Here in Rhode Island we get a good amount of wind and not only during the winter. The Gulf Stream circulates warm air and ocean currents up the coast to us while the Canadian jet stream sends Arctic chilled air down. The constant push and pull of high and low pressure systems creates some interesting conditions especially when we’re out on the water. Reading the wind and it’s effect on the water is something all paddleboarders should have a good grasp of not just for safety, but also to get the most out of your paddleboard sessions.
For now, let’s talk about inland waterways. We’ll save open water wind for another post. There are a lot of ways to get a general sense of where the wind is coming from. The most telling sign is the direction the water is rippling, which can be different from the way it is flowing, as we’ll talk about later.
The trees and flags will point in the direction the wind is blowing as well. Ducks, geese, swans, (and sometimes water dogs) will most often face into the wind to keep their feathers (fur) from ruffling. These are all signs that you can pick up on from the shore.
When you’re on the water you can easily tell the direction of the wind by taking your paddle out of the water. The wind will turn your board and move you in the direction it is blowing.
Also, the direction the wind and water are moving could be very different. Wind will drop down to the surface of the water and fan out in a wide swath. Sort like throwing a bucket of water on the pavement- it disperses out in all directions once it hits.
Water, on the other hand, will flow through areas where there is the least resistance. Meaning, even though the surface of the water is rippling in one direction, the flow of the water may be moving in another direction. The surface water may be whisked up by the wind in one direction, but the current will be moving the larger portions of the water in another. So be mindful of both wind flow and water flow, as each will exert a force on your board.
Here are some basic guidelines for making decisions on how to proceed in windy conditions. First, always check out the surroundings before going into the water. Weather apps will give you a general sense of what the weather will be, but they won’t tell you about fast changes in wind speed or direction.
If you see breaking waves on the water (aka white caps) then you know the wind is gusting. Look for flags that are fully stretched out or trees that are rocking back and forth as further signs of high winds.
Secondly, avoid venturing out in high winds when the wind is at your back or you don’t have a planned route to a sheltered area. Often, people will paddle off with the wind at their backs a great distance because it is easy and fun. But when it’s time to turn around and head back they fall victim to exhaustion or worse, never make it back.
Many inland waterways have tree lines, necks, capes or islands that offer leeward shelter from the wind. Look for glassy water that is not disturbed by the wind. If the wind picks up while you’re out then sometimes you can link these “windless” areas together to get to where you need to go.
The main thing to take away from all this is that it’s best to take a long look at the conditions on the water before you head out. Watching for the telltale signs of wind speed and direction in conjunction with water flow and sheltered areas will make your paddling experience a lot better and may save you a 911 call.
Tags: paddleboarding in windy conditions, paddleboard safety, paddling into the wind, sup safety, towing on a standup paddleboard,, guide to reading the wind on a sup, reading the wind on a paddleboard