Winter Paddling: A Peaceful Workout

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Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you can’t paddle. That’s the message from boating and fishing enthusiasts, who want you to know that paddling is a year-round sport (unless you live where everything freezes over).

Here are some of the reasons that canoeing, rowing, paddleboarding, and kayaking – both sea and river – are becoming increasingly popular in winter.

Peace and quiet. Winter boating is peaceful, because the crowds are gone and you will have even the most popular waterways almost to yourself.

The animal kingdom comes out. You have better chances of spotting wildlife. Deer are down from the hills, and more timid wildlife like fox and rabbit are more likely to come out when there are fewer people.

You’re cold anyway. When sea kayaking or paddleboarding, you probably wear a wetsuit anyway. So it doesn’t make as much difference as you might think – especially if you’re working up a sweat.

No boating traffic jams. Areas with heavy recreational boating are much more fun to kayak and canoe when you aren’t navigating harbors and docks crowded with other boats.

The perfect warm-up. You might even find yourself paddling longer or harder with the incentive of keeping warm.

Fun with feathered friends. In many areas, birding is better in the winter, when cranes, geese and other migrating waterfowl are passing through or overwintering. Other birds are hunkering down for the winter, and may be nesting in willows and other trees and bushes along the water’s edge.

More exciting rapids. The higher, faster-moving waters of winter offer an exciting challenge for advanced whitewater kayakers before the spring runoff makes rivers too dangerous to run.

If cold-weather boating doesn’t appeal to you, winter is the perfect time to take a kayaking trip further south. For example, many kayakers head for Baja, where it’s whale calving season and you can get up close and personal with humpbacks and grey whale mamas and their babies.

And winter sees many fishermen head down to Florida. Many aficionados consider sail-fishing on the southeast Florida coast to be as good as it gets. And truly hardy souls can try ice fishing, a proud tradition those in the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region.

Cold-weather paddling does require some special gear:

  • Neoprene or wool gloves (not cotton, which holds cold) or pogies, neoprene mitts that wrap over your hand and the paddle
  • A warm hat that covers your ears – if you’re whitewater kayaking choose something thin enough to go under your helmet
  • Wicking fabrics
  • A wetsuit; the Farmer John, or overall style, is a timeless winter favorite
  • OR a Gore-Tex drysuit
  • Neoprene booties, waders, or waterproof boots

Don’t get casual about it and allow yourself to get chilled. Winter paddlers take cold weather seriously and suit up.

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