Using your Inflatable SUP for downwind runs in Florida
One of the most exhilarating rides on any inflatable SUP is the magical downwind run. Using your Spear inflatable SUP, the perfect board choice for a downwind, will leave you gloriously elated. Read further as we delve into the methods, techniques and best spots for downwind paddling in Florida and nearby areas.
The Downwind Paddle
Downwind paddling, especially on an inflatable SUP, is full of mystique. You’re basically trying to surf open ocean swells over a long distance, often far offshore. These swells run with the prevailing wind, which is often quite strong. It’s intimidating and takes a lot of practice to get good at. But once you start to find the rhythm — paddling hard for a few strokes, gliding, searching for your next bump and then gliding again — you’ll never want to stop. You will also discover the joy of crossing large distances on open water in a very fast time.
Here are some solid tips for getting out on the water and doing your first downwind runs.
Paddle with a partner
It is always beneficial to do your first downwind paddles on your inflatable SUP with a more experienced partner. Whether that’s a coach, friend or acquaintance, having them help you get comfortable in windy conditions is the first step. Using someone to help you figure out a line to take towards your end point, the intricacies of the run (reefs, currents, wind angles), the cadence of your stroke and all the other little things will help you glide more and paddle less. You will also feel more comfortable knowing you have a more experienced person close by.
Before you run, you have to walk. It might sound torturous, but paddling into a headwind will get you more comfortable for when you turn around. You’ll see how the swells form, the general order in which they line up and how you might ride them. It’ll also get your legs more comfortable in the chaotic water that you’ll inevitably be in. On top of these points, you will also build your paddling strength on your inflatable SUP.
Get your Inflatable SUP in the surf
If you’re not comfortable surfing a big board, the best thing you can do is practice — even when it’s not windy. Riding waves on a downwind or flatwater board is a great way to start. While your flatwater board might not have the correct rocker profile for downwinding, surfing it will get you more comfortable dropping into waves, stepping back to the tail and keeping your nose up. This helps develop instincts for the open water, which you will need to ride the swells.
Do sprint intervals
At its best, downwind paddling on an inflatable SUP, is a series of stints. First you paddle hard for a few strokes, then you rest for a short period while you glide on the swell, then you are paddling hard. You will be repeating it again and again and again. We recommend preparing your body by doing interval training sessions to get your core strength and leg muscles stronger. You will need a pretty good level of cardiovascular fitness for downwind, even though it seems like you will just be riding swells most of the time.
In the beginning treat it like surfing
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.
Ground Swell versus wind blown waves
On lakes, you don’t get the big mid-ocean waves of the open ocean. So techniques are somewhat different. Fresh water waves are closer together and 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 you won’t go as fast as the open ocean paddlers when you are downwinding on a lake. Starting your downwind journey on an inflatable SUP on fresh water is a much safer place to start.
You’ll find that the groundswell moves quite quickly with wave heights, which can be five 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 get better, you will want to start riding large, high period swells on the open ocean.
As you gain more experience, you’ll be able to spot different types of waves coming in multiple directions at the same time. It will often be easier and more productive to catch 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. When you do catch those larger, groundswell waves, the acceleration is exhilarating!
Inflatable SUP downwind Safety
The number one 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. If you lose your inflatable SUP out on the ocean your are in big trouble.
Personal Flotation Device
When doing a downwinder, we suggest wearing 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.
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. You can use Google Maps for initial route planning, but verify the start and finish points in person. There are loads of free weather and sail resources, like Windguru and Windy, that you can use on your cellphone.
Personal Locator Beacon
Many paddlers choose to use a PLB tied to their 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 (there is not always cellular reception, especially out on the ocean).
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 is also handy when you need to pull up Google Maps to locate your take-out point. If you’re doing a downwind route on your inflatable SUP for the first time, it’s often difficult to identify the take-out point since you’re typically paddling many 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.
Drinks and Food
Downwind paddles can be long, so bring sufficient drinks and food. We suggest water, some light high energy snacks, like fruit and nuts and an electrolyte drink.
You may feel that wearing a wetsuit in Florida is not necessary. However, make sure you are dressed warmly enough. It’s better to be overdressed than under. You can always cool off in the water. When you are spending hours out on the water, in the wind, you can get hyperthermia even in the tropics. We suggest a 2mm-thick, long leg, short-arm wetsuit.
Swim Goggles and Fins
It can be a good idea to carry swim goggles and fins in case you have to make a long swim to shore. You’ll typically save a lot of energy swimming with goggles than without and the fins will make a long swim much easier. The fins can be strapped to your inflatable SUP deck and the goggles around your neck.
Top locations in and around Florida for great downwind
Now that you are prepared for your inflatable SUP downwind paddles, you need to know where to go. Check out these incredible locations around Florida.
Charleston, South Carolina
A great weekend away for most Florida locals. Southern charm runs thick in the historic town of Charleston. From circling the Morris Island Lighthouse to paddling up to mouth-watering eateries along Shem Creek, there’s no better way to experience Charleston than via SUP. Dolphins are a huge attraction for paddlers and tourists alike.
In addition to the wildlife, paddlers can SUP surf or downwind paddle their inflatable SUP at Folly Beach, get an up-close view of Civil War sites like Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor or mingle with the growing community of paddlers at the Chucktown Showdown (September).
Fort Myers, Florida
The Fort Myers region is perfect for paddlers looking for a scenic flatwater experience. In the mornings, inflatable SUP paddlers can search for dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico before retreating to the shallow, wind-protected backwaters of Lover’s Key during the afternoon.
This area allows paddlers of all abilities to catch a glimpse of West Indian manatees, ospreys, manta rays and other diverse wildlife in a calm, safe environment.
While most of the paddling areas are pretty flat water, the hardcore paddlers are heading out onto the Gulf of Mexico to chase wind and swell.
Big Pine Key
Big Pine Key is a town on an Island of the same name, found in Monroe County, Florida. This is one of the best paddling destinations in the United States. It caters for all paddlers and has a bustling yet laid back atmosphere.
If you have a mind hungry for adventure and a stomach ready for lunch, a downwind SUP run straight west from Big Pine Key to Little Torch Key is the perfect run on your inflatable SUP. Winds blow at your back over the mile stretch and will have you pulling your boards onto the beach in no time. You will land right at Kiki’s Sandbar Bar and Grille. It won’t be long before you are refueling on fresh hogfish and shrimp tacos washed down with toasted coconut-topped mango coladas.
The Island at its neighbors are an ideal downwind destination with plenty of different options on differing wind conditions.
Downwind paddling on an inflatable SUP is one of the most enjoyable experiences you can have on a SUP. Practice your paddling and wave catching techniques as much as possible and you will progress to those big open ocean swells in no time.
We highly recommend enjoying this activity with friends and do not advise ever doing downwind paddles alone.
For more basic paddling techniques and advice on the basics of SUP, check out some of our previous blog posts for all the information you will need.
Doing downwind paddles is considered the pinnacle of stand up paddle boarding. Once you master it, you will join an exclusive club of hardcore paddlers.
You now have everything you need to get on your Spear inflatable SUP and enjoy the thrilling adventure and adrenaline rush that you get from downwind paddling. Remember to always check the weather forecast before heading out onto open water, as conditions can change very quickly.
Get out there and enjoy yourself!