Instruction and Tips

1. Three great downwind instruction videos:
 If you practice the tips in these videos, you'll take your downwind paddling to the next level. Thanks very much to Clay Island, Chase Kosterlitz and Robert Stehlik for their dedication!

From Clay Island:

From Chase Kosterlitz:

From Robert Stehlik:

2. Ground Swell versus Wind-Blown Waves:
On lakes, we don't get the bid mid-ocean waves of Hawaii so the gear and techniques are somewhat different. Our waves are closer together and we don't get the really far apart (long period) waves generated by groundswell in the ocean. In general, the further apart the waves, the faster they're moving. That's why we don't go as fast as the Hawaii paddlers when they catch a big wave. However, even on Lake Ontario, we do get groundswell as you approach shorelines - either Toronto beaches or Toronto Island. You'll find that the groundswell moves quite quickly with wave heights that can be 5 feet or more from trough to crest on a windy day. These waves are hard to catch because they're moving so fast and they're far apart. You can catch them if you build up your speed by catching a series of the smaller wind blown waves that are created on top of the bigger groundswell waves. For beginners, it's easier to focus on catching the smaller wind blown waves as they're slower with more clearly defined troughs and crests.

As you gain more experience, you'll be able to spot different types of waves coming in multiple directions at the same time. For example, as you approach Gibraltar Point of Toronto Island in a westerly wind, you'll easily see the large groundswell. However, depending on the wind direction, you'll also see the smaller wind blown waves moving diagonally to the groundswell. It'll often be easier and more productive to catch these smaller more subtle waves and move diagonally to the larger groundswell waves. It's easier to keep your speed up to stay with the smaller waves than the groundswell. Also, by moving diagonally across the larger groundswell, you don't slow down as much when you hit the uphill portion of the groundswell. If you're fast and good enough (or it's windy enough), you can maintain speed on the larger groundswell waves as well. I'm not fast or good enough to do that consistently, but when I do catch those groundswell waves, the acceleration is exhilarating!

3. Robert Stehlik narrating a downwind run
Robert, who owns Blue Planet Surf shop in Oahu, Hawaii, and is a great promoter of SUP filmed the Hawaii Kai downwind run in Oahu while providing an ongoing commentary on how to catch the bumps. It's a great introduction on how to read bumps and paddle for them. It also provides real world examples of the difference between smaller wind blown bumps and larger ground swell bumps and how to use wind swell to catch the faster moving ground swell. The first two videos of the three series sequence are below.

4. Jeremy Riggs' tips
Jeremy Riggs is one of the top downwind paddlers in Maui. Jeremy offers downwind SUP lessons on Maui - a chance to learn from a master.

1. If you are just beginning to do downwind runs you can relax once you get pointed downwind. You can wait for the waves to come to you and try to catch them. If you miss the bump just keep the board moving and wait for the next opportunity. Treat it like surfing, eventually that’s exactly what you’ll be doing all the way down the coast.

2. Bumps are your friend. Use every bump you can. A small bump may not last forever, but it can set you up for the next big bump that can separate you from the pack.

3. The straight line is the slow line. Drop in at angles that will take you down the longer, more gradual slopes.

4. Put in time, take your time, be patient, and try to learn something new every time.

5. Don’t watch your buddy, watch the waves. While you’re trying to catch up, you’re not looking at the waves. Keep your focus.

6. Most important, know your limitations (based on the conditions)


Reading Bumps with Jeremy Riggs:

Jeremy explains what he's thinking in real time as he reads the water and links bumps on the Maliko run. The fast waves and wind combined with his amazing skill, allow him to maintain a crazy fast speed for long stretches. You can see that reading the water effectively is a critical skill for downwind paddling.

Here's another great video from Jeremy with tips in his narration:

5. Wave Size and Speed and Linking Bumps:
As the wind gets stronger, the waves get bigger and move faster.

On a day that's less windy, the bumps will be moving slower than your paddling speed. In this scenario, one option is to match your board speed to the bumps so that you try to stay on a bump as long as possible.

Another option is to paddle faster than the bumps so that you momentarily catch bumps as you're passing one bump and linking to the one in front. You end up connecting a series of bumps by moving forward from bump to bump, using the momentum from your last bump to help push you onto the next one ahead. This increases your speed and allows you to maintain an average speed faster than the bumps are moving. It also happens to be a great cardio workout that doesn't feel like suffering since you're too busy having fun. When I'm doing this on a day that's not windy enough to make it too easy, my heart rate is often over 90% of max for long stretches. Really hard for me to do that by say, running - too painful. The better and more skilled you are, the longer you can continue to link the bumps as they increase in size and speed.

7. Jonathan Cowcher's Tips:
JonathanC, an experienced downwind paddler in Melbourne, Australia, offers these tips:

When you are first trying to catch runners you will feel the nose of the board drop just as a wave passes underneath you - almost as if the tip of the board scrapes down the back of the wave. That is what you are looking for, as the nose of the board drops reach right forward as Ekolu Kalama does and PADDLE HARD ! Even better than waiting for it to drop is to anticipate that moment and get your self ready so that you can paddle down the little ramp, it's as if you are trying to punch the tip of the board into the wave in front, in fact that may happen a little. Once you are on the runner if it is steep enough you may quickly need to move back into surfing stance, in the beginning I wouldn't worry too much about turning 45 degrees and going down the line - there will be enough going on to start with! In some conditions you can just remain pretty much in your regular paddling stance but as soon as it gets bigger or steeper or both you will find that you are moving in and out of surfing stance pretty constantly.

You can actually get a feel for it in tiny wind swell, always look for an area of water in front of you that is "down hill" and paddle down into it. You will need to constantly trim and turn the board to pick up these tiny little guys and you don't catch them as such but just get a little push, they help you keep you speed up so that when a real runner comes you are already travelling that little bit faster to make it easier to power onto. You aim to be gliding as much as possible and always looking for the next little pocket to help you keep the momentum up.

Once you get more comfortable actually gliding down the line or across the wave face you are always looking for the next swell that you can use the speed you have from going down the line to pick up, it's possible to get enough speed to accelerate over the back of the wave in front and then even the one in front of that - at that point you are in down wind paradise!! It's incredibly addictive, I just got back from a paddle with a friend, 90 minutes of upwind into approx 12 to 15 knots than 55 minutes of gentle little linked glides back home. It doesn't need to be howling windy to have fun but probably a good 20 to 25 or more helps you pick up the techniques faster.

8. DavidJohn's Downwind tips:
DJ is an experienced downwind paddler based in Melbourne, Australia. He's produced more downwind videos than anyone else by far. Here are some of his tips:

Don't paddle, paddle, paddle.. It's not a race..

Don't look down at the nose of your board..

Don't look at the water just in front of the nose of your board..

Don't look back to try and see runners (waves) coming.. They're not behind you..

Paddle casually saving your energy for when you need it (to catch a runner)

Look up.. way up.. Approximately 30-50 feet away.. Sometimes further..

If land is on your left they will usually head (move) left.. Not so much head directly towards the shore.

If land is on you right they will usually head that way regardless of the wind direction.

Look for waves that stand out because you can see the backs of them..

Wind waves (runners) are usually in set of two or three.. and sometimes four..

It's best to get in behind the last one.. It's usually the biggest.. You are trying to surf into the hole left behind the wave in front of the wave that you're surfing on.. If you catch the first one and you quickly run ahead and into nothing.. If when you see these waves ahead and you just stop paddling they continue to move forward and away from you.. It just takes a steady pace to catch up to them.. They are more like a standing wave on a river than a normal surfing wave.

In my case with land on my left I'm looking for waves that are not only ahead but ahead and to my right (because they move across towards the land)... If they're straight in front of me by the time I catch up to them they will have moved too far off to my left to chase them down without heading too much off my finishing point direction.. Holding your line towards your finishing point is very important..

9. Robert Stehlik Downwind Clinic on Video:
Robert put on a downwind instruction clinic and recorded parts of  it on video. A number of experienced downwind paddlers provide useful tips. Although they are talking about downwinding in Hawaii, almost all of what they say applies to downwinding on Lake Ontario on a windy day as well. Here's a link to Robert's blog entry with the full set of video clips:
Here are the videos that are most relevant for us here on Lake Ontario:

8. Downwind safety:

The #1 rule is always wear a leash. If you don't have a leash, then just don't go. Having a leash is more important than having a PFD.

When doing a downwinder, I wear a vest style lifejacket, not an inflatable PFD. It gives you an extra measure of security when you can be several kilometers off shore in rough conditions. Most PDFs have a whistle included, if not, bring one.

Experienced Partner:
If you're new to downwinding or downwinding in a new location, it's better to go with an experienced local partner.

Weather and Geography:
Make sure you're familiar with the most up to date and accurate wind and weather forecasts and the geography of your planned route. I often use Google Maps for initial route planning - but verify the start and finish points in person.

Personal Locater Beacon (PLB):
I carry a PLB tied to my lifejacket. When activated, it sends a distress signal via satellite. It works anywhere in the world and you don't have to worry about cell phone reception. I use this one:

Cell Phone:
If you get into moderate trouble, you can use your cell phone to contact friends or family before having to activate the PLB or contact local rescue authorities.

A phone also in handy when you need to pull up Google Maps to locate your take-out point. If you're doing a downwind route for the first time, it's often difficult to identify the take-out point since you're typically paddling many km or miles to get there. The location easily fades into the general background of the shoreline. Even with a clear landmark to look out for, it can be tricky.
The phone is also useful to get updates on changing wind conditions.

Make sure you get a good waterproof case for your phone that allows you to easily use the touchscreen. A sub-optimal case may look and feel fine in your living room, but you need one that is very touch responsive when you're on the water. I use a case where the plastic sticks to my screen for more effective touch control. A vacuum case should also work for this.

VHF Radio:
A good alternative to a cell phone for making local distress calls.

Drinks and Food:
Downwind paddles can be long, so bring sufficient drinks and food. I usually carry water or Gatorade and an energy bar or two.

Make sure you're dressed warmly enough. It's better to be overdressed than under. You can always cool off in the water.

A short rope can be useful for towing a board - for example, it can come in handy when you're going with an inexperienced or weaker paddler.

Swim Goggles:
It can be a good idea to carry swim goggles in case you have to make a long swim to shore. You'll typically save a lot of energy swimming with goggles than without.


  1. Your blog looks good, thanks for sharing the stoke!
    Happy bump riding. Aloha, Robert

  2. Great blog and some great tips in there. Don't look down was one of the first lessons I learnt (the hard way). Thanks for sharing.

  3. Surfing is a good sport for the entertainment purposes as it reduces the stress and with a proper surfing advice you can become a good surfer with the proper selection of the perfect surfboards and the wet suit according to your needs.

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    1. Thanks for your kind comments! I'm happy that you've found the blog helpful. Keep on paddling and downwinding!

  5. Hello Your tips tricks that you share here are very interesting and very useful for me beginners. Thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge about holidays and surfing.

  6. This is interesting. I am looking for a good total body workout, while enjoying the nature and I think should try stand-up paddle boarding. Thanks for sharing these videos and your tips.

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