Embrace Cold Weather Paddling!
Okay. I am trying. Really I am. And I am about 75 percent more sincere about rejoicing over the fact that it is officially Cold Weather Paddling Season in North Carolina, as well as elsewhere, this year than I was a year ago. That’s progress, right?
True, I would much rather be in board shorts and bare feet year-round, and I will always prefer summer over winter, but I have learned to appreciate this time of year. Yesterday I went out for my first session in the new Paddle Monster post-season training phase which launched this week and here’s what I noticed – in no particular order.
No picking little rocks or sticks out of my feet on my way to the launch site. And no worrying about where to leave my Olukai flip flops so as not to either forget them or have them get feet of their own and walk away. Booties, while annoying as a rule, do have their benefits.
NO FIRE ANTS!!!!
Now this is something to really sing about!! Here in NC, they like to build their nests right where grassy medians met concrete curbs and if you are not careful, they can be all up in your shorts or gear in the time it takes you to load or unload a board. I don’t know how many times I was stung this summer! They did manage NOT to crawl up my left, injured leg, however, and for that I was very thankful. I did, however, smile profusely yesterday when I noticed that they were gone for the season.
Yesterday at the Beaver Dam section of Falls Lake, I was the only one on a self-propelled vessel. There was one fishing boat. Two boats were leaving as I started my workout. And there was one guy fishing on the beach. “That body suit you wearin’ really keep you dry?” he queried. “Oh yes sir, it does.” “Uh huh, well….it BETTER,” he commented. Like he expected me to fall, a lot.
Those are the only interactions you’re likely to encounter when you paddle this time of year. The ones where whomever it is on the beach or dock thinks you’re absolutely crazy. But it’s worth it because once you leave land, the solitude is amazing. So quiet. So refreshing. So peaceful.
And you see things NO ONE else does. Because most everyone else is inside, working out at the gym. Or riding the couch.
And oh yeah, you’re a badass for doing it.
Snuggly Warm Clothes
This is the time of year when I really appreciate good pieces of kit. When I love (even more) the all-around utilitarian comfort of my Bluesmiths Kula hoodie. Hands down one of the best soft-shell jackets out there. Warm, hydrophobic, good looking and applicable to a whole array of scenarios.
I also love being reunited with my Surffur water parka, or its little sister- the Surfcheck Hoodie which I keep in the car and throw on immediately after getting out of the water when I am loading boards. I love the fuzzy lining.
Warming Up in the Car
This might be my favorite thing. That feeling of getting warm again. If you did Chattajack this year, I am NOT talking about being so cold you are hypothermic and where getting warm is a paramount concern and you are damn near catatonic because of the deep, life threatening body core cold. No, I am talking about that afterglow that comes from working out hard, getting a little chilled when you take off your drysuit or wetsuit and being comfortably and safely in dry clothes in the warm car, ready to go home, with a grin on your face. Sometimes, I let my feet stay barefoot just to feel the warm air from the heater on them. It is supremely satisfying.
Food just tastes better after you have been outside. And it tastes ever better when you’ve been outside in colder temps. Maybe you enjoy it more because you feel like you have really earned it, braving the elements and all. Or maybe the cold makes the body work harder and you are just hungrier. Or all of the above. I am sure there is some science about it somewhere. Last night, after my workout, the hot turkey meat loaf waiting for me at home was divine! I whipped up a quick batch of faux mashed potatoes (Cauliflower mash) with lots of garlic to go with the meatloaf. It was so….hot…..yummy….comfort food without the guilt (it was a Paleo meal) and oh so satisfying. Even the spiced herbal tea I had afterward seemed especially “full” of flavor. Just after being outside for over an hour in colder than usual temps.
How to Stay Safe in Colder Temps
It does take some thought and a bit of planning to paddle when the season turns. Just like with any outdoor activity, you can stay safe and have a great time with the right gear.
For clothes, a base layer, mid-layer and an outer layer or exposure layer is key. Whenever the air and water temperature when added together is less than 120, you need an exposure layer – a drysuit or wetsuit. Wetsuits, because of how they work, will really only be effective if you are wet- as in submerged – most of the time. Drysuits are more suitable to inland paddling and they afford you the ability to pick and choose what you wear underneath according to the conditions. Yesterday, for instance, was “mild” – 57 degrees air temp, but 60 degree water temp for a combined “score” of 117. Some folks might call that borderline but there was significant wind on the water – about 15 mph. So I was very grateful to have on my Starboard semi-dry suit. Underneath, I wore a Virus Stay Warm compression top and my new Localish tights. 3mm booties and a full vest PFD rounded out the kit. When I was finished, my top was soaked, likely from the extra insulation from the PFD but I was still warm all over.
When it gets colder, I’ll change things up accordingly. And I’ll have something hot to drink waiting for me in a thermos in the car, too.
Two of the biggest things you can do to stay safe in the winter is wear that vest PFD in lieu of the waistbelt inflatable, and wear a leash. And, if you are paddling alone, let someone know where you are, how long you will be out and when you expect to be finished. Take the phone with you, too.
We’ve written a lot about cold water safety, and you can find the info here.
There’s a lot to like about paddling this time of year. With just a little extra effort, you can take advantage of the season and learn to #lovetheconditions too!