Being out on the water means you can be exposed to any amount of potential wind. Unless you always paddle on a completely sheltered body of water, you will eventually encounter winds over 10 or 15 mph. When you are paddling into the wind you will find yourself working a lot harder to cover less ground than you normally would. If the wind is blowing hard enough you may even find yourself going backwards!
Here are five tips on how to effectively paddle into the wind. And remember, if you are going out in very windy conditions don’t forget your leash! It could be a long swim back to land if you fall and your board decides to carry on without you!
The first thing you want to be aware of when paddling into the wind is whether or not you are feathering your blade on the recovery phase of your stroke. The recovery phase is the segment of your stoke that begins when your blade exits the water and ends when it reenters the water. Feathering your blade involves rotating your paddle so that only the edge of the blade faces the wind. Feathering allows the blade to effortlessly slice through the wind to the point where you will open the face back up and quickly put it in the water. This small detail saves you lots energy and helps your board move forward significantly faster.
2) Paddling on an Angle
Changing the angle of your paddle when it enters the water is another useful tool. Normally, your paddle should enter the water at 180 degrees, straight up and down, like this |. If you put your paddle in the water on an angle, like this \, then your board will turn and drift off course. When heading into the wind you want to keep your board pointed upwind. Typically, the wind comes towards you a little to your left or right pushing you off course. To compensate for this you should put your paddle in the water on an angle so that your board turns into the wind. You will then be able to keep straight because your angled stroke on one side will counteract the force of the wind coming at you on the other side.
3) Blade Angle
a) Angling is great if you want to paddle the entire time on one side but most of us would prefer not to because it is extremely tiring and inefficient. If you start paddling normally on the windward side of your board then you will fall off course immediately. This is where your blade angle comes into play. Instead of putting your blade into the water perpendicular to the side of your board, turn the paddle handle towards you. This will put the blade at angle like this /. After you put your blade in the water you want to keep it angled all the way through your stroke until it exits the water. This technique will pull your board up into the wind the same way paddling on an angle on the leeward (the opposite side than the wind is hitting) side of the board will do. You’ll be able to stay on your course, save energy, and not wear out one side of your body.
b) If your board still being pushed off course by the wind you can try putting your paddle in the water farther away from the side of your board and as you begin your stroke bring the paddle back in towards you. Keep your blade angled as you go through your stroke and your board will head upwind and keep you on a straight heading.
4) Choke Up
Another technique for combatting the effects of a strong head wind is to choke up on your paddle. Dropping your hands down on the shaft of your paddle forces you to bend your knees and get lower to board as put the blade into the water. This position effectively cuts down on the amount of wind resistance you are encountering. It also gives you additional leverage over your paddle and allows you to use quicker and shorter strokes to keep your speed up.
5) Turn Sideways
As you choke up on the paddle shaft keep your hands wide apart and move one of foot towards the back of the board so that your feet are offset in a forward stance. This position naturally turns your body sideways to the wind and cuts down on the resistance. You can switch your stance to face the opposite way when it is time to paddle on the other side or simply twist your torso to access that side. The combination of being low to the board and turned sideways to the wind will greatly improve your tracking and speed especially when the wind is blowing hard.
Some days you may find the wind so strong that you actually need to paddle on your knees. This is also a very effective strategy for cutting down wind resistance and making up any distance you may have lost while standing. If the wind is coming at you at an all-time blistering speed you may even need to drop on to your belly, slide the paddle blade under your chest, and paddle with your hands. Let’s hope we have the sense to avoid those days!
Paddling into the wind is a challenge, but if you try some of the techniques listed above it can be fun and rewarding. Stay positive and focus on your strategy because the down-wind ride back will be well worth your effort!