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.