Ordered below in a hierarchy of likely challenge are enclosed, exposed and surf locations.

Enclosed Locations

Enclosed locations are typified by inland bodies of water with banks no further than 1km (0.6 miles) away, with little to no flow – if water is flowing, speeds should be no greater than four knots (moderate walking speed).

As such, because of the more sheltered nature, proximity of a bank and low flow (if any), these types of locations are ideal for novice paddlers with limited knowledge of paddling on the water.

Loosdrecht, Netherlands

Exposed Locations

The remaining two locations however, represent significant challenges! Firstly; both exposed and surf no longer have banks which could serve as a safe haven. For example, some Scottish Lochs, Scandinavian Fiords and Great Lakes would be classified as being exposed water not simply because an opposing bank is excessively far away (over 1km / 0.6 miles) but also because the water is far more exposed. In many instances these enclosed bodies’ of water can have rideable surf in the right wind!

Sagres, Portugal

Carbis Bay, Cornwall, UK

Surf Locations

Surf locations encompass all of the exposed water hazards plus the addition of surf, hence the term. Surf or a broken wave are not necessarily the greater hazard (obviously, the challenge to navigating a broken wave with a SUP is difficult enough) but rather, these moving bodies of water frequently cause rips to occur. A rip is body of water which is attempting to find its own equilibrium – in real terms this simply means that a beach is higher ground than where the waves are. Each broken wave brings with it water onto the beach (higher ground), water as we know must then run downhill, this means water will run back down toward the ocean and back out to sea. Sometimes, a rip can go straight out to sea or can move sideways (longshore drift) or diagonally from the shore.

In almost all cases rips will only travel as far as broken waves or marginally past them.

It is because of this that surf locations should only be attempted by experienced paddlers or ideally guided by certified ASI SUP schools and ASI SUP Instructors.

Five Tips

Now that we are more aware of the likely challenge posed at each location, we are ready for the five ways of working out if your location is suitable and safe on the day you want to go paddling.

  1. Understand the unique characteristics of each location, as we have above, and decide if your current paddling capabilities match the demands of where you are going to paddle.
  2. Environmental: understand how the environment impacts upon your paddle location.
  3. Check the weather conditions and forecast prior to paddling.
  4. Check the water conditions.
  5. Understand the individual or group characteristics and never overestimate your own abilities. Be honest with yourself about your ability and that of your group to handle the day’s paddle based upon all the above factors.

By utilising these simple methods and developing a deeper understanding of your own local spot, your paddling experience will likely be elevated and remain a consistently safe and enjoyable one.

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