I’ve had friends that after renting a kayak, never wanted to do it again, often complaining of back ache, cramped legs, or capsizing. The problem with renting, is that it’s not yours or custom outfitted to fit your individual height, weight or skill level. Rentals get trashed after continuous use by a lot of people, many whom have no skills in that sport. Rental shops can’t often keep up with the number repairs needed. That said, make sure when renting to check the gear before getting on the water.
In stand up paddling, I’ve found that the most common issue in rentals are paddle handles being loose, or missing altogether. Plastic shipping tape is used by my shop for repairs and seems to work well when applied properly. Make sure the paddle is long enough for you. Being 6′-5, rental shop employees will often give me a paddle that works for them, not me. For flat water, a paddle 8-12″ taller than you is good. If the blade is wood, make sure the wooden panels are solid. I got one last week that flexed too much, kinda like a broom, from stress. When you find the paddle you like, it might be easier to buy it, then just rent the board.
On the Puget Sound near Seattle, wind and currents pick up such that you can loose a board quickly if separated from it creating a super long swim, and possibly hypothermia if you left the wetsuit at home. I’ve seen it with kayaks in areas of heavy current or high wind, where a kayak will literally take off away from the paddler after a capsize. Make sure you have a leash before going out, and that the Velcro strap fits snugly around your ankle when attached. I’ve rented boards and have walked a hundred yards to the beach to find out that the Velcro strap is too short to wrap around my ankle, bummer! Also make sure the leash is attached to the board. If there’s no leash at all, inquire within. Bungy leashes are great for not catching on kelp and for less drag when racing.
My local shop has two NSP boards that have been leaking through the handles, thus making the board heavy to carry and funky in the water. Check with the shop whether the board you’re using has been repaired recently. Is the traction pad full size and stuck to the board? is the fin in good shape and attached well? Sups are much easier to take care of than kayaks! I’d recommend trying different boards to figure out which works best for your skill level, height and weight, and level of balance. Longer boards are faster, shorter are better for surfing.
Does your rental shop sell water bottles, lip baum, sunglasses (and retainers), and sun hats? If not, bring your own for UV protection on the water and to stay hydrated. I have my own wetsuit (Xcel Infinity 4/3) and various kayak clothing instead of using the rental shop gear which is often too small, already rented, etc. We rented three suits last weekend for family visiting from out of town. Two suits had holes in them, one bootie had a hole and we were given two right feet for a specific size. Check the gear before leaving the shop. Do you get cold easily? Make sure you wear a wetsuit if you think the water is cold, despite what others may say. I’ve fallen for the peer pressure thing where friends say it’s warm enough, but for me, its not. Kayaking gear is great cross over gear for SUP’ing. Drysuits, drytops, and gortex paddling pants work well.
Water – Staying Hydrated
I get migraines if I don’t drink enough water. Rental boards often don’t have bungis of deck bags to carry extra gear, so you have to carry your own, on you. Fanny packs and small sports day packs are good to carry extra water, hydration tablets, and other essential items. I carry a water bottle, extra neoprene gloves, a food bar, a neoprene hood and flares in a fanny pack around my waist. I bought the pack from a local used backpacking supply store, and put small holes in the pockets to allow water to drain. Hydration packs are also a good idea and can be attached to PFDs.
Life Jacket (PFD)
Life jackets are required by the Coast Guard for use on non surfing areas on a board. Does you rental shop have PFDs? If so, does your pfd not ride up over your chin while in the water, and fit snugly around your waist? Good PFDs have extra pockets to carry personal items and reflector tape to make you more visable in busy waterways or in low light. I carry an energy bar, a small roll of duct tape, flares, a waterproof light, and an extra neoprene hood in my PFD (at minimum) on any given paddle day. As stated above, a hydration pack is a good idea to carry water. There seems to be a trend among SUP’ers to duct tape their PFD’s to their board which makes it legal in some areas where PFDs are required. But what if you need it asap? Goodluck unwrapping the duct tape as the hyperthermia sets in. I’ve been wearing PFDs for years in kayaking. They’re really not that bulk, and keep you warmer too.
Does your local rental shop have the daily weather forcast posted in the store? If not, ask. Here in the Puget Sound region, our summer mornings are calm, but in the afternoon a strong northerly kicks up often up to 15-20kts. If you’re not used to paddling upwind or aren’t prepared for a temperature drop on the water, it’s best to stay on land. Always stay within your skill level, particuliarly if you’re not dressed properly or are paddling with more skilled paddlers. I use the NOAA site to check weather. If the barometer level is dropping or rising rapidly, prepare for inclement weather. Here’s the page for my area: http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=WPOW1