Surfski downwind safety tips

Things to remember in downwind paddling

I’m still alive!

Wasn’t it one of Deon Braun’s e-mails which asked the question “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

Guys don’t underestimate your potential. I had butterflies when I agreed to do it but last night’s paddle was awesome. The conditions were really not that bad! Conditions were far worse that day I took my son to Umhlanga.

The wind seemed to be quite strong at Durban Underwater Club but out at sea it was nothing unmanageable, we have had stronger wind and bigger swells on our previous paddles.

What was tough though, was not being able to wait and rest. Now I understand some gripes about us waiting and then rocketing off as soon as slower paddlers catch up. I had a wakeup call paddling with Malcolm.

I knew he was a bit stronger than me but I didn’t think that he would be so fast on a downwind on his  beginner ski. He is an experienced downwind paddler and was able to link runs constantly, until he periodically waited for me.
I was bushed, but conditions were pleasant and the only time I even looked like falling out was when I was sitting behind backline trying to release my leash!  With a lot of prayer I eventually managed and then promptly pulled a Deon on the crowd.

Yes I fell out of my ski whilst dithering on the backline, and then there was ample opportunity to get back in, with a long lull between waves and I fell out again, just in time to see the next set rolling in. I didn’t even try to hold my ski. There was an incredible side wash whisking me up the coast.

Whilst I was enjoying my leisurely swim at backline, Oscar came past with one piece of his Epic paddle in each hand. He shouted “Are you OK?” but was clearly in no position to offer help. I inflated my drinking system, and then after being dunked by the next set I realised that I wasn’t getting closer to shore so I inflated my life jacket, hoping that the waves may then wash me toward shore as I bobbed around like a cork. Eventually, after what seemed like a long time I reached the beach, north of the rocks. When I looked back to where my ski was lying on the beach I realised how far north I had gone.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. Don’t always believe Windguru.
  2. When the wind is strong at DUC aim straight for Umhlanga with the wind directly behind. (We never went out to sea at all)
  3. Get fitter.
  4. Do more downwinds, and learn how to link the runs, less resting in between.
  5. Buy a quick release calf leash. (I’m going to buy one today!)
  6. Don’t dither in the backline; be positive and take it at speed and 45 degrees to the beach with the wind over your shoulder.   
  7. Always wear a life jacket.
  8. Be carefully of ultra light-weight paddles. (Oscar said it broke about 7km out at sea! How he managed to get back at all, let alone the overall paddle from DUC to Mhlanga in 58 minutes is amazing! And he was paddling alone)

Always do it with a buddy.

by Gung-ho Mike


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