Downwinders - Hard earned tips & tricks

The photo to the right is a board going flying away from him in the open sea.

A broken leg rope and gale force winds.   

In his own words:
"I saw my Naish 17 flipping through the air today and it went at least 50 feet on its first flip.. and soon after landing in the water it flipped again.. and again.. spinning through the air like a feather.. a 16kg feather.

My leggie attachment point broke because of my own stupid modification and I was on a down-winder in winds gusting over 40 knots.

I had no hope of catching it.. and I did try till my arms felt like they'd fall off.. and I had to swim forever to a nearby shipping channel buoy.. Hang on to it for my life and wait to get rescued... BUGGER!!!

I took this quick pic on zoom once I realized that I had no hope of ever catching it... A big lesson was learned today and I hope others also learn from it..

Fortunately the rider was wearing a PFD, but the group had split up, he was on his own, miles offshore, floating in the ocean, and no longer with a board.    Could have ended in tragedy, but with the help of rescue services, all ended well.

Mikeman is experienced with downwinders, and posted the following tips & tricks to help everybody out:

1. Leg Ropes - We use standard surfboard leg ropes (4-6mm is fine so there's not too much drag) and attach them to the leach plug at the tail. If you fall off in a big downwind and get separated from your board it can end up cart wheeling away from you and you will be in a bit of trouble.

2. Visibility - We also made both of our boards as brightly coloured as possible. I would advise at least making some part of your board (eg Nose and tail) as bright as you can, just in case you need rescuing. I used safety orange but Day-Glo orange is the way to go for sure. As my board is Orange all over I will be spraying a large black "V" on the bottom deck which will double up as a V sheet. We also spray painted the back of our paddle blades orange which can then be used to attract attention (again use Day-Glo orange). When any paddle got too far ahead of the other (we kept this to a minimum 100m) the front paddler would kneel down with the paddle upright. The orange paddle blade faced the lagging paddler and doubled up as a mini sail. Our clothing was also pretty bright and we will use high reflective attachments next time. It's no good if the rescue people cannot see you. So whatever you come up with make it as easy for these guys to find you.

3. Rescue Services - We contacted all of the relevant VMR (Volunteer Marine Rescue) agencies ahead of our paddle and discussed our route plan with them. On the day we phoned in every few hours (on our mobiles) so that they could monitor our progress. They were very helpful and appreciative of the fact that we tried to make their job of rescuing us as easy as possible.

4. Communication - We had mobile phones on both of the Jet Skis, our land support crew and also 1 for the paddlers. We would probably carry 1 mobile each next time as well as get waterproof VHS radios. We also carried whistles for attracting attention. I was going to bring some kind of high reflective surface (mirror) for attracting attention but did not get around to it - next time for sure.

5. EPIRB - We did not take these (why are they so expensive?) as we did not expect to be far enough offshore to need them. We will probably need to start using them in future. The local law is that you have to use these if more than 2 nautical miles from shore. Our max distance offshore was about 5km which is just on the limit.

6. Support Crews - We had 2 jet skis and 1 land based vehicle. The Jet Skis were very handy as we did not want to have to carry our extra fluids that we figured we would need. They also helped us keep an eye on unwanted friends from the deep. We had experimented with a shark shield on Dales board before but we have not quite worked this out properly. Once we get these worked out we will probably start using these on long paddles through sharky waters.

7. Medical Kit - This is a must have item. Ours included a tourniquet, trauma packs, bandages, a safety blanket, gloves, pain killers and anti histamine.

8. Flares - I would also advise each paddler to carry at least 1 flare (rocket or smoke) but 2 is better. If anyone gets separated from the group and they run into trouble they need to be able to get spotted by the rest of the group or rescue people.

9. Spare Paddle - I fell near Cook Island and actually broke my paddle handle (with about 20km to go). As we had support Jet Skis with us they carried the spare paddle, which was nice for us.

10. Tool kit - This contained a few important tools that could come in handy out to sea, including duck tape. We actually duck taped my broken paddle handle back together and I could use it rather than the spare.

11. Fluids - You should have at least a 3ltr backpack which should last you 6hrs of paddling (1/2 litres per hour). We carried 3 x 3 litre packs each. If you don't like the back pack type get yourself the bum bag type. Dale and I used different liquids as it is important to find out what works for you. I have been using Endura Electrolyte mix which definitely works for me. I also use Endura Optimizer for recovery (pre and post paddles) assistance.

12. Skins - We both used long leg and long arm "skins". These are really good for paddling and double up as sun protection clothing. The long legs keep the legs warm and work like a charm. I used the white "Ice" top which is great for keeping you cool (which helps in the hot climate up here) and keeps the sun out.

13. Sun Protection - We used total block out zinc on all of our exposed parts, especially the tops of our feet and face. We tried surfing booties for our feet but did not like them. If we do not find a better system we will stick to the zinc."

".... this clip hopefully shows that we never allowed ourselves to get seperated by more than around 100m during the whole trip. As soon as Dale fell I went onto my knees and put the paddle blade straight up into the air. This would let Dale see where I was even though I might have been down a trough. It also enabled me to keep on moving forward using the wind on the blade face as a small sail."

Further Resources:

Read forum discussion of the Stand Up Paddle Downwinder gone wrong here

Read mikemans's discussion of his Byron Bar to Burleigh Stand Up Paddle Downwinder