Stand Up Paddling in Winter

Why you should try SUP boarding in winter and how to stay safe on icy waters.

It’s the tranquility. On this point, all winter stand up paddle boarding fans agree. When the world is covered in a light blanket of snow, muffling ambient sound to room level, you are transported to an almost meditative state. Nonetheless, this upside should in no way mask the special requirements and dangers of SUPing during the chillier half of the year. John Meissner, a professional SUPer from SUP Trip in Potsdam, Germany, explains what the winter version of this popular activity holds in store and everything you should keep in mind before venturing onto icy waters.

the outdoors sup winter lake

Stand up paddle boarding is a sport that enjoys increasing popularity among all age groups. It can be perfectly adapted to individual needs and circumstances and does not require a high fitness level. Besides, it is incredibly fun, and movement in the fresh air is simply one of the healthiest things you can do for your body and mind. It is no surprise that many people are reluctant to give up SUP activities, even during the winter months. John Meissner explained to us how to SUP safely in winter. He is a personal trainer, multi-sport athlete, and experienced stand up paddle board trainer with SUP Trip, a SUP school based in the Potsdam yachting harbor. He has been paddle boarding regularly since 2014.

What is so special about SUP in the winter?

You could sum it up in one word – tranquility. In our region along the Havel river, there is usually a great deal of boat and ship traffic. But most other extensive waterways, canals, and lakes also experience a lot of movement. The traffic is virtually absent in winter – no ships, no boats, and no waves. You often have the water all to yourself and don’t even hear birds chirping. It is unbelievably appealing. You can focus better on yourself and concentrate on keeping your balance.

lake coast sup winter the outdoors

SUP is already a very meditative sport, featuring gentle, repetitive movements and a flowing rhythm. Moreover, there is a connection to the element of water. 

The question is always how athletic you want the activity to be. While on the water, you can really unwind after a day at work and relax a bit. Or, you can choose to truly work off energy according to your training expectations. It’s a matter of pace and speed, and this, in turn, reflects upon your choice of equipment, such as your board. Of course, there are boards that better enable you to move faster or slower.

So, is it all up to you? Can you adapt your sporting activities according to your requirements and temperament?

Yes, it works wonderfully. SUP is excellently suited to physical training as well as meditative relaxation. It also serves as a social activity where you can experience nature in a group, whether in summer or winter.

During the summer and sunny weather, it is always essential to maintain sufficient sun protection while on the water. What should we pay attention to in the winter?

First of all, the water should be mostly free of ice. Otherwise, you damage your board and paddle. And when you have to fight through frozen layers on the surface, it’s no fun navigating your board, as you simply can’t move forward easily.

lake woman the outdoors sup

Do I need a special SUP board for the winter?

Not necessarily. But when you have a really good and expensive board, and there is a risk of coming across layers of ice in the water, perhaps you should consider switching to a more robust, simpler board. There are hard boards made of plastic that will take a good deal of beating. And there are also good inflatable boards that can usually break through thin layers of ice. You should try not to damage your board. 

And what sort of clothing should I wear?

Let’s start with the undergarments. We usually wear functional or ski underwear, neoprene socks or shoes, and a so-called drysuit on top. This gear is essential from fall onwards when the temperatures drop. Neoprene apparel is unnecessary, as it is best suitable for sports activities in water and not on the water. A drysuit, on the other hand, functions like a sealed rain coat and reliably keeps the water away from the body. However, the neck, wrists, and ankles are equipped with neoprene or silicone seals or gaskets to ensure that no water can seep into the suit should you fall in.

Have you ever fallen into the water in the freezing cold?

No, not unintentionally. But, of course, one should be prepared. SUP in the winter is not necessarily suitable for beginners. It is better to improve your skills in the summer to a level where you can feel reasonably safe.

mountain lake winter the outdoors

What else should you consider when getting on your board in the winter?

Doing SUP all by yourself can be boring. In winter, especially, it is better to go in pairs or in a group so that you can help each other if someone ends up in the water. And if you feel uncertain, it is best to paddle close to the shore. And a leash, which tethers your foot to the board, is absolutely essential. 

I’ve never used a leash in the summer…

Depending on where you paddle, using a leash in the summer is highly recommended. Maybe the danger is not so great when paddling on small lakes, but it is crucial for SUPing in moving or flowing waters and in the winter. If the board has been pushed away when you fall into the water, you then have to make your way back to it. This can be pretty exhausting if there are small waves or a current, especially if the water is cold.

winter landscape lake

Thank you, SUP Trip team, for these great tips! Here, again, is a summary of the most important recommendations for safe winter SUPing:

  • Train your SUP skills in the summer and do not start in the winter as a novice.
  • Warm up properly before your SUP excursion. The body cools off faster in the winter.
  • It is advisable to paddle close to the shore and, above all, not cross larger, unknown waters, especially not alone.
  • It is safer to set out on the water in a group or in pairs. You can also book a group SUP trip.
  • Tether your board to your ankle with a leash to ensure you don’t get separated.
  • Take your cell phone with you in a waterproof case.
  • If you SUP in Germany, download the app of the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service (DGzRS) onto your phone. It stores information such as the type of sporting equipment or vehicle you are using and enables you to quickly make an emergency call if necessary.
  • Wear clothes in signal colors.
  • In case of emergency, the neon yellow self-inflating rescue tube functions as a mini buoy with a whistle and provides additional buoyancy and visibility.
  • Do not go on the water in strong winds, snowfall, rain, or fog.
  • Respect nature reserves and resting areas for birds.

SUP Trip offers SUPing, even in winter, for people who already have some paddling experience. Popular booking dates are, for example, the Advent or New Year’s paddling events. Equipment, including a dry suit, is provided by SUP Trip.