A Gust of Knowledge on Wind and Paddle boarding

Updated: Mar 17


2 paddlers on SUP boards on the Salish Sea. It is a cloudy day with hills in the background.

“The autumn wind is a pirate. Blustering in from sea with a rollicking song he sweeps along swaggering boisterously.” (Steve Sabol)


Powerful and at times unpredictable, winds have a tendency to pick up during the colder fall and winter months. They have the ability to make your paddling adventures a little rocky and perhaps even intimidating, especially if you are inexperienced in these conditions. In fact, many stand up paddlers, fearful of an unexpected swim, avoid paddling in the windier seasons when air and water temperatures are colder. If you've had the urge to extend your paddling season, we want you to know that wind and paddle boarding are doable, if you are equipped with the necessary knowledge in order to have a SAFE and enjoyable time on the water.


In this blog post, we will be sharing all the ‘must knows’ to help you navigate through these windy times. So keep on reading and be prepared to be blown away!


Wind Types


Offshore winds


Offshore winds consist of wind that is blowing away from land out across the open water. All paddlers should be wary of offshore winds that can push you far out into the body of water. Once you are ready to go back to shore and begin to paddle against the wind, also known as a headwind, it is incredibly difficult, tiring and takes considerably more time to paddle back.


Onshore winds

A woman on a blue paddle board on a lake. She is surrounded by trees.

Onshore wind is when the wind blows from the water onto land. If you are looking for more of a challenge with your paddle fit regime, an onshore wind will definitely provide you with resistance as you paddle outward. On the bright side, you will be cruising effortlessly back to shore.

Crosswinds


Crosswinds occur when wind blows across the paddler, potentially pushing them in a direction they don’t want to go. Although this can be a challenge, you can compensate by paddling harder on the opposite side of the board in order to counter the wind's force. Experienced paddlers may attempt to take a headwind approach, which will keep the board more stable for the duration of your paddle adventure. It is beneficial to have an understanding of advanced skills, such as ferrying, that can counteract the effects of crosswinds.

Familiarize yourself with Prevailing winds


What are prevailing winds


Prevailing winds blow regularly in a given direction over a particular region of the earth. Uneven heating from the sun and the Earth’s rotation cause these winds to vary at different latitudes on Earth. You can learn more about the prevailing winds in your region by taking a step outside each day and documenting the direction of the wind or checking with apps such as the Windy.app.


How to identify wind direction


Wind direction is something you want to pay attention to before you enter the water. While there are resources that allow you to predict and track its behavior, wind can change without any warning.

When determining the wind direction, it is important to pay attention to your surroundings. You will be able to see and feel the wind direction before entering the water. The direction in which trees and plants are being blown, as well as the force of their movement, will be a good clue; you can also look at nearby flags and banners. If the wind changes without warning, we suggest you try paddling closer to shore. Another technique you could try is using natural features, such as trees or cliffs, as a windbreak.

*It is important to note that winds are named by the direction they are coming from. Therefore, a southeasterly wind is blowing FROM the southeast to the northwest. A northerly wind is blowing FROM the north to the south. **This is the opposite to the naming of onshore and offshore winds as described above.



Wind Speed


Higher winds have the ability to create choppier waters, which can make you struggle to balance and stay afloat. However, wind and paddle boarding can be less intimidating if you make yourself aware of the wind speed before you adventure out onto the water.

If you are a beginner paddler we suggest you stay in calm, sheltered and flat waters, with minimal wind in order to safely build your confidence on the water. We also suggest that you only paddle as far as you can swim in case you go for an unexpected dip (it happens to the best of us).


We have created a simple guideline to follow:

  • 5 knots and less (less than 9.26km/h) are ideal flat water conditions.

  • Beginners should never go out at 10 knots or more.

  • 20 - 25 knots (37 - 46km/h) are suited for only extremely advanced paddlers who are paddle surfing or down winding.

The water is also a great indicator of wind cues. If there are ‘whitecaps’ visible on the waves, this can be a sign that the wind speed is near 12 - 15 knots and that conditions could be challenging.

As you are researching the wind predictions for your paddle adventure, be sure to take note of units of measurement when checking wind speed predictions. To get a clearer idea of what to expect depending on the wind severity, we've created a handy Blue Jellyfish SUP Adventures Wind Guide to help you trip plan for your paddles. In addition, we recommend you refer to the Beaufort Wind Scale for useful visual indicators and descriptions of conditions at each level.

1knot = 1.1852 kph = 1.15 mph


With time and practice, you will build your confidence on the water and gain a firmer understanding of the wind speed and condition you feel most comfortable paddling in.


What wind is safest to paddle in


A common question that we get from the SUP community is “what wind is safest to paddle in?”


If you are wanting to enjoy a leisurely paddle, a wind speed of 5 knots or less (up to 14mph) is considered to be the safest. This will allow you to enjoy the scenery and connect with your surroundings with smooth, flat waters.


How much wind is too much for paddle boarding


As important as it is to know the safest wind speed for paddling, it is just as important (if not more) to know the wind speed that should be avoided. As mentioned above, it is important to know what wind speed you are most comfortable with depending on your experience. That being said, even if you are at an advanced skill level, we suggest that you do not participate in any paddle sport if the wind speed is above 25 knots. In this case, it is best to stay on land.


Plan your trip


Introducing Windy.app


Windy.com is a great app for determining the weather conditions on the day of your trip. We use it for trip planning ahead, day of pre paddle checks as well as for monitoring changes of conditions during the paddle. Disclaimer - weather is variable and can never be completely predicted.

Windy features include:

A photo of someone holding their phone using the windy app to plan their SUP trip
  • wind speed

  • wind direction

  • wind gusts

  • temperature

  • cloud coverage

  • precipitation

  • wave direction

  • wave height

  • wave period

  • tidal height

While you are looking at the forecast for your day, make sure you also examine and monitor the effects of the weather outside of the area that could impact your local conditions and hence your paddle experience.

The thing we love the most

Windy also provides you with a map overlaying wind speed and direction so you can get an idea of how it will change throughout the day. This helps you plan ahead, map out your day and of course be safe!

If you want to learn more about helpful apps for planning your stand up paddle boarding journey, read our blog post Best Paddle Boarding Apps, Websites and Tech Tools


Further Resources


Wind is a powerful source, and it is important that you take all of the necessary precautions to ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable experience on the water.


Watch this short clip of 2 paddle boarders who got lost at sea because of the wind.



Based on the information in the video, the paddle boarders were experiencing offshore winds, meaning the wind was pushing them out into the open water. Before they knew it, they had effortlessly gone too far out. This is why it is important to stay close to shore or choose an alternate route when these winds arise.


7 tips on how to minimize the winds affect


#1 - Kneel

A photo of someone sitting on their paddle board on the bright blue ocean water with blue/cloudy skies. The person is looking out into the distance.

Your body can act as a sail when exposed to winds, making it more difficult to remain stable. Staying low on the board will help reduce the surface area of your body that is exposed to the wind, while improving stability due to your lower center of gravity. Kneeling down will allow you to paddle faster, which is also an effective way to counter headwind.


#2 - Prone paddle


If you find that kneeling isn’t doing it for you, try laying down on your belly in a prone position and place your paddle blade underneath your chest. You can then use alternate arm strokes to paddle back to shore.


#3 - Launch and land safely