How to Get Paddling In the Winter when you’d rather not
In an ideal world, NYC would be a tropical place. And less crowded and less noisy, cleaner, etc. Not the point. It’s winter and it snows and it stays below freezing for weeks sometimes. What to do when you absolutely need your water time but the environment seems to want to kill you? As soon as October comes around, you plan to paddle from NYC to Miami hoping you’ll be chasing down the warmer weather!
I confess, that was the idea behind a south bound trip: To escape the winter. That’s how much I don’t like freezing temps. I rather paddle 1500 miles than stay up here and endure this. Little did we know we would brave 28F degrees in NJ, frost in N and S Carolina that made sleeping impossible for me, a 40F weather system that weirdly went through north GA and landlocked us for nearly a week in Tybee, and snow, yes, snow in Florida! More than chasing down the warmer weather, we dragged the winter with us down the coast. It was our fault, guys. Sorry!
While I do not enjoy winter at all, probably for the lack of exposure to it during my 31 years on this planet, when it comes to getting on the water, I convince myself it’s great, beautiful, badass, simple and easy to paddle in 20F weather. I take photos of empty waterways when they are super busy in the summer, snowy docks, the gear I get into to make this bearable and oh those freezing smiles on our faces when we are out there. Why do we go if we really don’t want to? Well, because we need to.
Necessity drives us to great extremes. Before getting hooked on a water sport, did you ever think you’d be on/in the water in the snow? Of course not, you were not crazy. But now that you are (hooked on water sports AND crazy), you’re researching the best winter gear, you’re glued to your weather apps and plan your weekend around your water time. Still, some serious motivation might be required to get you to waters edge. Here are a few things that get me out of the house and into my drysuit:
Find a paddling group, befriend the weirdo that you’ve seen paddling out there when nobody else is out, join a paddling club. If your partner does not paddle, make them give you ride or wait for you with a warm thermos. Make it a social thing. When you have others expecting you to show up, it commits you to it. We have 2 text message groups, a facebook page and email chains and we check in with each other every day to see who is going out at what time. Social media is a big driver, too. Did you guys see the Polar Paddle posts last weekend? So awesome. If my aunt’s tiny car could’ve driven in that snow storm I would’ve been there. A 4wheel drive has been added to the list! But without even having to travel, social media connects us to the world. Most notoriously, groups like The 100 Paddle Challenge, where paddlers from all over keep track of their water time and enthusiastically support each other and encourage each other to get out there, and it works! Sometimes we only go out because we have to post those 3.7 miles we braved to the boat basin and back. It. Works. Join in!
Drysuits and proper layering make any harmful weather feel warm and cozy inside. Since you tend to sweat a bit inside the drysuit, under layer that wick moisture away from the skin are the way to go, an insulated layer when temps are really low is necessary. You don’t want to be wet. You lose your body heat to water 5 times faster than to air. Staying dry is key. For the hands and feet, I prefer diving boots or fleece lined neoprene. Land boots can be a hazard if you fall off. They can get really heavy, really fast and if you’re not used to the shock of cold water, it might make your re-entry or remounting a dangerous situation. Gloves have to be waterproof and breathable. I usually start of paddling with them and if my hands get warm, I’ll take them off. When I’m on the surfski I wear pogies, sometimes without gloves. Hats! Keep your body heat in your body. Find a good hat that won’t let it escape. Ask what works for others, figuring out what works for you may take some trial and error. And remember the essentials: Leash, PFD, phone and tell someone where you’ll be and at what time you’ll be back and always check in. Always.
May be a race you want to do in the middle of the winter in BVI or Puerto Rico, a paddling trip, early spring event or just keeping up a good paddling habit so when spring comes around you’re ready to go 5th gear. We all paddle less when it’s cold. It’s ok. This doesn’t have to be a mission against all odds, find a rhythm that’s healthy and keeps you active. Mix it up with other activities. I hear snowboarding and skiing are great during these seasons. Staying active is key. When that warmest day of the week comes around, you’re ready to hit the waters with determination and energy and how it good it feels will fuel your patience for the next good weather window and energize your other workouts.
No matter how bad winter gets, the planet keeps spinning and spring is closer every day. Paddle with joy, y’all!