Plan your own SUP multi day trip

Having just finished being the first person to stand up paddle the 360-mile coast of Maine this summer, the number one question I get is "How?" I hope to demystify the "SUP Expedition" and get you planning your own trip. The good news is that whether you are paddling 10 or 100 miles all you really need is the same gear and mindset. 

The first big decision is to plan exactly where and how long you want to go on an overnight or multi-day trip. My first and most important advice I can give is to keep your plans well below your ability level. For example, if you can easily paddle 15 miles in a day, only plan for 8. Or if you know you can handle moderate wind and chop, don’t paddle on the open ocean and stick to a protected river or lake. This might seem silly but when you are on a multiday trip, you can’t decide to stop whenever you want or just go warm up in the car if you are cold. The time to push your limit is when you are training or phone call away from a pickup. On a multiday trip you will find that your limit will be tested even when you don’t want it to be! Always try to reserve energy in your tank for when Mother Nature decides to give an unexpected surprise. Also, while I paddled my trip solo, it’s much safer to paddle with a friend. In Maine, I never really felt alone since there are lobster boats relatively close by all the time, so if I ever needed help I felt comfortable calling them.

Next, don’t wait until you are struggling, miles away from the closest outfitter, with your heavy uncomfortable paddle. Go ahead and get a Werner paddle right now. I like to say, boards come and go but paddles are forever and your paddle choice is almost more important than your board for this reason. My paddle of choice for my expedition was the Werner Grand Prix 93. This paddle is extremely lightweight and a dream to paddle with. It also stood up to the abuse of a rocky shoreline, it still looks great and I am not one to baby my gear. One note about paddle length, if you are planning on putting in some serious time and miles, get a paddle that is a little longer than you think you need. It is really nice to be able to stand up tall and paddle in an upright position when you need to change up your stroke to give different parts of your body a break.

How you load your board is important and something to really think about. It can be broken down into 4 parts. First, when you are standing in your normal paddling position and you have your gear loaded, you want a level board. If you load too much front or back this is going to negatively impact your paddling. It varies board to board, but on mine, it works best to have most of my heavier gear in front of me since this tie down is closer to the center of the board. My tail tie down is all the way back and if I load too much it really drags. The second part of this is to make sure all your heavy gear is as low as possible and spread out across the board. When you start loading your board you will find it gets less stable and this dramatically increases with only a few inches of weight that is loaded high. Keep your water and anything else heavy in a low position. Since I was paddling on the ocean without access to fresh water I had to carry all of my water and I used flexible water bags that spread out along the top of my board. The third element of loading is what do you put all your gear in? Since the coast of Maine is rocky and not that great for landing a board, I had to make sure I could carry everything in one trip from the water to above the tideline. I used waterproof duffle bags with attached backpack straps. This way I could unload my board before I landed and carry everything up to the shore. Additionally, inside the duffle bags, I used small drybags to divide up all my gear inside. The fourth loading point is to go ahead and stop using your stock bungee tie downs and add some rope tie downs. On my board, I use common p-cord that goes through the same eyelets that the bungees are attached too (leave the bungees attached if you can they are great when you are not carrying multi-day gear). The bungees that are attached to most SUP's are not secure enough to hold your gear bags in place in the event you take a wave or roll your board over. They might be ok on a protected river or lake, but any larger body of water or whitewater you need to make sure everything is extremely secure.

Moving along to the topic of what exactly do you need to bring with you. I am going to stay away from general camping gear and clothing since it really is personal preference. However, there are some SUP specific pieces of gear you need to bring. Most SUP paddlers don't carry a backup paddle or fin on day-paddles but these are a must on a multiday trip. I carried the 3 piece Werner Vibe as my spare paddle. It easily fits on my duffle and it is a solid paddle to have as a spare. Every SUP paddler should have breakdown paddle as part of their gear. Another often overlooked backup part is a spare fin. If you lose a fin on your trip you are going to be in for another difficult paddle home. There are lots of additional backups you can take on a multi-day or overnight trip but I consider these two as absolute necessities if you are traveling by SUP. 

Let's talk about safety equipment. A leash and a PFD are obvious musts but my big piece of advice is to carry everything important on your body. I see so many paddlers with their safety gear on their board but what if they lose the board and are now floating in the ocean with no way to call for help? At a minimum, I carry my cell phone, satellite beacon, whistle, snack and sunscreen attached to my hydration backpack, and that is attached to me. This way even If I lose my board I can still call for help. Additionally, before every crossing or exposed section of coastline, I make sure that I am topped off with water and food. If it's rough, you can't stop paddling to access your dry bags with food and water. There is nothing worse than running out of food or water and not being able to land to get more, so always top it off when you have a chance.  Also, don't forget to check your local laws to see what kind of required equipment you need to have on board and keep in mind this is not a full list of safety equipment, just a reminder to keep it on your person at all times. 

Finally, some additional random tidbits of advice that don't really fit anywhere else, weight matters more than you think. You will have to carry it and the more weight you have the less stable your board is. Buy the lightweight gear if you can. Go ahead and get a solar charger and battery pack. The price of these has come down so much in the past few years there is no reason to not have one. Get some serious sun protection. You never know when you might be in the sun all day. A couple of times I found myself on islands with no shade so I was grateful to have long pants and a long sleeve hooded sun shirt, (especially since I am a redhead.) 

Now I will leave you with my most important piece of advice: If you want to go on your own multi-day SUP trip, set a date and put it on the calendar! You can figure out the rest on the way.


Author: Dan Cox