11 Tips for Paddling Solo

To some given work, kids, and school schedules paddling solo is the only way they'll get on the water. Others haven't gone solo due to not feeling comfortable due to safety concerns or they prefer to be in a group for social reasons.

If you do have a crazy schedule with work and/or kids, solo paddling can be one of the best methods of finding solitude or even yourself again.

Solo paddling varies in risk depending on the type of water you're going on.  In some cases there's no risk at all. I've been solo paddling for years, originally on a sea kayak and now also a SUP.

Some tips to keep in mind for safe solo paddling..

- Leave a Float Plan with a friend or family member.  This is a message detailing where you're going, how long you'll be out, when you're planning on returning, and a cell number you can be contacted at while on-water.  Note text messages often will go through where voice messages will not. Once you return, call your friend notifying of your return.

- Carry an on-water communication device such as a cell phone.  If you don't have cell reception, bring along a VHF radio, and know how to use it.

- Know Your Limits!  If you're not comfortable with wind or current, stick to a calm protected marina or bay with easy access to your car.  Marinas are great for finding super calm water and access.  If you notice wind coming up while on-water, ask yourself if you really can handle it and whether you should return to your car.  Sometimes pushing yourself a little bit is ok to improve your skills but sometimes this can lead to getting over your head.  Save those confidence building days to one with a friend.

For example, I like paddling in heavy wind up to 30kts for the reward of the downwind rides and surfable beach break in Seattle.  But on those days if I go solo, I'll only access areas near my car where getting blown downwind is either impossible or worse case I'll be blown into the shore by my car.  If I'm not feeling confident, I'll call a friend to join who CAN rescue me if needed - and vice versa.

But if I'm out solo in any conditions which feels sketchy, I'll turn back or seek safe harbor to change my plans.  ** Sticking to your original plan because you've always wanted to go there or drove all day to get there isn't the way to go.  My rule of thumb is to stay off the evening news.

- Check Weather Conditions before you go and once you've arrived at your put-in, determine if the real conditions are within your skill level and/or comfort zone.  Is there a storm coming?  It's not uncommon for folks to see blue sky and rush to the water to paddle. It may be calm when you get there but strong wind or a gale may arrive within the hour.  Are you ready for it? Use local web cams, NOAA buoys/stations or inquire from paddling shops.

- Check with Paddling & Surf Shops about the Location where you'll be paddling. They can fill you in on hazards, local conditions, the local vibe, etc.

- Always Wear your Leash!  There's been several SUP paddlers who have disappeared or died due to not wearing their leash.  One two years ago was an experienced racer in Florida. His board was found but not him.  If it 'gets in your way' attach it to your waist or PFD to stay clear of your feet.  I once downwinded with a guy who 'always fell by his board' but never wore a leash.  On that 35kt day downwinding, he fell off and the board took off. Lucky there was two of us.

- Wear or Have Easy Access to your PFD.  Many find PFDs uncool to wear or in some climates too hot. There's several ways to still have one on you or your board.  Wearing it is best whether an inflatable or vest style.  If inflatable - buy two cartridges and test fire one in the water so you know how to put it on. It's not as easy as you may think.  If you do decide to attach a vest style to your board, make sure it fits you and you can remove it very quickly.  I can recall two recent deaths of paddlers who weren't wearing leashes and also couldn't remove the strapped down PFD in time. It does happen.

- Know How to Get On Your Board.  You'll be surprised how many paddlers can't get back on their board or have difficulty doing so.  Overweight paddlers, those who are tired or have an arm or shoulder injury (or recent surgery), sea sickness, or not enough upper body strength - are all reasons for not getting back on. I've seen a few of the above myself. Once again, there's been a few deaths from those unable to get back on their boards.  A leash really helps as you never get far from your board and can at least hold on if you can't get on but won't lose the board.

Getting on in middle - Hold board by handle, deck or opposite rail and kick feet vigously behind you. This brings your body to the surface and is easier to slide or pull yourself on.
Getting on at the tail (cowboy style) - Same technique as above.  Some inflatables rise up in the tail and are so bouyant most can't get onto.  Test before you go.  * Never let go of your paddle!

- Know Self Rescue Paddling Techniques.  If you get caught downwind in 10kts or more, can you get back to your car?  Standing is useless even for strong paddlers in winds 15kts or more.  Ya it's stand up paddling but.. use your common sense - get down!
Prone Paddling - Body down on board paddling like a surfer with both hands. Paddle under chest.  This is the most efficient way to get upwind.  Practice as it can be tiring but is great cross training.
Sitting - 2nd most efficient way of getting upwind.  Single blade pull or hold paddle at throat/neck and use rest of paddle shaft as a second paddle - use like a kayak paddle! It works.
Kneeling - Most common but you're still a sail!  Hold paddle mid shaft.

Carry hydration, an energy bar and a first aid kit - The latter can just be your medications (I get migraines and carry my Imitrix with me at all times).  Store in your PFD, fanny pack or an on deck bag.

- Do a Gear Check Before Leaving the Beach.  Is your fin secure? Is your leash properly attached and is the string in good shape (knot secure?).

Wow, that's alot!  Why hell would you want to go solo??  Truth is, the above tips are easy to learn, and common sense for any paddling you do and good practice.