It's what we do. Wind paddling.
Very few paddlers enjoy paddling in the wind. An occasional downwind paddle can be a lot of fun, but paddling upwind is a tough workout and can be darned near impossible and dangerous for beginner paddlers.
Here are some tips for handling the wind here in Hurricane, Utah.
First, know before you go. A lot of lake-lovers out there just check the temperature and precipitation in the forecast. But knowing how strong the wind is forecast to be is just as critical in preparing for a great time at the lake. I can't tell you how many pop-up canopies I have watched blow across the beach and get mangled, or paddlers end up blown across the lake unable to get back, boards tossed away from under them.
I have my own horror stories and patched boards from personal experience on a paddleboard in the wind. My Pau Hana Big EZ hardboard has patches all over it from a rough run-in with the wind that I have a slight case of PTSD from. Listen to someone who already knows how scary it can be.
How much wind is too much wind?
There are a lot of factors that play into that. How much paddling experience you have, your physical strength and stamina and the equipment you are on all factor into the equation. As a general rule of thumb at Dig, we quit sending out paddleboards at 15 MPH and absolutely nothing gets sent out if the wind is going to be over 20 MPH. We have the occasional hardcore paddler that has kayaked around the islands of Northwest Washington state and know how to handle themselves in tough conditions. Most of you are not this person. If you are coming in for a rental or are a novice to intermediate level paddler, we are going to advise you to stay off the water in those conditions.
If you plan ahead for a fun downwind paddle, this can be an awesome experience. You need to plan a vehicle to pick up you and your gear at the end of your ride. Occasionally we have a trailer and vehicle available at our shop at Quail. Ask us for details. Here's how this awesome thing works. All you do is hop in your equipment at the far end where the wind is blowing from and let it the wind take you. Just ride and have a great time. Have a vehicle pick you up at the end. It can be a real rush.
Fighting the wind? Well....have a few tips on those days you are going out and it's "breezy" but not dangerous wind conditions (as is often the case in these parts). I often tell paddlers to go upwind first while they are fresh and have energy, then let the wind bring you back.
If you are paddling in the wind and need to go upwind, it's important to learn proper paddling technique. It's more than just moving a paddle around to get forward, backward and turn. Paddling in a wind storm or tough breeze will take digging in with your hips, quads, abs and back. The last time I kayaked in winds over 20mph that I had to get upwind as a necessity, It was a tough workout for an experienced paddler, but when I got out of my kayak my legs were shaking and my hips were sore, yet my arms felt fine. This was exciting to me, as I realized I had done it right. My legs and core were engaged and working while my arms did very little work. As a woman with less upper body strength, knowing how to use my strengths - my lower body - to paddle, has the potential to be life-saving. It seems counterintuitive as you are holding a paddle in your... hands... right? Yeah, well forget your arms. You have bigger muscles elsewhere to utilize. Your arms nearly stay straight (but not locked) in position while you slightly rotate your body. Plant the paddle blade with the water, and engage your legs while your back and core initiate the movement, not your elbows.
A few years ago, I joined a friend that was new to paddleboarding out on the water. The breeze was around 10mph, which isn't too bad for experienced paddlers. I was fine, but my friend kept getting pushed back into the rocks on the far side of the lake. "Hey Michelle, can you tell me how you are able to paddle in the wind and give me a few tips?" I took her through a mini paddle clinic and showed her proper grip and paddle stroke, as well as how to use her legs and core. Pretty soon she was paddling like a pro instead of getting blown around.
Another smart option on breezy days is to go tandem paddling instead of trying to do it alone. Two people paddling against the wind is usually better than just one paddler. Unless they aren't paddling - jerk. (Insert smiley winky face here with all the back stories.)
We would love to show you how to do it in your kayak or paddleboard. Sign up for a paddle clinic to get better at what you already love to do. Let our certified instructors fine tune your skills and get you ready for the season. Learn to race as well as paddle into the wind!
We teach kids these skills at our Dig Paddlesports Kids Camps, too! What a great thing for kids to know so you worry less.
A final note... you might find yourself out there when the wind really is too much to handle and regular paddling or a downwind paddle is out. Here what you do. First, if you are on a paddleboard, drop down lower to either your knees or belly. If you are on your knees, position your grip (both hands) lower on your paddle, or if you drop to your belly, use your arms to paddle. At this point if you still cannot make it back whether you are on a kayak or SUP, get to shore by letting the wind take you in the general direction of shoreline. We are lucky we are at a lake where we or park staff can get to you almost anywhere on the lake. The shoreline here is not so distant and far off as it can be in other places, especially the ocean. Keep your PFD on! If you can let the wind take you to the shoreline where there is more people and easier access, just do that, do your best to secure your equipment there on the shoreline and walk back to get help.
We operate business on a lake in a place called Hurricane, Utah. It's called Hurricane for a reason. We have beautiful lakes to paddle on. But the wind is a common issue. Learn how to handle yourself in a breeze and know your limitations. Prepare to have fun and get to safety when needed.
- Michelle , Certified WPA, PSUPA, and Paddlefit coach