October 21, 2011
As the autumn winds started to blow this October it reminded me that my paddling routine was about to change. During summer, one can get out on the water, literally any day of the week in a bathing suit and rash guard and be totally stoked. User-friendly surf sessions, beautiful flat water touring, challenging race training paddles, thrilling down winders, truly there is always a session to be had with minimal gear requirements. Of course, UV protection should be part of every paddling session regardless of the time of year.
During the fall, the local paddling is still first rate, but you will need to keep your beach vehicle packed with a wide variety of gear. I will often have 2 or 3 wet suits, as well as, a couple of pairs of booties, along with multiple paddles and boards lashed to my truck so that I am ready for the variety of conditions that may be presented on a given day. A plastic tote box or gear bag is a nice addition to a beach vehicle in order to keep items organized and the interior of vehicles dry and clean.
The early fall (up to Columbus day) is a fairly user-friendly time frame with prevailing light winds, warm days and cool nights. Usually, a spring suit (short arms, short legs) or board shorts and a neoprene top along with a pair of reef booties will provide plenty of warmth for outings on the bay. For some really warm days, also known as, Indian summer days, this line up may prove to be too much and in that case you can substitute a rash guard for the neo top. Should you elect to venture into the ocean for an SUP Surf session or down winder you can get away with a spring suit, but you may require a stitched 3/2 mil full suit with your reef booties.
The late fall season brings more North winds and rougher surf. Both of these contribute to fun paddling sessions, along with the need for different and heavier types of gear. North winds are synonymous with clean surf; something all traditional and Sup surfers look for. Fall storms and Nor Easters can bring great waves and winds that make for amazing down winders and super challenging big wave surf conditions. If you are looking to charge big waves or scream down the beach during a down wind paddle session, this is a great time for you to be on the water. On the bay a stitched 3/2 wetsuit matched with 3 mil booties will suffice, occasionally, you may want to add a wool beanie or lightweight neo-cap. Going on the ocean will require a taped 3/2 mil or even a 4/3mil suit, with a minimum of 3 mil booties. On colder or windy days, some people will add a light weight neoprene cap.
One notable factor associated with fall and winter paddling is the changeable weather we encounter. The nice, warm weather stretches we enjoy in summer are usually shorter in the fall and often we will go from warm and pleasant conditions to cold and windy or vice versa in a given day. My personal experience has been if it is nice in the morning go for it, if you wait until the afternoon, conditions may have changed adversely. Similarly, if it is nice on a given afternoon, do the session, tomorrow may bring completely different conditions.
As winter approaches in early December, air and water temperatures are dropping by the day and this marks the end of paddling season for most folks. For those of us that continue to paddle locally, we will need to have top quality gear that will protect us from the cold weather and waters of the North Atlantic winter season. In addition, we will work longer to prepare and enjoy shorter sessions in the water. Choose your time on the water carefully in the winter. Light winds usually equate to more enjoyable time on the water. Windy days are usually associated with frosty wind chills that can cut through the best water sports protective gear. Always dress for water temperature! Even the best paddlers fall in and can get in trouble. Hypothermia can set in quickly and being dressed properly is your best defense against such a scenario. On the bay a 4 mil taped full wetsuit with 5 mil booties and gloves along with a neoprene cap would be an appropriate outfit. A 5 mil wet suit or a dry suit would be fine for colder days. Most SUP-Surfers will wear a 5 or 6mil wet suit with 5 or 7mil booties and gloves in the ocean. There is no better feeling when entering frigid water than knowing you are warm inside of your quality winter wetsuit outfit. When in the water, be aware of your body temperature during cold water sessions, particularly feet and hands. These will get cold first and sometimes will start to sting if you wait too long to get out and get warmed up. Not unlike skiing in the mountains ignoring cold hands on the water can lead to frost bite.
In summary, I would like to leave you with a few simple guidelines to follow when embarking on a fall or winter paddling session.
– Always be prepared for the conditions you are paddling in to.
– Check your gear before every session. Board, Boat, paddle, leash, wetsuit must all be in proper working order.
– If the surf looks too big or you are unsure if you can handle the conditions you are facing on the bay or ocean, do not go in. Wait for conditions to calm down or go to another spot that is more user friendly.
– If you are not sure what equipment to use, check in with a more experienced friend or contact a local paddle sports shop for advice.
– Always use a leash. When Stand up Paddling, it is what keeps you attached to your board. When kayaking wear a PFD.
– Never enter the water if you do not know what you are doing (i.e. surf protocol, paddling skills, cold weather experience). You will hurt yourself or someone else.
– Always dress for water temperature. Just because it is a nice sunny day with light winds, will not change the fact that the water temperature is near freezing.
– Always paddle along the shore when on the bay in winter and always have a partner in the surf zone or on open water.
– Educate yourself about winter paddling and the proper equipment that is required. – Visit a local paddlesports shop and try on wetsuits and check out other gear. Most shops will be happy to spend time with you during the colder months when business slows down.
– Have fun out there as that is what it is all about.
Main Beach Surf and Sport