First there was backpacking, then canoe camping, then bicycle camping. Heck, there’s even a guy camping around the world on a unicycle (do yourself a solid and Google it). By that standard, strapping a shelter, food and an extra set of clothes on your SUP and paddling into places unknown doesn’t sound like such a bonkers idea. It actually sounds like a pretty fabulous idea.
With access to countless glacial lakes and jewel-like coastlines where you can paddle from island to island discovering secret beaches and hidden coves, it’s not surprising SUP camping has a strong following in places like Greece, Croatia and North America. And we’d say it’s about time us Aussies jumped on board too.
After chatting to Hamish McMinn, SUP specialist from Bay Sports, we realised that setting up a paddle board for an overnight trip is actually pretty simple, and that there’s no shortage of places that are ready and waiting to be explored.
“A lot of people think of stand up paddle boarding as something you do out in the surf, but we actually get quite a lot of interest from people inland. There are so many little waterways, estuaries, rivers and creeks scattered all over the country.”
Just to give you an idea, you could drive 90 minutes southwest of Sydney, put a tent on your SUP and float up and down the Kangaroo River, pulling up anywhere along the grassy banks to camp for the night.
If salt water is more your thing, SUP is a great way to explore our many beautiful islands and coral reefs. Even the Great Barrier Reef, Hamish says, is littered with pristine, uninhabited islands that you could paddle across to (and have all to yourself).
“You can set up a tent in these locations and feel like you’re in a place all of your own – a place other people can’t get to. With a boat, there are all kinds of considerations like where you can and can’t anchor. Whereas on your SUP, there’s no limit except for how fit you are and how far you can go.”
If you’re interested in travelling with a paddle board, getting it from A to B is an important factor. An inflatable stand up paddle board (iSUP) is ideal because it rolls up into a compact bag that weighs under 8kg – ideal if you need to hike in or out of your launch site, or if you’re flying interstate or overseas.
Size & Volume: With an additional 15kg or 20kg of gear on your board, you’ll also need to consider stability. Look for a board that’s at least 10’6 long, 32 inches wide and has 250L volume or greater (‘volume’ is a measurement of the board’s ability to float with weight on it). Yoga SUPs can be suitable for camping because they’re high in volume, wide at the nose and tail and designed for stability.
Other features: Getting a board with a mount is a nice touch, Hamish says, because you can attach a GoPro and film your adventure, or use it with a fishing rod holder so you can catch your own dinner and go totally off the grid.
How to pack your SUP
Wondering how likely it is that you and your gear will end up in the soup? Stand up paddle boards can take a fair bit of additional weight. A board with 120kg rider capacity, for example, can actually carry up to 150kg if the weight is distributed evenly across the board.
Now, we’re not suggesting you pack several cases of beer and your flashest six man tent; the more you pile on your board the harder you’ll have to work to paddle it to your destination. Apply lightweight backpacking principles and your arms will thank you! The other point to remember is that a fully-laden board won’t be as responsive.
“Make smooth, long strokes rather than short fast strokes, and once you get a bit of speed it’ll glide nicely” Hamish says.
As for packing, you’ll want to stuff everything in two or three dry bags making sure that heavy items go on the bottom. Then distribute your bulkiest bags evenly on the front third of the board. Lighter gear can be strapped to the tail.
Secure your dry bags with your board’s bungee cords, then reinforce the whole lot with surfer’s tie down straps if needed. These are thin, strong and long enough to wrap around the entire board. In a pinch, hockey straps will get the job done.
Read More: Australia: a camper’s wonderland
Staying safe on your SUP
We all know to “slip, slop slap” when we’re in the great outdoors and to carry a first aid kit. And as with any multi-day adventure, you’ll need to research the location. Maps, trip notes and any advice pulled from forums should all be part of your trip preparation. But you’ll also need to consider some SUP-specific gear.
Personal flotation device (PFD): If you find that standard boating and kayaking life jackets get in the way of your paddle stroke, we’d recommend picking up an inflatable waist belt which has been designed specifically for stand up paddling. Worn like a bum bag and activated by a C02 canister, this type of PDF only inflates when you need it to. Clever!
Leg rope: You never know when you might hit a rock and topple off, with the current carrying your board away faster than you can swim back to it. To avoid snags and tangles, go for a coil leg rope; they don’t get in the way and drag in the water like other leashes do.
Paddle leash: While paddles do float, it’s a good idea to use a leash so that if it does fall off, it’s not going to go far.
What about weather?
It’s one thing to eyeball the surf conditions for a quick morning paddle. But it’s quite another to head off on a two or three day expedition.
In rivers and creeks where it’s a bit more protected, you’ll have to check how strong the currents are and whether you’ll be gliding with them or fighting against them. But if you’re going out from a beach and into the open ocean to reach an island, you’ll also need to check the wind forecast.
“Paddling a tailwind is great because you barely need to paddle to get a lot of distance, but if you’re coming back into a headwind it can get pretty hairy. Basically you can paddle as hard as you can, and you won’t go anywhere. You end up having to go on your knees and even lie down and paddle with your arms. If you’re going ocean paddling always check the wind forecast.”
If you love to camp and love to SUP, why not combine the two? With a little preparation, some dry bags and a sense of adventure, you’ll soon be making Huck Finn’s journey on the Mississippi pale in comparison. If it’s your first trip, keep it short and don’t push your limits. Choose a familiar area and do a test-run with your gear, but most of all – have fun!
We’d like to thank Bay Sports for their help with this article. Bay Sports is a 100% Australian family owned and run business based in Sydney that specialises in kayaks, inflatable stand up paddle boards and surf skis.