We all dream of those paddleboarding days when the water is glassy flat and it feels like you are gliding along the ocean. There is not a ripple in sight.
However, wind is something we get a lot of in the UK, from summer sea breezes to full on winter storms, there are not too many days when there is no wind at all.
You can try to increase your chances of a low wind session by looking at forecasts and going early in the morning, when the wind is often lighter. But even on those days, there will probably be some wind and it will definitely pick up throughout the day!
If you can only paddleboard at the weekend, you’ll have to be less picky about the conditions, but you still need to make sure you are heading out when it’s safe to do so.
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What is a safe wind speed for paddleboarding in the UK?
A safe wind speed for beginner paddleboarding will be anything below 12 knots. Anything above this wind speed, you will feel an uncomfortable resistance as you paddle into the wind, and there is likely to be choppy water that will make you feel unstable.
The reason why we say 12 knots is because if you get into trouble, at this wind speed you will be able to just about paddle upwind back to shore safely. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible.
12 knots is around 14 mph, or the very low end of a force 4 on the beaufort scale.
It can be quite difficult to gauge what the wind speed is when you are standing on the shore.
An anemometer is a device that measures wind speed, and you can buy these for less than £20, or the other option is to look for visual cues that will help you figure out the wind strength.
The more you paddleboard and spend time on the water, the better understanding you’ll have of what ‘too windy’ looks and feels like. To help, here are some descriptions to what 12 knots of wind will look like:
- Small and medium flags will be extended
- Small tree branches will be moving
- Dust and leaves on the ground can get lifted or moved
- Small white caps will glisten on the water
- Kitesurfers and windsurfers on big sails will be going quickly
Always remember, if in doubt, don’t go out. If you are not sure and don’t see anyone else out paddleboarding, chances are it’s not safe to go.
How wind direction affects strength and feel
It’s very important to understand that wind direction has a huge influence on how the wind feels when you are standing on the beach.
The wind could be blowing 20 knots, which you now know is too windy for paddleboarding, but if it is blowing offshore it may feel like there is no wind at all on the beach. This is because in offshore winds (when the wind is going out to sea), there may be trees or buildings that are sheltering you from the ‘real’ wind. Offshore winds are the most dangerous and deceptive for this reason.
Similarly, when the wind is crossshore (blowing across the beach), it can feel relatively windless on land, but as soon as you hit the water the wind can be a lot stronger.
An onshore wind will feel the strongest and is most likely to create choppy or wavy conditions.
How much is too much wind for SUP?
Anything above 15 knots will be way too much wind for SUP, especially for beginners or intermediates. At this wind speed your body will act like a sail and you will constantly drift downwind.
If you are at an advanced level, then it’s not impossible to paddleboard in 15 knots, it will just be hard work and not a lot of fun.
Wind tips for paddleboarding
There are some things you can do to minimise the risk of paddleboarding when there is some wind.
Check the forecast
Always check the wind and weather forecast before heading out on the water. Most forecasts are pretty good 7 days in advance, so you can easily see what the wind strength and direction will likely be on the day you plan to paddleboard.
On the day of your paddleboard session, check the forecast again. In the UK the weather can change from a sunny day to rain and wind within a few hours.
Always paddle into the wind first
If the wind is around 6 knots, but it’s forecast to pick up to 10 knots, then plan your paddleboard route accordingly. Paddle into the wind first when it’s lighter, then when it picks up you’ll have the stronger wind behind you, pushing you back to the beach.
What happens if it gets too windy?
If it gets too windy or your energy is running low, then going into a kneeling position to paddle into the wind will reduce your chances of drifting. You’ll be less likely to fall off too in this position.
In the event of a squall or very strong gusts of wind, you can lie flat on your board and paddle with your arms like a surfer. If it’s come to this, your plan of action is to head to the nearest and safest place to rest until the wind has died down again. Don’t worry so much about making it back to where you started, just focus on getting safe.
Wear a leash
Always wear a leash.
It shouldn’t matter if it’s windy or not, always wear your leash when you’re paddleboarding. If there is some wind around, your board will drift away faster than you can swim after it. This is not a position you ever want to find yourself in.
Unless you are paddleboarding in waves, most riders now wear a quick-release waist leash.
Inflatable boards will be harder to control
This is something to bear in mind, especially for beginners. Inflatable paddleboards tend to sit quite high above the water, which means the wind will have more influence over the board. It can be quite challenging to turn an inflatable in strong winds.
About the author
Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.
Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.