The water makes a “schussing “ noise as the sleek, hard lines of my 18 foot long SUP (stand up Paddle Board) is launched forward, accelerated down the steepening slope towards the wave trough in front of me. If I’m not careful the nose of the board will knife into the swell mound ahead and I will be catapulted “over the handlebars”. I touch the rudder bar located conveniently between the toes of my left foot, pivoting on my left heel and twist my foot inwards to the right. Loosening my knees, I allow my centre of gravity to drop, giving my body a greater sense of balance as the board accelerates rightward across the face of the “runner”. I get a fantastic sense of elation as I feel the wave pushing me strongly forward. I can feel the adrenalin diffusing through my whole body, quickening my heart and spreading a warm strength of infectious joy throughout my whole being. I have paddled hard to get on this runner, and I will now experience my reward.
The arrow- like nose sinks slightly, but not completely as the board attempts to flatten out its trajectory. I can feel the long board “give” slightly as the front half is pushed upwards as it meets the bottom of the runner. It easy to feel the energy thrum through my feet. My paddle is trailing on the right side of my board, acting as a guiding crutch that will rebalance my body if required. I lean back on it, preventing my centre mass from overbalancing to far forward. I’m flying fast now, but the energy and sense of propulsion is beginning to fade. Time to start paddling again. Looking up I can see in the distance the dark line of the water tower. This is my landmark and destination. I look for my next potential runner. The surface of the water is a heaving tempest. Rough breaking waves cause the ocean surface to undulate crazily, rising and falling as the screaming southerly wind tears across the Indian Ocean.
It looks like a ripped and scrunched, navy blue quilt. The wind is blowing hard up the Western Australian coast. I have another 16km of deep ocean paddling to go. “Stop looking at the destination Jono, I remind myself.” Lets concentrate on getting there first. I drop my gaze and paddle hard for the next, fast rising runner. It looks to be a good run.
I had started from the Bunbury Port authority. Nick having dropped me off at the little groin to the north of Marlston Hill. I had my lifejacket , flare, water pouch and most importantly – board leash. Falling off deep ocean means survival is conditional on you being attached to your wave craft. It can get a bit dicey if you become separated!
My intention was to Downwind to Binningup Beach some 18 km north of Bunbury. Using the strong southerly seabreeze to push me, I was going to Downwind Standup paddleboard up the coast. This is called, “going for downwinder”.
Downwinding can be an incredibly frustrating but very fun sport. It requires high levels of fitness, relatively expensive gear and is very dependent on the weather. Pretty much anything over a 20 knot tailwind is good. 30 Knots is unreal. Sometimes the wave will propel you, across the deep ocean, to speeds up to 28Km/hr. Your board will fly across the water, planing beautifully between the white caps for distances of 10 to 20 metres or more. If you are skilled enough to “link” the runners together, a constant feeling of propelled surfing can be experienced.
To do this you must take the opportunity to paddle quickly on the top of the downward facing wind wave and direct your board once it achieves sufficient velocity to “plane”. If conditions are great, with a strong wind and the runners are easy to catch, you don’t have to paddle as hard. But herein lies the inherent compromise between effort and reward when downwinding.
Throttling back will definitely mean catching less runners and a slower downwind run. Faster and more furious paddling will mean your lungs start screaming and your arms and low back will tire quicker.
Some speed is good as this creates greater control. Motion solidifies your balance and increases board stability. It is very difficult to balance in heaving seas without forward motion. This is also why falling off can become costly- it is much harder to get on your board and regain balance and control. Multiple falls increase your energy expenditure and make the chance of falling in again all the more likely. Greater speeds give faster times but sometimes too much velocity or catching a huge wave can cause loss of control and stability. At times you have no choice but to slam into the wave in front, especially if you have just caught a massive 3 foot, breaking wave which gives you insane speed but does not give you time to turn, or maneuver the board appropriately. When this happens your nose will dig in deep and effectively stop, sending your body flying forward.
Wind speed, wave selection, paddling strength, paddling stroke rate, aerobic fitness, balance ability and board shape and size- all affect you downwind experience and speed. If you can withstand the elements, maintain control and push yourself, your fitness will improve, allowing you to catch more waves and increase your average speed across runs of 12 to 27kms.
And the fitness gains are incredible. The weight will fall off you! Your blood pressure will lower and the strength and stability gains achievable in your shoulders are extremely beneficial for lifetime shoulder longevity. I am convinced that some long term, chronic shoulder pain sufferer’s can benefit from this sport. But more on this at a later time.
Downwinding is an incredible sport, beneficial to health, functional balance and life. You can experience the ocean in all its harsh and sometimes unforgiving glory. But you always will appreciate its beauty.
What I like best about downwinding is the allegorical similarity and example it sets for life. Downwinding requires dedication, yet so does chasing excellence in life. Downwinding is frequently exhausting and requires much sacrifice to get a sometimes elusive reward. Life, like downwinding can be a hard slog, but when you do get those moments of intense joy, you can appreciate them all the more.
If you would like to know more, leave a comment or send me an email. I can certainly help you get into it!
Here is a youtube video link of the recent King Of the Cut race I attended last year (2018).
Cheers and happy wave hunting!