Everyone loves a good downwinder… What you’ve never done a downwinder?… you don’t even know what a downwinder is? Well you’ve got an amazing part of kitesurfing still ahead of you so read on…
In the past it was partly a necessity – kites and boards were not very efficient, particular in lighter winds, so a downwinder saved you the hassle of working hard to stay upwind.
I remember hearing how Lou Wainman and Elliot Laboe refused to learn to kiteboard like everyone else on Maui with modified surfboards (this is back around 2000) and instead stuck to their banana rockered wakeboards, on 2 line Wipika kites (those thing did not go upwind) and simply tore off downwind every day – and downwinders were effectively born!
These days the downwinder is in the limelight due to the Virgin Kitesurfing Armada: a 15km mass downwinder from Hayling Island to Pagham (UK) which last year saw 318 kitesurfers awarded the Guinness World Record for the ‘Largest Parade of Kitesurfers’. This year 500+ kiters will take part but why do all these people want to go on downwinders?
Learn, Improve, Enjoy
A downwinder for a novice kiter can be a little daunting – you’re away from the safety of familiar surroundings and who knows where you’ll be able to land if things go wrong. But before you can go upwind consistently, a downwinder gives you the opportunity to be freed from the constant frustration of wanting to go upwind. Just team up with some more experienced riders who can look out for you.
For early intermediate riders downwinders are great for learning to ride toeside, again you can cruise off downwind and get your technique right before trying to hold an edge.
Carving turns are also brilliant, string them together repeated as you weave back and forth along the shoreline and you’ll have the opportunity to hone those skills to perfection.
Of course there is no better way to improve your jumps – be it your first jumps or any new aerial trick. You can lose as much ground downwind, whether you land a huge jump perfectly or crash and burn, get right back on and try again.
Hopefully you can see that a good downwinder will give you the opportunity to learn loads or just play around with your favorite tricks.
The other side of downwinders is the chance to explore a coastline, experiencing different conditions or discovering untouched spots that are can’t be accessed or seen any other way.
I have great memories of a stunning 2 hour downwinder travelling down the Eastern Cape of South Africa – Kenton-on-sea to Canon Rocks. Seven of us launched and we didn’t see another kitesurfer, or person for that matter, for the whole 10 miles. Beautiful waves, river mouths with butter flat water, bay after bay with miles of untouched sand and at the end a massive ship wreck surrounded by waist deep crystal clear water. That was 11 years ago but I can remember it like yesterday. (It was actually part of a road trip travel story for Kiteworld Issue #4, which helps with the memories!).
There are no doubt hundreds but here are 3 of my favorites:
Cape Hatteras, USA – so many miles of waist deep perfect butter flat water, dipping in and out of the channels through the grass banks. Check out this video of Brian Scheid and Sam Medysky giving the Kite Show a guide tour on their favorite route through Planet of the Apes
Cape Town, South Africa – Sunset Beach to Big Bay then on to Haakgat (8 Miles)
Start in the strong winds of Sunset beach and catch or boost off the various wave breaks that cover the first 4 miles, round the rocks at Big Bay and take a break or carry all the way down to Haakgat – just watch for the big swell cos Haakgat can get huge!
South Coast, UK – Worthing to Shoreham to Lancing to Brighton (10 miles)
My first ever downwinder was from Shoreham to Brighton (even did it twice in one day, when I was super keen) – for a while we did it pretty much every session. The conditions can change a lot, going from flatter choppier water up at Worthing through to wavier (on the right day) as you get ever closer to Brighton. It’s always nice to dip in behind Shoreham harbour for some smooth water and waves breaking off Hot Pipes.
Realistically the whole of south coast is one big downwinder with plenty of places to start and stop which is why it made it the perfect place for the Virgin Kitesurfing Armada. All the places for the event have been allocated but there’s still a whole kitesurfing festival going on around the Armada to take part in; find out why Sir Richard Branson, an avid kitesurfer, is supporting the event and will be leading the pack!
Tips for a good downwinder:
Always go with a one or more friends – keep an eye out for the guy at the back of the pack!
Check the forecast and any local wind variations – its never fun if the wind drops or picks up considerably half way and at some locations, typically those with thermal winds, there could be wind fluctuations even just a mile or so apart.
Well worth keeping a phone on you if possible. Get a waterproof pouch and stuff it inside your wetsuit.
Take a bit of money – you might be desperate for a drink at the finish or in need of a bus/taxi ride!
Logistics – unless you’ve got people to give you lifts then you’ll need two cars – drive both cars to the end spot, downwind, and drop one off and then drive upwind to the starting spot. Make sure you don’t leave the keys for the downwind car in the upwind car!
And if you get knackered and want to cruise or cover ground quickly then you’ll find you can ride more relaxed on toeside with the board pointing far broader downwind.
Downwinders are a lot of fun and a great way to learn and explore with your kiting buddies. Got any great downwinder stories? Or where is your ultimate downwinder?