Fall Fervor — The Glory of All-Season Paddling!
Up here in Canada, as the long hours of summer daylight begin to shorten, the evening twilight becomes crisp and cool. Stars twinkle in the brisk, clear atmosphere and there is an instinctual and imminent feeling of change in the air. It is hardly perceived, but it is there nonetheless, programmed into all creatures of the north in the same way a moth is compelled to fly towards the light. The bears scavenge and gorge themselves in preparation for hibernation, the trout and salmon congregate to spawn, and the humans, well, we do what we always do—we work, we play, and some of us paddle!
Just because summer days are coming to an end, it doesn’t have to mean the end of paddling season as well. Thanks to modern SUPs and technical-wear, SUPing has become a year-round activity, even when water temperatures drop to near freezing and the air temperatures extend well below. In much the same way that classic Canadian imagery features plaid-clad, toque-toting Canucks skillfully whisking down colorful streams in old-timey wooden canoes, the modern Canadian (similarly attired in plaid and toques!) may now opt for a paddle board instead.
As many of us paddlers know, there is something unique and surreal about experiencing nature’s marvels aboard a SUP, whether it’s the uninhibited views on glassy water, the tranquil vulnerability and openness, or the unrivalled feeling of walking on water. Add to that the unmatched portability of inflatable SUPs in comfy, hike-able packs, and you may never want to carry a canoe again!
When the leaves begin to change, our intuition of the encroaching winter is confirmed. Autumn is upon us, and as the weather gets colder, the colors of fall get bolder. For only a few short weeks, we get to witness the splendor of nature’s transformation in preparation for winter. In the lowlands, trees briefly flare into brilliant yellows and reds, and in the alpine, the early snows of winter are punctuated by a dazzling display of colorful larches, a coveted sight that draws photographers and sightseers from around the world. In many cases, the autumn days are warm enough to enjoy these marvels from the water in summer-like conditions. As the season progresses, temperatures begin to plummet, and all-season paddlers will need to take additional gear to stay safe and comfortable.
Of course, paddling in colder temperatures comes with increased risks. These include hypothermia, frostbite, and drowning, and year-round paddlers must always prepare for a fall into frigid waters and exposure to the cold air afterwards. For supremely confident paddlers adorned in warm clothing, still and serene waters can be enjoyed without much anxiety. A dry-bag filled with a complete change of warm clothing, a suitable life-vest, and quick access to shelter or a fire are important considerations in case of a fall.
It can be extremely challenging to swim and tread water in freezing conditions, particularly when burdened by soaked, heavy winter clothing. For those more likely to take a plunge, either inadvertently or on-purpose (believe it or not, there is a growing community of people taking “polar-dips” in their skivvies throughout the winter!) a winter wet suit is the minimum level of protection recommended. Surprisingly, these are reasonably inexpensive and readily available, and when paired with neoprene booties, gloves, and mittens, can provide adequate comfort throughout the fall and in moderate winter conditions.
Of course, when temperatures hit the extremes, it’s probably best to avoid the water altogether, unless equipped with a far more robust, and far more expensive, winter paddling wetsuit. In these temperatures, body extremities are easily susceptible to frostbite, and as many Canadians already know, it’s surprisingly hard to tell when fingers and toes are starting to freeze when they are already numbed by the cold. For those looking to go out in the worst of conditions, it’s best to get educated first, and cold-water-immersion and survival courses are available throughout Canada for that purpose. There are also plenty of resources online that delve into the risks of cold-water exposure and freezing conditions.
Hopefully this post has encouraged some enthusiastic SUPers to reconsider hanging up their paddles for the changing season. SUPing is a burgeoning sport with unlimited possibilities, and much like kayaking, surfing, and other watersports, people are only just waking up to its all-season potential. There’s plenty of adventure and excitement to be had by those willing to explore, and autumn paddling up here in the north can be incredibly rewarding with the right preparation and equipment. As always, keep safe, and feel free to share your cold-weather stories, tips, and experiences in the comments below!
Happy paddling, and stay warm, eh!
About the Author:
Hi there! I’m Kayle – an Albertan outdoorsman and professional pilot, musician, investor, photographer, writer, and more! I believe wholly in the axiom “variety is the spice of life.” I’ve travelled all over the world, flown remote skies under the northern lights, scuba-dived exotic shipwrecks, survived avalanches and nights lost in the wilderness, played music in Canadian hockey stadiums and Thai back-alley bars, and skated, camped, climbed, paddled, paraglided, and fly-fished all over the north. I’ve met fantastic people every step of the way – and it’s my goal to inspire a passion for adventure in everyone I meet. I have the privilege of sharing much of the journey with my brother Ev, who is all the above and much more. It’s a great life!