Downwind paddling is one of the special parts of our sport. Who doesn’t enjoy surfing long ocean swells and going fast.
No matter if you paddle a Ski, SUP or OC, the adrenaline rush of scoring run after run at speed for miles and miles is something that is hard to describe to the non paddler. This rush becomes addictive and keeps you smiling long after you have returned to the beach.
Downwind paddling is also a fantastic motivator to improve your fitness. To be an efficient downwind paddler you have to be good at lifting your rating at the right moments to pick up each run and stay on it for as long as possible…..basically a massive interval session.
Equally, with the right skills, it can also be one of the most relaxing things you can possibly do. How often do you get out there and time seems to fly by, because you are so relaxed, in the zone, locked into the endless movement of the ocean creating these great ramps for you to slide down.
If you ever hear Oscar Chalupsky coaching downwind paddlers, you lose count of the number of times he talks about “relaxing” and being efficient with your energy.
There are so many facets to downwind paddling, all of which keep you coming back for more, and it really is something that keeps getting better as you become more experienced.
With the right skills, gear and buddy / buddies to team up with, you can spend plenty of time out on the ocean, developing your downwind paddling and maximizing the fun for your time on the water.
Develop the right skill set
Michael Booth loves the big stuff on both SUP and Ski. Photo: Vaikobi
Developing your ocean paddling skills is probably the most important requirement because we need to be self-sufficient whilst out there on the ocean. If you have the right skills and knowledge, there are not too many situations where you will be unable to get back to the beach under your own steam.
More importantly, with the right knowledge and skills, you will not put yourself in these sorts of situations in the first place!
So really spend the time developing your paddling skills over a range of conditions and make sure you are in the right craft for your skill level.
Stability is king and you will catch many more runs when you are on a stable boat. Just ask my friend Boyan Zlatarev from Surfski Center Tarifa, who proves every day what sort of fun and excitement is possible on a stable boat! Video here
Before you venture off for your first offshore downwind run, spend considerable time doing “out and backs” in a group situation off the beach or in the harbour in some moving water. Paddling upwind is perfect to develop your skills in the boat and the shorter downwind sections mean that you really focus on developing your downwind skills. You will never get too far from where you started in case you need to stop.
The nature of out and back sessions means that the group stays closer together providing everyone turns at the same time.
Out and back’s are also really time efficient as they do not require car shuffling and you maximise your available time on the water.
Paddling with a buddy/ buddies is another mandatory requirement for downwind paddling. Make sure everyone knows each other’s capabilities and don’t be afraid to “call it” when conditions change or deteriorate beyond yours or your buddies skill level.
Prepare for the session and have a plan
Make sure everyone in your group knows the route and plan. Also have someone else on land who knows what you are doing so that you have back up should it be needed (like a pick up from a location along the way).
It is also extremely important to select start and finish locations which are manageable for everyone’s skill level and be aware of potential obstacles along the way (breaking waves on offshore reefs etc).
Know the weather forecast, assess the conditions before you start and re-assess the conditions as you go.
There are countless articles out there highlighting key bits of gear you should have with you on the water. It really is that important.
The amount of amount of safety gear you need is dependent on the conditions, the remoteness of where you are paddling and the level of competency in your group.
Keep it minimal but invest in the key items which can really make a difference in an emergency.
There is no substitute for skills or knowledge, so don’t get complacent and put yourself in situations you are not ready for just because you have all the safety gear.
Key safety items
Wear a PFD. This is mandatory no matter what the conditions are like. Set the culture in your group and call out anyone who does not comply. Vaikobi and other great brands have worked hard to develop a range of Internationally recognised PFD’s that are super light and comfortable for ocean paddling to the point that you often don’t know that you are wearing it. Get a good quality, comfortable and visible PFD and wear it!
Sam Mayhew on a cracking winter westerly run on Auckland Harbour. Photo: Vaikobi
Leg Leash. Mandatory at all times. When the wind is up and you fall out, it is so easy to part with your craft and they sail off at a rate of knots, which is faster than you can swim. The old saying in sailing is that ‘the best life raft you have is your boat’. Stay attached to it and make sure your leash is in full working order and has not had too many “stretch outs” if you have come off in the surf break.
Mobile phone in a waterproof case. Recommended. Make sure you have tested how it works in its case, when wet.
Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). Recommended. In Australia, you register your PLB with AMSA (Australian Marine Safety Authority) so that in the event of an emergency they have all your details and can be more up to speed with what they are dealing with along with your contact details. All countries have similar arrangements. Be aware that once you trigger your PLB, It will commence a full on search and rescue effort by the local authorities so only use it as a last resort in a true emergency.
Flare. Recommended. If you want to draw attention to craft nearby for immediate assistance, an orange smoke hand flare will certainly help. You only get one shot at it so make sure you use it when it is going to be seen!
Now the next bit is something that I’m really passionate about! At Vaikobi, we know first hand how important it is to be seen on the water from a lifetime of being out on the ocean.
Primarily it is really important that your buddy/ buddies can see you. If they can’t see you, they will start looking for you and this is often when plans come unstuck and confusion occurs.
It is also important for other marine traffic on the water to be able to see you. Particularly in the troughs of the ocean, it is so easy to be not seen on a Ski, SUP and OC, so wear bright fluorescent coloured gear to increase your ability to be visible on the ocean.
It is important to stay hydrated out there so make sure you have a hydration system which allows you to access your water easily whilst paddling without having to use your hands. The Vaikobi Ocean Racing PFD has a hydration pocket on the back as well as guide tabs to feed your hose to position for easy access.
Have fun! This is the most important aspect about ocean paddling. Don’t worry about your GPS (although it is fun to check out your splits later!), just focus on catching runs to the best of your ability and fitness level.
The adrenaline rush of roaring along on the top of a nice ocean swell never gets old and it is great fun to share it with friends.
Enjoying a coffee or beer afterwards with the downwind crew is also a mandatory requirement of downwind paddling. Somehow the runs get longer and faster in the debrief!
If you are looking to develop your downwind paddling skills and would like to get some coaching, please contact us at Vaikobi as we know some of the best coaches in locations around the world who we can recommend you to get in touch with.
This article is a lightly edited version of an article which originally appeared on the Vaikobi blog. It has been republished on PaddleXaminer with the author’s permission.