PACK WISELY, YOUNG PADDLER
PANIC DOESN’T BEGIN TO COVER THE FEELING THAT SURGED THROUGH MY BRAIN. Our crew was several hundred yards off the beach, having just begun a multiday downwind adventure along the southern Oregon coastline. Port Orford’s shipping pier and Cape Blanco beyond it was blocking most of the howling NW winds and pulsing groundswell, but its protected waters looked like a lake compared to the white-capping ocean just beyond. I had already fallen off my board twice. What was I getting into?
My job on this trip was to take pictures, and in true photographer fashion, I was quickly finding out that I had my 14-foot board overloaded. In addition to my waterproof camera housing and case—easily 20 pounds—i also had freshwater bladders and a 70-liter drybag stuffed with camping gear and clothing for the next several days. I was too top-heavy and as I knee-paddled with the ever-rising wind, I knew I was in over my head.
Swallowing my embarrassment, I called over the one member of our team who was paddling a kayak. Dave Lacey was our de-facto guide for the trip and luckily, he let me load my massive drybag onto the back of his boat. He saved my trip and I owe all the photos I took in large part to him deciding to paddle a kayak and not a SUP.
As I paddled on, I thought about what I did wrong and what I could have done better. In general, open-ocean paddleboards are not designed to carry heavy loads. Keep this in mind if you’re planning an overnight trip. While drybags are essential, it’s better to use several small ones to evenly spread the load across the deck. You’ll also need to add tie-down points to your board. Don’t skimp here; your gear tie-downs need to be bombproof. I’ve found EZ Plugs and Sea to Summit lash points are good options.
Take a hard look at your gear. If you don’t absolutely need it, leave it behind. Bulkier items like pillows and tents can be easily swapped out for a jacket and bivy sack. Also bring freeze-dried foods that just need hot water from a simple stove like a Jet Boil. Think and pack like an ultralight backpacker.
Lastly, test your board and gear setup on a local waterway before your trip. Believe me, it’s better to adjust beforehand than risk wasting the whole trip. As I found out in Oregon, your team is only as strong as the weakest link. Don’t be that person, as there likely won’t be a badass kayaker on hand to save you.