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Whether you are a new or experienced we rarely on plan falling off our stand up paddleboard. It is usually something we feel we should avoid at all costs. We can however prepare for the inevitable and make ourselves feel safer by doing so.
Having come from a surfing background I’ve noticed surfers are less worried about falling off when learning. The fact is, when surfing, falling off your board is inevitable. Surfboards are smaller and not designed to fully support our weight without the momentum of a wave behind us. When the wave crashes, typically we fall into the water. It’s expected!
When it comes to falling off a SUP we tend to see it as a failure or a blunder. Falling can be due to poor footing or unexpected waves, anything that will cause us to wobble and lose balance. Often we only fall in when we have made a technical error such as poor footing. Interestingly I see a lot of fear amongst new paddlers compared to new surfers. This fear doesn’t equate to perceived danger however. Falling off a surfboard amongst crashing waves is more likely to cause injury than falling into flat water.
Hazzards of surfing
This article isn’t to say one sport is more dangerous than the other. My aim is to unpack the fears around falling of your stand up paddleboard and discuss how you can feel safe. Here are some of the dangers surfers face when learning that flat water SUP boarders don’t need to consider;
- Once under the water you are more likely to be spun around by the surf and lose sense of direction. Friends of mine have thought they were swimming up to the surface but have actually been alarmed at hitting the sandy bottom
- You can be dragged under by the wave
- You come off faster
- There is more of a likelihood of hitting other surfers when you are still learning to manoeuvre your board
- If you come off too close to the shore you can hit the bottom hard
- A wave can pick up your surfboard and hit you in the head if you fall off the wrong way
Falling Off – Don’t Plan but Do Prepare
There are many things to consider to help alleviate the fear of falling when going out for a paddle session are;
Look at where you plan to SUP. Does your location have calm and tranquil water such as a lake or is there swell and waves. Obviously the more swell there is the greater the chance of falling off your stand up paddleboard. If you are wishing to avoid falling in it is better to choose calm water while you learn.
What is the windspeed?
The lower the wind speed the better while you are learning. While it is less likely to be the reason that you fall from your board, it can certainly factor in when it comes to decision making. If the wind speed is particularly high, new paddlers can tend to panic making their stance or paddle technique less effective and more likely to lead to them getting off balance and falling off their stand up paddleboard. For more information check out our post on Wind Speed, Resistance and Stand Up Paddleboarding here.
How deep is the water you are paddling on?
The depth of the water can help build confidence in the new paddler. If the water is clear enough you can see a sandy ocean or lake floor. By knowing that you can stand up with your head above the water, you are more likely to feel safe.
Are there Aquatic plants?
Aquatic plants can be problematic and usually are somewhat underestimated by anyone who hasn’t come into contact with them. Here in Scotland there is many myths and legends about Selkies and Kelpies who pull unwary swimmers beneath the surface! Like most myths there is a level of truth in these tales when you consider the effect of becoming entangled in plantlife which is believed to be the origin of the legend. Depending on where you live in the world, aquatic plant life can also be home to aquatic creatures of varying levels of threat from stings and bites.
What is the surface below the water?
It is important to know what surface is below the water. Just recently we were reminded of this. We were paddling in a Loch that we’d previously visited but from a different launch spot. Elsewhere we had found a firm stone and sand surface. It was easily solid enough to stand on while getting on our boards. At the new location it was muddy and silty with reeds and was quite problematic. There was nothing to push off from and our feet were sucked into the mud. It was clear how easily you could become stuck in these conditions. This would make getting back on your board really difficult.
Knowing the water temperature is really important even more so when you are learning. By ensuring that you have the right level of clothing to keep warm in colder waters such as a wetsuit, a dry suit you reduce the sense of panic you may feel at falling. See below for more information or check out our Frequently Asked Questions about the gear we use.
Educate your self on Cold Water Shock
Coming from a much warmer part of the world than where I currently live I had little experience and knowledge about Cold Water Shock. The only time I’d ever been in really cold water was doing a supervised polar plunge challenge above the arctic circle which was quickly followed by a sauna. If you live in a region where the water can get below 15c or are planning on visiting one with your board, it is important to be prepared, know the signs and have the right equipment. For more information check out this really good resource here.
Have the right equipment
Ensuring you have the right thickness wetsuit in cold climates is important as is having UV protection in hot climates. Having the right clothing/wetsuit ensures you stay comfortable throughout your session and stay safe.
Having the right wetsuit can make you feel more comfortable if you fall into cold waterSUP Chick
Click on the above images for more information or to take you to the AMAZON store to check current prices and to make a purchase.
Ensure that you have the correct and or legally required PDF for your conditions and location. While some locations have no regulations, some places do. A great example is Loch Lomond here in Scotland. We have never seen any notifications around the loch about the laws regarding PFD’s. It wasn’t until a local told us about the Local By-laws that we found out about this. It took a bit of online searching as the details are well hidden but there are regulations around wearing PFD’s on Loch Lomond. The By-Laws can be found here if you are like me and need to see for yourself. The section you are looking for is on Page 16, 3.5 6 (c & d). Either way you should wear a PFD if you are an inexperienced swimmer and not confident in your ability to get back on your board.
PFD’s such as the Red Air Belt can be a good option for paddlers who are concerned with restriction from other buoyancy aids. They come in a range of colours. Click here or in the image above to find out more.
Jumping instead of Falling off your Stand Up Paddleboard!
While contrary to the above statement – ‘we never plan to fall’, we can plan to jump! Some people find this particularly useful to overcome the fear of falling in. I can’t vouch for this myself as I learned to swim at an early age. I was always jumping into pools confident in my swimming skills. There is some merit in this approach however. By desensitising yourself to falling off you can take some of the fear away.
Getting back on your Board
It is well worth practicing getting back onto your board from in the water. It sounds simple but can be harder than you think. First off try getting onto your board in water that you can still touch the bottom. Start with water about waist height and then progress to shoulder height. Once you have the technique down you can practice without touching the bottom. Stay at a distance that you can easily swim to shallow water until you’ve perfected your technique. Having the confidence that you can get back onto your board will make falling in less of a problem.
Are your swimming skills up to speed? Do you feel safe in water if you can’t touch the bottom? Consider getting lessons if you’ve never learned or if you would like to improve your abilities. Being a confident swimmer can make you feel a lot safer and more comfortable with falling of your stand up paddleboard.
Learning techniques and tips from a SUP Coach in person can help build your confidence. Check out local SUP coaches to see what they offer. If you don’t know your learning style check out our post on How to Get Started Stand Up Paddleboarding. This can help you work out which is the best way to learn for your learning style.
Paddle with a friend or social group
Often people will feel a lot more confident and safer when they have a friend with them or if they are paddling with their local SUP group. If you don’t know anyone else who wants to Stand Up Paddle do a search for groups within your area online. A great place to meet like minded padders is on Facebook Pages and Facebook Groups. Most locations have local SUP groups to join.
The information in this post is quite general and it is recommended that you do a self assessment of your skill levels and seek the coaching and guidance you need personally. If it doesn’t feel safe to paddle then stick to places you feel comfortable until your skill level improves. I hope you have enjoyed this post and it has helped you feel more confident about falling off your Stand Up Paddleboard.
Stay tuned, next week when we visit Sarina Beach, Queensland Australia. Do you have a favourite SUP location that you think should be added here? Contact us on the ‘Contact’ tab and we’ll include it in a later post.