The Upwind Battle

Here’s the scenario: you’re out for a nice, leisurely paddle in your local waters. You’re moving along on your SUP, paddling downwind just trying to maintain balance and working on your form and stroke technique.

Life is good… this sport is so easy. Then the wind picks up a bit, and so does your speed, all while still heading downwind. Your smile grows bigger. But at some point you will need to turn for home, and that can mean paddling back upwind.

Paddling against a stiff wind is like biking or running into the wind, except up a very steep hill, and still probably a little harder.

Whether it’s heading back to shore or to the beginning of your downwind paddle, we will all encounter the upwind beast at some point.

But this is where you can reap the true fitness benefits of stand up paddlboarding.

It is the workout of a lifetime: all your muscles are engaged, you’re getting full cardiovascular benefits, and there’s no time to rest because you need to keep a straight line towards your destination.

And the wind can be relentless.

It can be a struggle for both new and experienced stand up paddlers. But there are ways to make this part more enjoyable and your paddling more effective.

Here are some tips for SUPing upwind:

(Tip: Try some of these out in a lighter breeze before finding yourself caught in a 20 knot headwind.)

1) Stand forward on the board

As you’re paddling, inch yourself closer to the front of the board without making jerky movements. Get yourself to a point when your able to push the nose of the board down so it cuts through the waves better. This will act as a “nose fin” and make it easier to track straight and push forward.

Of course, it also helps to have a board with a keeled nose for this purpose.

2) Turn your paddle blade

If you’re fighting to move upwind, make sure your paddle blade isn’t making it harder by acting as a sail against your strokes. Rotate the blade as you paddle so it can slice through the wind. When it’s submerged, finish the turn and paddle through the rotation to get a nice full stroke.

3) Kneel if you have to

When standing upright, your body will create a lot of wind resistance as you paddle. This will make it very hard on your back and legs after a little while. As you get tired, it may be time to take a knee.

One knee on the board is a great position to maintain stroke power while reducing wind resistance.

If you don’t have the stability for one knee, bring them both down, shorten your grip, and take quick short strokes to move upwind. This can be very effective when necessary.

4) Take shorter, faster strokes

Long strokes will give the wind more time to push you backwards and throw you off course. It will also require more strength to dig in for longer power strokes, and you need to conserve that energy for the rest of your upwind journey.

Instead, try short and quick paddles. This is known as your paddle cadence, and a faster cadence can make it much easier to stay in line.

Think of it as switching to a lower gear and peddling faster, with less resistance, on an uphill bike ride.

When paddling, aim the strokes towards the nose of the board and keep that head down.

5) Change your grip

All the stress (both mental and physical) of paddling upwind may cause you to tighten your grip on the paddle handle. Eventually, your hand will probably start to seize up and you will lose a lot of strength and paddling efficiency.To combat this, the pros recommend constantly changing your hand positioning to keep your grip fresh and strong atop the paddle.

6) Stay fluid

This refers to your body positioning. Just like your grip, your body should also keep moving. Try angling yourself slightly to reduce wind resistance. Some SUPers like to think of this is getting into the surfing stance.

Pretend you’re riding a wave by dropping your leeward foot back a little. Changing your stance allows your to redistribute your weight from foot to foot. This can increase balance, reduce overall workload, and help you cut through the wind.

Keep making small adjustments to your stance as you move forward against the wind.

7) Go straight

There is much debate in the SUP world about whether to tack or stay straight when paddling upwind. However, the prevailing advice is to stay straight.

When you tack, you go off course to the left or right. You’re constantly making up for that lost ground. If you stay straight, and focus squarely on your end point, you will cover much more distance.

Of course, if the wind is too strong, you may just have make tacks to the left and right because a straight path may seem impossible. Especially when you’re tired.

We hope these tips will help on your next upwind SUP journey. If you have some more advice for our readers, please feel free to share in the comments.

photo credit: via photopin (license)