Nothing can compare to the thrill of flying over the water, on wind-generated bumps for kilometers on end. In Cape Town we are lucky to have the South Easter, a gale force wind which blows from spring to autumn. Often this wind blows, for days at a time, along two world renowned runs : Millers to Fish Hoek and the Milnerton to Big Bay. But as with all sports, downwinding has its risks and it is up to you to eliminate these risks and enjoy your time on the water.

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EQUIPMENT:

BOARDS:

The boards used in Downwinding range anywhere from 12’6” – 17’ in length (my first run was on an 11’6 Cruiser and for a first run it was great.) The majority of riders use a 14’ board. Why? More manageable than an Unlimited (16’-17’) and faster than a 12’6. Before heading out, make sure your board is ready. Check for any serious damage (dings, cracks, creases etc), check that the fin is securely attached and the fin box is not damaged, check your leash plugs for cracks and if your board requires a valve ensure it is securely fastened.

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PADDLE:

There has been much talk about paddle length over the years, at the end of the day it really boils down to personal preference but generally between 6-10 inches taller than you for downwinding. Check your paddle for any damage before you hit the water. Even the smallest knick in the shaft can result in a snap when pressure is applied.

LEASH:

Always wear a leash. This a must, and in big conditions with gale force winds, wear two. Replace your leash every 6 months and check them regularly for damage. Inspect all joins for knicks or tears. If you lose your board you have very little chance of catching up to it. Check out this video for how quickly things can go wrong. (Skip to 4:40)

PFD:

A PFD or Personal Flotation Device is required by law and must be worn at all times. Have you ever checked to see if your vest has enough flotation to keep you above water? Next time give it a go, if you are using an inflatable vest try it out, pull the cord and put it on!

CELLPHONE:

The last place you want to be is in the water with a setting sun, 2 kms off the coast with no means of contact – that is why it is vital that you carry a fully charged cellphone along with emergency contacts which are easily reachable. If you have a smartphone there are some great tracking apps, which can pin point your location and even give you a detailed report of your trip. Is there signal out at sea? Can you hear over the wind and waves? Next time you out there give it a go and try using your phone with cold hands through a waterproof pouch and then see if you would be willing to put your life on it.

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FLARE:

Along with a cellphone we recommend you paddle with a flare. There are two types of flares –  an Aerial flare, which will signal attention in the sky above you, and a handheld smoke flare for signaling exact location. Many paddlers will carry both. Carefully read and understand the operational instructions of your flares before use, and only deploy in an emergency situation.

DRESS:

When heading out into the water, be sure to dress appropriately. Make sure to wear your brightest baggies, rash vest and even peak cap. In a search and rescue situation, you want to stick out like a sore thumb. This is about safety (not about making a fashion statement). Keep in mind between waves in the vast open ocean, its is not always easy to spot someone out at sea… Take a look at the picture below ( not always easy to spot someone in distress). Remember to keep warm.

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BUDDY UP:

When possible, paddle with a buddy and avoid solo trips. If you are going to end up paddling alone, inform someone what time you are leaving, your planned route and your eta. In groups, pair up with a comparative buddy and keep tabs on each other. Plan a midway stop to regroup.

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FINAL THOUGHTS :

Are you able to paddle 10km?

Are you ready to spend 2 hours on the water?

Are you hydrated? For all paddles over 10km we highly recommend carrying hydration.

Have a bail out plan.

Happy paddling and see you on the water.

Know your limits. It is important to push your limits, but do so with caution and by following the correct safety measures.

 

 

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