Mastering the Waves: Downwind Techniques for Kayakers

Mastering the Waves: Downwind Techniques for Kayakers

Welcome to the exhilarating realm of downwind kayaking and surf ski paddling, where the wind and waves are with you on your adventure. In this guide, our pro paddlers explain downwind techniques for kayakers, its connection to surfing, and the gear you need to be comfortable and safe when downwind paddling. Whether you're a seasoned kayaker looking to enhance your skills or a beginner eager to ride the waves, join us as we navigate the surf runs with confidence and style.

Why is technique important when downwind paddling?

Surfskis have been designed to be quite fast and efficient in the water due to their light weight - which allows you to pick up even the smallest run when paired with good paddling techniques, such as timing, body position and grip. Let’s explore these!

3 Key Downwind Paddling Techniques for Kayakers: 

Downwind Technique #1: Timing

Timing is key in downwind paddling. Aim to ride the waves in a continuous smooth motion that will help you efficiently pick up speed when needed. When you feel a small ‘runner’ (surge) come up underneath you, pick up your paddling rate to put yourself in the best position to pick up the wave and glide with it. Once on the wave, focus on maintaining balance and stability by either continuing to paddle to pick up more runs, or using your paddle across your body to balance yourself as the runner picks up. It is also recommended that you are continuously looking ahead to see what the best line is, that is the most effective and fastest on a downwinder. 

Downwind Technique #2: Body Position

To have a good downwind paddle, it is crucial that you focus on your body position in the surf ski or ocean kayak. Make sure you are centred in the surf ski with your legs at a comfortable length that will allow for you to maximise leg drive (where all the power of your stroke comes from). During the downwind paddle, try to maintain a good posture, keeping your back straight and slightly tilted forward over your hips but at the same time ensuring shoulders are relaxed and away from your chin. 

Downwind Technique #3: Paddle Grip and Stroke

Grip the paddle with both hands ensuring your hands stay within eyesight between each stroke. Focus on using your core muscles through rotation and leg drive to generate powerful strokes instead of relying solely on your arms. Surf ski paddling is a full body workout, so as you continuously take strokes throughout the downwind paddle, you will feel your whole body working and allowing for you to generate speed to continuously glide through the waves. 

What should I wear downwind kayaking?

To support your good technique, you’ll need excellent mobility and range in the upper body and legs. That's why wearing paddling gear that has good stretch in the armpits, neck and wrists is ideal. 

The best cold downwind paddling tops: 

In cold conditions opt for a thicker, fleece-lined wetsuit top to keep that layer of heat nice and close to the skin. The VCOLD Hydroflex Top, VCOLD Flex Top, and VCOLD Base Layer Top will keep you snug for hours. You can get away with a lightweight UV-treated rashie or long/short sleeve performance Tech Tops in hotter weather. Vaikobi UV rashies and UV Lightweight Performance Tops are made from quick-dry material, meaning if you get wet, you won’t be uncomfortable for hours after a swim.

The best safety gear for downwind kayaking:

#1: A life jacket

To become a master of the waves, you need to become a master of safety, and that is where a life jacket or PFD is perfect to ensure you have an enjoyable downwind paddle, out in the open ocean. Make sure to choose a comfortable, lightweight, and well-fitted life jacket that can act as a buoyancy aid and allow for you to be more visible on the water. Vaikobi has a broad array of brightly coloured V3 and VXP racing life jackets available in yellow, orange, cyan, and pink. The VXP life jacket design also includes reflective detailing which is ideal for early morning or late evening paddles when the light is low. 

#2 A surfski leash

Every wave is an opportunity for adventure and self-discovery, so don’t be afraid to take risks! That is what the Vaikobi ocean paddling calf leash is for, a must have kayak accessory to ensure you don’t lose full contact with your surf ski during a downwind session. The leash is designed to sit on your calf and clipped on to your surf ski to ensure it doesn’t affect paddling technique or slow you down during a downwind paddle but ensures that in the event you capsize your boat, contact can easily be made again and the ski doesn’t continue to surf the waves without you in it!

#3 A phone

You might not think a phone belongs out with you in rough open water, but actually one of the best pieces of safety equipment for downwind paddling is a communication device. A phone allows you to get back in contact with your downwind paddling group should you get separated (by fog, current or a difference in speed). Carry your phone in a Vaikobi waterproof phone case, which securely straps on to your PDF or clothing. 

Is surfing the same as downwind kayaking?

Kayaking and surfing are separate disciplines but share a deep connection with the water and waves. Both sports require an understanding of wave dynamics, balance, and timing. Although surfing requires a traditional surfboard, whereas a downwind paddle normally uses an ocean surf ski, the thrill of the ocean and its possibilities unites us all as the open water can be quite challenging.

That’s everything you need to know about downwind paddling!

Don't let the fear of not knowing what surf ski accessories or kayaking clothing is required to have a great paddle set you back, because Vaikobi has you covered from head to toe and will ensure you have the paddle of your life. 

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