SUP Travel: Let’s Talk about Waves and Beach Launches

SUP Travel: Let’s Talk about Waves and Beach Launches

All this month, I am working from home which is Maui, Hawaii. (I know, I know, please don’t hate – I am originally from here so…) and my office view affords me a very picturesque panorama of the southeast side of the island, which is generally a calm bay.

But there’s been a south swell come up and that has brought in waves of the size and shape one normally doesn’t see at this spot. They aren’t huge.  In fact, to the novice, they might look manageable.

But, this is NOT a place you would want to paddle out of. Here’s why:

1. The reef is shallow.
2. Because of the shallowness, and other factors, the waves are coming in right behind each other.
3. The wind can come up at any time, quickly and with intensity, making it difficult to get back to shore.

I know this from years of living here and studying these conditions and learning from my paddle friends who live here full time. But the average tourist or novice SUP paddler who is making their first visit to Maui and paddling out with a rental soft top board or their own inflatable may not.

From my desk, I have seen some near misses.

Here are the common mistakes these paddlers are making:

1. No leash and no pfd.
2. Paddling out at low tide.
3. Paddling out straight into the waves instead of finding the channel where there is no reef and consequently no incoming waves.
4. Standing on the reef.
5. Paddling out with an obviously under-inflated ISUP.
6. Trying to catch the waves at a location where that could be hazardous.

Beach Launches Away from Home

If you are planning a trip and are going to take your inflatable, or if you decide to rent a board, here are some ways to make your paddling adventure safe and more enjoyable:

1. ALWAYS WEAR A LEASH. If you rent, make sure the shop gives you one and make sure it is in good condition – no dry rot, no nicks or cuts. Same for the leash string – the part that attaches to the board.
2. ALWAYS wear at least a waist belt pfd unless you are truly surfing.
3. Ask the shop or locals where the best places to launch is. As convenient or enticing as it might be to go right off the beach in front of your resort condo, it might not be a good idea!
4. Ask those same locals about when to go: high tide is going to be best around rocky reefs in most places, but the locals can tell you for sure. Learn how to read tide tables.                5. In a place like Hawaii, the reefs have breaks in them where there are no waves. These channels are easy to see and are perfect for paddling out and in safely. Don’t just paddle straight out through the waves if you see a consistently calm spot.
6. Watch the waves and their behavior before you jump in.
7. If you think you want to surf – look around. Is anyone else surfing? If the answer is no, then there’s usually a good reason why.
8. Remember, lots of waves usually is a signal that there is some structure under the water.  In shallow spots, that could make it easy to snag a fin, and a fall could mean injury.
9. Always make sure your inflatable is pumped up to the recommended PSI.
10. Do not stand on the reef! Coral reefs are living organisms and when we stand on them, it causes major damage.
11. Pay attention to wind patterns. Do not paddle out when the wind is blowing hard, even if it looks calm close to shore.
12. If you’ve never surfed before, take a lesson.
13. RESPECT the ocean and the environment.

If you get caught coming back into shore in waves that seem too much for your skill level:

  • Sit down.
  • Try to paddle in between the waves coming in.
  • Slide your body to the back of the board so that waves will more easily roll under and past you.
  • If it is not too shallow, get into “rodeo” position. Hang your legs over the side of the board.  They will act as a “brake” and slow the board down.  Grip you paddle in the middle of the shaft and hold it above your head.  Relax and let the wave pass you by.
  • As soon as you are in water with a sandy bottom, where you can easily and confidently stand up and control your board, get off and exit the water. Always keep control of your board.

Remember: if you get in trouble, wave your paddle back and forth over your head and blow your whistle if you have one attached to your PFD (and you should!)