Downwinding 101

Are windy days keeping you from paddling? 

Downwinding could be the perfect opportunity for you to extend your time on the water. It’s a unique standup paddle discipline that uses wind and swell to surf your paddleboard from one destination to another. Whether you choose to paddle a traditional standup paddleboard, a SUP foil, or a wing foil, downwinding is a dynamic sport that allows the rider to cover great distances and experience the thrill of riding waves while improving your paddling skill and footwork.

Hawaiian Roots

The center of Polynesian life and culture, downwinding has been around for years but has gained popularity more recently as a recreational activity. The origins of downwinding date back to the Hawaiian Islands, during a period in history when people regularly made journeys between the islands on sail-powered canoes propelled by the prevailing winds. Lifeguards and watermen later rediscovered it on Maui, who made similar trips in canoes, outriggers, and early models of paddleboards. In the early 2000s, standup paddling began to rapidly emerge as a sport, with surf legends like Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama experimenting with extended downwind runs along the coast of Maui.



The Wind Is Your Friend

In order to downwind, it’s ideal to have 15 – 20 knots of steady wind blowing, generating waves, often referred to by downwinders as “bumps” on the water. Ideally, the wind will be in line with your downwind run. A strong sidewind can quickly move a paddler off course, requiring them to compensate by paddling on one side or paddling at an angle to stay on the correct line. Evaluating wind direction before taking off is important for safety and planning your downwind route.

Catching Glides

Gliding or surfing is a big part of the downwind experience. Downwinding waves can be classified as wind swell or groundswell. Wind swell waves have shorter intervals, don’t travel very far distances, and the waves can be steep or have a choppy appearance.  Wind swell requires the paddler to be more responsive with footwork and body position to quickly react to the short intervals, however, they are easier for beginners to catch because the waves move slower.

Groundswell waves are created by powerful winds or events deep in the ocean.  The waves have longer intervals, can travel far distances, and have a thicker appearance.  Groundswell is more difficult for beginners to catch because the waves are traveling faster but provide longer glides between sets due to their shape and interval.

Understanding the types of conditions required to downwind and what type of conditions are right for you is just the beginning of your downwind adventure. This blog will run as a three-part series. In the next installment, we will discuss planning and launch day logistics. Finally, we will dive into the different types of boards to downwind on and how to know which is best suited to your needs. 



Best downwind boards