Have you ever heard the term “downwinder”?
Maybe a fellow paddling enthusiast said it one day in passing, or your friends mentioned a run they did a few months ago, or maybe you picked it up online.
Did it leave you wondering what it meant? Or what participating in a downwinder entails? Or how to prepare for one? Or if they are even fun to do?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’re in the correct spot.
Today we’re going to discuss all the ins and outs of downwind paddleboarding so that you may take advantage of the next heavy wind in your area instead of wishing you were outside paddling.
What is a Downwind Run?
First, let’s define the term so that we may have an understanding of the activity before we proceed any further.
To put it as simply as possible, it’s exactly how it sounds.
On a day when the winds have increased to 30mph+ paddlers point their boards with the wind at their backs, and ride bumps or small waves created by the wind in a relatively straight line from a drop-off point to a pick-up spot. The activity mimics SUP surfing, but instead of staying on one wave, paddlers ride the bumps in the bay or ocean for a long period of time, in one direction.
If that sounds like an awesome time, it’s because it is.
Before you get too excited and decide to head out, there are some precautions you should take.
Much like everything done in the water, the proper respect for the elements must be considered. Especially when high winds are taken into account. There have been horror stories about paddlers getting hurt, drowning, or going missing during a downwind run and we all want to avoid that situation.
The first and most important gear to grab before heading into the water is your PFD. Whether you have one around your chest or one around your waist that is inflated when you get into trouble, you must first make sure they are secured to your body, they work to inflate, and they can float you should the need arise on the run.
You are, after all, paddling in the open water with high winds and strong currents so your ability to correct a situation that may go wrong is greatly limited. If you can stay afloat, then half the battle is won.
The second precaution you should take is paddling with experienced watermen- especially if it is your first downwind run. Being surrounded by fellow paddlers who have knowledge of the wind, tide, and the location of your pickup spot is unmatched by any GPS device. And in the case of an emergency, having experienced paddlers along with you is great should the need for help and guidance arise- which it does on a pretty regular occasion.
Third, and the simplest one to overlook is, wear a reliable, relatively new, and STRONG leash. Make sure you test it out, check to see it isn’t rotted in any way, and that the velcro is strong enough to be attached to your board, even in the most violent wind conditions. If you’ve ever fallen off your board during a strong wind you know how quickly it can disappear. Your board is your primary flotation device and your main vehicle in remaining safe while on the run. Keep it with you at all times or it will be dangerous.
Last, if you have the capability, carry a cell phone in a dry case for emergency situations. It can also come in handy if you blow right past your pickup spot and need to call someone to arrange a new place to meet. That may or may not have happened to us once. Maybe. Actually yeah, it did. But what saved us was having a cell phone handy for when plans fall through.
Besides a working PFD, a strong leash, a waterproof cell phone case, and a wetsuit if needed (more on that later), the correct board can take downwinding from fun to thrilling.
It’s not beyond the realm of possibility to grab your standard 10’6’’ board and head into the water, or even a flat-water raceboard, which is the next step up. But if you get really into the activity, consider a downwind board for the ultimate experience.
Designed much like a raceboard in length and width, what sets a downwind board apart is the enhanced rocker in the nose and tail. Mimicking that of a surfboard, the downwind board will keep you in the swell longer with its 12’6’’ or 14’’ length and gliding with ease from one mini wave to the next with the nose and tail rocker. The extra curve will keep you from sinking that nose right into the wave and going over the falls. That is something we would all like to avoid.
With a regular race board it is much harder to turn if the situation calls for it, and MUCH easier to bury the nose given that most race boards have minimal rocker as they are designed for flat water paddling. On a race board the rider tends to fight the board more than enjoy riding the bumps.
A great board designed specifically for this type of action is the SIC Bullet– 14′ or 12’6”. Featuring an enhanced nose and tail rocker, sweet looking graphics, and the added benefit of the SIC F.A.S.T. steering- or Foot Acuated Steering Technology, which switches the fin of the board into a moving rudder in order to make turning into the wind much easier- it has it all!
Downwind boards make for a much better overall experience in the bay given they are designed for this specific activity.
What you wear depends wholly on the water and air temperatures. As most of the runs tend to follow the winter hurricane and wave season, paddlers will often strap on a full suit to protect themselves from the elements and of course, the cold water. If it’s very cold, a dry suit can work along with gloves and booties to complete the outfit.
One of the best drysuits we’ve come across is from Ocean Rodeo. Either the Soul or the Heat. Both feature fully dry capabilities to allow you to layer underneath which can be a fantastic alternative to a wetsuit that can be a bit clunky and uncomfortable for long-distance paddles.
Much like any outdoor activity, it is most important to dress appropriately according to the weather. If you are lucky enough to score a downwind run in the summertime or other warm-weather then maybe all you need is a bathing suit and a smile.
Make a Plan
Especially if it’s your first time.
Sometimes the most difficult thing about going on a downwind run can be the coordination- and I don’t mean on the board. In order to plan it effectively, it is best to open a line of communication with a group of people who are into the sport and who have the proper vehicles in order to transport multiple boards. Once you have created the community, designate a few people as the drivers, make sure you pick a drop off point that everyone agrees with, and take another vehicle to leave at your pickup spot. That way you’re covered on both ends and can enjoy the experience with a great group of friends. The smiles you’ll share as you shoot down the bay riding bumps for over an hour will go a long way in creating lasting friendships based on an activity that is not only fun but will keep you young for the rest of your days.
If you want to participate on a downwind run with friends, the team at Perfect Paddles says...go for it! The thrill of riding bumps down the bay or over the ocean, propelled only by the wind and the waves, is a pleasure we recommend to any paddling enthusiast. Just make sure to prepare, head out with a group of experienced paddlers, and communicate throughout the entire journey. If you follow these steps, your journey will be filled with smiles and fun. Plus you’ll be guaranteed to make it safely back to shore to experience even more fun in the future.