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Beginner Tips for Ocean Paddling

Updated: May 29, 2018

For paddlers that live inland, entering a race with an ocean component can be intimidating. Even then, some ocean legs are more challenging than others. Races with water starts beyond the surf zone can be relatively flat in places like California and Connecticut. On the other hand, there are races that revel in the fact that they have a challenging ocean portion. Races like the Carolina Cup and Pacific Paddle Games could be easy in the ocean if the weather is mild. But more often than not, the chop of the Carolina’s and the surf of California make those two races particularly challenging.

What is a beginner to do? When you get out to the ocean for some practice, there are a few things to keep in mind when starting out.

Safety First!

Always make sure you have an appropriate board for the conditions you plan on paddling in. You should bring a USCG approved PFD, preferably an inflatable if you’re navigating the surf zone. You don’t want an inherently buoyant PFD in the surf, you need to be able to duck under waves and boards for safety, and would only need the life vest deployed in an emergency. A leash is also necessary for ocean paddling. Falling off your board many times can become tiring and depending on wind and swell your board could move away from you quickly.

Allow extra time

The time it takes to paddle 5 miles in perfectly flat water will probably not be the same amount of time it takes you to paddle 5 miles in the ocean. If you’re not used to the chop, it will probably take a decent bit longer, unless you’re doing a perfect downwinder and don’t fall in! Be patient as your body gets used to the motion in the ocean. Giving yourself extra time to finish your paddle will help you from feeling disheartened or rushed the first few times you go out. You can expect to fall in plenty of times! Don’t feel discouraged, your core will get used to it.

Core Work

Being in turbulent water will really make you engage your core and lateral stabilizing muscles. You may even feel sore in a few new places. When you first go out, getting a solid paddle stroke in may even be difficult. As you lean over to plant the blade the rest of your body may get pitched by a wave. It helps to look just in front of your board to try and see what little bumps or big swells are coming so you can prepare. Once you get a little more experience, you won’t be staring at every little bump any more, but you’ll be able to react quicker with a more engaged and trained core.

Brace Yourself!