It’s been an interesting year, lots of new SUP clubs and schools venturing out and established ones developing into new areas. One development has been on our local inland waterways with canoe and SUP hire companies spreading their wings into SUP hire and guiding.
As a result we have received a constant number of calls requesting advice and opinion over safety equipment and areas of work. This has been odd, especially where companies already have technical advisors. Firstly, the WSA have always stood firm on the advice principle – if we can help, we will.
So, what’s the big deal? No big deal, but a consistent question, ‘I’m running sessions on a very slow moving river, what’s your opinion on leashes, should we use them?’
Many canoe hire and canoe centres provide buoyancy aids and sometimes helmets to clients; they will follow a good practice code and have guides that are experienced and qualified. In regards to SUP many will have underdone a British Canoeing module. As a result clients will wear this kit and receive good, safe instruction. So, why is it that we are asked should we be providing clients with leashes?
Our response is always a simple one – how does the risk of wearing a leash outweigh the risk of not wearing a leash? A risk benefit analysis. For the most part pretty much all SUP disciplines the wearing of a leash is highly recommended and we would say essential when downwinding and SUP surfing,
This year I was asked to train a paddler and then guide a SUP journey as part of a challenge. The training took place on a non-flowing waterway, affected by wind, with pontoons containing moored boats, the occasional buoy and bridge. We wore buoyancy aids as this was part of the local operating conditions and we also wore leashes. The leashes were coiled and the risk of entrapment or snagging was minimal to zero, therefore sensible to wear. If we had fallen off our boards we would need to retrieve them as the water was deep and there was traffic on the river.
After several training sessions we were stood in the car park at Kerne Bridge on the river Wye ready to head off on our challenge. We were wearing buoyancy aids but no helmets and no leashes. Knowing the section of river well, the risk of entanglement or entrapment was deemed higher than not wearing them and that if we fell off we could swim to the bank or board, simple risk / benefit analysis.
It becomes frustrating where this simple system of analysis is not used. Also this summer we have seen countless promotional images of paddlers in coastal environments not wearing buoyancy aids or leashes. There is a responsibility to promote safe practice but this is often overlooked. We have also seen clients in buoyancy aids, helmets and using long straight leashes on slow moving rivers and grade one white water where the risk of entrapment has been overlooked often through lack of understanding of the potential dangers.
Whilst we are happy to offer advice and help where we can, there is no substitute to good training that encompasses education in risk benefit analysis and awareness of all the disciplines and safety options we have at our disposal. In addition to providing advice and helping providers, we also provide instructor training for operating SUP sessions in a variety of different environments. Running SUP sessions in a surf zone is an entirely different animal to running them on an inland waterway or downwinding. The knowledge needed to teach in these varied environments is in the WSA opinion something that is gained on a WSA SUP specific course dedicated to each operating environment.