Downwinding is hot in the SUP world. Anyone who has access to water and wind can catch waves whether in Ohio, Oklahoma or Oregon.  But a lot of folks see SUP as easy thus don’t take the time to take a class or train with an expert. Downwinding can very easily be dangerous if certain cautions aren’t taken.

Recently a respected respected pro paddler went missing on the Friday before the Gorge Paddle Challenge in big downwind conditions in Hood River. Friends were out during his run and reported back of huge waves and very strong wind conditions. The paddler did not wear a PFD or leash.

Here’s a few tips on making you more safe on the water – so you have more fun:

Wear a Leash – Ya it’s not required, but will save your life if you fall and lose your board in strong winds far offshore.  No matter how good you think you are, you will fall and it won’t be by your board every time. Most downwinding deaths and rescues have involved not having a leash.  Two reports 2 and 3 years ago, one in Cali and the other off Maui were of DW paddlers 2-3 miles off shore with no or broken leashes and long swims in big water back to shore.

Use parachute cord or a similar strong string to secure your leash to you board. Some double leash or use two cords to attach a single leash. Consider attaching your leash to your waist strap on your PFD to keep you feet free and for a leash free fall.  Test your leash with a strong jerking motion before getting on the water. Paddlers I talk to use both straight or coiled leashes.

Wear a Lifejacket (PFD) – Similar to a leash, not having a C02 or vest style PFD on DW runs can make the difference between not making it to shore or coming home.  Your choice.  Sh..happens especially in 30kts of wind with swell.  If your leash does break (and it can) then the PFD allows you more options to get to shore.

Have you actually pulled the string on your C02 leash? Get in deep water, even holding your gear if you’re not a leash type, then pull it and learn how to put it on. It’s not as easy as you think.  Once paddler I spoke to this week was surprised his head was too big to fit in the yoke of the PFD once inflated.  Another said the strap attaching the PFD to the belt was too short for his torso.

Float Plan – Tell a friend of you DW plans, route, and time you plan on getting back. Check our the various float plan apps online which friends can use to track your progress.

Communication – Bring a fully charged water proofed cell phone and/or VHF radio.  Attach both so they won’t go in the drink. Avoid wearing a soft wp bag around your neck.

Wear Bright Colors – Be seen and keep track of your fellow paddlers by wearing super bright colors such as fluro green, red or yellow.  Same goes with hats. Look for the paddler above in the pic. He’s in 46 kts of wind on Puget Sound, November 2013. Paddler is Art Aquino.

Keep Track of Your Buddies – In all three DW incidents mentioned above, each of their friends only noticed the victim missing when they arrived at their destination.  Pay attention and in groups designate a member of your group to run sweep (back) and point (front) and slow down for slower or less experienced paddlers.  Don’t get too greedy or compulsive about those epic rides!

Clothing – Bring extra clothing or prepare outfitting on your board to store gear. NSI and SurfCo have plugs which can be attached to add cargo netting on a kayak deck bag.  Cold waiting for that shuttle? Put a hat and coat on!

Have a Dedicated Shuttle Driver – One of my instructors has a driver who he’s in contact with by phone. If he misses his destination or the wind reverses, the driver can adjust to next spot.

Get in Shape – Downwinding can be very physical.  If the wind reverses or dies can you paddle 8 miles back? Can you handle side and head winds for 5 miles or more?

Hydration / Fuel – Be prepared with proper hydration and fuel to keep strong.  Bring extras just in case you or a buddy bonks.  Food can also keep you warm in frigid temps.

Check Your Friend’s Gear – Everyone gets stoked to hit the water. Check your buddy’s gear to make sure his/her leash is attached, PFD on, and everything looks good. Gear failure is a bummer.

Skill Level of your Buddies – Don’t go into 30kts winds with a novice. You’ll end up wrangling that person the entire trip. Only go into high winds with strong experienced paddlers.  Can or will they rescue you?

Know the Currents / Waves – In May on Oahu I downwinded with a few students during our surf camp. We were in 20kts of Westerly wind with 6′ swell crossing at an angle.  Messy situation which led to more survival paddling than easy fun wind waves.  Is you run a direct line with all the elements? Will the current pull you offshore? Do your research!

Downwinding with a Kayak or Ski?  Use a leash attached to your leg or PFD and boat.


Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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