What You Should do Before that First Spring Paddle

Ah spring! That wonderful time of year when nature explodes after the dark, dank grey of winter and re-ignites our paddling souls!  The air temperature warms up, and we dream of barefoot paddles, board shorts and bathing suits and refreshing dips in our local waters. And we cannot wait til our first Spring paddle!

It may be hard to resist the temptation on that first warm day, but there are a few things all paddlers should first do before taking the spring plunge.  These reminders apply to both the new paddler who may have purchased a board last year but hasn’t paddled over the winter and the seasoned paddler alike.

Examine Your Board

Before you get on the water, give your board the once over. 

Rigid Boards

Check for dings – the one you said you’d fix over the winter but forgot about or the one you don’t know about that happened when someone in your fam accidentally bumped up against it in the garage (yes, that happens.)

Pay close attention to the ding prone areas:

  • Fin box
  • Nose
  • Tail
  • Rails

If the damage is minor, slap a puka patch or sticker on it or learn to do the repair yourself.  Got major damage?  Book an appointment at your local ding repair shop. It’s best to get on that kind of damage early.

Create your own board or boat first aid kit.

If you have a manual pressure release valve, don’t forget to make sure it is closed before you paddle. Check for any obvious signs of problems around the valve area.

 Inflatables

Fill it up and check the following:

  • Make sure it’s holding air. 
  • Make sure the valve is not leaking and opening and closing properly. 
  • Check the seams.
  • Check for damage on creases where it may have been folded in its carry case. 
  • Look for any obvious damage elsewhere on the board.

Inflating also will ensure the pump is working properly.

Make sure any bungee cords on your deck are in good shape.

Long boats

Same applies to outrigger and ski paddlers – check your boat over, check the steering mechanisms, bungees, drain stoppers, fins. And don’t forget the ama and iakos.

A great way to do all of this is to give your craft a good spring cleaning. I like to use the OnIt Pro line of products to keep my fiberglass and carbon boats and boards looking ship-shape.  That kind of attention allows you the chance to really look your board or boat over and discover issues that need attention.

Check the water temp and your steering set-up before that first spring paddle!

Check Your Leash

Over time, even the best leash will need to be retired.

Check your leash over for:

  • Deep nicks or cuts in the tubing.  
  • Dry rot in the cuff and leash string attachment AND the leash string itself.
  • Debris in the hook and loop sections that might keep it from closing tightly around ankle or calf.
  • Properly working swivel connections. 
  • Knots in the leash itself.

Replace the leash if you see nicks or deep cuts, dry rot or if the swivel connections won’t turn. Undo any knots and check that part of the leash for weakness.  Replace the leash if you have any doubt.

Check your Life Jacket 

Inherently Buoyant Life Jackets:

  • Make sure it still fits ( ‘cause, well, the Pandemic!)
  • Check straps and buckles for wear and tear that could cause improper fit and/or failure. 

Inflatable PFD

  • Open it up and check for damage.
  • Make sure the manual inflation tube, if it has one, works. 
  • Check your CO2 catridge. If possible, go ahead and inflate it by pulling the tab to make sure all is in order.  Then buy a replacement the catridge.  It is always good a have spare CO2 cartridge on hand anyway.

If you have never pulled the tab on your inflatable PDF, just do it. That way you will know what to expect in the event you have to do it on a paddle.  Not all waistbelt PFDs deploy and don the same.  Get to know your specific one. It’s surprising how many seasoned paddlers have never actually opened up their inflatable pfd.

Paddles

Your paddle should get just as much attention as your board.

  • Examine the blade for chips or cracks.
  • Check the shaft for any damage.
  • Make sure adjustable and multi-piece paddles are easy to set, assemble and disassemble, since sand and salt water can create issues if left over time. That’s why it’s always a good idea to hose off your paddle after your sessions. 

Roof Racks

Always check racks and straps after a season off!

Even the most experienced of us can forget to check to make sure our roof rack system is securely attached to our vehicles.  I almost lost a surf ski because my v-rack nuts were not tight!!  So, check and tighten all bolts and nuts on every part of your rack.

Also look at your straps, both tie down straps and integrated straps in SUP carriers like Yakima’s SUP Dawg or Thule’s SUP Taxi.

Look for:

  • Worn and faded areas.
  • Frayed or torn sections.
  • Corrosion on the cams.
  • Non-functioning or locking cams.

Replace, replace, replace if you see any of these signs as they could signal immient strap failure.   

Things wear out – they just do – so don’t expect your straps to last forever.  

Rack and tie-down tips and tricks.

Check the Water Temperature!!!

Just because it’s a balmy 70 degrees doesn’t necessarily mean you can put the dry suit or neoprene away for the rest of the year.  The water temp could still be cold enough to be dangerous. Just because it is Spring, doesn’t mean paddle conditions will be warm enough.

Remember:

  • Always dress for the water temperature, no matter how experienced you are.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
  • Do not assume you’ll warm up adequately because it’s warm out.

As the air warms up and the water temp lags behind and is still chilly, working out can be uncomfortable if you are using exposure protection like a dry suit or wetsuit.  Hydration will become extremely important in these instances so make sure you are carrying enough water and continuing to hydrate both before and after your workouts. 

The good news is, this uncomfortable time of year does not last for long!

Just don’t make the mistake of forgetting to look at water temps and taking appropripriate action before paddling out!

First Aid Kit

If you keep one of these with your paddle gear and/or in your car (and you really should!) go through it and re-supply any items that you’ve used or are low on. 

Check expiry dates on topical oinments, pain killers and allergy meds, as well any Quick Clot if your kit includes it.

Add Active Skin Repair to your kit if you don’t already use it.  Here’s why.

What’s in your first aid kit?

Dry Bags

If you use a dry bag on the water for keys, wallet, snacks, or other items, check them before your spring and summer paddle seasons.  Remember when I said things wear out? Here’s an easy way to tell if your dry bag is still water-tight:

  • Trap air in the bag.
  • Roll it up, close it and set it aside.
  • After an hour or so, or even overnight, see if the bag is still inflated.
  • If it is flat, then it has a leak. 

You can also repeat this process and then submerge in a sink or tub full of water and look for bubbles.

I usually replace my smaller dry bags every two years or so, and sometimes more often.

Other Things to Consider

  • Add or replace a worn lanyard on your cellphone.
  • Check or replace waterproof cellphone cases.
  • Set up a system for creating and sending float plans or letting someone know when, where and how long you will be out paddling, in case of emergencies.

It’s so easy for paddlers of any experience level to get excited when the weather changes for warmer, and then end up in tricky situations because they didn’t inspect gear.  This is especially important if the gear hasn’t been used over the winter.  Save yourself a headache or worse and set aside the time for a good inspection before your first spring paddle!

Happy Spring and Happy Paddling, y’all!

Lisa
Lisa is managing editor of PaddleMonster.com and is an avid paddler of all the things - including sup, SurfSki, outrigger canoe and prone, though she especially enjoys paddle surfing and downwinding. She is a former journalist with more than 30 years experience in print and broadcast journalism and in government communications. She is a six-time Chattajack finisher, racing both sup and OC2. When not paddling, she is an outdoor instructor.

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