SUP Wales: Sandy Haven Pill

My breath fogs in the air, boots crunch on the stiff grass, frost twinkles in the dawn light. Walking to the sea, I’m questioning myself: Why exactly am I out of bed at this ungodly hour. Let alone why am I about to go paddleboarding? The sharply bitter coffee hastily drunk is barely denting my mental fugue. I briskly jog up and down the beach to get the blood pumping. Some half-hearted star jumps then I’m making my way through the shallows to paddle out.

If my smile above is anything to go by – it was worth the early start. The above picture was taken after returning from a short 6km paddle up Sandy Haven Pill, a small tidal inlet on the Pembrokeshire Coast. It’s a beautiful place to visit. Saltmarshes and muddy banks fringe the narrow channel, flocks of ducks and geese bob gently on the surface. Occasional splashes disturb the glassy water as fish leap out. Bits of seaweed float like icebergs. Silence is your constant companion. In other words – it’s a joyous place to be at any time of year. But I like it even more in Winter. Seems topical now Britain is undergoing another freeze to discuss the subject of cold- weather paddleboarding. I know many self-professed warm weather paddlers and there’s nothing wrong with that. However I argue there is a certain charm about pulling on the suit in Winter. Interested in going cold-weather paddling. Read on and hopefully I can inspire you to paddle out. Let’s take it down to the basics and look at my outfit first.

Clothing and Apparel

● Base layer – 5mm wetsuit w. 5mm neoprene boots (optional gloves) ● Head gear – neoprene hood or bobble hat ● Outer shell – windproof goretex waterproof jacket ● PFD – security and added buoyancy. Keeps your chest warmer too. A neat trick. After putting on your wetsuit, pour a flask of hot water down your neck seal. The water is trapped in the suit and makes for a cosy start. I have become too hot in a wetsuit before and had to jump in the sea to cool off – even in winter. Dispel the notion that winter paddling is always cold.

What type of board?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. I opted for the 14” Sprint but really the choice is yours. All the board should possess are lashing points to secure a drybag.

What gear should you consider? For shorter trips: ● Dry bag – 2l/5l/10l with hooks so it can be clipped by carabiner to the board ● Head torch – time of day dependant ● GoPro – for those super awesome selfies ● Fully-charged phone in a waterproof phone case (for safety and emergencies) ● Thermos flask For longer trips, all the above plus: ● Waterproof map – advisable for shorter routes too possibly ● Snacks / lunch ● GPS – navigation and route finding ● Warm padded jacket – for if you stop for lunch, or forced to stop by forces unknown ● Signallers – VHF radio, flare, whistle, homing beacon etc. If paddling alone, it would be worth informing someone of your plans with an expected return time. SUP is a sociable sport though so see if anyone else paddles close to you.

The truly painful bit – getting changed No doubt the hardest part of cold-weather paddling. There is no easy way. If you have a campervan, your sorted. If you’re like me and have a small pokey 3-door, it’s not so gentile. A few tips I’ve learnt over the years: ● Robey / Dry Robe – very efficient and you look cool in them! ● Wrap your robey / towel around a hot water bottle prior to departure ● Have some gloves to hand – your fingers will be chilled by now ● Get into dry clothes asap – nothing chills like wet gear on skin. ● Use the car as a windbreak ● Yoga mat – good to stand on. Insulates your feet from the ground while you struggle out your wetsuit. Maybe don’t choose your best yoga mat though. ● Plastic trug – for all your wet gear.

So why do it? For me there is a certain freshening, bracing quality to the winter air that simply do not find during any other season. The likelihood of having a body of water all to yourself is increased as few will be as brave as you to face the chill. During the winter season remember, a SUP isn’t just for summer. Happy SUPing

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