When the lakes melt and snow makes room for spring, the number one thing I long for is: paddling with the dogs. This activity is unlike any others. It’s time together but in a very calm way. We explore, swim, enjoy the sun and the lakes, and soak up the air that tastes like freedom. When I put that paddle in the water and push myself into open waters, it’s like passing a gate to liberation and timelessness. Only the here and now is left. The water and how it reacts, reflects and splashes, the wind, the dogs.
Since I shared some photographs of us on the lake, my inboxes on every channel flooded with questions, and, of course, I’d love to share some tips, tricks and experiences with you.
First SUP experience.
I love trying new activities with my dogs as it feeds their curiosity for the world and it deepens our connection. Online I stumbled on this thing called SUP (stand up paddle) which showed mostly yoga and beach adventures but also a few dogs. So I continued googling to find something nearby that allowed dogs on a tour.
Our first experience with SUP was in 2015 in the Netherlands. With a group of friends, we drove to Iksup in Loosdrecht for a beautiful sunset paddle where we got all the instructions needed to have a good time on the water. This experience was so delightful that I definitely wanted to continue.
If a rental, especially a dog-friendly one, is available in your area, it’s a great way to get to know the feeling of paddling, the type of boards and a test to see if you and your dog enjoy it. Both Ravasz and Mogwai had a great time (although Ravasz found out that he couldn’t walk on water lilies), but of my current dogs, Oona isn’t much of a fan (although she jumped on a few weeks ago).
Paddleboard/ canoe/ kayak?
When we moved to Sweden, a land full of lakes big and small, the waters looked extremely inviting. But we took our time to consider if we’d go for a paddleboard or a kyak- being perhaps a kayak person first. I’ve been kayaking since I was a child and all these happy memories of our adventures shaped this dream of having the freedom to kayak whenever I wanted. A canoe wasn’t an option as I’m personally just not into them. They can take a lot of stuff but I find them slow and heavy (but you can take a lot of stuff). Both in a canoe and a kayak it’s easier to take some gear or food compared to a paddleboard. And what I love about kayaks is that they are fast, agile and close to the water. My favourites, however, weren’t a good option with dogs as they weren’t designed to be stable- something I value when I take my dogs.
The paddleboard had some decisive features: 1) it’s super easy to take one or more dogs. 2) you can easily jump off to go swimming- and it’s also easy to get your dog back on the board if they jump off. 3) I can carry it on my own.
So many boards, what to choose?
Living on the countryside, we don’t have too many options when buying local- but some of the brands that I got recommended by the instructors of Iksup were available- and with a nice discount at that time. That was a no-brainer and I’m still very happy with my choice (and luck).
What I would recommend looking for:
– Stability. A stable board doesn’t just flip over when you or your dog jump off or a bigger wave is coming. These boards might not be the fastest or leanest but they keep you dry and safe. I never fell off my board in the 3 years that I used it. I’ve had dogs and children jumping on and off and it doesn’t give in.
– Rider weight: How much weight the board can carry- meaning person + dogs. If you don’t, you’ll get wet feet 🙂
– Durability. My sup is a way to explore lakes and rivers together with my dogs or friends- so I want something I can trust and rely on. High-quality materials will last longer and I personally feel safer on a board that can handle some dog nails or rocks. I sure have some scratches on the surface from the dogs and on the bottom from scraping over rocks, but it’s minimal. A fun video of a durability test (with cars driving over a board and all.)
– Surface: This might partially be a matter of taste. I love my non-slippery surface which is great for the dogs but also a bit sensitive to scratches. I have 2 handles on the sides instead of one in the middle like most. I don’t have any elastics for luggage which is something I miss but it’s also one less thing that might be damaged by dog nails (the attachment might be sensitive on some boards). My board is inflatable so it fits in a large bag- but I hardly ever use that feature and mostly just store it inflated, dry, and out of light.
What else do you need?
– a paddle. Most SUPs come with a single paddle, I personally prefer a double one (like for a kayak) because I like sitting down and being able to paddle in a nice rhythm.
– life jackets for you and your dog. When I specifically go out to go swimming (when the water is warm and calm), I might skip the life jacket, but any time my dogs join they have their jackets on both for safety (if they fall off, panic, get tired) and convenience (easy to lift them back on the board).
My personal favorite is Ruffwear. I like the shape, the stiffness, the floatations on the side and underneath, the fabric and the way it fits my dogs (even skinny Lizzie). We also have one from Hurtta that has a similar shape but a bigger fabric handle and thinner top fabric.
Here I found a review of different brands (the Hurtta wasn’t included).
– Waterproof case/bag for your phone. For pictures and just in case I strand somewhere, I always take my phone with me. I have a very simple yet effective universal waterproof phone case that I hang around my neck or attach to the board when I go swimming.
– Waterproof action camera. Ok, this is just for fun, but as a photographer, I just love taking some pictures of my dogs and the nature that surrounds us when paddling 🙂
– Waterproof bag. For longer trips, it’s a good idea to bring water, food and maybe an extra sweater or sunscreen.
-Dog leash. I always take a leash and attach it to my board. I use it when I have to walk a bit to continue the journey and to clip on Lizzie when we pass a beaver den (just to be sure).
– Water sandals or shoes. Depending on your journey, of course. When I just go swimming, barefoot is just super nice. But when I try a new place, a river or a stream or we plan on having a break somewhere, I wear or take water shoes. I personally prefer the shoe type as I always have grass, stones or twigs stuck in my sandals 😀
– Dog blanket/deck traction pad. I sometimes take a soft blanket that dries easily or a yoga mat on bigger trips for Princess Lizzie or to protect the board when we’ll be jumping off a lot. I also saw that there are deck traction pads available for dogs but I haven’t seen them in real life or tried them but I do think they might be great for boards that get a bit slippery or dogs that can use some extra help with traction.
Getting used to the paddleboard.
With Mogwai, it wasn’t more than asking her to jump on board and take off. She’s that easy. Even with Ravasz, it didn’t take him much to understand how to balance.
But it’s not always that easy and some dogs just need the time to adjust and learn. Both Oona and Lizzie were rescue dogs that didn’t have much trust in the world. Oona came here in the middle of winter and needed a whole first summer to get used to the look of liquid water. She just couldn’t understand what had happened to her world- it had melted away in front of her eyes. From the beginning, she also had terrible body awareness and balance. Every morning when she stretched out, she fell out of the bed. So we trained a lot on those things first. She’s still not a confident swimmer although we’ve put a lot of effort into teaching her and continue to encourage it.
Lizzie has always been a rather shy and insecure dog and she hates getting wet, water, cold, and sitting still. We’ve been practicing being relaxed, trusting different surfaces, and going out. Nowadays she trusts me enough to try almost anything except swimming 🙂 (but I know she can).
With both dogs, we gave them the chance to get to know the board. They saw us carrying it around and for them to get used to it, we took it to a calm lake with a small beach. I just sat on the board with snacks that they got around and on the board. Then we practiced floating around for a bit or adding more movement. When they were comfortable with this, I took them on a little trip to that lake. Lizzie loved it, Oona thought: ” f*ck this, I’m off”- and that water-hating dog just swam back to shore. I took that as a strong argument against paddling :-). This spring she’s been showing some more interest but we’ll see how it goes.
If you have any questions after reading this blog, or you think something should be added, feel free to contact me or leave a message below. And, of course, I’d love to hear about your adventures!
If this was helpful and you’d like to share, go ahead! We love to spread the joy of paddling and adventuring with dogs!
Fenne & doggies