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



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.

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 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. 


Useful websites

Here are some of my favourite websites:- 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.  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.  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. 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

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

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 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.

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Setting Goals

Part 3: Research & Plan

Part 4: The Sea State - wind, tide and swell

Part 5: Coastal Features

Part 6: The Journey Plan

Part 7: Equipment & what to wear

Part 8: In an Emergency

Part 9: The week of the paddle

Part 10: The Adventure Begins

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.


Equipment & What to Wear - Part 7 Planning a Coastal SUP Journey

What to wear?

Another tricky question to answer, it is so dependent on conditions and personal choice.  The water temperature is much colder out to sea compared with on the beach.  Consider if you fall in and have to paddle wet for 3 hours, in the UK this is hardly ever a comfortable thing.

I always think be too warm as cooling off is no problem.  Carrying spares so that you can layer up is essential on commited journeys.   A windproof and a warm hat are always in my bag, regardless of the season.    

Confident that I am ‘not’ falling in (I fell in February playing with my GoPro!), in summer I am starting to favour Merino Wool over neoprene tops because of Wool’s ability to keep you warm or cool.  I also favour fast drying windproof shorts over neoprene.

In the other seasons I’m lucky to own a dry suit and concentrate on the thermals underneath and how to keep my feet warm.  There is a lot more advice on this batting around.


What to carry on your board?

 A dry bag can be a damp and muddled thing, I pack thinner dry bags colour coded within it, orange for spares, red for an emergency, BDH for keys and blue for snacks.  I have learned the hard way to never put your drink loose in a dry bag.  Secure the dry bag to the board, I use a karabiner to hold the dry bag  closed and have a sling I put through the carry handle.

The ideal is for everyone to have their own dry bag and carry their own spares, snacks and drinks.

Spare clothes or layers and a pair of shoes can be useful in case you have to walk out.

Snacks and drinks are important even on short trips, as they provide energy and a morale boost, if anyone is cold or tired.  A hot drink is even better especially when the sea (or air) is colder.  Take something extra in case of an emergency.

A leash is a must and a buoyancy aid (the requirement to wear a PFD is an ongoing debate within the SUP community).  It is something to think about, remembering that a coastal paddle is an increased risk to a river or lake.  I feel if you are pushing your abilities in an unknown environment then a buoyancy aid is good practice, the bonus is they keep the wind off you.

Spares and a repair should not be necessary on your first journeys as there should be lots of egress points and you will appreciate keeping the weight down. On longer more committed journeys it is worth considering. Check kit such as paddle clamps and board pressure thoroughly beforehand.

A copy of the relevant OS map, ideally laminated and with your route marked on it.  Pack a compass, if you become disorientated, caught in fog or benighted it will help you identify where you are and the course you want to set.

A waterproof watch.

A camera so that you can share the stoke.

See also emergency equipment.

The Week of the Paddle - Part 9 Planning a Coastal SUP Journey

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.