Seems like the summer left us for good as colder, shorter and more wet days started to approach us. I felt like it is the right time to talk about the winter mode when it comes to stand-up paddleboarding.
The most common question I often heard is 'Can I paddle in winter?'
My answer is 'YES!' - it is a sport which you can enjoy all year round without having an expensive wetsuit or drysuit in your wardrobe.
There are key two main aspects when it comes to winter paddling; having the right gear and looking after your safety while making smart choices.
Winter gear and clothing
Always take spare clothes with you
You never know when you would need to use them. A spare change of clothes when you get off the water is vital, especially if you’ve got a little wet! Nobody like to driving home in damp clothes, especially during the winter months.
Dress appropriately to the weather condition
Dressing appropriately is vital for colder months paddling. Depend on the location and types of the session a different type of gear may be recommended.
In my winter gear you can find:
• wetsuit - only if I plan to spend many hours in the water, perhaps when going for a rescue training, trip to the coast or when I want to play on board in colder months.
As stand-up paddleboarding is an activity that happens above the surface of the water, in my day to day paddles, I would have only neoprene bottoms as my legs are more likely will get wet and keep normal sport type of clothes in the upper part of my body. It is my personal choice and calculated risk based on the fact that most of my winter paddles happen in a flatwater environment.
• base layers - warm long-sleeved running t-shirt (male & female) and additional thermal layers (male & female) for extremely cold days or sunrise paddles. As a person who doesn't like to wear gloves while paddling, I love running t-shirt as the thumb loops keeping my hands warm.
• leggins - quick-dry leggings for warmer paddles (male - the only one I found which were thin & female 1, 2, 3) and 1,5/2 mm neoprene leggings for colder days (male 1, 2, 3 & female 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & unisex).
• waterproof socks and neoprene shoes - proper thick 5mm neoprene shoes are part of my day to day paddle (unisex 1, 2, 3) and for colder days I would put extra waterproof socks so my feet stay nice and dry (socks 1, 2). Neoprene works when it's wet as the trapped water between materials is being heated by the body. At the moment when you put waterproof socks on you can't heat up the trapped water with your own body.
TIP - in extremely cold weather when I put waterproof socks on, I would take hot water in the flask, pour it into shoes, leave it for a minute then remove water and put my feet with my waterproof socks on as the shoes are heated by hot water. For longer trips, I would take the remaining hot water with me and topped up the shoes halfway through.
• softshell jacket - used on most of the day to day paddles over the warm running long-sleeved t-shirts. I have a selection of these in different colours which keep me nice, warm and fashionable with small wind and water-resistant membrane. Mine ones are from Lidl (currently they have a male version only) but you can find them in many outdoor shops.
• winter jacket - my usual winter jacket (used rarely) for very cold days.
• beanie - any brand and type would do the job as long kit keep you warm. I bought a selection of few different colours from charity shops and Primark so I can play with my outfit by wearing different hats.
• sunglasses - any brand would do the job but note that if you drop them they will sink. For extra peace of mind, you may want to consider buying floatable sunglasses.
• dry bag - to keep your personal belonging, extra layers and food dry.
• dryrobe - to keep you toasty when you get off the water. Dryrobe’s are a popular choice for paddlers because they’re so spacious, fully waterproof, cosy and they can just be chucked on at the side of the river. British Canoeing members also receive exclusive benefits of 10% off on dryrobe as they are an official partner. Passenger is an alternative, cheaper changing robe provider.
Some people would also have:
• drysuit - an expensive piece of kit that will keep you 100% dry even if you have a dip. This option gives you the biggest freedom on board as you don't have to worry about getting wet. My dream drysuit is produced by Stand Out Sport. Mostly used by professionals and athletics.
• buffs/neck warmers - I find them irritable, plus the running long-sleeved t-shirts I used to cover my neck nicely so I don't feel like I need an extra layer.
• neoprene gloves - I personally hate them. I found them very restrictive and due to the limited movement of my fingers, they get even colder compare to if I didn't have one. I personally prefer the freedom of my finger to keep my blood flowing. Once you upgrade your paddle from aluminium to carbon the place you hold the paddle usually warm up so it doesn't feel as cols.
• cap - any brand would do the job. For extra peace of mind, you may want to consider buying a floatable cap.
You know yourself the best and know which part of your body gets colder first and how many layers do you need to keep you warm. For me, in autumn when the weather is in moderate conditions, I will have quick dry leggings, a long-sleeved top and a softshell jacket with neoprene shoes. When it's getting a bit colder I will change quick-dry leggings for neoprene ones. If the weather is extremely cold I would add extra base thermal layers, beanie, waterproof socks and a hot water procedure for the shoes.
Always think about what will be most suitable to forecasted weather and dress up in the 'onion style' with multiple layers. Remember once you start to paddle, your body will warm up and you may want to take a layer down. But if you will stop for the break you may want to put a layer back to ensure you stay nice and warm.
Be prepared for cold water
We often forget how cold that water is… especially if we haven’t fallen in it for a while! Prepare for getting wet even if you have no intention of falling in. On a sunny day, you may be tempted to take most of your layers off and keep your t-shirt only. But you never know exactly what will happen on the water, and some circumstances will be outside of your control, so if you’re prepared for the cold wet stuff, it lessens the risk of water shock, or in extreme cases, hypothermia.
Safety Aspects (applicable all year round)
Have a plan and be prepared
Always try to plan sessions if you can, obviously, spontaneous paddles are always nice but if you plan ahead you will be more likely to be prepared for the condition you may face. Assessing paddling conditions is incredibly important as it would impact your performance and safety. Always do the harder part (against wind or current) of the paddle first to ensure you could return back.
Never forget about a drink to keep yourself hydrated and some snacks so you can boost yourself with a little treat when feeling low in energy. Drink, food and breaks adjust accordingly to the length of your paddle.
Check the weather and chosen location conditions
During colder months weather can surprise you - you can expect anything from wind, rain, snow, fog, sun and even a few of these mixed up together especially if you plan to do a day trip. So check the weather condition (MetOffice, Windy App, BBC Weather, Windy) a few days before the paddle, as well as on the day for any last-minute weather changes!
Apart from the weather condition, different considerations may need to be required depends where you plan to paddle. In moving or tidal water check out the tides chart, the strength of current and river/sea levels then make a decision it's safe to operate. Don’t forget the Environment Agency has a really useful river and sea-level tool on their website. For instance, they provide detailed information of the Thames River condition providing information when it's not safe to operate.
Wear a buoyancy aid and appropriate leash
Life jackets and personal floating devices are useless unless worn. In case of any emergency situations, they can save your life, keep you afloat and can add an extra layer to keep you nice and warm. To find out more about lifejackets please visit the RLNI page. I personally use PEAK UK River Vest and Spinlock Alto floatation system.
Having an appropriate leash is a very important safety element so pick the right leash according to the conditions and location where you plan to paddle. A straight leash is ideal for surfing as it has less spring back compare to the coiled leash. The coiled leash is mainly used in the flat waters and recess scene as it produces less drag and reduces the risk of getting caught. However, a quick-release leash is vital in the event of a situation when you need to separate from your board quickly e.g becoming held by the water against an underwater obstacle. Therefore when paddling in white water or strong current a quick-release leash is essential. You can buy a quick-release leash or go for a cheaper option and purchase a quick-release belt that can be added to any standard straight or coil leash.
Never forget your phone and always tell your friend or family member details of your paddle
If you get into trouble or difficulties, especially if you’re paddling on your own, you need a way of calling for help. Always carry a phone in a waterproof pocket/bag and if you’re paddling on the sea, it’s worth investing in a VHF radio. Note that mobile phone signal coverage is not always good everywhere. Sending a text will give you the best chance of making contact in poor signal areas if you can't make a call.
To use the Emergency SMS Text Service you have to preregister your mobile phone number. So... to set up a UK emergency 999 contacts on your phone, then text 'Register' to that contact and follow instructions you receive back - basically a further YES to acknowledge instructions.
Let a friend or family member know when and where you are paddling and what time you expect to return. Tell them what to do if you fail to ‘check in’ with them on or around your expected return time. You can use for that the Paddle Logger app - when you track your journey the PaddleLIVE® feature which would inform your loved ones when and where you head for a paddle, as well as send you notifications to check you are ok. If there is no response - or you fire a digital Flare - an alert will be sent to your chosen contact with details of your trip and location.
These simple pieces of equipment really can save your life should the worst happen.
Try to be social and paddle in the group where you can
Paddling in groups, no matter how big or small, is always advisable but especially in winter when days are shorter, conditions can be more challenging and you are at greater risk of hypothermia.
So where possible, be social. There are always like-minded people you can paddle with, look out for local clubs or social media groups in your neighbourhood. There are plenty of options, so stick together on the water where you can. Our SUPERA Community Group is based on Kennet and Thames along the West Berkshire/Berkshire/Oxfordshire county.