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Know before you go: A beginner's guide to SUP

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The majority of first time paddlers in the Los Angeles area are likely to visit either Marina del Rey or King Harbor in Redondo Beach. Both locations offer calm, protected water – perfect for beginners to learn the fundamentals of SUP. In addition to the two marinas, the Santa Monica Bay is a fantastic ocean playground for experienced paddlers comfortable with managing the ever changing conditions on the open water.

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PrepareBefore you leave the shore always check your equipment and familiarize yourself with the layout of the area in which you plan to paddle. Make note of the weather – particularly the wind – and plan accordingly. Paddling upwind can be challenging even for experienced paddlers. If the water is cold or you are going on a longer paddle you may want to wear booties to keep your feet warm.

Always paddle with a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) and whistle. When paddling in low light conditions carry a light to remain visible to others on the water. If you intend on paddling in the ocean it is always a good idea to wear a leash. The board is your largest flotation device and wearing a leash will ensure you do not become separated. Never underestimate the ocean. Even the strongest swimmers will be unable to catch their board if they become separated in open water.

Protection Ensure you are properly hydrated and protected from the sun. If you plan to be on the water for longer than 1.5 hours it is recommended to carry water with you. It is also a good idea to have protection for your lips from the sun and wind, e.g. Chapstick.

Familiarize yourself with the areaPaddlers need to maintain a 360 degree awareness of their surroundings and position on the water at all times. Steer clear of other vessels. If you are in a marina, be sure to stay a safe distance from obstacles such as buoys and docks and avoid floating debris. Paddle safely and courteously by avoiding the center of the channel. Keeping to the right is a good rule of thumb. Remember, stand up paddlers are required to yield to all other boat traffic.

Avoid marine wildlifeThe ocean is home to an abundance of marine wildlife. To ensure your safety and that of the wildlife do not disturb the marine creatures. Seals and sea lions can be regularly found sunning themselves on boat docks in both King Harbor and Marina del Rey. Enjoy them from a distance and never attempt to touch a seal or sea lion. Beneath the surface, leopard sharks and rays are a fixture at Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey. Do not be alarmed. The leopard sharks are harmless to people and pets. Many of the rays do have stingers, however, they are not aggressive and can be easily avoided by shuffling your feet when entering and exiting the water.

Control your boardPractice how to turn and stop in protected water before venturing out into the marina or ocean. Maintaining your balance is key when stand up paddling. Concentrate on keeping your eyes on the horizon. If you look down at your feet or board, chances are you will fall down. Use your core muscles to maintain stability and swivel at the hips when looking from side to side.

“A man’s got to know his limitations.” Clint Eastwood’s famous line certainly applies to SUP. Wind and boat wakes can catch you off guard and disrupt your balance. When encountering a boat wake, it is best to point your board directly into the wake and paddle. Paddling into the wake gives your board forward momentum which increases your stability as you pass through the rough water. If you become fatigued or feel unsafe, kneel on your board and choke down on your paddle. This will lower your center of gravity and enable you to paddle through and away from difficult situations.

Maintaining awareness of the topics highlighted above will ensure your stand up paddling experience is memorable and fun. When it comes to improving your skills there is no substitute for spending time on the water. If you are looking to sharpen up your technique or ensure you do not pick up any bad habits it is recommended to take a lesson from a professional SUP instructor.

Keep paddling my friends.

This article was inspired by Mike Vaughan of Pro SUP Shop in Marina del Rey, California.

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