How to SUP: Catching Bumps
The only thing that separates a great paddler from a great downwinder is the ability to read and identify the bumps, applying power at the appropriate moment to catch one and then maximizing those glides. Downwind paddles can be done in all sorts of places like Hawaii, on the Columbia River near Hood River, Ore., or on Lake Michigan, as long as the paddler is going with the wind. Set a shuttle with a buddy and give these tips a try. — Dave Kalama
Identify the bumps. When there are bumps everywhere, which is the case during most downwinders, how do you identify the ones that are most catchable? Look for the bumps with the steepest faces. The best waves to catch usually travel in sets (two to four) and the distance between peaks is what creates the steepness. When the peaks are further apart, the slope is gentler. The steep ones are easiest to catch because the increased slope allows you the opportunity to use gravity to your advantage. Keep in mind that windblown water is not a uniform medium, so we’re working in averages, not absolutes. The dynamics of water are typically different every day you paddle, so with more water time, your understanding of those patterns will increase.
Catch the bumps. Unlike in surfing, you can’t wait for the bump to lift your tail before you begin accelerating. Rather, start your aggressive, yet controlled attack while the nose of your board is still pointed up as the preceding wave passes beneath you. That way, as the next bump begins to lift your tail you’re already accelerating, creating a better chance of catching the bump you’ve selected. Every wave that passes under you will give you, to some degree, a little push forward. The trick is to break through those liquid friction barriers so that your board can find the point of release and take off skimming across the water. Many times, catching the slower, smaller bumps will make the larger, faster bumps more accessible.
Link your bumps. How do you maximize glide from a bump? By using that speed to launch into the next one. The moment you catch a small wave is the moment you start looking for your next opportunity. The idea is to take the speed generated by a good glide and use it to catch the next glide, as opposed to having to paddle into the next one after losing your speed. Sometimes that next glide isn’t as close as you would like, so you have to judge the amount of paddling you need to maintain your speed into the next glide. One of the keys to success at this point is to constantly scan the surface for opportunities to catch a swell while you’re already gliding. Don’t slow your momentum by looking directly behind you. Everything you need to know is in front of you or in your peripheral vision. Glide on.