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Malibu Downwinder: A Day of Shifting Winds

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There are not many good opportunities to downwind paddle on a SUP in the Los Angeles area. Fortunately for the dozens of prone, SUP, and surkski paddlers assembled at Mugu State Beach this past Saturday, Mother Nature dialed in a period of near perfect 20+ mph wind to make the 2017 edition of the Malibu Downwinder event one to remember. The favorable high winds were anything but certain. As late as an hour before the scheduled start time the wind was gusting steadily from the east setting the scene for a potential Malibu “Upwinder”.

Beach registration numbers are always high at the event and a number of paddlers were waiting around the parking lot to see if the wind changed before taking the plunge and registering. The number of beach registrations in the final half hour delayed the start, but no one complained. The temperature dropped a few degrees as the winds shifted and began to blow steadily from the West – Northwest setting the stage for some amazing downwind paddling conditions.

Visiting Aussie Toby Cracknell seized the overall win on a 12’6” Infinity Blackfish as the remainder of the pack made their way through the vicious side wind in the final leg towards the finish at Leo Carrillo State Beach.

Wind, waves and BBQ

This year was the 15th annual edition of the Malibu Downwinder. What began as a prone paddleboard event hosted by a group of locals, the event now embraces all paddle craft and is conducted each spring as a benefit for the Friends of Leo Carrillo Junior Lifeguards and Wishtoyo Foundation to help support the Leo Carillo State Lifeguards and State Junior Guard Program. This was my fourth time paddling the event and the first time I had to opportunity to do the run on a true downwind board. My skills have slowly improved in the intervening years and the fun factor this time around was through the roof. Hands down the most fun I’ve ever had racing at a SUP event.

That’s not to suggest I’m a rockstar downwind SUP paddler, but it is the style of paddling I’ve come to enjoy the most. I’m faster than some, but not as fast as others. Given the geography of the Los Angeles area, most of my downwind paddling in the past year has been conducted in an outrigger canoe, which has the advantage of being able to punch upwind more effectively than a SUP. The experience has been invaluable in helping me improve my skills at reading the water in the ocean.

One of the important lessons I learned from my very first Malibu Downwinder that I’ve carried through to this year, however, pertains to the land and not the sea. That is to say, it is always cold and windy at the finish, regardless of which way the wind is blowing. The organizers of the Malibu Downwinder are known for hosting a fantastic BBQ at the finish area. It is always a great way to close out the day and the camaraderie among paddlers is second to none.

We all huddled together on a cluster of wooden picnic tables enjoying freshly prepared pulled pork & grilled chicken sandwiches, a selection of fresh healthy salads, and of course, ice-cold beer.

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