Surfski, SUP or Canoe: Dawid Mocke’s Guide to Essential Paddling Gear.
Have Boat, Have Paddle. And Go!
Unless you’re staying close to shore, it’s not quite that simple. Other than a paddle, there is some essential gear required when paddling on open water. Your gear needs to be comfortable, help you paddle your best, and (most importantly) keep you safe. Open water paddling takes you offshore, into exposed conditions; and, used to its full potential, you’ll also be in some pretty rough water.
Considering the type of adrenaline infused exercise paddling is; the time spent doing it; and that you will be in deep water, further than you could comfortably swim; your gear selection needs to prepare you for any scenario you may encounter. Think: Comfort, Performance and Safety. But your number one consideration is to stay safe and stay alive.
Comfort and Performance: Shirts, Shorts, Caps of all Sorts
The paddling movement is one of constant full body rotation through the hips with leg drive. Your gear selection must allow you to do this freely, comfortably and, importantly, without chafing. Invest in a purpose designed shirt and paddling shorts which have taken the movement, seam placement and stitching into account.
Your shirt should not cut into your armpits, nor have a tight seam over your sides and across your shoulder blades. If the shirt chafes, it will start immediately, and paddling will be unbearable. If it’s too tight around your shoulders it will feel like resistance bands holding your arms back; your forearms will blow up and breathing will be laboured. The perfect shirt matches the conditions. Base layer type shirts offer a bit more warmth and are tight fitting. In warmer climates or conditions, you want to have a loose-fitting shirt that can keep you cool. Both versions should offer ultimate sun protection.
Shorts should be double lined, without a centre seam, or slip down as you sit down. While a less-than-ideal shirt is bearable, even if unpleasant, a bad pair of shorts impedes your paddling and could pretty much ruin your life for weeks. Double lining is a no-brainer for comfort. The extra layer allows you to rotate freely while the outer layer grips on the seat. As for the seams, a centre seam which runs between your legs is a recipe for disastrous chafe. A seam diagonally underneath your thigh will have the same effect, just lower down. No centre seam on paddling shorts, period!
Then finally, a high hem back is an open and closed discussion. Without a high back, the pants slip down as you sit down which equals a classic case of plumber’s bum, and secondly, chafe, as you’ll be sitting on the top hem. A common solution to this issue is to try and pull your pants up while sitting in the boat, which very often ends up in capsizing, leading to laughter from your buddies AND the pants slipping down further resulting in further, uh, exposure.
Cap or Visor
To complete your paddling attire, invest in the perfect visor or full cap. Paddlesports happen outside, on the water. Sun exposure, regardless of the air or water temperature, is a big deal. You want to keep the UV off the face! The perfect visor or cap sits high off the ears, feels light on your head and doesn’t squeeze. Also, a darker visor underside will minimise reflection and glare off the water. Finally, the perfect paddling hat takes wind, waves and capsizing into account providing a string or retention cord to avoid losing your favorite cap.
Moving onto the safety side of essential gear required. Remember that you are most certainly going to be further away from land than what normal people would venture on a small human powered craft. It’s logical to ensure that you’re prepared for the small, yet probable, possible scenarios.
A lost craft means you are not paddling anymore, it means you are now swimming. Based on some research I did 2 years back, the primary cause of Surfski related paddling emergencies is ‘Capsizing’ followed by ‘Loss of Surfski’, mainly by not being tethered. I suggests that it’s the same across all open water paddle sports, not just surfski.
It is plainly obvious that your number one piece of safety equipment on board should be a craft leash, ensuring you don’t lose your craft should you fall off. Craft to body is what you want, not craft to paddle, and ensure it is strong and purpose built i.e. you are able to use it while paddling.
Let’s be honest, most of us need help staying afloat. A lifejacket does just that. Unless you can swim 500m in AT LEAST 9 minutes or less, consider yourself a non-swimmer. And even if you CAN swim like a fish, you have no idea the circumstances surrounding your capsizing off the craft and into the water, far away from land. Wearing a lifejacket is a non-negotiable issue. It’s exactly like cycling. You will never catch a cyclist without a helmet, and you should never catch an open water padder without a lifejacket.
The perfect paddling lifejacket should firstly be officially tested and legal so that you can be sure it does what it should. Then it should be comfortable, unobtrusive and have enough space for goods and gadgets, for instance a hydration bladder and, of course a safety phone.
Let’s assume you find yourself in a bind. You need to be able to tell someone you’ll be a little late for dinner, oh and by the way, I need some help, come and get me. A cell-phone in a dry bag is just the thing you need. Make sure the phone fits in the bag and doesn’t squeeze in, busting the seams and creating leaks, and that you can use the phone while it’s in the bag. Another option is a SPOT tracking device which can send an emergency signal and pin-points your position. Finally, have a flare or some kind of signalling device on board the so that you can show the cavalry where exactly you’re are bobbing up and down.
Go for It!
Apart from deciding to take up paddling, and then going out and investing in equipment; your investment into essential gear is as important. Having the correct gear means that you will be able to focus your energy on paddling and will be comfortable and safe while honing your performance on the water.
See you on the water!