Downwind stand up paddle for beginners
Summer may not be over in Blighty but it sure feels a world away from the warmth we had during June and July. The last few days in particular have been grotty with a fair bit of breeze around. So what to do when the wind turns on? As SUPers do we sit on the beach and stare forlornly out to sea? Nope! We grab our gear and head off downwind…
Downwind paddling is an art in itself. Routes and runs require a bit of thought before you embark but sort your logistics and it’s a super fun part of the sport. Heading out into open sea, before turning away so the wind’s on your back, and rocketing along to your take out – what’s not to like?
With the wind behind paddle as long a board as you have access to, use the breeze for propulsion and catch rolling swell in the process. Good downwind paddlers link swells together, surfing rollers not unlike riding conventional walls. On a big ‘un it’s possible to weave back and forth and in some cases (with skill) cut back as you would when surfing.
Before heading off into the froth it’s important you have your logistics and safety sorted. For those first few downwind runs it’s best to pick a moderately blowy day – 50 knots isn’t a good idea to start.
Ideally paddle your chosen route in calmer conditions and understand where (if any) obstacles lie. Pinpoint exits along the route if you have to bail. Have a squiz a Google maps for further insights.
Start gently at first – work your way up to those gnarly days rather than chucking yourself straight in. For downwinding you do need some degree of breeze but 12-15 knots should be fine for those first few forays.
If you have to negotiate swell on launching: choose a less sizeable day to make getting beyond breaking waves easier. Don’t under estimate how much hard work it will be negotiating surf with the added factor of wind.
Downwinding should always be undertaken with at least one other paddler. At the very least this should allow a mode of transport to be left at each end for journeying back to your put in.
It’s always wise to let a few bodies on land know what your plans are. In an ideal world somebody would follow you along the route and be your eyes from shore. You can always do multiple runs ensuring everyone gets their turn.
Being safety conscious during downwind paddle runs is a must – don’t under estimate how quickly things can go wrong once out at sea.
- Tell others what time you’re intending to finish your downwind paddle. Where necessary inform the Coastguard.
- Carry a disposable mobile phone in a waterproof pouch (fully charged and in credit).
- Wear warm clothes, but don’t over heat.
- Carry fluid on board – hydration packs are a really good idea.
- If you can, have a secondary paddle attached to your deck in case your regular one snaps.
- Stash some snacks and supplies about your person – ideally in a flotation device which is worth wearing.
- Flares are a good idea if you’re heading any distance offshore. Beginner downwinders should stay a little closer to land.
- WEAR A STRONG LEASH – we cannot stress this point enough!
- Get a weather forecast and know what’s in store during your mission.
- Don’t take on conditions more than you can handle. If in doubt, don’t go out!
If you’re looking at downwinding for the first time it’s wise to get hold of the longest board you can. Ideally something in the region of 14ft is best – great for picking up and riding rolling swell. However, not everyone has access to this type of board. A regular 10ft SUP would therefore work and certainly give you a taste for coastal running.
A decent paddle – ideally lightweight to reduce fatigue – is a good idea. If you have access to a spare then lash this to your deck. And finally, a coiled and STRONG leash firmly secured to your board. All too often stories of SUPs (and paddlers) being lost at sea are reported. Don’t become another statistic.
Downwind stand up paddling is some of the most fun you can have. Get your logistics sorted and be safety conscious – this way you’ll be best placed to enjoy all that Mother Nature can throw at you.