SUP Safety for all!

A friend of mine purchased two new paddleboards recently and planned on taking their 6 y/o son with them on their maiden voyage. I was excited for them because paddling is such a fantastic way to spend family time together. Knowing that their son was not an experienced swimmer yet, my paramedic instincts kicked in and I proceeded to ask them a bunch of questions about their plans.

Where are you planning on paddling?
Have you ever paddled before? Where?
Have you ever paddled as a family before, with your son on your board?

She reassured me that they both paddled on vacation before on a flat water lagoon and their athleticism made it easy to pick up the sport. She also told me they were heading to an alpine lake that I knew was infamous for windy, choppy conditions and average water temperatures in the 60’s during the summer.

I stressed to her the importance of taking a test run on before their excursion and to wear PFDs and keep themselves and their son attached with leashes at all times. She told me that they were not going to wear PFDs and they actually had thrown out the leashes since they didn’t see a need for them. At this point, I tried to explain to her the importance of proper safety equipment and understanding the conditions – especially when you are bringing a kid or an animal on your board. Sadly, like so many times before, this advice fell on deaf ears.

Fast-forward two weeks and I see my friend again and ask her about their trip. Pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong. As beginners, with no experience with a child on the board, they did fall in several times – it gets old real quick when the water temperatures are chilly. They paddled a far distance from the shore and were swept away quckly by a headwind and had a tough time getting back. Eventually, they were able to get on land however, as expected in a stressful situation, their child cried the entire time and now does not want to get back on another paddleboard with them.

I felt badly for my friend – I hate hearing about a bad experience on the water such that they never want to attempt another paddle. I did encourage her to try again and offered this set of advice for the next time:

  • Know where you are going and check the conditions and temperature of the water
  • Know your paddling ability and limitations
  • Always wear a leash and PFD
  • Always prepare for when things go wrong and have a Plan B when things don’t work out
  • Consider the potential experience of the child before you own
  • Practice! Make sure you practice with a child or animal on board on flat calm water first – One more body on the board completely changes your stroke and your ability to maneuver
  • Gradually work up to waves, wind and changing water conditions

Luckily no one was injured and they will try again, albeit, on calm flat waters!

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