Okay, listen up team. This safety briefing is an important one, and unlike the safety tips on an aeroplane (put your hands on your head and lean forward while you’re rapidly descending towards the earth?), these ones will actually save your life. 

Hot tip numero uno: Always use a leash.

Leashes save lives, and are by far the most important piece of safety equipment in paddleboarding.

Without a leash it’s easy to become separated from your board should you fall off, especially in a breeze. The very act of falling off a board tends to propel the board away from the rider. In winds of more than a few knots, the board can be blown away faster than a rider can swim after it, especially if they are trying to hold on to their paddle (the natural instinct), and/or wearing a lifejacket, which inhibits fast swimming.

It’s just as crucial to wear a leash as it is to have the right leash for the job. 

On moving water (rivers, harbour mouths etc): only use a leash with a quick-release system that can be operated from above the waist. *Never wear an ankle or calf leash in fast-flowing water, better to not wear a leash at all if you don’t have the right one. 

Surf: only use a straight ankle/calf leash.

Flat water/Weedy conditions: use a coiled leash so that it does not drag in the water and catch weed.

Here’s a quick run down of the main leash types: 

The straight leash (ankle style)

By far the most common form of leash in circulation. Low cost and very easy maintenance, as it can easily be inspected for damage. The only truly safe style of leash to wear in the surf to avoid recoil or whiplash injuries, and also because the rider’s head/torso needs to be as far away from the board as possible when board and rider are being ‘rinsed’ in a surf wipe-out. 

Does dangle in the water behind the board, creating a risk of catching on debris or obstacles in or under the water. Requires the rider being able to reach right down to their ankle in order to detach it.

Best suited to: Surf. 

*Not to be worn in fast-flowing water.

The Straight Leash (calf style)

Low cost, very easy maintenance (i.e. can easily be inspected for damage). Assuming the right length of leash is used, it does not dangle in the water so much as the ankle leash, thus less prone to catching kelp/weed/obstacles, or getting caught up in the paddle. Still requires the rider being able to reach their calf in order to detach it.

Best suited to: Any water with minimal current (lakes, open sea, harbours, etc.), and low/no kelp, weed or obstacles that could. 

Less suited to: Surf – sharp whiplash-style tensioning can damage the knee.

*not to be worn in fast-flowing water. 

The Coiled Leash

Due to being shorter, this type of leash does not dangle in the water at all.

Best suited to: Flat water + Any water with low-moderate current (1-2 knots), particularly if the water contains kelp/obstacles that the leash could snag on.

Not suited to: surf as it can twist and tangle (“telephone cord style”) after repeated stretches, can cause the board to spring back at the rider after a wipe-out.

Coiled Leash | Moana

Shop the Moana Coiled Leash

The Waist Quick-release Leash

Attaches to a quick-release strap around the rider’s waist. The leash can easily be released, even when under extreme tension, via a quick-release pull toggle or tag situated at the front of the rider, usually at belly height. These tend to be more expensive and can be awkward if you are already wearing a belt pack PFD around your waist.

Best suited to: White water, rivers, any zones of strong current.

Not suited to: Beginners or anyone falling off regularly, as it’s quite easy to get tangled up in the leash, or get it wrapped around the board. Not suited for Surf. 

Hot Tip Number Two: Wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). 

A vital component of general maritime safety.

A PFD will greatly increase your survival time should you become separated from your board. Carrying or wearing a PFD is a legal requirement in Aotearoa. 

In simplest terms, PFDs fall into two categories – those with permanent buoyancy built in, and the inflatable variety, which do not offer active buoyancy until the inflation has been triggered.

Permanent buoyancy PFDs are the best (indeed only) option for people who cannot swim or are not confident in the water. The best and easiest option for the majority. However, there are some disadvantages;

  • Reduced mobility - can be harder to climb back onto your board and to swim.
  • Discomfort, chafe and overheating - paddleboarding involves a lot of shoulder and upper body movement, and anything worn around the neck, shoulders and torso can soon start to cause discomfort.

Head to Maritime NZ for detailed descriptions of Permanent Buoyancy PFDs. 

The beltpack style of inflatable PFD is the best PFD option for the stand up paddler who is a competent swimmer and comfortable in the water.  However, you do need to understand how they work. 

They are low profile and comfortable. Clip it around your waist, and forget about it. It does not cause any discomfort or chafe, indeed you very quickly forget you are even wearing it. Provides maximum buoyancy when you need it and does not reduce mobility when swimming or paddling. 

Disadvantages with a belt pack PFD requires at least two user actions in order to offer its full lifesaving ability. Firstly, the user must pull the toggle to inflate it, and secondly, pull it over their head in order to turn it into a fully functional PFD. They tend to be more expensive than a traditional PFD.

Yak Lifejacket Moana

Shop the Yak Kallista Blue PFD Life Jacket 50N

The requirements of NZ Maritime Rule 91.4 mean that all stand up paddleboarders are legally obliged to carry a buoyancy aid, unless actively involved in surfing, or at a competition event where the competition organisers have specifically negotiated an exemption with the council (on the basis that there is adequate safety cover and supervision on the water). At all other times, a buoyancy aid is mandatory.

Hot Tip Number Three: Know the Conditions

Always, always, always, check the conditions before you head onto the water. 

It’s a great idea to check at least two/three different apps/websites to get a bigger picture of what the weather is forecasted to do. 

Know the weather, wind strength and direction (now and forecast), tide height and flow if you are at the coast, river flow if you are on a river, and the water temperature. 

Some general weather guidelines to adhere to:

  • A beginner may struggle with any wind over 10-15 mph
  • If the wind feels like it is too much to paddle in - sit down on your board and paddle from that position. This will allow you to paddle easier through even heavy winds.
  • Always paddle against the wind to start - that way on the paddle back when you are already tired, you can use the wind to your advantage.

Think about if your ability, equipment and clothing are right for the conditions, and remember sometimes it's okay to say no - especially when it comes to your safety.

Hot Tip Number Four: Know your own skills

Unlike other sports there is no clear marker for when you are ready to test yourself in different conditions or environments. This is mainly due to the fact that conditions can change almost instantly. There isn't a marked course, trail, or path that you can progress to. 

Often, paddlers have to take an honest look at the conditions and a self-reflective understanding of their skills and decide in the moment whether to go.

But how can you know what is the correct decision? The answer is personal, everyone has different skills, abilities, and experience. You should ask yourself...

  • How many times have you paddled? 
  • How far have you ever paddled before?
  • Have you had proper instruction? 
  • Do you know the safety protocols?
  • Do you have the correct equipment? 
  • Do you know how to inflate your PFD if need be? 
  • Can you get back onto your board with ease if you were to fall off?

These are all important questions to consider before you try to test yourself in a new environment or gnarly conditions. 

Hot Tip Number Five: Wear the Right Gear

Along with wearing a leash and PDF, consider what are the best clothes to wear out on the water and also if a dry bag with some extra layers is needed. ⁠

⁠First off unless you're planning to be IN the water, a wetsuit isn't the number one option as they can easily cause your body to overheat. ⁠(Great for surfing!)

We would recommend stretchy, movable tops and pants as your best bet as athletic fabrics will let you paddle how you please. Big bulky cotton layers are not recommended, on the chance that you do end up in the water these will be heavy and keep you cold. ⁠

If you do get cold easily try a merino layer/s next to the skin and wind stopper outer layer. ⁠

⁠And remember If you keep your feet warm, your body will more than likely follow suit so you could try some booties or waterproof socks. 

As always the weather conditions and temperatures will dictate how many layers you need. 

Hot Tip Number Six: Communication

Can you call for help, if necessary? Remember, it might not be you in trouble, but someone else you encounter! A whistle is an easy one and you normally get a good waterproof whistle as part of the package when you buy a good quality PFD. 

Take a phone in a waterproof case or dry bag, a great way to stay in touch with someone onshore. 

Lastly is a Maritime VHF (with emergency channel 16), not something we all have due to the cost but an awesome piece of kit to take with you if you do. 

Even if you’re paddling with others (which is best), make sure someone onshore knows that you’re on the water, where you’re going and how long you will be. Tell them when you get back too! Always nice to know that someone’s got your back if something goes wrong. 

Remember even the best of us have to be prepared! Know the conditions, always bring the right equipment and...

Stay stoked!


October 28, 2021 — Toby Wild

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