Coastal Features - Part 5 Planning a Coastal SUP Journey

Coastal Features and Sea State


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.


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.


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?


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.