Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Downwind Dreams for 2018

Do you ever feel like it’s getting windier?

Wind can kind of fly under the radar in weather discussions. Forecasters rarely talk about it in any context other than windchill. And unless you fly planes or harvest wind energy professionally, it’s probably the last element you think about when checking on the next day's weather.

But wind has a huge effect on our outdoor experiences. And with global warming whipping up stronger storms, it stands to reason that worldwide wind speeds are on the rise. This means the guilty pleasure of a more radical playground for people who ride boards on water.

Paddleboarders sometimes overlook wind when dreaming up ways to enjoy the sport. But “downwinders” are an essential SUP genre — a challenging yet accessible opportunity to sample the surfing glide on lakes and rivers.

Lake Champlain’s wind comes primarily from the South. This means excellent downwind runs from places like Shelburne and Charlotte into Burlington, or simply across the downtown waterfront from Oakledge Park to North Beach.

There are two ways to accomplish a downwinder: 1) Do a two-car shuttle, driving paddlers in one car to an upwind put-in while leaving the other car at your starting point, paddling with the wind back to the starting point, then driving back to get the second car. Or 2), hug the shoreline as you huff it on an upwind paddle as far as you can make it, then turn back downwind and enjoy the return trip.

The sensation of paddling along a conveyer belt of windswept waves — as high as 5 feet on the windiest days on Lake Champlain — is second to none. It requires focus, balance, footwork and timing. You take a couple quick strokes, then glide … over and over, each wave propelling you dozens of feet as you step back on your board, then leaving you behind to catch the next one. There’s always a next one when a strong wind is at your back.

So get your car shuttle partners lined up, keep your antennae up for windy conditions and add downwinders to your paddleboarding plans for 2018!