If you regularly practice canoeing in the surfski modality, I think you will agree with me that going downwind is what we look forward to the most during the hole season and what keeps us hooked on this sport. Sliding down the waves and the challenge of linking one wave with another are thrilling and challenging sensations that, once you eel hem, there is no turning back. Being a water sport, surfskiing implies having to face a changing environment, which we cannot control and that can put at risk not only our equipment, but also our own safety. If you know me, you will know I am a safety “obsessed” (I admit it). That is why I have prepared this post with all the measures we implement, both at Livingsea and in our clubs and canoeing schools.
Tips for safe downwind trips and avoiding scares
1. Check all your equipment before getting into the water
The first thing we should do (since without equipment there is no downwind) is carefully check that our surfski and paddle are in perfect condition. Detecting possible breaks or damages in the canoe will prevent us from finding ourselves in the middle of the sea in an unsafe situation. Keep in mind that a breakage can get worse in the water.
What should we check with special attention?
Our experience tells us that one of the main problems often arises with the cables or rudder ropes, so check carefully that none are about to break and check the knots and connections with the pedals and rudder systems. Do not forget to also check that the rudder screw is tight, that there are no cracks in the canoe (you can tell by blowing through the plug) and that the venturis are not clogged. Many people forget to check the condition of the paddle, so add it to your list so you do not get in trouble, especially the center system.
2. Do not skimp on safety equipment
In this case, less is not more. That is why you should carry everything that can help you solve a problem once you are in the water. The elements that I consider mandatory for going downwind are:
- PFD Life jacket:if it is bright colored and has reflective parts, even better.
- Leash: also, check that it is in good condition as they tend to deteriorate from the sun and saltwater. Personally, I find the ones that only unhook with the velcro strap to be more secure.
- Cell phone: to, if necessary, contact with the person on land who will have been previously informed about our route. It may seem silly, but it is important that you know how to use it inside the waterproof case for your phone. So, try it from time to time.
- Whistle: so that if everything else fails, we can make the maximum noise possible and be seen.
There are other elements that we consider necessary if we want to enjoy the downwind with tranquility:
- Walkie-talkie: it allows us to stay in contact with other colleagues within the downwind.
- Strap: in case we need to tow a paddler due to paddle or rudder break.
- Emergency steering cord: for the rudder.
- Paddle leash: carrying a paddle leash will give us more safety in case of a capsizing.
- Small knife: and everything necessary to handle the rudder and screws.
3. Plan your routes and check the weather
But Esteban, how am I going to get out on downwind without having checked Windy? Yes, I’m sure you’ve checked the wave forecast, the period, etc., but have you stopped to apply it to the area you are going to sail in? And it is not the same doing downwind in an area with rebound and cliffs, than in a route with beach ledges and good evacuation routes to land. It is important to define the route and visualize the weather conditions in the area we are going to paddle. To know the forecast, I like using Windy, comparing it with Windguru and, whenever available, checking webcams of passing or arrival areas.
This is a condition sine qua non. You should know how to remount from water on both sides, with the leash on, without letting go of the paddle and in windy conditions. So, practice it in your training. It will give you confidence with paddling in rough conditions.
5. Use your common sense
If you have not trained in a while or if you are not in optimal physical condition, postpone that downwind for another time. If the forecast predicts wind and waves that are too strong for you, wait for another opportunity. Of course, never go downwind alone. Choose a stable boat, it will allow you to enjoy the downwinds and the waves. Paddling in a boat that does not feel 100% comfortable, will cause us to continually lean the paddle, have several capsizes and lose the sense of speed and security.
6. Visual contact
Once you are in the downwind, always maintain visual contact with the rest of the paddlers. We paddle in single file and have as a rule to always visualize the fellow immediately in front and behind, if we lose sight of the one behind, we stop and wait. Even if you carry a walkie-talkie that allows you to stay connected and communicate different movements or change of plans, there may be a situation in which one of you runs out of battery or, even worse, faints and cannot communicate.
7. Follow the 80% rule
Imagine you are reaching the end of the downwind, you have been paddling and surfing for almost two hours and you can already see the finish point in the distance. At that moment, you are faced with one of these unforeseen events:
- You fall and have to perform a self-rescue. You fail at the first attempt and have to repeat it several times.
- For some emergency circumstances, you have to swim to the beach.
- You have to paddle a few more kilometers because on the beach you were going to land at, you cannot do it safely.
To handle these types of situations calmly, it is better to reserve some energy and never go at 100% of our capacities. We recommend for downwind training to go to a maximum of 80% of the effort capacity.
To sum up
If you have the necessary equipment, think safety first and act responsibly, sea canoeing can be a safe sport for anyone who practices it. So never skimp on investing time to plan your downwinds and anticipate as many setbacks as possible.
Never done a downwind? Want to feel more confident?
We are aware that the first few times you face a downwind it can be a bit scary. At Livingsea we can help you live this experience with expert paddlers who have been going out to sea in all kinds of conditions for many years Training Programme you can enjoy the surfski paradise and train with me for four days, in which we will combine personal surfski training sessions with downwinds.