Saturday May 28, 2011
Andy and I planned our first downwinder for Saturday and the wind didn't disappoint. It was also the first time for me to paddle my new 12-6 Surftech Bark Competitor, and this was only the second or third time for Andy on his new 14' Surftech Bark Dominator.
We launched in a strong southwest wind from the beach at Natural Bridges State Park. White caps were clearly evident outside the kelp beds. Since this was my inaugural voyage in the wind, I didn't really know what to expect. To date I only had reading and videos providing my experience. To quote from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, "there ain't nothin' like the real thing baby".
Since we launched perpendicular to the wind flow, the first thing I didn't expect was how voracious and difficult it is to paddle in an side wind. Wind velocity was a steady 12-15 mph (Class 4 or 5 on the Beaufort Scale) and until we cleared the kelp beds and turned downwind I paddled hard and without ceasing on the left side of my board. This in an effort to keep it from nosing over too soon and having to plow through the copious kelp forests that littered the ocean's surface. Needles to say, after a hundred or so strokes my left leg and glutes were screaming for mercy. Mercifully we cleared the seagoing vegetation fairly quickly and started the 3.4 mile downwind leg towards the harbor.
It didn't take long to get there. With a steady wind at our backs (actually from our starboard quarter most of the way) we made it to our destination in a little under 50 minutes. Slow from an experienced paddlers perspective I'm sure. But we did it and I don't think either one of us fell off once which was in itself an accomplishment.
With very little background experience to draw from I thought the 12-6 Bark performed well which covered a host of my newbie beginner struggles. While not a dedicated downwind board, the Bark hull plowed through the whitecaps and wind chop with a steadiness that underscores the stability of the board in choppy seas. A lot of the time I was able to concentrate on my stroke, and paddling efficiently. At others times I was just trying to stay on my feet as I was battered by strong gusts of wind, or relentless wind chop that came from three different directions at once, or just turning around to try and get a shot of Andy paddling. I even managed to catch a couple bumps and get a short ride, but I think this was more by accident than by design or skill. I'll catch on eventually, but reading the bumps when they are so numerous and multi-directional is a real challenge.
Near the end of our paddle, off Seabright Beach, a guy on an fully ruddered SIC (16ft. I think) literally "blew" by us like we were standing still. His grace, dexterity and prowess were a thing of beauty. It looked like he was dancing on his board with nimble foot adjustments and paddling cadences that seemed to always put him where he should be. He caught a couple series of bumps that were not only amazing to watch, but which pushed him far into the distance towards the harbor beach. (I found out later from Kiter Mike that the guy, still don't know his name, is one of the premier SUP racing/downwind paddlers in the area. He was in fact in a race and he was the first place finisher. Truth is, he looks a lot like Danny Ching which Mike also confirmed.)
After 50 minutes and with the harbor entrance within throwing distance I was really looking forward to some smooth water. It had been a good workout for me. My legs, glutes and knees were stressed the most, and it felt good to relax and paddle within the still but wind riffled confines of the harbor. Andy and I did a couple laps just to work on paddling technique and enjoy the boards in a calm setting.
We were both really excited though and looking forward to more of these planned adventures in the future. The more I get into this racing/downwind experience, the more people I'm meeting who want to share it. A regular community is forming all around us. Or perhaps I should say that I am becoming more aware of this community of ocean paddlers in our midst. New beginnings are always such stokers!