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How to Read the Weather Conditions to Safely Enjoy Stand Up Paddling in Ireland

a group of kayakers and a stand up paddle boarder in Dingle Harbour

I recently read an article on how kayaking and paddle boarding were some of the best social distancing activities that you could do. You have a wide open area in which to play around and it is easy to stay 2 meters apart from everyone else. Another big advantage of being on a Kayak or a Stand up paddle board is that you can get much closer to the coastline. Even a small boat is much bigger, less maneuverable and can easily run aground on rocks, while a kayak or SUP simply slips right through.

I can tell you, that I’m so looking forward to getting back out on Dingle harbor to cruise in amongst the cliffs and caves. I never get sick of them. Every season I find more caves and coves that I never noticed before. Some caves are only accessible at low tide and others at high tide. I have been into a few that are totally pitch black and can be a little claustrophobic at times. Oona is totally gung ho for this kind of stuff, but I’m happy enough to take a short break while she does the exploring,

Most days we end up paddling out with the kayak gang from Irish Adventures or meeting them on the way back from a paddle. We always share a friendly bit of banter and a bit of good natured slagging off, all in good fun. Every time, we talk about the conditions and weather because it affects us directly.


With people venturing off shore once more, and in light of all the rescues that have had to be carried out in these past few weeks, now seems like a good time to share what makes good SUP conditions and what are unsuitable ones. It’s a fantastic way to explore the coastline, but it must be done smartly. Only attempt a paddle in conditions you are confident you can handle.

paddle conditions example for Dingle Harbour


Wind

There are two main things to look at in conjunction with the wind, the strength it is blowing and the direction it is blowing in. One of the downsides of stand up paddle boarding is that we are greatly affected by the wind. This is in large part due to fact that we are standing up to paddle. With our bodies having so much surface area, we act a bit like a sail atop our board. This is even more the case on an inflatable board, since the board floats so high above the water line and weighs so little. Have you ever seen a beach ball get blown across the surface of a swimming pool? It’s a bit like that. That is one key advantage of the kayak, they are less effected by the wind.

Long story short, the less the wind, the better for a SUP. However, the topography of the land can effect the wind’s strength. That is why knowing what direction the wind is blowing from is so important. The wind might be reading as strong but if you can paddle along a sheltered section on the off shore side (wind blowing from land to sea), you’ll notice the wind strength feeling much less and even perfectly glassy in places!

You can also use the wind’s direction to your advantage. Organise your route to be predominately down wind, with the wind at your back, and you can start working on a discipline of SUP creatively call “Down Winding”. It’s great fun surfing the fetch the wind whips up as you cruise along, working with the wind instead of fighting it. This is a more advanced discipline with in SUP boarding though so be sure to get some lessons first.

windy app logo              wind guru app logo        yr.no logo    predict wind app logo

 

 

 

 

Tide

The tide plays a huge role in all things ocean. For us, it determines how far we have to walk with our boards before getting into the water. It determines what areas of the coastline are accessible. But most importantly, it creates currents. Depending on the strength of the current, this can create quite a challenge. For instance, the narrow natural mouth to Dingle Harbour is the only place for all the water in the bay to move through. When the tide is moving at its fastest (around mid tide) the current through that mouth can be huge, up to nine knots, too strong to paddle against. Even along open coast the tide creates currents around one knot, light enough to paddle against, but after a while this too, can take its toll.

My best advice for this, talk to a local! Tidal currents must be taken into consideration when you are planning your route and the only way to know what these are, is to speak to a local water user. If you find yourself paddling through a narrow channel against the tide, paddle right up against the shore line. The current is strongest where the water is deepest.

I have a theory, untested and based purely on my own observations, but here goes. Comment bellow if you think I’m totally crazy. A stand up paddle board is more affected by the wind than a kayak is. The position of the paddler makes this clear, standing up vs sitting down. However, I think a kayak is more affected by the current than a SUP user is. The kayak sits much lower in the water, with the hull of the boat well bellow the surface being pulled at by all the various currents. Where as, a paddle board almost skims along the surface.

magic seaweed app logo                         google logo

 

 

 

 

Swell

If you are paddling in exposed waters, this is another key thing to check for before setting off. Swell makes it harder to balance on your board and can be downright dangerous if you are paddling near cliffs. The refraction of the waves off a cliff wall is called clapotis and can result in wildly choppy conditions as the refracting waves meet the oncoming ocean swell. If you are near rocks, and you fall off your board in such conditions…. Well I don’t need to tell you the potential dangers there. These choppy waters also slow the board down and you’ll find you tire more quickly as you struggle to stay balanced and keep the board moving.

On our tours, if there is a swell above a couple feet, we’ll never venture outside the harbour mouth. It’s too frustrating for a novice paddler to keep falling off in those types of conditions and the sport quickly looses its fun. I kind of like those conditions, in small doses though. It’s a great balance exercise!

windy app logo         wind guru app logo

magic seaweed app logo

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, always paddle with someone or if alone, tell someone where you are going and approximately what time you will be back. Bring some kind of communication device with you, and enjoy!!

a man riding on the back of a boat in a body of water

Oona out on open water


There are many apps to check for these three things, wind, tide and swell.
These are the ones we use!

Wind

Tide

Swell

Wind Guru Magic Seaweed Wind Guru
Windy Local forecasting:
Ventry Weather on Twitter
Magic Seaweed
Predict Wind Google search Windy
yr.no

But remember, when new to an area…

Always ask a local!

Interested in reading more about this topic?

Here

is an in depth article Oona wrote for SUP Boarder Mag on the subject of paddle conditions.