Words: Elaine Farquharson
Photos: Zoltan Erdelyi – pro sup athlete and SupJunkie
SUP boarding benefits from the art of surf, sail and paddling.
We can move around the board and have a lot more adaption to our posture than other forms of paddling. The wind can be our friend and our foe as our bodies act like a huge sail but with the fine tuning and agility of a surfer we can use the board to carve and manoeuvre on the water features to be able to enjoy greater freedoms than other forms of traditional paddling.
In this article I would like to look at the water features created from wind and give you some tips to get the most out of your SUP paddling to be able to be safe and enjoy windy days out there on our beautiful open waters.
Wind and water
Wind that moves across a body of water will inevitably cause the water to move in the same direction. Over a great distance this will cause swell, which eventually crashes onto the shores in surf or hits the rocks to cause clapotis. Obviously the stronger it is the more amplitude to the water movement.
If the wind and swell move in the same direction it’s cleaner, however, the wind is fickle and can change, the swell will not immediately change with the new wind direction. It takes time so we then get surface chop on top of swell. It can become messy, so for simple explanation sake today, I will assume everything is moving in the same direction.
Upwind chop and swell
Chop coming at you will be peaky, however, swell can be very rolling. The swell will move in sets of eight varying the height whilst the chop will come at you in gusts with an average wind consistent through out the paddle.
You can see the gusts by looking at the patterns and colour of the water. It will also look like busy water when a gust passes through. Sound is also a clue.
Always check the forecast before going out to see what is likely to happen as the day progresses, as weather can come through early but also check the gusts not just the average speed for that day and know what you are capable of.
Simple upwind tips
- Trim the board by standing slightly forward on the board but not too much that the nose buries. This will counterbalance the wind, lifting the nose and causing increased windage.
- Paddling directly into headwind, you can alternate sides, however, mostly there will be a slight dominance to side.
- In general paddle shorter, deeper and faster.
- Open up to longer strokes in calmer air but in general use shorter faster strokes.
- Body needs to get lower and it’s no disgrace to kneel down or even in an unexpected squall, use prone strokes with the blade positioned under the chest. Weather is a science and it can throw things at you when you least expert it.
- ‘Choke’ the paddle. If you have an adjustable paddle you can choose to reduce the length but in a fixed blade you may have to hold the paddle lower down the shaft to encourage a lower centre of gravity for paddling.
- Try to use more trunk rotation to reduce windage from the front of the body.
Advanced upwind tips
- Your paddling speed and power should change depending on the wind force through out the trip. Less wind longer strokes more wind holding water, less progression but conserving energy for the more efficient patch of calmer air. You gain ground in the calmer water and hold ground when the gust hits.
- Swell depends upon the period and height. Large swell can actually be more like cross country skiing. Accelerating down the peak to gain board speed up. However, shorter amplitude and faster periods or peaky water we would want to absorb the impacts like moguls, allowing the legs to move underneath us, shock absorbing the changing height differences. This point is for all you white water folk out there; we want to do a micro boof over the features to keep the board nose up between the peaks. Adjusting the timing for paddle pull to the lip of the crest and a sharp pull to propel froward will help you do so.
- You should be constantly adjusting trim and edge either through body weight transfer or moving your feet. The subtlety is gained through lots of time on the water and feeling the features.
- Linking strokes through combining bow draw with a power stroke, changing the paddle shaft height to adjust power strokes with a sweep stroke or just adjusting feather of the blade in the water can all help to make micro adjustments to allow you to continue progression into the wind and counterbalance the perturbance of the features.
- Wind chop is beautiful to watch as the ripples move away from you in patches on the water. Suddenly everything goes quieter when your are heading down wind and life just feels easier, but beware! Head down wind first and you can have a shock trying to get back so plan your trip up then down or prepare a shuttle.
- In strong down wind runs always tell the coast guard and a land based contact your start and finish times with route and any emergency action plan. Please always carry appropriate coms such as a tracker or VHF, and safety kit such as PFD, strong leash, white light and flair.
Simple downwind tips
- Trim the board by Standing slightly further back the bigger the bumps the further back you need to move.
- Bigger bumps fin forward more touring and flatter waters fin backwards.
- Paddle cadence can be long and slow enjoy the rest.
- Adopt a surfer stance when on the bump so you can steer the board easier by controlling your edge.
- Look ahead to where you want to go as your speed over ground will be a lot quicker than you realise to steer.
- Stand taller try to use your body like a sail as much as you can.
- In gentler down wind where balance isn’t an issue use the paddle surface area to catch wind and avoid feathering the blade on recovery.
- Stand, chill and let your full body height enjoy the ride, down wind great way to take it all in and breath.
- Always wear a coil leash attached to your back foot calf or waist so you can move around on the board easier.
Advanced downwind tips
- Swell bumps roll away from you picking the board up from behind and dropping it down as it passes underneath you. The feeling is a change in board speed, initially as it hits from behind the board moves faster, if you don’t lean into this you can end up running off the back of the board. Once the initial acceleration has happened it then stalls with the bump in front and there’s a slight confusion at the nose. This often feels the most vulnerable time when people paddle and often people avoid this sensation but its your best friend. It feels a little like suctioning, that’s your sweet spot because then you need to pick up your board speed with a few short power strokes to prevent the stall otherwise you fall off the back of the bump and it passes underneath you again. You need to move back the bigger the bump and adopt a surfer stance so you can control the edges of the board, but it is not surfing. It doesn’t help to look behind you. You need to be thinking you need to chase the bump in front to catch it. Using the bumps saves so much energy and to be honest its the best bit, its super fun!
- You can steer the board on the wave by changing the roll of the board so that it engages the side rails and cuts into the water giving it a cleaner line.
- If you are less stable then you can trail the blade in a support stroke with the back of the blade facing down to give you more support on the side the wave is pushing you toward this can then be linked quickly into a steering rudder stroke if quick direction change is needed and accompanied with edging gives you a very responsive turn.
- We can connect bumps using these steering techniques to gain ground and direct ourselves even when the wind is strong but it requires a lot of planning ahead if we want to changer course in gale force down wind conditions, which means early planning and reaction is essential.
- Use your body like a sail. When moving across the wind keeping the body strong will enable you to gain speed like sailing on a broad reach. Once you come within the 45-degree angle into wind you lose this advantage.
- Paddle on the downwind side but use trim to adjust the angle of the fin and link bow draw strokes to aid steerage.
- Utilise support strokes on the downwind side by keeping the blade in a low brace position on recovery.
- Control the edge by slightly adjusting the roll of the board by changing the lateral weight in line with the force of the chop or bump. On bigger and steeper bumps lean onto the face until it passes underneath you. Correct board roll by timing with the changing force of the wave.
- Adjust forward and backward position in accordance of upwind and downwind dominance.
- Staggered foot placement and the use of surfer stance can be helpful to control lateral weight shift.
- Chop, keep the legs loose so you can shock absorb the chop.
Elaine owns and runs Dorset Sports Physio, based in Weymouth community college sports centre. She offers sports physiotherapy, biomechanics and coaching to the Dorset communities. Elaine’s specialist interest is tri sports and SUP, not only as a competitor but also through her work as a coach and physio. Elaine’s specialist work with the lower quadrant has helped her achieve advanced practice recognition in hip and pelvis and works closely alongside Dorset’s expert hip surgeons and lower limb specialists. Elaine’s facilities offer a large private treatment room, three sports halls, a fully equipped gym, sports pitches, and also racquet courts across the two sites. Elaine also has a hydrotherapy pool and Pilates studio off campus. @dorsetsportsphysio