Stand Up Paddle in the Wild North

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Friday, 26 September 2008 10:16
Stand Up Paddle Expedition

We first started researching Werner Paddles when they got in touch with us recently. A quick look around the Werner website and I ended up on the blog reading an amazing story about Dave Collins Stand Up Paddle exploring around Vancouver island. I have been there myself and it is quite hard to express how "wild" it is out there. Bears walk down the beach, Sea Eagles fly above you and Orcas lurk in the depths. You defiantely are not top of the food chain here !


Dave Collins paddling in Northern Vancourver Island

Dave Collins is an accomplished paddler, in both whitewater and ocean setting. Here he shares with us a little bit about a Stand Up Paddling expedition he recently undertook :

I recently paddled my stand up board solo around Cape Scott, the northern tip of Vancouver Island. The 100 km. expedition took me four and a half days. The few people I met along the way seemed awed and perplexed: “What is the advantage of that?” asked a backpacker on the North Coast Trail. The question caused me to pause… “It´s challenging and fun… and the view is unbeatable.”

A cruise ship and a Stand Up Paddler

There are no obvious pragmatic advantages to SUP touring versus sea kayak touring. I went half the speed as I would have in a fast sea kayak. But, I had twice as much fun because: I saw more wildlife—whales, bears, otters, dolphins, sea lions—than I would have sitting in a kayak; my back didn´t hurt at the end of the trip; and I got to surf waves that wouldn´t have been surfable in a sea kayak. Ultimately, the challenge of paddling standing up with a loaded board proved the most rewarding aspect of the expedition. Self-contained, multi-day touring on a stand up board is yet another niche of this burgeoning phenomenon which is sure to take off soon. Here´s just a few of the most important things I discovered along the way which may be of help to others planning similar expeditions.

Curious onlookers checking Dave out

The Stand Up Paddle Touring Set-Up

This was a highly experimental voyage; I had never tried to pack gear on an SUP before. I started by gluing six leash plugs (E-Z plugs) with marine epoxy along the top sides (just inside of where the deck starts to slant downward toward the rails) of the front third of my board. So that´s three plugs on each side of the board, leaving about two feet of free space from the front of the load to the tip of the board. I had to estimate all of this, and decided correctly that I would be standing one to two feet further back on the board when it was loaded compared to my normal stance on an unloaded board.

The set up

The board I used was a Surftech 12´1” Laird. I recommend going as big as possible. I definitely could have used some extra flotation (I weigh 200 pounds and was carrying between 60-70 pounds of gear). The extra weight causes the board to float lower, making is more unstable and slower. This takes some getting used to—therein the extra challenge.

The SUP board and kit ready to depart

I carried everything I would have carried on a sea kayak expedition minus several superfluous items. Weight is a much bigger issue, so the lighter the better. I stuffed three main dry bags into one big dry bag which has backpack straps on it. This is for two reasons: 1) to extra insure dryness of my gear because the load on the board is constantly exposed to the water; 2) in case I had to walk out, I had a backpack. Then I lashed the load down with thin nylon cord. Cam straps or bungee cords would have been better, but the eyelets on the leash plugs are too small to allow for them. I did use small bungee cords to secure some of the more accessible gear on top of the main load, and these I attached to the nylon cord, and/or to the straps of the main dry bag. The marine chart and compass go on last, on top of the load, so that you can see them easily and are able to navigate from a prone position.

Wild Strawberries for breakfast !

The Breakdown Paddle

About 200 meters offshore, on a forward stroke, I hear a slight cracking noise, but convince myself that I did not just hear a cracking noise. About halfway across bumpy Blackfish Sound, dividing Cracroft Point and Hanson Island, I feel exposed as I take another forward stroke… crack followed by snap… and there I am, bobbing south now, holding two useless pieces of carbon fiber in my two hands. My initial reaction of, “!?$*, that was a $300 paddle!” rolls off of me like the water off my deck as I realize the blessing of the break: I now get to use my break-down Werner Spanker.

This happened to me on the overnight pre-expedition trip I took around the Johnstone Strait area, and it really was a blessing in disguise. Not only because I got to use my Werner, but also because it left me with only a breakdown sea kayak paddle that I fortunately found in the back of my truck. Otherwise, I would not have thought to bring a sea kayak paddle along as a breakdown.

Another whale pops up to see what SUP is all about..

And why bring an extra sea kayak paddle? Because trying to paddle standing up in a significant headwind is useless! You won´t make any progress, so you´ll just have to sit out the headwind. With a sea kayak paddle, though, you can sit down on the board, paddle it like a kayak, and move forward. This works especially well with a loaded board because you can place your feet against the load, giving leverage, just as if it were a bulkhead. As well, I sometimes paddled the board in a kneeling position to give my back a rest.

Don't panic ! Phew its going the other way...

The added benefit of carrying a sea kayak paddle is that it also allows you to switch positions, use different muscles, and give your legs a rest, as well as your mind—when you´re paddling standing up there is no room for daydreaming. On future expeditions I will carry two breakdowns—one a SUP paddle, and the other a sea kayak paddle. That way I´m covering all the bases in case of a broken paddle.

Base Camp

Navigation, Take Offs and Landings

Navigating on an SUP is really no different than in a sea kayak. I remained about the same distance from shore as I would have in a sea kayak—relative to the conditions and my comfort zone—and I navigated using a marine chart, compass and GPS.

Landing and taking off, however, can be a bit trickier. On an SUP you have to jump off the board first when landing and control the board by shortleashing it (grabbing the leash at the very base). Conversely, when taking off, you have to wade out into the water a bit before mounting the SUP. Here also it´s best to control the board from the rear, making sure to have a hand on the base of the leash so that it doesn´t get away from you. Launching in surf, it helps to weight the back of the board before a wave hits it so that the board will ride over the wash. It´s also especially important to find sandy take offs and landings where you can slide the board because you don´t have the luxury of picking it up and dragging it by a bow or stern grab loop as you do with a sea kayak.

The Surf Zone

Dave gets some waves in

Paddling into the surf zone—finally!—and there´s no one in the lineup. I´m not looking to surf any big waves with a loaded board, though. I wait for a big set to pass and power in to the beach behind the last set wave. Unloaded, the board feels like balsa. I am skipping across the water now and waiting for a set to arrive. As well, I feel even more stable than usual because I have gotten so used to paddling a more unstable loaded board.

Down the line !

The first roller picks me up as I dig in with some deep forward strokes, and I slice a rudder with my paddle as I head left down the line on an overhead wave. Getting lower and picking up speed I rocket toward the end of the wall, and toward the beginning of an epiphany—there is no better way to travel than this.


Thanks for the Werner Paddle Blog for giving up permisson to use this article. Thanks to Dave Collins for the photos - more are available here.

 
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