The Black River is the epitome of serene. It’s out in the middle of nowhere. You drive and drive to a random bridge that signals your take out. There are no people around, and what houses you do see are older and in need of repair. There’s an alligator who lives nearby and he watches you take out!
Cypress knees poke up through the dark water, birds are everywhere, and the obligatory alligators hiding where you can’t see them but they can surely see you. The river trail is winding, sheltered, and quiet. No other humans for miles and miles. Glorious and truly peaceful.
A storm came up about an hour into our paddle. Mostly just rain, and thankfully, I was with a group of experienced paddlers who know how to pack for a day tip! We weren’t caught off-guard and we broke out our rain gear and paddled on.
How do you prepare for a paddle trip in an unknown area with unknown water? Here are my tips:
- Make sure you have a way to carry gear on your SUP. If your board doesn’t have a spot to thread bungees then you can buy a suction cup kit that will work. I have to prepare for being cold, even in 80 degree weather (yes, really – I can catch chill no matter the temperature), for the rain, and the possibility of a swim. Plus, as evidenced in a SUP race recently, I require bandages. Not only do I need extra clothes and a first aid kit, I need SNACKS! Ask any of my paddle compadres and they will tell you: “Holly needs food to last for days, even if we only paddle 2 hours.” Snack bars, peanuts, jerky, electrolyte drink, and water for an army.
- Take the time to pack and then repack. Now I have to fit all of this on my board, hopefully all in one dry bag to minimize the supplies cluttering my board and keep from weighing me down. I will pack and repack my bag multiple times. If I roll my rain coat this way its smaller. If I put my peanuts in a small jelly jar it fits better in my lunch pail, and so forth.
- Check the weather. Knowing the type of weather you may encounter helps you to be prepared. Don’t just check your phone – take the time to look up when you wake up and as you’re paddling. Weather can shift so be prepared.
- Gather as much info as you can before your trip, including local knowledge. Consult maps, gps and paddling websites. Talk to locals. Know where you’re going, what kind of water it is and how long it should take you. Then, file a float plan with a friend so they are aware of where you’re going and when you should be back.
- Love with the process of preparing! IT IS WORTH IT. You gotta love the process. The process is what keeps you safe. The process allows you to have fun. The process ensures you can do more of what you love: Paddle! Sometimes the process is boring, and feels tedious. The process gets you results! Do all the things that are boring so that its all enjoyable later. Once you get into a habit with this it becomes second nature and takes far less time each trip.
Holly is an ACA L2 SUP instructor and guide who lives in Asheville, NC. She has been a SUP enthusiast for 4 years and enjoys sharing her love of the sport on various rivers and lakes around Asheville.