There are im­por­tant safety prac­tices to fol­low when us­ing a SUP.

Boating - - CONTENTS - By Pete McDon­ald

How to prac­tice safe SUP rid­ing

Luke Hop­kins was about to take on one of the most ex­treme stand-up pad­dle­board ad­ven­tures of his life, and it was snow­ing.

Hop­kins, a SUP ex­pert with 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence, had de­cided to take on Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon, a his­toric achieve­ment in pad­dle sports. For­tu­nately, he’d come pre­pared. “I had on a dry­suit and life jacket, shoes and a hel­met,” he said of his run in the epic white wa­ter. “I had the time of my life, and it was su­per fun, but I took ev­ery mea­sure to stay safe.”

Safety is some­thing many peo­ple take for granted while en­joy­ing the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar SUPs, which can be found in many recre­ational boaters’ ar­se­nals. Thanks to board racks, ded­i­cated stowage spa­ces and in­flat­able SUPs, boaters in­creas­ingly bring them on board. But a lot of peo­ple don’t ap­pre­ci­ate the dan­gers of a SUP. The Coast Guard re­ported that pad­dle-sports fa­tal­i­ties — in­clud­ing those in ca­noes and kayaks — have been on the rise, in­clud­ing 15 SUP-re­lated deaths in 2016.

Most of these in­ci­dents are not in ex­treme sit­u­a­tions (like running Class V rapids) that pro­fes­sion­als such as Hop­kins un­der­take. They are oth­er­wise

safe trips where a pad­dler goes un­pre­pared.

“If you fol­low a few ba­sic safety prac­tices, you can keep alive and well on a pad­dle­board for life,” says Hop­kins.

The num­ber one most im­por­tant safety prac­tice: wear a life jacket. Why? In 14 of the 15 re­ported SUP fa­tal­i­ties in 2016, the vic­tim was not wear­ing one. Ev­ery re­ported SUP in­ci­dent, even the non­fa­tal ones, in­volved a rider fall­ing and get­ting sep­a­rated from his or her board.

“If you fall off a pad­dle­board and it gets caught in the wind, you can’t swim fast enough to catch up to it,” says Hop­kins. “With­out a life jacket, you’re in trou­ble.”

If you are able to recover your board, the buoy­ancy a life jacket pro­vides makes it eas­ier to climb back aboard. Of course, chas­ing a board wouldn’t be as much of an is­sue if peo­ple prac­ticed the sec­ond most im­por­tant tenet of SUP safety: wear­ing a leash. The leash is a flex­i­ble tether that at­taches to the back of the board and around one of your an­kles, keep­ing you con­nected even if you fall. But even if you use a leash, it’s still im­por­tant to wear the life jacket.

“I’ve had leashes break and boards break,” says Hop­kins. “Do you re­ally want to stake your life on a strap around your an­kle?”

Hop­kins also preaches to wear ap­pro­pri­ate gear: wet­suits, or even dry­suits in cold weather con­di­tions, hel­mets in rough wa­ter where rocks could be present, and shoes. You don’t want to fall off your board and risk cut­ting your feet on rocks, oys­ter beds or other sharp ob­jects.

What other safety prac­tices does Hop­kins sug­gest? If pos­si­ble, pad­dle with a buddy. It’s al­ways good to have some­one else around should some­thing go awry. And al­ways tell some­one else when and where you are go­ing. If you get into trou­ble and no one knows you’re miss­ing, no one will come to help.

Take the right safety pre­cau­tions and you’ll en­joy your SUP time on the wa­ter — maybe not running rapids in the Grand Canyon, but at least pad­dling the lo­cal cove with your kids.

Us­ing your leash is a fun­da­men­tal tenet of SUP safety, and wear­ing pro­tec­tive shoes is a good idea too.

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