Here’s 4 Shilshole Bay Downwind Runs that will build your skills for paddling on Puget Sound.
Seattle’s Shilshole Bay on Puget Sound has several options for downwinding, all varying wind directions. Below, I’ll show you how the runs work and when to be there. Locals downwind the runs all year on OC, surf ski and SUP.
Term: Northerly means the wind is coming from the north.
There’s two runs for northerlies which usually occur on high pressure days which produce the northerly winds. Both are on the Ballard side of the bay surrounding Shilshole Marina.
Salmon Bay to Meadow Point (Golden Gardens) and Back:
Meadow Point is the NW corner of Golden Gardens Park. Tidal current wraps around the point as do freighter and boat waves. It’s an active place on certain days, glassy on others often with sea lions on the offshore port buoy.
The run is from the north end of the marina or the outer green port buoy – back to the south side of Shilshole Bay. It can get big around the buoy and a bit south, then flatten out a bit west of the jetty, then jack back up towards the end due to wind bucking the outgoing Locks current. Extend the run towards the Ballard train bridge if the bumps push up that far. Sometimes I get small standing waves below the bridge from northerly winds. Watch for boats in the channel, they do have right-of-way.
Start out from Salmon Bay below the Locks and paddle north through Shilshole Marina (outer more direct channel, or inside wall) 1.22 miles to Golden Gardens.
As you leave the protection of the marina, watch for incoming boats. It can also get wild quick. Either turn and head southwest there, or continue northwest to the port (green) buoy off Meadow Point. Watch for kite surfers who go E to W here.
Whenever you turn into the Sound, make sure you paddle out about 1/8 to 1/4 mile to get a straight line back to Salmon Bay. If you cut it short, the waves will push you into the rock marina jetty. Or you can surf right to stay off the jetty.
As you get close to the south end of the marina, watch for boats leaving the marina and the Locks. Boats do a 180 out of the marina. Often, I go west of the jetty to stay outside of the boating channel coming out of the Locks.
The overall run isn’t that long and isn’t worth doing a shuttle. You’ll paddle to GG nearly as fast as it takes to shuttle a car and drop it off.
Salmon Bay Downwind Loops – My Favorite!
This is one of my favorite runs as I can do it solo even in the biggest conditions and limit my time to an hour if I’m taking a break from work. The run extends to just beyond the southern entry to the marina to in front of the Elks and Ray’s Boathouse and can extend up to the Ballard train bridge.
From the Elks, there’s wind protection from the buildings which will allow you on big days to paddle with minimum wind resistance into the south end of the marina, ferry across the channel, then turn downwards into the wind for a run. It can get pretty big there over 15 knots due to the north winds bucking the outgoing Locks current.
I call it loops as we’ll surf it in then paddle back upwind or in the wind protected area then do another run. Our local paddlers get good at rough water paddling here as we’re not doing shuttles and are paddling up, side and downwind. Boat wakes throw an interesting mix into the waves!
Launch at the Ballard Elks, park there if you’re a member, or on the street. You can also launch from Commodore Park below the Locks. Or the north end of the marina at the boat ramp or small boat ramp by Corinthian Yacht Club.
30 knot northerly in the channel below the Locks
Not a Downwind Run – Surf Golden Gardens Park –
The north end of Golden Garden’s Meadow Point can be a fun surf break on a big northerly. I used to surf it with a surf kayak.
The spot is hard to paddle out up wind so be prepared for some work. Once out, watch for kite surfers going across your line. Recommend a helmet there’s a few rocks in there.
For S or SE Winds, we paddle from Salmon Bay or Golden Gardens to West Point lighthouse (Discovery Park), then downwind to Golden Gardens Park and back to the Elks. This is a 5.3 mile loop.
In paddling to West Point, on an ebb or strong S wind, you’ll get wind protection and a slight eddy along the shore all the way out. Use this to save energy for your run or for a change in plans if the weather changes.
At the point, I create a line for the north end of the marina and focus on the big yellow crane. You can want to aim for a shorter distance in case the wind and current pushes you in the other direction. It sucks to miss Meadow Point and have to backtrack upwind.
On south winds it’ll be good at the point and about 1/4 mile in, then you’ll have to start paddling right, or towards shore to make the marina.
On light S winds, I’ll paddle around West Point, or portage over, and surf the beach break on Discovery Park’s South Beach.
SE Winds are common on cloudy Seattle days, all year. As listed below for South winds, SE will want to blow you out vs in the direction you want for shore. You’ll get good bumps in your direction but be careful to aim short to make the marina or GG beach.
I love SW Winds in the bay. SW means you can paddle from West Point to Golden Gardens and it’s a perfectly set up line directly there, or you can paddle back to the Elks, also a good line. If short on time, I’ll do the Elks, if I have a student or out with friends and a 2-3 hours, I’ll head for GG.
The only downside to paddling towards GG is if you parked at the Elks or by the Locks, then you’ll have to paddle upwind the marina to get back. Make sure to leave enough fuel in your tank for that last leg.
Paddling out to West Point with SW winds means upwind the entire way. It can be fun as you’ll paddle over some nice bumps on the way out. Prone and surf ski paddlers have the advantage here.
6 Downwind Tips to Help Stay off the News
- Build your fitness up to where you can paddle 6 miles in most conditions without any issues. Sh.. happens out there and you want to feel confident you can paddle back in any conditions. Years ago, when I didn’t know better, I got pushed north by SE winds off West Point. I was headed towards Carkeek. My 18′ rudderless board was weather-vaning (nose pushed by wind) and I couldn’t get it turned in the direction I needed. I eventually make it work but was totally friend when I hit GG.
- Wear hi-vis clothing. You want to see your buddies and be seen from shore.
- VHF radio or waterproofed mobile phone for communication with buddies and/or shore for worse case scenarios. Tether each to you.
- Always discuss with your buddies about making a good ‘line’ aiming shorter than your destination so you make it. Keep an eye out for them on-water. Many surfers get so focused on surfing they forgot about others around them.
- Dress for the air and water temps. If it’s Fall-Winter, wear a 4/3mm or 5/4mm full wetsuit, booties, possibly gloves and a hood. Salmon Bay Paddle Store
- Leave a Float Plan with friends on shore – where you’re going, how long out, your description and arrival time back. Then confirm when you arrive back to shore.
- Always wear a leash (consider a double string) and consider wearing a vest life jacket. Another advantage to a vest PFD is it provides body protection if you fall on your board. A surf helmet like Gath will help in big conditions if the board lands on you (it happens).
- Ballard Elks Paddling Club’s Webcam (I installed it!) – **Down for replacement Fall 2022
NOAA West Point Lighthouse Station
This is a great local resource to get within the hour wind speed and direction, air pressure, air temp and weather history for West Point.
Other great wind resources for within the hour and other forecasts: WindAlert, SailFlow, Windy. I use all to determine my runs.
The Ballard Elks Club
I mentioned the Ballard Elks Lodge. The Elks is located right where Salmon Bay and Shilshole Bay merge, below the Ballard Locks. Currently, the fastest growing Elks in the country, the lodge is about fundraising for various charities and plus a place for community. Member perks include near beach parking and the Ballard Elks Paddling Club which has SUP and kayak storage, events, races and a great place to meet other paddlers. Learn More
About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year. Rob teaches SUP, surf ski and sea kayaking.