Paddle boarders love to be on the water and that includes paddling on the ocean. While all water can be potentially dangerous, the ocean should always be treated with respect. A lot of paddlers are keen to try their skills in the ocean, and wonder what the best time to paddle board in the ocean is. There is no right or wrong time, as a lot depends on the activity you want to carry out and how fit you are.
Before you even consider taking your SUP on the ocean, make sure you have mastered the basics and have a good level of competency on your board. You must be able to balance and steer you will find paddling in the ocean require more power.
Prepare to paddle board in the ocean
As well as being competent with your SUP, make sure you do all you can to consider your safety while on the ocean.
- Buy a life vest. You should already have one but if you haven’t, get one. Light weight ones are available and these won’t be too heavy that they interfere with your surfing or touring. While your board is unlikely to be affected by tides while you are on it, if you fall off it could be a whole other matter if you are picked up by a current.
- Familiarize yourself with the tides and currents. You can buy charts which show these or download an app to your phone. Knowing where these are can help you avoid areas where they are strongest.
- Make sure you can swim. If you spend a lot of time on the water the odds are that you can, but if you find yourself in the ocean, you will need to be able to control your swimming to get back to your board or back to shore.
On your first trip the best time to paddle board in the ocean will be a time which isn’t too busy so you can get the hang of the waves and currents without getting in the way of surfers, racers or swimmers.
Understand the ocean
The ocean has many hidden dangers and it’s totally different to paddling on water inland. Do your homework before you go and you’ll feel and be a lot safer.
In the ocean you are prone to currents, under currents and tides, and you should have a proper understanding of these before you venture out. If you know what you are dealing with, you will know how to avoid dangerous situations.
Every day the tide goes in and out. When the tide comes in it will wash you ashore, when it goes out it could sweep you out to sea. Knowing what time the tides change is an important part of paddling on the ocean. On your tide charts the outgoing tide will be shown as ebb, while the incoming tide is shown as shown as flood.
If the chart shows slack, then this means the sea is currently between the tide coming in and going out. During this time is may seem like the best time to paddle board in the ocean, but be aware that the tide can change very quickly.
As well as tides, avoid times where there is an offshore wind. Offshore winds blow from the land out to sea so if you get caught in one, you could also be blown out to sea. Onshore winds are ones which blow towards land.
Know your own limits
Paddling on the ocean requires more paddle power than paddling inland, so don’t head to the ocean before you are ready. Unlike inland waterways the changes in currents and tides, the wind and the power of the waves can all combine to throw you off course. If you want to go to the ocean, build up your strength, or make sure you stay close to shore to begin with.
If you ask at local surf shacks and water sport centres, they will be able to tell you the best places to go for surfing or relaxing on the water. Ideally you need an area which is not too busy, but where other people are out on the water. If you find an isolated area you may find you are on your own if you run in to trouble.
A great way to start is to simply paddle around the edge of the surf to get used to the ocean water.
Decide the best time to paddle board on the ocean
Now you know the things you need to look out for, you need to work out when to go. This very much depends on what you are planning to do when you reach the ocean. There are pros and cons of all conditions.
Downwinders and surfers love windy conditions, but make sure the wind is blowing in the right direction. If the wind is too strong it could have an impact on whether you are able to stand or not.
Lower tides can create larger waves as they hit the shore, so perfect for surfing.
Winter ocean weather can be erratic and on the whole the water will be colder. There will also be less people around so you’ll have more space for yourself on the water. During the winter there are also more high tides in the day, so plan your trip carefully.
If you plan to use your SUP on the ocean in the summer, be prepared for a busier time. There will be far more surfers, swimmers and boats around, but the water itself will be warmer. There are also more low tides in the day, which helps to encourage more people to the area.
SUP racing on the ocean
Racing is very popular but it is also physically demanding. Don’t think you can suddenly go racing after just a couple of trips on the ocean on your SUP.
SUP racing needs extra skills as you need to battle against tides, current, wind, waves and even the wake left by boats on the water.
If you want to train for racing on the ocean, start slowly and gradually increase your time. You will need to paddle in different conditions, but you can start with a few minutes getting used to these conditions and build up from there.
If you do find yourself being blown by the wind or having to cope with high winds, don’t panic. If you know what to do, you’ll be fine.
Knowing how to keep yourself safe is called self rescue and this is not as difficult as you think. If you need to, sit astride your board or kneel to paddle, and if you have to you can lie flat on the board. If you are in difficulty, wave your paddle above your head while you sit astride the board. This is a recognised signal with other paddle boarders that you need help.
Don’t be tempted to swim away from your board if you come off. The board is easier to see and it provides you with some protection from the water. Using a leash means you will always be able to find it.
The golden rule of paddling on the ocean, is to be aware. Try to avoid running in to anyone else, and keep an eye on changing tides and weather conditions. If you do, you can move closer to shore if you have to.
Paddle boarding on the ocean can be a wonderful experience as long as you take it steady and don’t rush headlong in to it.