Downwind SUPing – paddling in breeze and making it fun.

Summer’s just starting and whilst the last few days have seen good weather at some point we’ll return to blowier conditions no doubt. As SUPers do we sit on the beach and stare forlornly out to sea? Nope! We grab our gear and head off downwind paddling… If you’ve never considered (or never heard of) downwind SUPing then here’re a few titbits of info for those new to running bumps.

Downwind SUPing?

Downwind paddling is an art in itself. Routes and runs require a bit of thought before you head off. Sort your logistics, however, and it’s a super fun part of stand up paddle boarding. 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. This is when downwinding can become addictive. Check out the vid below for an example of how fun SUP downwind can be.

And just so we’re clear downwind stand up paddling can be done with a hard board or inflatable and inland as well as coastal. Anywhere there’s breeze coupled with a lump or two. If you’re truly new school then downwind SUP foiling may flick your switch. But that’s a whole new area of skill, even if linked to stuck the water downwind paddling.

Planning your SUP downwinder.

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! Avoid those gales and extreme conditions.

Probably not the best conditions for your first downwind SUP mission.

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. Keeping close to the shore is worth it as well to start. You don’t need to be miles offshore. And make sure you’re current skill level is up to the weather you’re given. Newbies would stay clear of downwinding at first. Having upped your experience then dabbling with light to moderate downwind paddling’s the next step.

Downwind SUP conditions.

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. In fact, just to get a feel of downwind SUP paddling slightly less would work. Inland paddlers, who pilot on rivers with flow, would get the experience of downwind by doing a downstreamer, which is similar but without the gusts of wind. Downwstream paddling will help develop essential downwind SUP muscle memory though.

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 whilst getting to your chosen downwind line.

SUP downwind logistics.

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 as well, just in case. In an ideal world, somebody would follow you along the route and be your eyes from shore, with a means of communication to talk between the group. You can always do multiple runs ensuring everyone gets their turn so paddlers switching between spotting and bump running. If it’s a mellow day and you’re close to shore then the overseer may be able to walk/jog along next to you.

Downwind SUP safety.

Being safety conscious during downwind stand up paddle runs is a must – don’t underestimate 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 or VHF (and know how to use it!) in a waterproof pouch (fully charged and in credit).
  • Wear appropriate clothing led by the weather conditions your facing. Layering up’s a good idea as you can remove (or apply) garments as necessary.
  • Make sure all your gear’s up to the task. Give your board, paddle and accessories a through going over BEFORE your session.
  • 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, but make sure they’re in date and your well versed in how to operate. Beginner downwinders should stay a little closer to land.
  • WEAR A STRONG LEASH – we cannot stress this point enough! Preferably a coiled leash connected to a quick release safety belt that’s raised from your SUP’s deck.
  • Get a weather forecast and know what’s in store during your mission. Understand the day’s tides as well and how your chosen route will be affected by all this. A non-wind recce of the route before hand’s a good idea.
  • Don’t take on conditions more than you can handle. If in doubt, don’t go out!

SUP downwind equipment.

If you’re looking at SUPO downwinding for the first time it’s wise to get hold of the longest board you can (although if you can’t then an all rounder will work just fine). For optimum downwind SUPing Ideally something in the region of 14ft is best – the additional length of a longer board is great for picking up and riding rolling swell.

A decent paddle – ideally lightweight to reduce fatigue – is worth looking at. 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 and attached to a quick release safety belt. 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.

We’ve talked about downwind stand up paddling before so be sure to check out these other articles for additional info on the subject –

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