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.
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.
A bit of general advice
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.
Why not join one of our Coastal Journey Planning Weekends ?
The best locations & conditions in which to plan your first coastal journey
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.
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
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.
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.
SUP in a Bag provides Coastal Journey Planning weekends, fun & relaxed this practical course will give you the skills, knowledge and confidence to plan your own adventures.
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.
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 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.
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.
Leading up to the Paddle
Checking the Forecasts
Five Days before
Check the forecasts, wind, weather and swell and for whether an alternative location is required or if the Paddle must be cancelled. I focus on the swell and wind, only looking at the rain in deciding what to wear. Make sure that you consider any secondary swells and their direction.
On exceptionally calm days beware of sea mist rolling in. Do not paddle if sea mist is forecast.
I find in Cornwall that the weather comes through quickly and so if I see a ‘pulse’ of poor weather with good weather on days either side I try to stay optimistic. If on the other hand it is predicting 3 days of rubbish conditions then that is a different story.
Two Days before
Check the forecasts again. Reflect on the whole of the route that you have planned, pretty much repeating the steps when you were planning the route originally.
Make appropriate decisions, whether that means
· adjusting the route and timings
· Using the back-up location
· Postponing (possibly by just one day)
On the Day
Check the forecasts again and remember to look at them for the duration of your journey.
· Pack everything you will need
· Allow for plenty of faff time unloading and getting ready at the launch site
· Create an equipment checklist, this really helps.
· Check out the conditions in front of you, do they match the forecast? Are they as you expected them?
Reading and assessing the conditions
This is a real skill developed with experience:-
· Feel the direction of the wind at your accommodation and then at the shore, look at trees higher up
· Look at the water is it flat? Is there a line where the sea state changes beyond the cove?
· Out to sea are there sailing boats healing over?
· Take a 5 minute walk on the coastal path to gain a better vantage
This is the test of all that planning and preparation.
Deciding this is not the right place or that the paddle is to be postponed or relocated is never a bad decision.
I have been on a Guide training course where the tutors changed their plans with 8 candidates in tow. It was treated as a learning point.
The Adventure Begins
Inform the nominated shore based person that you are setting off. (Remember to tell them when you return)
Remind yourself and the group of the route, any hazards, features and timing considerations.
Remember to actually take your dry bag. I have only left mine on the beach once (OK twice).
Along the journey continually refer to your map and route plan, time yourself, tick off the features and continue to read the sea state and conditions.
SUP in a Bag provides Guided Tours and Coastal Journey Planning Training check out www.SUPinaBag.co.uk to find out more information or sign up to our regular e-Newsletters, which are bumper packed useful tips and recommended paddle. We are always learning, please tell us how this article can be improved.