HOW TO DOWNWIND

(AND WHAT TO DO ON THE WAY!)

HOW TO DOWNWIND

(AND WHAT TO DO ON THE WAY!)

Floating high above the water, making effortlessly long glides propelled by the power of a small wind swell with complete freedom of movement: these are just a few of the reasons you'll love downwinding with a wing! Slingshot gear tester, pro kiter and wingsurfer, Brandon Scheid, is here to develop your desire to downwind!

WORDS: Brandon Scheid / PHOTOS: Eric Duran CLIPS: Brandon, Wyatt Miller and Sensi Graves / EDITS: Wing Surf World

One of the biggest advantages that winging has over windsurfing and kitesurfing is the freedom to surf/ride rolling swell without restriction on your movement. The absolute best way to experience this for yourself is to take your wing on a downwinder. While negotiating the journey you'll have ample space to work on tacks, gybes, turns, pumps and foil freeflying. You can also reduce the arm burn of trying to stay upwind. Learning to ride the foil in swell while using the wing in neutral/freefly (holding nose handle) is key to making the most of the sport of winging. So, let's go over some tips and tricks to help you become a downwind wing master.

GOOD REASONS TO DO A DOWNWINDER

  • Great practice for your turns
  • Chance to work on pumping and connecting rollers
  • Work on riding the foil without wing power, learning to balance and fly your foil set-up
  • Less intensive on arms
  • More fun

BRANDON'S DOWNWIND FLOW VIDEO!

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RIGHT / WRONG GEAR?

Being on the right gear for the conditions is key. You’ll want to have enough volume under your feet and enough power in the wing to easily be able to get going time and again. This will take away the worry of getting stranded while on your downwinder and give you the confidence to try new things.

BOARD AND FOIL

Additionally, you are going to want a foil that you feel stable and comfortable on at cruising speed. The aim is to spend a lot of time riding the foil without using the pull of the wing to balance against. An easy to ride/roll stable foil that lifts at low speed can help quickly increase your progression rate at the beginning of your journey.

As you begin to get comfortable in windier and bigger conditions, you will want to start transitioning to lower volume boards and higher-aspect, speedier foils. These will allow you to keep up with the increased speed of the swell, gain more efficiency and distance out of your glides and you'll also gain more rail-to-rail performance in your carving turns without feeling like you're working really hard just to control your foil.

Longer masts will let you lay the foil over more without breaching = more manoeuvrability and harder carving, but you must watch out for shallow areas. Footstraps can give you confidence and security, but only if you're already used to them. They also restrict foot movement, especially when tapping into swell and needing to make position / pitch control adjustments. Basically, go with what you're used to and most comfortable with.

WING

Any wing will work but generally downwinders are more fun when it's windy and with plenty of swells, so be prepared for a smaller wing / more powered-up style of riding.

A board leash is a must in strong conditions, while another consideration could be a harness and harness line to help you rest on long reaches during long downwinders.

BEFORE STARTING YOUR ADVENTURE...

Finding a good location for a downwinder can seem pretty straight forward, however, there are a few things to consider before setting off.

First: where is your starting point and beyond there, what are your landing options? It is a good idea to have a few different landing options that you could come in at in case of physical injury, a sudden change in conditions, or gear malfunction.

Second: do some research. Water hazards (reef, nets, piers, dams etc), beach area restrictions (swimming zones or private beaches) or any coastline topography that could effect the wind (sharp coastline changes, bays, hills, etc.).

If you want to be riding actual waves, make sure there's enough depth for your mast height.

Third: Go with a buddy. You will have extra safety and accountability, more fun because it's always more fun riding with friends and it's a lot easier to organise vehicles at both ends of the downwind run.

Fourth: Don't go whale watching. Only go out as far as you can paddle / swim in.

Five: Enjoy more wind. Downwinders are possible in any winds you can get foiling in, but generally stronger winds make it easier to turn downwind and run with the wind and rolling swell.

BEFORE STARTING YOUR ADVENTURE...

Finding a good location for a downwinder can seem pretty straight forward, however, there are a few things to consider before setting off.

First: where is your starting point and beyond there, what are your landing options? It is a good idea to have a few different landing options that you could come in at in case of physical injury, a sudden change in conditions, or gear malfunction.

Second: do some research. Water hazards (reef, nets, piers, dams etc), beach area restrictions (swimming zones or private beaches) or any coastline topography that could effect the wind (sharp coastline changes, bays, hills, etc.). If you want to be riding actual waves, make sure there's enough depth for your mast height.

Third: Go with a buddy. You will have extra safety and accountability, more fun because it's always more fun riding with friends and it's a lot easier to organise vehicles at both ends of the downwind run.

Fourth: Don't go whale watching. Only go out as far as you can paddle / swim in.

Five: Enjoy more wind. Downwinders are possible in any winds you can get foiling in, but generally stronger winds make it easier to turn downwind and run with the wind and rolling swell.

VIDEO: HEAR BRANDON'S COMMENTARY WHILE FREEFLYING DOWNWIND

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SKILLS TO HAVE IN YOUR POCKET

It’s a good idea to have a few skills mastered before you set off which will give you confidence and help you get the most out of the downwind run. Some skills can be practiced on the beach with your wing, some will require some on-water time to master.

You may be using the downwinder to learn to wingsurf. If that's the case, make sure you only go out in conditions you're comfortable in wind and water-wise. Here's a list of beginner skills you should be proficient at before you go:

Efficient waterstarts in heavy chop

Heading into deeper water or windier conditions brings about a more undulating surface, so ideally get comfortable with waterstarting while being jostled by choppy water.

Turn to toeside, ride toeside, then turn back to heelside

This is the foundation for linking carves and, for me, what winging is all about.

Carrying / swimming your foil out through shallow water

It may sound unnecessary, but if you break down or are riding somewhere with access issues, you need to be able to get in and out of the water.

Make the hand switch to nose handle and back (freefly mode)

Some small pumps used to maintain foil lift / speed

Pumping the wing for power when needed

HUNTING FOR SWELLS

Jeffrey Spencer, Maui builder Photo: Luffing Wave Drone

HUNTING FOR SWELLS

Jeffrey Spencer, Maui builder Photo: Luffing Wave Drone

A downwinder is the perfect time to practice working on your swell riding skills. Learn to identify which swells are worthwhile and then what to do with the swell once you've caught it.

I find that the second 'wave' in the windswell will often be the better of the set. The first one clears the chop and allows the next swell to draw more water into the face.

Your next move is to turn downwind, either toeside or heelside. You should be able to drop your back hand off the wing at the same time; depowering the wing. If the swell is really lined up nicely and there's chance of a long, extended ride, I'd suggest you move your back hand to the nose handle, which engages freefly mode and lets you have the most unrestricted movement on the swell.

Make sure to switch hands on the nose handle as you turn to keep the wing flying behind you, rather than hindering your ride at your side.

If the swell seems modest and lacks energy, I suggests leaving your front hand on the front strut handle rather than grabbing the nose handle. This will still depower the wing and give you a ton of freedom of movement, but will save a hand transfer when you quickly need to power the wing up again.

Once you’ve locked into a swell or section maintain your gliding speed by looking for steeper sections or pumping the foil for lift.

As the swell stands up you need to be prepared to put some weight on your front foot / step forward with your back foot to control the extra lift generated by the wave energy. Also start travelling more across the wind to make sure your foil doesn’t breach on the steeper wave face.

These faces should give you lots of speed and you should use that speed to look for your next bump / steep section.

The next section could be behind you, so keep your head on a swivel and more options will begin to open up to you. Additonally, you want to use that speed to project downwind. The swell is moving downwind, and if you spend too much time traveling across the wind the swell will outrun you and you will keep needing to generate speed rather than simply gliding. That’s the best part about winging, though – just grab your strut handles, power your wing back up and speed off in pursuit of your next bump!

When aggressively pumping, turning and practicing gybes be conscious how you fall. Firstly, you want to ensure you fall clear the foil to avoid any bodily harm. Secondly, make sure your wing also stays clear of the foil parts. The combination of sharp carbon wings and delicate canopy material can quickly lead to long swims with broken gear.

The key is to not over muscle things. If you’re going to fall, accept your fate and fall with grace. Think of it as a great opportunity to make your next waterstart even more efficient!

On your first downwinder, I wouldn’t worry too much about tacking and gybing. Work on connecting toeside and heelside turns in big sweeping S carves. This is really fun, but also moves you downwind and helps you focus on engaging with the swell energy.

Switching your feet / stance can be helpful to reduce leg fatigue, but otherwise doesn’t need to be the focus of your skills.

MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR DOWNWINDER

Here's a list of all the things to prepare for before a downwinder, or work on while on one:

  • Starting your first gybes and understanding when they are useful
  • Linking together rolling swells
  • Using extra speed to your advantage
  • Learning to balance in neutral power position
  • What to do with the wing when on swell
  • Picking the right bump
  • Good foot positioning – it changes
  • How to fall at high speeds / pushing into turns
  • Controlling the foil as you get lift and speed from the swell
  • Watch for over-foiling
  • Steep sections require more lateral travel (across wind)
  • Linking turns and carving S turns
  • Watch for wingtip breach
  • Feeling when to power back up / pick up the wing
  • Techniques for staying on the wave
  • How to deal with the burn; leg and arm

I hope you can use this guide as a resource to help get you out on the water and enjoying the best part of wingsurfing. Go find a friend, line up a good downwind run, grab your favourite wing gear and head off on your downwind glide filled adventure!

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