SUP Downwinding Checklist: Catching Bumps and Staying Safe

SUP Downwinding Checklist – What You’ll Need to Start

What is Downwinding?

Downwinding is a specialized form a paddling that can be done on a sup, prone paddle board, or in an outrigger canoe or surf ski.  And it might be some of the most fun you can have on the water!

The idea is that you use the wind and the swells it generates to essentially propel you and your water craft. You learn how to catch the smaller swells – sometimes called runners or bumps – to catch the bigger ones and you catch as many of them as you can one after another to keep the momentum going.  The end result kind of resembles a stone skipping on the top of the the water.

While a “downwind” run can be done anywhere to some extent, it usually takes big wind and lots of moving water to create the conditions that make it exhilarating. The Hawaiian island of Maui is known for its downwinding runs and the unique conditions in the Columbia River Gorge also make Hood River, OR a downwinding Mecca. Winds in both places generally need to be blowing in excess of 15-20 mph to generate conditions conducive to a great run.

The Maliko Gulch – the start of Maui’s epic downwind run.


Conditions that make downwinding an advanced paddling discipline include:

  • High winds
  • Large swells
  • Fast-moving current
  • Distance from shore or help
  • Access to the shoreline

Skill Prerequisites

  • Experience paddling in varied conditions
  • Ocean paddling experience
  • Water reading
  • Strength (legs, shoulders, core)
  • Mental Strength



Small downwind runs can be done on just about any kind of board, but in the bigger conditions and in the open ocean, it really helps to have larger board and one designed for downwinding.

Downwinding boards generally have more nose rocker – which means the nose of the board is  more upturned. They also have more volume – or are thicker.  Paddlers in the Gorge or in Hawaii will use a board that is at least 14 feel long. Downwinding boards used on Maui’s Maliko Run will often have a rudder that is controlled with the paddler’s foot to assist in steering.


Leashes are always important no matter what you are paddling, but especially so in downwinding.  Check that the leash is in good shape – no dry rot, no nicks or cuts.  Many downwind paddlers will use two leash strings to guard against failure.  Some even use two leashes on the really big, epic days.

Staying connected to your board or boat in heavy conditions far from shore is imperative.

Other Gear

Other Considerations

If you want to try downwinding in Hawaii or Hood River, here’s what you can do before you go:

  • Read as much as you can about it.
  • Watch videos by the leading paddlers in the discipline like Paddle Monster’s Coach Travis Grant, Jeremy Riggs, Suzie Cooney, Andrea Moller and Fiona Wilde.
  • Learn to sup surf: that will help you understand how water moves and will help you dial in your footwork and board feet steering. Once you catch a wave, the feel is very similar to downwinding.
  • Paddle in challenging conditions.
  • Get in shape! Check out Suzie Cooney’s book and website for downwind specific strength work you can do.

Go with a Guide – the Best Way to Glide!

Hood River downwind guide Joel Yang explaining the fine art of bump catching before a Viento Run.

Big conditions deserve big respect. Even if you consider yourself an accomplished paddler, hook up with some local knowledge. Even if you think you have the skills, get at least one guided session in before you do your first Maliko on Maui or Viento on in the Gorge.  Working with an expert coach/guide like Jeremy Riggs on Maui or Joel Yang in Hood River will make you a better paddler, keep you safe, and ensure you have fun. Check the ego, open up your mind and take a lesson or two.