How much wind is to much for paddle boarding? That’s a question, I never considered until the wind chased me out of the water in Mazatlán, Mexico.
I was paddle surfing in Mazatlán on a very windy day. The waves were gorgeous and except for two surfers, I had the water to myself. I soon found out why. The wind was blowing parallel to the beach making it difficult to paddle to the spot I wanted to surf. I kept getting blown several hundred yards past the surf spot which forced me to work very hard paddling into the wind to get to where I needed to go. After catching a couple of waves, I gave up. No wonder I had the water to myself.
I learned a few lessons that day to help me evaluate the conditions whenever it’s extremely windy.
Lesson 1 - Wind Direction
The direction of the wind relative to the shore line is very important. If you’re paddling on the ocean, there is almost always an on-shore wind which means that returning to the beach when you’re tired is easier because you have the wind at your back.
On shore winds are not a given on lakes. If the wind is blowing from the land towards the water, it will be easy to paddle out. Just remember that if the wind is directly at your back on the way out, you have to paddle directly into it on the way back.
Lesson 2 – Water Chop
Windy days leads to choppy water. Choppy water is never fun. Often, as the sun gets higher in the sky, the wind picks up, and the water gets choppy. Inexperienced paddlers receive good balance lessons in choppy water, but that’s about it. As an experienced paddle boarder, choppy water isn’t a problem, it just doesn’t make for the best paddle experience. Avoid choppy water by not paddling on windy days.
Lesson 3 – Geographic Surroundings
It might not seem windy once you get to the beach. Trees, buildings, hills and other obstructions may block the wind on the beach. Before heading out for a two-hour rip, paddle a couple of hundred yards from shore to see what the conditions are like on the water. Usually by 200 yards from the shoreline, land obstacles aren’t affecting the wind. At this point, you’ll have a better idea which way the wind will be blowing during your excursion.
Overcoming the Wind
Once you understand the wind’s direction and strength, adopt a plan that will enable you to have a fun and safe paddle session. Here are a few tips.
Paddle out in a direction that will not have you returning directly into a head wind. Paddle into the wind when you’re strong, or paddle into it on an angle.
Keep track of your beach location and plan the return trip to your spot so that the wind is at your back or side.
Pay attention to the direction of the swells and make them work for you. Ride the swell on return and go out with it in the direction it travels. Riding swells replaces a lot of paddling energy when heading into the wind.
If the wind shifts, and you have to paddle directly into it when returning to your beach spot, don’t worry. Take your time, and pretend you’re a sailboat. These boats do a maneuver called tacking when moving forward into a head wind.
To tack back to shore, you first have to know where your beach spot is located. Upon finding your spot, simply paddle on an angle towards the beach but not directly into the wind. You may need to paddle at a 45 degree angle or more from your spot. After a while, you will be much closer to shore but away from your spot. Reverse your direction and head past your spot again. You will notice that you are closer to shore again, but still away from your spot. Continue this zig zag paddling until you are close enough to shore that the wind is no longer a factor. Then you can paddle directly to your beach spot. The image illustrates different tacking methods to return to the beach spot (B).
With these lessons, it will almost never be to much wind to go paddle boarding. You might not have as much fun compared to glassy water or beautifully breaking waves, but you’re still out on the water having a paddle. You may have to adapt your plan and work a little harder at times, but you will be a better paddler for it.
No longer can wind be an excuse not to paddle. Evaluate the wind and conditions. Make your plan and go for it!
The Wappa Blog
Written by Wappa's founder Layne Pennell, the blog's aim is to educate and share his love of stand up paddle boarding with anyone interested in SUP.
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