Winter is coming … and it’s still 80 degrees here in Florida. While it only gets chilly for about a week, maybe two a year; if you’re into water sports – I’m going to go out on a limb and say you are – you’ll also notice it can get windy during a Florida winter. In this post, we’ll explore what winter wind means for us as paddle boarders on the Treasure Coast of Florida and some tips to work with and around it.
I really should mention this first; Paddles By The Sea will generally not rent paddle boards or kayaks if it’s too windy. Some wind directions are better than others but, generally, if it’s anything over 15 mph we cancel tours and rentals. It’s not worth sending most people out to struggle. We want you to have a memorable experience, love it, come back again, tell all your friends and get hooked. Gusty conditions aren’t always memorable in a good way. That being said, if you’ve been hoping to try a downwinder (which we discuss below) reach out and we can make those arrangements.
Reading the wind is your first step in making decisions. There are several ways to tell what direction the wind is blowing, and simply looking outside will give you lots of clues. Watching the water, trees, bushes, even the direction boats are angled while moored is a great way to tell.-Trees and greenery hint at wind strength. It takes a good bit of force to get those trees waving, so rustling leaves and creaking branches can indicate stronger winds and help you notice big gusts.
-Ripples on the water’s surface will flow in the wind’s direction. If the water is glassy next to some mangroves and choppy next to others, that’s a sure sign of direction too. I’m always telling my SUP (stand up paddle board) students to get in the glassy areas; staying in those spots makes life so much easier.
-Flags are a great directional giveaway. We are really lucky to have a giant American flag in sight of the Paddles By The Sea rental dock in Vero Beach. The flag at Memorial Island is not only a great way to figure out the direction but also the speed. If that big ole flag is standing straight out and whipping around, it’s windy out. Be careful.
-Don’t rely on forecast alone. Weather apps are not to be trusted; they help, but try not to be completely reliant on them. I use two apps to check for wind alone, but it’s rare they say the same thing. One is always on the high side, one is always on the low side, and sometimes they are both wrong. Going through the hourly forecast section usually gives the most useful information. Look to see if the wind will be changing direction or speed on your paddle. It’s never fun to paddle up wind both ways.
Using a combination of forecasting and old fashioned thumb licking can give you wind strength and direction information. Keep those elements in mind so you know what you’re in for on a breezy winter day.
Windy days are not all bad. Some of the most memorable days on a SUP are windy ones. Who doesn’t love a free ride with the wind at your back? As a rule, you should always go into the wind first (with the exception of a down winder run; we’ll talk about that next). All too often, people will go the path of least resistance, get tired and struggle to get back. There are two key points to ensure your plans carefully laid aren’t a total bust.
-Know your location. Use the wind and local landscape to your benefit. We do tours all over the Treasure Coast, even some in Palm Beach County. It’s important to know your location for safety reasons, but it can also ensure you don’t miss the chance to explore because your usual track is unavailable.
-Stay flexible. In most cases, I wait to arrive on site to come up with a route. All tour sites have alternative routes for that reason. I like to call it “hiding from the wind”; don’t let it catch you and make you work hard on your leisure cruise.
The mix of proper planning and flexibility can turn a windy day into an opportunity to shake up your usual routine.
Ah, down winders. A downwinder is a paddle when you launch from one spot in the direction of the wind and let the wind and waves push you along until you land at another location further downwind. It is similar to surfing in the way you catch the waves and glide between swells. These are super fun and great ways to enjoy a day that is usually too windy to paddle safely; they do require their own safety preparations though, and aren’t a great option for novice paddlers.
-Never downwind alone. At the very least, let people know where and when you’ll be leaving from and arriving to. Don’t forget to work out a ride back after.
-Wear a PFD (personal flotation device). Unlike flat water touring where it is okay to leave your vest on your board, you should always wear your PFD on a downwinder. I recommend an inflatable vest that you wear around you waist so it is more comfortable and allows you to move freely.
-Leashes save lives! Always, always wear a leash. You should be wearing one even on calm days as it is your first line of defense, but even more so on downwinder days. If you fall, your board will continue on without you. I don’t care if you’re an Olympic swimmer; you’re not likely to catch a runaway board. If you don’t believe me, check out the YouTube videos.
Now that it’s a safe event, enjoy the glides between chop and have fun on your downwinder.
The trickiest part about paddling is knowing your surroundings and being observant of conditions. Even if you do all the right things, Florida weather can still get you. It’s when things don’t go according to plan that having a buddy, communication (cell phone in a dry bag) and all the above safety items really come in handy. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to your local outfitter or board shop. We love talking about paddle boarding and want to make sure you have a good time while paddling.
Wind is an unavoidable element no matter where you are, but it doesn’t mean you need to hang up your paddle to wait it out. With the tips above you can make the determination if you should venture out and what options are available when you do. Now get out there and GO EXPLORE!