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With the 70% of the earth being covered with water, there is a pretty good chance there is SUP-able water somewhere very near you. The short answer to “Where can I go paddle boarding near me?” is anywhere that there is water. However, there is actually a little bit more to it than that.
You can go stand up paddle boarding anywhere you can find access to water that is at least knee deep. It can be in a lake, river, ocean, or pond. However, paddling in each of these bodies of water is very different. Let’s take a look the most popular types of water ways to stand up paddle board on and get you to ready to hit the water.
While stand up paddle boarding started on the oceans, in the US most people actually SUP on lakes. Often referred to as flat water paddling, that generalization can be a little misleading as while lakes can be calm and flat, they can also see waves caused by wind and boats. When heading out to find a lake to paddle board on, a couple of things to keep in mind are:
Access – if you or friends live on the lake, then you are all set as you can launch from private property. However, if you don’t have that luxury, you are going to need to find a public access point. This can be a marina, public park, or boat ramp.
Water Depth – some lakes can be shallow. A general rule of thumb is that you want to be in water at least knee deep before you stand on your stand up paddle board. The fin draws about 10” of water, and you don’t want to be paddling and have your fin catch bottom as that usually is followed quickly by swim.
Weather Forecast – even a lake you know well can change dramatically if the wind picks up. The water that was once smooth and glassy can become choppy and rough. As well, paddling into a strong wind can make returning to your starting point a challenge.
Boat Traffic – keep you eyes open! Don’t assume that the boaters see you. Glare off the water, and at times, driver inattentiveness, can make spotting a stand up paddle boarder tough. Try to steer clear of areas with heavy boat traffic if possible.
Wear a Leash – leashes make sense. They keep you and board your board together. Wear one.
The key to having fun stand up paddle boarding on the lake nearest you is to do it safely, but also to be on the right board. Generally, all around stand up paddle boards, or touring stand up paddle boards are the best style of board. All around boards will let you have a lot of fun in any condition a lake will throw your way. Touring boards, while faster and designed to cover more distance, are generally best enjoyed on days where the water is quite calm.
River stand up paddle boarding can share a lot of the same experiences that paddle boarding in a lake can. At times the water can be calm, however faster moving rivers provide a challenge and specialized equipment all on their own.
In slower moving rivers, a few things to consider are:
Current – rivers flow in one direction, and with varying speeds. If the current is quite slow and the water calm, you can treat slower moving rivers much like a lake. However, paddling into a strong current can be a challenge, which can make returning to your starting point a challenge.
Varying Conditions – with currents comes variety. The flow of water in the middle of a wide point of the river can be much slower compared to a narrower point. Planning ahead and knowing the water conditions the entire length of the section of river you will be paddling is key.
Water Depth – like a lake, the depth can vary. Be sure to stay in water that is at least knee deep. If paddling with the current in a smaller river or stream, shallow areas can come up on your quickly. Keep a keen eye on the conditions in front of you.
Watch out for Bends in the River – A lot of rivers and intercostal water ways meander with gentle curves and bends. However, some may be sharper than others and cause blind corners. Like when driving a car, someone can be coming the other way!
Stay Out of the Channel – Marked channels are generally for motorized boats. While there are no rules that stand up paddle boards can not go in the channel, staying out keeps you safer and out of harms way.
Wear a Leash – forget being “up the river without a paddle”, without a leash you might be up the river without a board. Or worse. Wear one.
Like lake stand up paddle boarding, calm and slower river stand up paddle boarding is best on an all around board or touring board. All Around boards offer the most stable platform of all, while a touring board will offer great speed and better tracking, so are more ideal for advanced paddlers looking to cover more distance.
If you are going to venture into white water paddling, that is something that is best done once you have substantial experience and have mastered your flat water stand up paddle board skills. However, one tip we will give is that white water stand up paddle board should be done 100% of the time on an inflatable stand up paddle board! Unless you want your nice new rigid/non-inflatable board smashed to pieces on a rock, best stick to an iSUP in white water.
While many areas of ocean water are rougher and offer surf conditions, calmer bays, sounds and areas like the Gulf of Mexico, offer some of the best flat water paddle boarding possible. When we refer to calm ocean paddling, this is any ocean condition where there are not breaking surf waves. A few things to keep in mind of you are going to paddle on a calmer body of ocean water is:
Tides – unlike lakes, tides will impact you when paddling. The depth of water can and will change, as well, the current will change. Know the tide forecast for where you are paddling, and plan your paddle session accordingly.
Wildlife – not to spook you, but there are things that live in oceans that don’t live in lakes or rivers. Be sure to check for any local warnings in the area for shark sightings and plan accordingly.
Changing Conditions – things can change quickly. Really quickly. Always know the weather forecast, and when in doubt, don’t go out.
Wear a Leash – safe to say we are starting to sound like a broken record on this point, but for good reason. Leashes save lives. Wear one!
A versatile all around stand up paddle board is your winning board for calmer ocean conditions. A very popular choice for many that live near an ocean is a board that does well in both flat water, and surf. Usually within a few miles of coast line you can have the option of calmer waters, or surf. Having a versatile all around board that can do both is always a smart option.
What can we say, stand up paddle boarding in surf, or SUP surfing, is awesome. For many the hardest part of surfing is the “pop up” which is getting from laying down to standing up. On your SUP board, you are already standing and ready to catch the next wave! Not only that, but the size of SUP boards allows SUP surfers to catch smaller waves. Small wave days that aren’t great for surfing become incredible SUP surfing days. However, a few things to keep in mind:
Skill level – make sure that you have mastered flat water paddling before heading into the surf. With waves to contend with, you want to make sure your balance and paddle stroke are rock solid.
Tides and Local Conditions – knowing where the waves break, established rip currents, and tide cycles are just a few things on the need to know list. Even before you think of heading out at place you haven’t SUP surfed at before, just sit on the beach and watch for a while. See where the waves break, see what others on the water are doing, but just as important, what they aren’t doing. For example, if everyone seems to paddle back out in the same spot, there is likely a reason!
Surf Etiquette – just like any other sport, there are rules. All surf line ups have etiquette when it comes to catching waves. Make sure you know the local etiquette. Don’t be that guy who starts stealing waves. You have been warned.
Wear a Leash – regardless of lake, ocean, or river, we always suggest wearing a leash. In surf, this is not a suggestion anymore, but mandatory. This is for your safety so you don’t lose your board. However, it is also for everyone else’s safety, as the board you just lost is now hurtling through the break waves on a collision course with someone’s head.
One of the most appealing things about stand up paddle boarding is the endless options of places you can paddle. All you have to do now is find the water that is nearest you, grab your board, and head out. Don’t stick to just one style of water, try them all!
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