Downwind Paddleboarding!!

You may have heard from one of your paddle boarding enthusiast friend the idea of doing a ”downwind” run on the bay or even in the ocean. But what exactly is doing a downwinder? What does it entail? How does one prepare for one? And are they even fun?

Yes!!! …to the last question.

But what about the previous ones? Well, let’s talk a little bit more about this popular portion of the paddle boarding world in order to take advantage of that next heavy wind instead of sitting inside wishing you were out there paddling. 

So…

What exactly is downwinding?

Well, to put it simply, the act of going on a downwind run is exactly as it sounds. Here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland we tend to get some pretty wicked winds come hurricane season- with gusts reaching 40-50 mph. This creates a torrent of water flowing through the bay making bumps or waves in an otherwise flat surface. And on those days we point our boards with the wind at our backs, and ride these bumps in a relatively straight line from a drop-off point to a pick-up spot. It’s like surfing- but for a long period of time, in one direction, on the bay. If that sounds like an awesome time to you, it’s because it is. 

Are there any precautions one must take to participate?

Yes!! Much like everything done in the water, the bay in high winds must be treated with the proper respect to insure no one is hurt, drowns, or goes missing. The first, and most important precaution to take is to wear a Coast Guard certified PFD. Whether you have one around your chest or a belt pack that inflates when in trouble, you must make sure they are on your person when in the bay and that they can float you should the need arise. You are paddling in the open water with high winds and seas so your ability to correct a situation going wrong is greatly limited. If you can stay afloat, then half the battle is won. 

Second, make sure you are paddling with some experienced watermen- especially if it’s your first downwind run. Their knowledge of the wind, tide, and where your pickup spot is located is unmatched by any GPS or other location tracking device. Plus, if something were to go wrong, it is always nice to have another paddler with you for help and guidance. 

Third, wear a reliable, strong leash!!! Make sure your leash is in good working order, is not rotted in any way, and that it is aqeduately attached to your board. If you were to fall off your board in a strong wind without a leash, the chances of catching it are very slim. And by very slim, I mean 1.76%. Or, you know, something like that. Seriously though, paddleboards tend to fly in the water on a downwinder and with the added nuance of having a paddle in your hand your ability to swim, and swim fast, is greatly reduced. Having a strong leash around your ankle will make sure your board never strays too far. It is your greatest personal flotation device after all. 

And last- if you have the capability, carrying a cell phone in a dry case can come in handy for an emergency or for those miscalculatins where you end up in someone’s yard, not close to your pick up point or your vehicale at all! That may have happened to us once or twice. Maybe. No. Yeah, it definitely did. But we had a cell phone handy and help was quickly on the way! 

Is there a special board to use?

Yes!! While you can take a regular flat water race board on a downwind run your experience is greatly enhanced by using a specific downwind board. They are designed much like a race board except they have a greatly enhanced rocker in the front and tail much like a surf style board does in order to easily ride the bumps in the bay. 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 are flat given they are designed for flat water paddling. On a race board the rider tends to fight the board more than enjoy riding the bumps. 

The perfect example of great East Coast downwind board is the Evolve 14′ Makani

Coming in at 14’x27” with a 5” rail, in a brushed carbon, this light board board flies in the bay on bumps. I’ve personally seen it shoot by me on my regular race style board, cursing under my breath for not owning one myself. But that’s beside the point. The added beef in the rails also keep balance issues to a minimum, which any first timer will tell you, keeping your feet under yourself in the bay on a blustery day is a challenge in and of itself. 
Another 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 features it all! Although the board features slightly lower volume than the original Bullet 14 TWC, it stil maintains its iconic full volume rails and gradual tuck to promote stability, which incidentally also reduces paddler fatigue over long races or touring distances. This makes paddling the SIC a breeze!! haha…puns. 
Downwind boards make for a much better overall experience in the bay given they are designed for this specific activity. You’ll be gliding much easier and having twice as much fun when experiencing a downwind run. 

What do I wear?

The proper attire depends on the water and air temperatures. As most of our downwind runs tend to take place in fall or winter we are usually geared up in either wetsuits with booties and gloves or a full dry suit for optimal comfort and warmth. 

The best dry suits we’ve come across are from Ocean Rodeo. Either the Soul or the Heat. Both feature fully dry capabilities to allow you to layer up underneath which can be a fantastic alternative to a wetsuit which can be a bit clunky and uncomfortable for long distance paddles. 

But do not forget your boots or gloves!! The first thing to get cold on a blustery day are the extremities and to alleviate this problem a good pair of 7mm boots and 5mm gloves will keep you warm in all the right spots. /

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 summer time or other warm weather then maybe all you need is a bathing suit and a smile. Just don’t wear nothing!! It’ll be hard to find people to paddle with that way. 

Coordination

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 hr, 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. 

Paddleboarding is an activity which holds many facets- downwinding being one. We at Walk on Water have experienced quite a few in our days- some great and some not so great. But what they all have in common is the joy we feel when being on the water. How it has enhanced our lives beyond measure. And how it has created a paddling community which has quickly become more like a family. So, if you’re curious about shooting down the bay on a windy day, feel free to give us a call (410-289-8787) and we will not only accompany you but will gladly provide any tips you seek. Life is about experiences. And downwinding happens to be one of the most rad ones out there! 

Check out a downwind video below to see it in action for youself!!!


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One thought on “Downwind Paddleboarding!!

  1. Reply
    Teene
    March 9, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    Interesting… education is needed… keep up the good work teaching people the safe way to do downwind runs!

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