I noticed a stand up paddler (SUP) for the first time two summers ago, on my home waters of Shilshole Bay in Seattle where we sea kayak weekly. I had seen them that winter in large numbers in the lineups on the Big Island, but it hadn't picked up in the NW yet. On his first outing, he was dressed in 4/3mm wetsuit pulled down to his waist, had a paddle and board, no leash. He was paddling our normal weekly route that covers 3-4 miles round trip. The paddler, an experienced surfer, seemed to be relaxed, taking it easy on that summer day. While it appeared idyllic, my experience in that section of water is of 45-55 F degree waters all year. I've experienced 15' ship wakes, 41mph of wind (and waves), quick weather changes, and near misses with yachts. I've rescued kiters, a fisherman, and a few kayakers from those frigid waters, one of whom was whisked away by an ambulance.
In the next few paddles out there, the paddler began to adapt to the environment. Adding a water bottle, energy bar, waterproof LED light, and sun hat in a fanny pack around his waist. A leash was added, and the wetsuit was only stripped down near shore. He had learned to kneel in paddling against strong wind, and to work with the currents by paddling an indirect route to his destination, rather than a direct route against the incoming tide. Last weekend, I taught a SUP about not cutting in front of boats, as paddlers don't have the right of way in Washington State. A few weeks ago, the Coast Guard required SUP's to have life jackets in non surfing areas, an interesting development. There was little in the news about it, so likely unless the ruling gets strongly enforced, paddlers will be hesitant to use life jackets, (PFD).
I've noticed new sup designs are adding bungis to strap clothing down. Recent postings on the Werner blog spoke of two SUP groups going on extended expeditions, strapping overnight gear to their boards. One attached 2 extra paddles to his board as well, a smart idea in remote areas. In his case, he did break a paddle while rounding the rough north waters of Vancouver Island.
While sup's look like a simpler way to go than kayaking, it's wise to add additional gear in colder waters, extended trips, or foreign waters. In my sea kayak, I always carry a waterproof VHF radio, rocket flares, food, water, a tow rope, extra warm clothing, and an emergency Mylar blanket. All packs into an extra small dry bag and stays in the boat or in my PFD.
Check out our SUP classes in Seattle - Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.