Introduction - Part 1 Planning a Coastal SUP Journey

My favourite thing to do is to grab a few good friends, load up the boards, be armed with a picnic and go and explore a stunning stretch of Cornish coastline.  At any point in time I have a wish list of paddles, special because they are challenging, on quieter more exposed stretches that are only possible a couple of days a year, are noted for their wildlife, have mesmerising named features such as ‘Flavel’s Hole,’  or there is destination waterside pub awaiting.

Lambsowden Cove, The Roseland I call this the Camel, the remains of the arch at the entrance of this collapsed cave. Alas the head has recently fallen off.

Lambsowden Cove, The Roseland

I call this the Camel, the remains of the arch at the entrance of this collapsed cave. Alas the head has recently fallen off.

As a SUP Guide living and playing in Cornwall I know how lucky I am and  I so enjoy sharing my passion for exploring the coast and making it accessible to all abilities of paddlers.    I notice that paddlers tend not to paddle beyond the cove and that there is little support or resources to help you make the step to independently create your own micro adventures.

This article  is aimed at giving an overview of the key issues in planning a 1 hour to 1 day paddle along a section of coastline.  It is not a definitive guide but will raise the key issues and point to further resources.

The usual disclaimers apply with all such advice in the outdoors.  All watersports have risks and no amount of information can be a substitute for training and experience.  Only you can know your ability, and that of those in your group, only you will be able to read the conditions  on the day, and so be able to make good decisions.

If in doubt employ a Guide or seek training. 

A bit of general advice

Stay Safe

Paddle within your own and your group’s abilities, prepare and equip yourselves.

Remain flexible with your plans

I know how tricky this is to do, particularly if you have just a weekend and you have set your heart on a particular  adventure.   When you are gathering experience you need conditions to be excellent and mother nature is not always co-operative  or even predictable.   Have a back-up plan for different conditions and have the confidence to postpone or even abort a trip, this is never a bad decision.

Research and plan

There is so much you can do sat at your computer at home.   The internet is an amazing resource which I use daily and in so many different ways.

Leadership and the group

It is important (and fun) to share the experience with other people.  The moment you plan the activity even if everyone is at the same level you become the leader by default.  Sharing out tasks and planning together is a great way to share the responsibility but also to upskill the whole group. 

Gain more experience

You want to stretch yourself and the best way to learn is to gain experience but if you are not sure, seek out professional help.  This may involve being guided on the particular stretch of coast first and talking through the key issues on route.    


The best locations & conditions in which to plan your first coastal journeys

  • In a location which has access and egress points all along it, and which is sheltered from the Atlantic swell.  
  • In conditions which are deemed flat (this term can be misleading as on the sea the water under your boards moves constantly in all conditions)
  • In gentle off shore winds of less than 10 mph.  It is always great to have the wind assist you on the return journey.
  • With a couple of well-equipped friends who are all competent paddlers.

Setting Goals - Part 2 Planning a Coastal SUP Journey

What are your goals?

Many would think that defining goals is better suited to a business environment rather than a Stand Up Paddleboard Adventure.  I believe that better understanding your goals, what you would like to achieve on a Paddle Adventure will aid all aspects of your planning.

My most established goal as stated in the introductionis:-

‘To explore inaccessible stunning stretches of coastline, have a picnic on a beach with no other footprints and enjoy looking out over the ocean with friends, a paddle which  challenges me.’ 

Here are a few more:-

·         To learn to plan & navigate on a Coastal SUP

·         To find an interesting feature or view just outside of the cove

·         To create a journey A to B with lots of changing views and points of interest

·         To find a beach where you can set up for the day and use as a base for snorkelling

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Who will be paddling with you?

The number, ability and fitness of the group is important, and back to definingyour leadership, the more experienced you are relative to the group then the more accountable you are.  The whole group should share the goal and should be capable of the journey.

In the outdoors it is often said that 3 people is the minimum, as in case of an emergency if one is injured one can give first aid while one goes for help.  I am pragmatic if the necessary precautions and planning are in place.

I would say that more than 4 people the group can become unmanageable if there is no outdoor leadership experience within the group. 

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Is the location right for you and your group?

The difficulty of a paddle and the general levels of risk can be assessed by asking a few of questions:-

1.       Is it sheltered from the prevailing Atlantic swell?  A west facing beach or coastline running north to south, not hidden behind another land mass such as the Lizard will only be suitable on the calmest of days.

2.       Is there shelter from the wind?

3.       Are there a lot of options for stopping and regular places which you can exit from?

4.       Are there multiple paddles from the launch site, allowing for back up plans?

These questions should be considered throughout the planning process and once you are broadly happy you can consider the route in more detail and in different conditions.


Research - Part 3 Planning a Coastal SUP Journey

Research and Plan

Now where to start?  You are heading to Cornwall in June with 3 friends, 3 of you have boards and one will have to hire, everyone has SUP’d happily on inland flatwater for many miles, the aim is to paddle a beautiful stretch of coastline which is safe.  Sounds plausible?

A great starting point is a hire company, you can choose a beach based one which may fix your launch site or a mobile one, which will give you more choice.  Whichever you choose you can ask for advice.  SUP in a Bag provides a Journey Planning Service with hires, even if you may want the experience of planning yourself, sounding out ideas is always a good thing. 

You may have a favourite spot that you have dreamed of launching from, and that is a great start.  If you have a blank canvas, try searching the phrase ‘best places to paddle in …….’ Or pick a place on the map, Mevigissey ‘I’ve heard there are a lot of boat trips there, there must be lots to see!?’

It is worth searching videos too and think about other paddle sports, mindful of the different abilities of different craft.  My favourite is GB Paddler who has an amazing series of videoshttps://www.youtube.com/user/GBPaddling/videos be mindful that it is a little extreme for most people and he certainly has a knack for having the perfect conditions.

Searches will throw up all sorts of useful and not so useful information.  They may even give you that all important inspiration. 

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Useful websites

Here are some of my favourite websites:-

www.paddlepoints.net is both a community and a powerful tool which includes launch sites and a platform which enables you to look at OS maps and Google Map generated Satellite pictures as well as tidal information from one screen. 

www.cornwallbeaches.org.uk  has mapped 100’s of beaches in Cornwall.  Each beach has an information sheet describing the characteristics of the beach, what activities it is good for, any amenities and parking.  It even has details of the slipway.

www.songofthepaddle.co.uk  are a knowledgeable and active Canoe Community who regularly Blog about their trips and offer advice and ideas.  The Blogs are usually fairly detailed with pictures, launch sites, tidal issues and even ideas of where to stay.  They are dedicated to Open Canoes so you may not be able to join.  Note open canoeist’s travel faster, further and tend to stay inland or on sheltered stretches.

www.SUPTrotter.co.uk is an emerging community Platform. It is really interactive and enables you to build up a profile of your paddling.   

Local Tour businesses may have done the work for you by describing their Tours and highlighting the ability required.  They may also have other resources SUP in a Bag publishes a top places to paddle in Cornwall www.SUPinaBag.co.uk/Places-to-Paddle

The lone blogger often knows a small area intimately and so sometimes comes up trumps, I found one of my favourite little know inland launch sites by reading www.adventureswiththeblackdog.co.uk

The Power of Google Maps

You tested your search engine (other search engines are available), now search for the launch location and click on the map tab, I head straight for the Satellite option.  On a large scale you can see features such as Bays and Headlands and on a detailed view you can see rock gardens and small beaches.

I spend hours on Google Maps, I start by looking at the route and if it interests me, I scroll along it thinking is it sheltered from the Atlantic swell, are there changes in the direction of travel, features such as headlands, are there escape routes and in which winds and swell will it work. more about these later).

I often switch to PaddlePoints at this point to look at contours or I  load up the Google Maps photos.  These help to build a picture of the route.  If there are few photos available, it is sign that it is an extremely quiet stretch and perhaps one to be avoided for your first trips.

The OS function on www.Paddlepoints.net has an advantage as it gives detailed names of islands and features.  The names given many years ago are usually a good sign ‘Ralph’s Cupboard’ a collapsed cave and ‘the Devil’s Frying Pan’ are intriguing.  Other useful spots may include historic quays, though further research is required to see if they are public access.

The OS also gives the gradient of the shore and importantly the rights of way in case you did have to abandon a paddle and walk out.

I usually load up Google Map again and look at street view, I use this for scouting out on road parking options and even reading any restrictions on public use of a slipway, being mindful that this information may have changed.

The Sea State - Part 4 Planning a Coastal SUP Journey

The Sea State - wind, tide and swell

Understanding how a set of forecasts will translate into the sea state and so affect you on your journey is the real key.  There are prevailing conditions which mean that certain locations would be considered too challenging in most conditions.  The North Coast of Cornwall is likely out of bounds 95% of the time, due to the Atlantic swell. 

The sea is different every moment of every day, it is affected by the wind, tides and swell,  individually and as complex combinations.  Coastal features big and small make a big difference and not forgetting banks and rock formations that lie underwater.

There is usually a link between how dramatic and high the coastline is, and how challenging a SUP is likely to be.  The East Coast of the Lizard at Porthallow, where there are lots of small coves and small cliffs around 20 m high, verses the West Coast at Kyanance Cove where there are few beaches and imposing cliffs around 70 m, illustrates the difference well. 

This is a quick guide but be mindful that people spend a lifetime building up knowledge of the ocean and weather.

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Wind

I find that novice paddlers can paddle comfortably in up to 12 mph winds.  They make good progress with rests up to 14 mph (more if kneeling), and a short concerted effort can be made up to 18 mph.  This is extremely subjective dependant on so many factors.  The lower the winds, the lower the risks.  This means that there are many more choices of locations in light wind conditions.

Wind can help or slow your progress at sea as it would on a lake.  A one way journey is often attractive as you can achieve greater distances, using the wind to your advantage. 

Wind chop is tricky to deal with, it is unpredictable and difficult to balance on.  The all purpose entry level Paddle boards are unable to cut through it, often stalling when they hit a bump.  This affects the speed of the board, the energy you use, causes falling in, moves you down from standing and so may affect the viability of the paddle (it’s good fun and great for balance for short periods).

The Beau Fort scale offers a guide www.delta-s.org/weer/beaufort.html this link shows pictures from a large ship, but on a SUP you are up close and personal.  I find in upper Force 4 novice paddlers need good of shelter.

The wind creates more chop the larger the expanse of water and so a moderate offshore wind correlates with a flat sea state close to shore.  Being blown off is a consideration. 

There are some great forecasting websites, some specialising in recreational boating.  In summer and in Cornwall they are very reliable at 3 days and good at 5.  The sites do not always get it right and when they disagree or change the forecast significantly, the alarm bells ring.

Be specific on your location, in Cornwall you can have sunshine on the North coast and at the same time flooding in Falmouth on the south coast.  Here are my favourite forecasting sites, they do use different forecasting models and I always check more than one especially when the forecast is borderline for my planned actvity:-

Wind guru – www.windguru.cz/int/

XC Weather - www.xcweather.co.uk

SKEGS – http://www.skegs.net/

Met Office - http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/

Swell

Swell is produced many miles away by wind.  www.MagicSeaweed.Com is a firm favourite for its detailed predictions.  Swell is described by its direction, height and interval, the longer the interval (time between the swells) generally the more powerful the wave and the better for surfing. 

It is important to consider swell when planning a journey.  A 3 foot swell with a big interval may be relatively easy to paddle on in the open sea, it can be rhythmic and predictable, gently causing you to rise and fall.  However when you wish to land, it will be extremely tricky.  On route the swell will react with any rocks or features, creating breaks where you did not necessarily expect them. 

I take novice paddlers out in up to 1 foot swell and experienced flat water paddlers in up to 2 feet.

Swell has many components, and Magic Seaweed predicts secondary swells.  I study these closely as they may cause you to switch coasts or even put you on the River.   An unusual easterly swell rules out some of my favourite and usually sheltered paddles in Cornwall.

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Tides

The ebb and flow of the tides has been reliably predicted for centuries.  The Gravity of the moon pulls the oceans around twice a day.  Each day the tide gets an hour (ish) later and the exact time of day of high and low tides varies depending on where you are. 

www.tides4fishing.com is easy to use and provides a lot of detail on tides.  Search for the specific launch site (or largest port) for more accuracy. 

There are spring and neap tides depending on the moon’s orbit.  On neap tides the high is around midday and there is little height change meaning that the volume of change in water is not great and so the tidal flow is relatively small.

On a spring tide the low is around midday and the change in height of water is great, making the tidal flow much more significant.  There is a variation even in spring tides, where just a few times a year there are ‘big’ spring tides, these are often associated with coastal flooding and terminology like a ‘Super Moon.’

The tides and the changing height are not linear through the cycle.  ‘The rule of twelfths’ defines the rate of change in height, it is used a lot in sailing navigation.  You will have observed it on the beach, where at low and high tide there is slack water (little movement of water) and mid tide (low +3 hours) the tide races in (particularly on a spring tide). 

‘My Grandma’s favourite past time was to sit on a rock with a cuppa and watch sunbathing tourists encamped in the middle of Chapel Porth beach surrounded by their things  as the water enters the cove picking up speed and threatening to douse them.’

On a tidal estuary the tides are key, as at low tide there may be sand banks or worse mud banks, making areas inaccessible.  There may be narrowing of the river with large expanses of water requiring high volumes up river.  This funnelling creates fast moving tides that can be difficult to paddle against (great to paddle with).  The Gannel, Crantock is a great example of this with a salt water lake upstream of a narrow channel.

On the coast the level of tidal flow is less noticeable except if there are coastal features such as headlands, more about this later.

I find that paddling in a big spring low tide is amazing, exposing rocky outcrops and much sea life not usually visible.  At any low tide there is likely to be more shelter behind rocky outcrops.  At high tide any swell can break right against the cliffs without being broken down.

At sea, the state of the tide affects access, there may be a long walk to the water on a spring tide.  More importantly its relationship with the wind and the features of the coastline should be considered.

Wind against Tide

As the title alludes, wind against tide occurs when they are coming from opposing directions creating a disturbance in the sea state.  A flat calm stretch can turn almost instantly into a maelstrom of lumps and bumps as the tidal flow increases.  Carrick Roads is notorious for this as creeks and rivers merge and the water opens out.

Coastal Features - Part 5 Planning a Coastal SUP Journey

Coastal Features and Sea State

Headlands

A Headland is a piece of land which protrudes into the sea, on a map they are often referred to as points, capes or heads.   Lizard Point, St Agnes Head and Cape Cornwall are all well known, but any coastal journey will be dotted with smaller features with similar characteristics but on a smaller scale.

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Headlands are usually dramatic giving a hint as to the extreme conditions in which they were formed.   I would avoid all significant Headlands on your first trips, even passing smaller points must be considered carefully. 

The wind and tide can be accelerated around headlands, the sea state is likely to be different on one side to the other and they can create eddies where the tide travels in the opposite direction than you may expect.  The wind can also spiral around being unpredictable.

The sea state around the Headland is different in different tides and can quickly change.

Tidal Races

Tidal races occur when the tide is running quickly, usually mid spring tide.  They occur in places where there is channel which funnels the water perhaps between an island a short distance off shore and the headland.  There will likely be a shelf or feature underwater.  These features work together to create a challenging sea state, chop of varying height, whirl pools and even standing waves can occur. 

The ‘Bitches’ is a famous Tidal Race off the coast of Wales, the standingwave is a popular destination for white water paddlers.

Even smaller less dramatic features on the coast can affect conditions.  In calm conditions it may just be an increased speed of the water making progress slow, while in other conditions the sea state may temporarily be impassable.

This is why it is important to identify such features, estimate the time that you will pass them and remember your return trip, assessing if paddling through is feasible.

 

Coves and beaches

Coves and beaches are important for launching, egress and picnics of course.  They may have breaking waves and, increased and sometimes unpredictable wind due to valleys and headlands.  Coves and beaches take many different forms, you have the cliff backed beaches such as Western Beach, Newquay, long expanses of sand and sand dunes such as Gwithian or beaches formed by streams which have cut a valley in to the land like Trevellas.   

The valleys funnel wind and regardless of its exact direction, force it straight out to sea.  If there is a moderate westerly I often paddle from an east facing cove, ducking quickly beneath the cliffs to find shelter.  At the end of the paddle I am mindful that we all have to have enough energy left to paddle against the wind (a shorter distance at low tide) back up the cove.  Zig zagging and kneeling help a lot.

Wind hitting the sea is instantly dispersed in all directions.  This means that you can be paddling into the wind heading towards a cove, as it opens it is pushing you off shore and then as you pass the wind is behind you.  

Beaches for access and egress may be busy with other water users and cluttered with rocks below the surface, making it tricky to pick a safe route through.  Sometimes the swell will be greater at one end of the beach.  It is always good to launch from a site that you are familiar with, particularly in the conditions you plan to paddle in. 

If this is not possible have a chat to a local, I find that paddlers are always happy to chat about their journeys and share information.

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So far you have:-

·         Understood the abilities of the group

·         Agreed goals

·         Thought about the conditions that you are happy to paddle in

·         Picked a favoured location

·         Scouted the route out for any features or areas which may have localised conditions affecting your journey

·         Thought about the route and in which conditions it will work.


The Plan - Part 6 Planning a Coastal SUP Journey


So far you have:-

·         Understood the abilities of the group

·         Agreed goals

·         Thought about the conditions that you are happy to paddle in

·         Picked a favoured location

·         Scouted the route out for any features or areas which may have localised conditions affecting your journey

·         Thought about the route and in which conditions it will work.


 

Journey Plan

Like planning a walking route you now need to translate the information you have into a route, perhaps recording it on a route card or directly on to the map.  Useful information will include:-

·         The launch location, with great parking, an easy carry to the water and that you know you can safely set off from and return to.

·         Land marks, points that are easily identifiable and may affect the conditions

·         Estimated timings and so the state of tide (low tide, mid or high tide)

·         Places appropriate for breaks

·         What hazards are there and what action will you take? Ie. other water users, rocks under the surface, moorings, crossing a busy stretch of water

·         Emergency egress points

·         Are there any points to turn back at, if you are too late to get to past them?

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Other considerations

Being flexible on your destination and having a turn back time rather than a place is a good idea.

One way journeys are great as you see more and can often use the wind and tides to your advantage.  The down sides are that there are time consuming transport issues (unless you have a willing support crew) and you are committed to an end point.

Daylight hours is a consideration, everyone enjoys a sunset paddle, but depending on the time of year the light can disappear so quickly and on a stretch of water that you don’t know this can be problematic.

Now seems like a good time to talk about ‘faffing,’  we all do it, no matter how well we think we packed the night before.  Someone in your group may be a consistent offender for a ‘faffathon.’  It’s important to distinguish between proposed meet times and getting on the water.  Building in contingency time is really useful.

What speed will we travel on a SUP?

I get asked this a lot and there is no simple answer as it is dependent on ability, equipment, the conditions and probably the biggest impact is whether you travel in a straight line or like to explore every rocky outcrop and cave along the way.  2 km per hour seems to be a good guide for people with SUP experience on all purpose kit, moving but ducking and diving a little.

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