Downwind Surfski - by Dawid Mocke

Friday, 20 January 2006 08:08 | Written by  Dawid Mocke
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(First published in SA Paddler Jun/Jul 2005)

Going downwind is not as easy as some might make it look.  It takes lots of practice and definitely a fair bit of experience.  Here are a couple of tips to get you on your way.

Catching and riding the runs:

There is a rhythm of acceleration and then gliding that you have to get into when catching runs.  Basically you paddle really hard for a couple of strokes until you feel that your ski is riding on the wind swell without your assistance; then you sit back and enjoy the ride.  After a couple of seconds you’ll start falling off the swell you’re on and you have to catch the next one.  It’s a constant state of hard then easy, hard then easy.  Paddle hard when you feel the swell pick you up from behind; paddle easy as the swell passes, then pick it up again as the next one comes.  Boat speed is very important to catch the swells so you need to be going the same speed as the swell to pick it up.


 Photo: Alain Jaques


The tricky bit is how to ride the swells.  Basically you want to keep your ski in a nose down, tail up position all the time.  What you are looking to do is get your ski to surf into the trough in between the swells.  If you miss a run and the swell passes underneath you, the ski’s tail will be down and the nose up.  This is called wallowing and it’s not cool.  You want to avoid wallowing.  The skill level you are aiming at is to try and surf from swell to swell without stopping and with the least amount of effort.

Surfing the swells is not simple.  You can’t just paddle straight because the swells are all over the place.  You’ll pretty much always have to have your ski at an angle to the swell movement.  How much of an angle depends on the conditions, wind direction and where you’re paddling to.


  • Look in front of you because that is where your next run will be, not behind but in front.
  • Have safety stuff with you i.e. flare, cell phone (in drybag), leash & lifejacket
  • Paddle with other guys, not alone
  • Know what landmarks to look for
  • Make sure you have enough daylight.  If not DON’T DO IT MACHO MAN!

Navigating Points and “Blinders”

Look ahead every couple of minutes or so to make sure you’re on the right line, plus to keep an eye out for points and deep water reefs.  Keep watching them to and look for where the waves are breaking, then aim your ski just behind, or where you can see clear water.  Decide well before if you’re going around or through AND DON’T CHANGE YOUR MIND JUST BEFORE.  That’s asking for trouble.

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