We have done posts on cold weather paddling and we have addressed the gear you should consider having, the importance of dressing for the water temperature, not necessarily the air temperature, and some of the dangers of cold water should you find yourself wetter than planned. What we haven’t really addressed is how the weather affects paddleboarding even when it’s not cold. When the water is 80 degrees and the air is the same, hypothermia is much less of a concern than when those temperatures added together only equal 80. But there are still many reasons to check the forecast before you go out.
The main things that affects us as paddleboarders are
- water temperature
- air temperature
- wind speed
- wind direction
- precipitation, lightning, and fog
- tides and currents
Since you already know quite a bit about temperatures, we’ll jump to wind speed and direction. When you are first starting out, you should be careful about going out in winds that are too strong for your ability or that are blowing in the “wrong direction” for your planned route. As you gain more experience, you will start to learn what your thresh holds are. If you set out on a paddle and the wind is at your back it is easy to get pretty far away pretty quickly. An easy mistake (especially for beginners) is getting too far away because they cannot gauge how tough the paddle back is going to be.Water is very dynamic and conditions (particularly on open water) can change very quickly and dramatically. Pay attention to these factors and you will be better prepared.
When possible you want to start off heading into the wind. And you should check the forecast to know if the wind direction is supposed to stay constant or if there is an anticipated shift in direction while you should be out paddling. For instance during the summer in RI it is very common for winds to start off northerly in the morning. As the land heats up throughout the day, it sucks the cold air from the water up toward the land and the wind ends up southerly. If you have started on a distance paddle in the morning and you head north first thinking that the wind will help you back in, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise when that wind shifts and you have to fight your way back too. If you plan it right, you could have a blast both ways!
Be cognizant of your abilities and energy level as you gain experience. I know that I prefer wind under 10 mph, but will go out on the local pond until about 18 mph. This is a paddle I have done hundreds of times and I know where to go to get some shelter from the wind, it’s only 1.4 miles long, so I know how far I will have to battle back if that becomes an issue and I know where I could jump out of the water if things got really bad. Without a really good plan for a downwinder, I’m not going to head out into the open water in 18 mph winds because when you add in tides, currents, swells and boat wakes, there are a whole lot of things that can go wrong. This is not to say that a stronger paddler than I shouldn’t venture out in those conditions, but know your abilities and have a plan!
Speaking of a plan…a float plan is always a good idea. Let someone know where you area going, how long you think you will be out, and when you expect to be back. Check in with them when you make it back and make sure they know who to call if you are way off of your plan.
If you paddle the same spots often you will learn some behaviors of the wind relative to the surrounding land. But many times you are checking out new spots and you don’t have the luxury of all of this background. Stay aware of how the conditions are changing throughout your paddle. The weather is dynamic and the water is also dynamic, so you have these two forces doing their own thing and you are at their mercy. If you have a phone and a dry bag, get some weather apps, and take your phone with you so you can keep an eye on conditions (many dry cases don’t float on their own, so make sure you have something on it to make it float or you have it well secured).
Precipitation, lightning, and fog can be concerns for a few reasons. Decreased visibility is the biggest concern with precipitation. Not only will it be tougher for you to stay on course and keep your bearings, but it will be harder for other vessels to see you. If you are going to be out in reduced visibility (or even at night) having a light and/or flares is a necessity. A wet paddle can be difficult to hold on to and you are much more likely to get cold if you are wet. In a lightning storm, open water is one of the last places you want to be. So if there is any lightning in the forecast or on the radar, be very careful and when in doubt, air on the side of caution and don’t go out.
Tides and currents are other things to be aware of. You can get a good nautical map which will give you a whole lot of useful information….many are waterproof so you can throw them in your dry bag and not have to worry about ruining them when you take them out as you are floating along or docked at a resting spot. It will show you areas with noteworthy currents along with the rate of the current and the direction. It will also show you water depths at low tide. Pay attention to these if you are headed anywhere that passage might be a problem at low tide.
Tides and currents can have some strange interactions if they are travelling in different directions at the same time. You can find yourself fighting to get somewhere for no apparent reason. So it is good to learn how these factors affect the areas you are looking to paddle. Very rocky areas can be difficult to navigate at low tide and the quality of some surf spots can vary greatly with the tides.
Also a consideration with tides is tidal rivers. Make sure there’s enough water for the duration of your paddle or be prepared to walk or wait out the tide. We have made this mistake on more than one occasion (we’re not proud of that) and have ended up walking a bit across sandbars. We have never made the mistake so bad that we have gotten stranded, but I know of it happening.
If you have done any hiking you know that getting to the top of the mountain is only part of the challenge. You have to get back down! You need to reserve enough energy and strength to get back safely. The same is true of paddling. Enjoy the ride out but don’t forget you have to get back. Know your limits, do your homework, have respect for the weather and water, and enjoy your paddle!
Tags: paddleboarding in windy conditions, weather and paddleboarding, paddleboard safely,paddleboarding and tides, paddle boarding and the weather, sup and the weather, cold weather paddleboarding, paddleboard safety, paddleboard weather, paddling into the wind