Laird’s Life: Paddling Upwind

By Laird Hamilton

Standup paddling, in its own right, is one of the most thorough workouts in the world. But there’s a million ways to change it up. Recently, a reader wrote us about upwind paddling. That’s right, upwind.

There are several rewards to paddling upwind. First off, you get the ride back downwind, which is always fun. Second, if you’re out touring, you’re eventually going to encounter upwind conditions. There’s accomplishment in doing something not everyone wants to do.

Upwind paddling is like biking up a hill where you’re forced to maintain higher pedal repetition; maintaining a quicker stroke rate increases your heart rate, providing you with a better workout. When downwind paddling, you can be pretty sloppy, like the bike that keeps rolling downhill whether you’re doing anything or not. Paddling into the wind forces you to be a lot more precise and efficient. Upwinding brings all of your shortcomings out quickly.

As you paddle upwind, shorten your stroke radius to maintain your ground. With a longer stroke, you come to a stop each time—losing ground and some of your stability. “Reach far in soon,” as I like to say. Reach out as far toward the nose as you can and shorten your stroke length. That brings it back to the beginning soon. And when you bring the paddle back on the recovery when it’s really windy, concentrate on using your wrist to twist the paddle. That keeps the side profile of the blade into the wind, thus decreasing wind resistance.

Positioning on the board becomes very important as well when you’re trying to decrease wind resistance. You want to be more forward on the board. That brings the nose down, creating less windage, the effect of wind on your board. The lower the windage, the easier it is to move the board through the water.

It’s also time to consider your heading. You need to be going straight upwind. Slightly off the wind, and the board will veer to the right or left and you’ll have to compensate. And you’re already expending enough energy going against the grain. If you’re racing or paddling to a certain destination, you have to hold a line. It can be tough, but it’s the price you pay.

Try shifting your hand positioning on the paddle, especially over long distances. Spreading your grip forces you to bend over and get lower, out of the wind. Overall, you should think about creating variation in your workload anyway. This applies to all types of paddling. If you hold the paddle in the exact same spot all the time, you’re going to overwork certain muscles.

Your body position is so important. If you’re straight up and down, your body will obviously create resistance. If your lower back does start barking from bending too much, simply switch your hand position to get relief and straight up for minute intervals.

Paddling for long periods of time accentuates all the uncomfortable positions sooner. Whenever you can distribute the load in a different way—like on a long bike ride, where you’ll sometimes alternate pressing your heel or toe against the pedal—it allows other muscles to participate and it distributes the workload over the entire body. Just paddling into the wind more often will help you develop techniques to distribute that workload. Even when I’m surfing I often find myself fighting against the wind to get into waves or back out to the lineup. You create little tricks such as turning the blade sideways on your stroke recovery. And like anything, repetition really helps.

By anyone’s standards, paddling upwind is challenging. but anytime you do something that takes effort, the reward is that much sweeter.

This originally ran in our Summer 2012 issue which can be downloaded at:

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