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The Basics for understanding the wind and tides

People always think of paddleboarding as a calm sport and it can be most of the time, but if you don’t plan your paddle, you could get caught out by either or both the wind and tide. It's so so important to check and look up the conditions before any paddle.

Wind

Wind is created by the sun, weird we know, but it is! The uneven heating of the earth causes different air pressures around the world creating the invisible blowy thing.

In all seriousness, wind speed for paddle boarding can be the most dangerous part, and you need to know how to plan for it. 

Essentially when stood up, your body creates wind resistance and acts as a sail for your board, therefore preparing for any trip is paramount. Plan your journey by checking the forecast of when you plan to be on the water (is the wind changing whilst you are on the water? What speed and what direction?).

Before you jump on your board, evaluate your surroundings for conditions:

  • Use trees and flags to determine wind direction (or do that classic parent thing and throw some grass in the air) We don’t recommend licking your finger, you don’t know where it’s been.
  • It's recommended to paddle out into the wind on the first leg of your journey

Whilst paddling remain vigilant on changing conditions, but if you do get caught in strong winds, follow these tips:

  1. Get low or on your knees to minimise wind resistance.
  2. Adjust your paddle length and focus on slower, stronger paddle strokes.
  3. If you still can’t make progress, prone/lie on your front to reduce wind resistance further.
  4. Look for shelter from the wind.

Once off the water and hopefully no issues, review your paddle. Did it go as expected? How can you improve it for next time?

Check out these other paddleboarding safety tips! 

What kind of wind is dangerous?

Offshore winds (winds that blow outwards from the land), whatever the speed, should be avoided as it can blow you out into the sea if too strong.

What wind speeds are suitable for SUPing?

Experience and stamina are a huge factor when paddling in winds and you need to understand your own capabilities before venturing out onto the water.

  • If you are a beginner at SUPing, anything over 10mph (8.6 knots) will be a struggle and should be avoided until you gain more experience and stamina.
  • Intermediate paddlers can paddle upwards 15mph (13 knots)
  • Experienced paddlers with high stamina can paddle upwards of 20mph (17knots), however this is to be avoided due to fatigue.

Different Winds (not including human wind)

Offshore wind:

As stated above, Offshore wine is the most dangerous type of wind for paddleboarder. Offshore winds blow directly off the beach and out to sea and can cause the sea/water to look quite calm but don’t be fooled!

Onshore wind:

Onshore wind is wind that blows into the land rather outwards and is the opposite to offshore wind, however, can cause waves which in themselves could be dangerous! Look out for those white horses (whitecaps/breaking waves)!

Cross shore wind:

Now you know what offshore and onshore means, cross shore is probably quite self-explanatory! You are right though; the wind blows either from left to right or right to left along the shore. This wind can also be quite treacherous if underestimated and you should evaluate the coastline carefully as it may turn into an offshore wind as soon as you go round a headland!

Great mobile apps for wind forecast that we use:

  1. app
  2. Windy

Tide

The tide can be an extremely difficult thing to understand, and we will be only going over the basics. We recommend reading a very good book on tides called ‘The book of tides’ by William Thomson for more details.

The tide is the vertical motion of water caused by the gravitational pull of the moon (and sun), which is so subtle that trying to watch it move would be impossible! Depending on where you are in the world, the tide will be very different wherever you go, but in the UK the moon powers two ginormous waves flowing around the coastline with 6 hours and 12.5 minutes between high and low tides.

One wave travels north up the west coast of England and Wales, around Scotland and then flows south down the east coast of Scotland and England. The second wave travels up the English Channel and the two waves meet at the Thames Estuary. Knowing this is important for knowing the direction of Tide Stream and how this will affect your trip.

Check these quick tips to read what the tide is doing (only for guidance and every location is different) before getting on your board:

Look at the sand - Smooth sand will indicate high tide height and rough sand with footsteps is a good indication of a safe place for your gear without getting it wet

Ask and watch the locals (not creepily) - Locals are the best for tide knowledge and seeing where the fisherman have pitched their tents will indicate to you where you can set up! If in doubt, ask them!

Is the ground wet or dry? - Wet ground tells you that the tide is retreating back to the sea, giving you a larger window to play before it returns! Note that in the summer the sun will likely dry the ground quicker and therefore be careful not to get caught out by the tide

What way is the water flowing? - If you are by a tidal river or estuary and the water is flowing inland, the tide is rising. If the water is flowing out towards the sea, the tide is falling. If the water seems to be still, this is slack water and happens twice during a tidal cycle, between low and high tides.


Tidal “stream”

This is the horizontal movement of the water, which is highly important to understand as a paddleboarder. This is not to say vertical tide should be ignored, because you don’t want to get stranded with a long walk in-front of you!

The stream direction flows the same direction as the tide waves. Therefore, the two tide waves around the UK, the stream follows. Simply put, when you know the tide times, you know in which direction the flow of water will be for your paddle. For example, on the south coast of England (facing directly south), between low and high tide, the stream will be moving from west to east (don’t forget this is right to left when facing out to sea). Then from high to low tide, the stream will flow east to west (left to right). 

Tips for spotting the direction of the stream before deciding on your direction:

Look out for ships at anchor - Boats at anchor will spin on its anchor and face the oncoming stream. Therefore, whatever the direction the anchored ship is facing, the stream will be flowing the opposite way.

Read the water texture around stationary objects like pier legs, posts, or buoys - The tide stream direction will cause a disruption in the water behind the stationary object, indicating the direction of the stream.

Throw in a stick -  A piece of driftwood will do the trick! Whatever direction it flows, the direction of the stream.

Ask the locals!

Knowing the direction of the tide stream when you paddle is key! It can even help you paddle further and longer if you time it right with high and low tides.

Now there are lots of things that effect the tide such as land, seabed, air pressure, wind etc, but this is for more detailed reading, and you should make sure you are educated when planning longer more hardcore journeys!

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, then you can check out more of our safety advice here and don’t forget you can also follow us across our social media channels where you’ll find lots more information and advice on our products and all things paddle boarding!