How to plan for distance paddling on a SUP

What could be a better break from the real world than being on a SUP? And what’s better than that except spending all day on your board in the company of fellow paddlers? That waterway lies before you, beckoning. Fun as it is, long distance paddling trips require planning. They aren’t the kind of excursion where you can just hop on your board with a bottle of water. Even if your trip is only a few hours, you’re going to have to take care of yourself differently.

Ian Berger, distance paddling, sup examiner, paddling on the hudson riverHave some sort of plan about where you’re going to go. Be aware of your local geography and weather. Tides and wind can be major issues, so check your local conditions on the day of your event. Make sure that someone knows your float plan. You need someone on the shore who can be your support in case something happens. One of the best ways is to use the tracking feature on your smartphone. iPhones have a built-in app called Find Friends, and Android phones have multiple apps which do the same. Turn this feature on, then your support person will always know where you are. Your phone is also a lifeline in case you need to call for help.

If something goes wrong, have contingency plans. Where will you take shelter if a thunderstorms hits you? Where will you land if the wind becomes too strong? If you’re traveling along the beach getting out is easy, but in some areas takeout points are few and far between. Bring some basic first aid like bandages and ibuprofen. You don’t want your expedition ruined by something as minor as a blister.

Board design and distance paddling

When paddling distance, your board’s design is important. An all-around hull will obviously be slower than a board with a performance design. My general rule of thumb is (in good conditions) you’ll be traveling close 3 MPH on an all-around board with less advanced paddlers. More advanced paddlers on performance hulls will push closer to 4 MPH. Keep in mind too that you’re only as fast as your slowest member. It’s great to be with a group, but your team needs the skill to do your distance. You don’t want to lose someone. Beginners can get very excited about this sport, but paddleboarding is strenuous. If a person doesn’t have the ability, it’s better for everyone to keep the person on shore.

Ian Berger, distance paddling, sup examiner, paddling on the hudson riverYou will need food and water. Have a bite of something every hour or so, but bring something for the bigger meals. There’s a real science in energy foods these days. I don’t have much to add except that most of these are sweet and I get sick of sweet foods after a while. Try to vary the taste of your foods. Bring enough water to last the entire time, and don’t be afraid to bring too much. It helps to bring an electrolyte replenishing drink in your deck bag, too. Most boards these days have tie-downs for a bag. If yours doesn’t, you can purchase suction cups for bungie cords, or you can try a SUP backpack.

What to wear when distance paddling

Protect yourself against the elements. Put on sunscreen and bring extra. (I know. I sound like your mother. She was right.) Some SUPers wear long-sleeved rashguards, even in the summer. These are great to protect your arms, as long as you don’t get too hot. (You can solve that by getting wet.) Wear a hat.

Your body too is going to going to get strained. Standing in place will cut circulation off in your feet. Move around on your board as much as you can. While you may prefer barefeet, wearing a pair of soft-soled shoes can cushion your feet. While we’re on the subject, take care of your hands too. Gloves can prevent blisters. Beware too of using an adjustable paddle. They often have a bulge in the shaft where you adjust the length. A great feature, but your hands will hit it over and over. Great way to get a bruise. Use a paddle cut for your height.

Good luck out there! Long paddles are awesome, but plan them well. Don’t have your adventure ruined by a small detail. Lastly, remember if you’re the organizer of the trip, your fellow paddlers will look to you as their leader. That doesn’t mean you need to turn into Captain Kirk, but look after everyone. Check back to see if the group is together. If someone runs low on water, share yours. Bring extra snacks to hand out. Even if everyone is as prepared as you are, the gesture means a lot. Then your new friends will join you on your next adventure, and the next.

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Ian Berger

Ian Berger grew up in love with the ocean, so discovering stand up paddling was a bit of revelation. Once he bought his first paddleboard, he realized this was the sport for him. Ian Berger lives in Peekskill, NY with his wife Kirsten and three children. He teaches middle school English and drama, and also has a passion for writing, which he shares with his students. Every morning Ian wakes up to write — sometimes science fiction or comic Young Adult novels, sometimes plays, but very often about stand up paddling. The Hudson River is his home turf, and you can usually find him there when the weather is good.