Tips for Paddle Boarding Upwind

If you’ve ever paddled upwind on a stand up board, you know it’s literally an uphill battle. Some kneel to cut their wind resistance, while others don’t go out at all.

Downwinders often require a car shuttle to avoid paddling upwind. If you don’t have a way to set up a shuttle, you can paddle upwind and back down depending on the conditions. Paddling upwind can be rewarding, great training and fun exercise.

Here’s three methods for paddling upwind:

  • While standing, take short quick strokes to your toes In anything above 18 knots, the longer strokes will slow you down as the wind will push your down wind during the time it takes to rewind to your starting position. This technique reminds me of paddling against fast moving water or a river. As soon as you stop, you go backwards. Using a smaller blade such as the Blackfish 460cm (blade width) will reduce shoulder tension, wind resistance, and be easier to take smaller quick strokes.
  • Tack like a sailboat doing a zig zag path upwind.  If your body is sideways to the wind it’ll be easier to move upwind.
  • Kneeling works but you’re still a sail going upwind.  Sitting is even more efficient with less upwind drag.  Choke up on your blade, feather, lean forward with your stroke, legs crossed or in front of you.
  • Always feather the paddle turning it flat on the recovery back to the catch – power face up keeping it close to the water’s surface to reduce upwind drag.
  • An alternative option is using a sea kayak or surf ski wing double bladed paddle sitting down while paddling upwind. By being much lower on the board, you reduce wind resistance considerably, and the double ended paddle gives you more power and cadence. The kayak paddle should have angled blades such as right 30-45 degrees. This allows for the blades to be slightly twisted when going up wind, reducing wind resistance. Twist your torso and use slightly bent arms to paddle, rather than arms alone to you give more power.

A few safety tips in paddling in wind:

  • Always wear a leash to not lose your board in case of a fall. Wind can push your board away very quickly, thus a long swim.
  • Tell others you’re going out and where before you leave home, called a Float Plan.
  • Wear a vest PFD as it’ll protect you if you fall on your board, keep you warmer and some like the Vaikobi and Mocke PFDs have hydration bladder sleeves.
  • Wear Hi-vis colors to be seen
  • Carry a waterproofed tethered phone and/or VHF radio.
  • Bring water in a fanny pack, hydration PFD pack, or on your deck. Paddling upwind is a lot of work, hydrate to make it more pleasant.
  • Wind often makes the air temperature cooler in some areas and in some cases quite cold, (windchill). Dress warmer than usual with a wetsuit or bring extra clothing in a fanny or backpack, or on your deck. I usually bring a neoprene vested hood and gloves in a fanny pack during the summer.
  • Paddle with others of your skill level or better. Check that each are properly prepared for the paddle with the above suggestions.

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 and Kayak school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips