Ask Sam: Downwinders, Wetsuits and Fin Setups

Downwinding under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Photo: Joe Budd
Downwinding under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Photo: Joe Budd

Ask Sam: Downwinders, Wetsuits and Fin Setups

Sam George knows paddling. That knowledge was procured the old fashioned way. By doing it: From grinding away at surf contests to utilizing kayaking to find remote surf breaks to becoming one of the early practitioners of standup. And now the former SURFER magazine editor and senior editor at SUP magazine is bringing that experience to you.

So if you’re out there longing for paddling advice, just Ask Sam. Anything. He’ll put his seasoning as a paddler to work for you. Ask in the comments or send emails to letters@supthemag.com.

Q: I just started doing downwind paddles here in the SF Bay Area (inspired by Will Taylor’s article in SUP) and while I’ve experienced the advantage of paddling with the wind at your back I have yet to actually surf any windswells. The videos make it look so simple, but it’s obviously not because every time I see a swell and paddle for it it’s always too late. What’s the trick? —Andy Miller
A: There’s no trick involved, Andy, but simply a change of perspective. And this I learned while down-winding with the great Dave Kalama. In conventional surfing, he explained, it’s all about what’s going on behind you. But when down-winding, it’s all about what’s going on in front of you. Keep you eyes forward, watching the swells that have already passed under your board. When a passing swell is steep enough to create a visible trough—or steep enough to actually cap over and break—stick the nose of your board down into that trough and paddle like hell. After a while you’ll start to feel the good ones coming. No looking back, just ride and repeat, all the way to Alcratraz.

Q: What’s the best wetsuit design for SUPing? I paddle year-round in central Florida but sometimes winter and spring mornings can get chilly. —Martha Mullins
A: Here’s the thing about wetsuits—they’re designed to keep you warm in the water. But once past the beginner stage stand-up paddlers don’t spend much time in the water. So are you talking about chilly water or chilly air temps? If the water’s dipping below your comfort level I’d suggest a long-john type wetsuit, insulating your lower body and torso but leaving your shoulders bare for ease of paddling. If the air is chilling your stoke I’d go for a 2mm short-leg spring suit—you lose a lot of heat through bare shoulders. If you get too warm you can always cool off in the water.

Q: One of the things that attracted me to the sport of SUP was how simple it is. Simple, that is, until you turn the board over and see all those fin boxes and attachments. One, three, four, some even have five fin attachments. So many choices, so little information. What’s the difference, if there actually is any. —S. Forester
A: Yeah, those fin boxes are the only complicated thing about a stand-up paddleboard. And without going into too much arcane detail here’s a fin set-up primer. A single fin provides speed and directional stability, which is why all race and touring boards feature one box. A tri-fin setup increases maneuverability—pressure against the outside fins being maintained throughout turns, allowing more acute directional changes. Four fins give you that same maneuverability but without the anchoring effect of the middle fin, making for a fast, loose ride. And five boxes provide the option of riding either way. Simple, huh? My advice: if you’ve got the boxes try every configuration and work out one which suits your style best.

More “Ask Sam” here.

Ask in the comments or send emails to letters@supthemag.com.