Paddle in hand, and a float beneath your feet… that’s all you need to get out in nature with one of the world’s fastest-growing activities: Stand-Up Paddleboarding. With all-in-one inflatables that pack down into one bag, you don’t even need a car to get on the water! But the same simplicity that makes SUP a great intro watersport, also makes it one of the riskiest. From Australia to the UK, paddleboard-related incidents are on the rise. So how do you avoid becoming another statistic?
Spoiler alert: it ties into our mission. At GeerGarage, we’re not just obsessed with accessibility, but community too. We’ve found there’s no substitute for exchanging real experiences between peers. Connecting outdoors enthusiasts drives our gear-rental platform and we encourage learning from your Lender! In the meantime, here’s a few nuggets from our collective hours on the water, on whether you’re actually ready to brave the board alone.
Smart, Seen and Self-reliant
Are you confident with these three S’s of paddleboarding safety? It might seem strange that SUPs are often considered a type of vessel in Washington state. But the more time you spend on a board, the more it makes sense! After all, you are exposed to many of the same challenges as boats; from changeable ocean conditions to risk of sinking.
When it comes to being smart with safety, don’t guess or rely on rumor alone – you can take a Free Paddleboard Safety Course and see if you know whether you should turn left or right if you find yourself in a head-on collision course with a boat!
Staying seen ensures that anyone else on the water can spot you, all the way up to huge cruises or ferries if you’re in the ocean. That means at minimum, packing lights in case you get caught out in the dark/rain and high visibility colors in case of sudden fog.
Perhaps the most important of all is being self-reliant – can you get yourself back to shore if your board fails? You should feel like a confident swimmer if you’re planning to paddle in water that’s out of your depth. Otherwise, there’s plenty of paddling practice to be had in shallow, inland regions first!
Self-reliant doesn’t mean advanced. It means even if someone can do paddleboard pinchas or headstands on SUP, they need to be able to get themselves back on the board after falling in, even if they’re tired, achy and sunburnt and suddenly the waves have picked up.
Whatever your adventure, the proof is in the planning. A sunny-day cenote paddle is going to need wildly different gear from an overnight San Juan island SUP-camping trip, even if they both sound fun!
Different bodies of water react differently to the weather. Ocean trips will be affected by tides and currents. Washington state is home to infamous tidal surges, such as those at Deception Pass which, depending on the time of day, can run like Class II whitewater, with whirlpools and rapids akin to open ocean conditions up to 7 knots in speed!
Even confident, experienced paddlers get familiar with local weather as part of planning a paddle. Use Windy and WindAlert to check wind conditions, and if you’re a beginner, stay under 12-13 knots. When you’re in a group, there’s a bigger margin for error, and safety in numbers if someone gets swept out unawares. For your first solo paddleboarding trip, you’re better sticking to still, calm inland waters, with plenty of outside eyes and ears around, as well as people at home who are aware of your paddle plan and location.
Did you know that back in 2013, SUP had the most first-time participants of any sport in the USA?!
Check your SUPplies
Most people use the outdoors as a way to disconnect, but when solo paddleboarding make sure you’ve got data, and reception. You need to be trackable, and able to contact emergency services… as well as ready to snap any cool wildlife encounters on the way!
That cellphone needs to be waterproof and attached to a flotation device in case you tip or drop it. The GeerGarage team recommends a dry bag, back-up phone case and waterproof phone pouch, all backed-up with sealable sandwich bags for extra insurance. Ideally, you’d have a radio, EPIRB or back-up communications device just in case too.
And it’s not just your devices that need backup. If you’re staying around Seattle, Washington State law requires you to have “at least one properly fitted Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board” as well as a “sound-producing device” such as a whistle, and that’s for canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards too.
When you create a rental with us, you are also connected with a Lender, so make sure to share your plan and listen to their advice, and remember it’s your responsibility to make sure it’s all accounted for and you know how it works
Sink or Swim solo
Personal comfort level, and water fitness are all contributors to whether you will be a good solo paddleboarder. Even some of the most experienced paddlers prefer going for the social aspect of a group paddle, or having the wise reminders of a friend who knows that a 2 hour paddle in one direction, might take 3 hours the other way accounting for wind and waves, or reminds you you skipped lunch and are likely to be hangry before the halfway mark!
Gliding along on a board has a pretty low impact on the environment. Without a noisy motor, SUP offers incredible nature encounters and is a great core and balance workout too. Whether paddling on your own or with others, remember you’re there to enjoy the outdoors.
A kneeling paddleboard trip can be just as rewarding as an athletic overnighter, if you just take a moment to appreciate the rocking of the water, the green of the trees and the breath of fresh air that says it was your arms and legs that brought you there, whether or not it was with a little help from others.