People claim they can foresee the emergence of a new trend, but in reality, it’s already here. In 2024, we will undoubtedly witness a further surge in downwinding. Downwinding’s popularity has been on the rise since foils became more accessible and easier higher performance. More individuals have ventured farther from their launch sites than ever before in any other wind-based sport, aside from sailing. Whether people are winging up and downwind, pump foiling, or prone foiling during downwinders, their focus has expanded beyond their local beaches. They are now scouting areas both upwind and downwind of their usual spots, exploring new locations with fresh perspectives.

In this article, we will delve into various forms of downwinding and discuss the equipment that is suitable and available for this thrilling activity. Additionally, we will address some safety considerations that should not be overlooked.

Downwind Overview

There are several options for enjoying the excitement of downwinding, with purists sticking to using a paddle and prone (surf) foiling. However, for the majority, wingfoiling serves as the entry point into the world of downwinding.

Wingfoiling is perhaps the easiest of all foiling activities, making it a safe assumption that most people will embark on their first downwinder through this method – or should we say, downWINGder. Whether they choose to wing upwind and then ride the swell back to their original starting point or opt for the more logistical approach of arranging transport for the return trip, both routes offer fantastic sessions and an abundance of fun with “endless glides” on rolling swell. Furthermore, wingfoiling serves as an excellent way to acquire the skills necessary for downwinding in the more demanding and newer disciplines of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) and prone downwinding.

For many, paddleboard downwinding is the preferred choice, as it seems safer and more manageable to return to dry land with a high-volume board and paddle compared to a smaller-volume prone foil board. However, it’s worth noting that both paths require dedication and practice before reaching proficiency, especially when compared to the relative ease of wingfoiling. To initiate SUP downwinding, you’ll need to consider logistics, such as drop-offs, walking, or winging upwind. Once you’re upwind of your desired finish line, it’s time to point your board downwind and start paddling.

Prone foil downwinding becomes more accessible if you are already committed to prone foiling in waves. For most beginners, the initial sessions will involve linking waves together as you travel along the shoreline, surfing on the way in and pumping out to catch the next waves. Some spots may even offer a wave to paddle into, from which you can transition to pumping out into the rolling swell. Confidence in your skills and your ability to paddle back in if you happen to come off the foil becomes crucial when you’re out in the rolling swell. It’s worth mentioning that a growing trend in prone foil boards involves making them longer and thinner, which makes paddling into rolling swell or weaker waves more achievable.

In all three cases once you are up it is a similar skill set in that you are trying to ride the rolling swells and link them together to keep the ride going for as long as possible. Foil size and shape is going to have a big influence over your speed and ability to glide between bumps. Swell size and speed will change so having the ability to ride your chosen foil at both the top end and the lower end is a good skill to have.

Downwind Kit

Foils – For all downwinding you are going to want something glidey, ideally with a low stall speed. What that looks like is going to vary on what brand you are currently riding. For those about to purchase a downwind foil then its a higher aspect foil with an aspect ratio of at least 7. The surface area size is going to vary depending on what discipline your doing and what your most common conditions are. Going a bit bigger than necessary is going to be easier than going too small as a bigger foil will be easier to pump and easier to get back on the foil but the sacrifice is the width as a bigger high aspect foil’s wing span directly effect manoeuvrability but glide is what will keep you going. Realistically you would want something between 1500cm² and below. Advanced wingfoilers using small foils getting into either SUP or prone downwinding may need to get something that will lift a lot earlier.

Top Tip – Do not wait for the windiest or biggest swell forecasts to go and give it your first goes. Your bigger foil that’s easier to get foiling on will no be faster enough and this will result in you coming off the foil more which means more attempts to get up foiling which is the most energy draining part.

Axis ART Pro is a downwind foil weapon.

Boards – Most brands now have a downwind paddle board in their range and these boards are sized between 6-8ft long and 19-21 inches wide. Designed to be streamlined through the water to make it easier to build board speed up from zero to a foiling speed. Prone foilers are also going a little longer and thinner in board design to make paddling easier, with the world’s elite being able to paddle into rolling ocean swells instead of waves breaking near a beach. Wingfoilers are getting the bonus that these long thin boards that are great for downwinding also are much easier to get going in light winds as they build speed much easier than the shorter squarer wing boards and reduces the need for the biggest of wings in most cases.

Crossover Boards – Many people got into wingfoiling saying they like that it less kit. A downwind board isn’t a small bit of kit and not a piece of kit you will want to ride in all conditions so for most it will be an extra piece of kit. Crossover boards are being pitched by brands as light wind wing boards. And as the name suggestions they sit in the middle ground of sizes between a wing board and downwind board. They are useable for wingfoiling, sup foiling (waves or down-winding) and some of the smaller models will also work for prone foiling.

AK Nomad crossover foil board

Paddles – Your obviously going to need a paddle and there are so many paddle out there that it can get confusing and if you didn’t know there is more to paddles than meets the eyes. You need the right length (adjustable is good) but you also need it to be strong and the blade size should be on the bigger side of things (around the 90 – 115 square inches).

Safety is of paramount importance when you venture further out into the water, and it’s crucial to be prepared for any unexpected situations. Even when you’re part of a group, you might find yourselves traveling at different speeds and getting up on your foils at different times, making it challenging to stay close together (although it’s somewhat easier when winging). Here are some essential safety guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t venture further out than you can swim back. This rule is your first line of defense. It’s essential to ensure you have the swimming ability to return to shore if something goes wrong.
  2. Carry a mobile phone or a watch with mobile data capabilities. Not only can you use it to track your session and review data later, but it can also be a lifeline in an emergency. You can share your live session with someone on land and call for help if needed. To protect your phone, invest in a waterproof phone case so you can securely keep it in your wetsuit.
  3. Use a reliable leash. A decent leash is essential to prevent a potential disaster. Your board can serve as a flotation device in a worst-case scenario, so make sure your leash is suitable for the conditions you’ll be facing.
  4. Opt for high-visibility attire. Wearing a bright rash vest and a hat can significantly enhance your visibility on the water. This makes it easier for others to spot you, increasing safety.
  5. Plan your session carefully. Proper planning is key to a successful and safe experience. Familiarize yourself with the entrance and exit points in the specific conditions you intend to ride. Pay attention to the tide—whether it’s coming in or going out—and, more importantly, consider its direction when you’ll be riding. A tide working against you can slow you down but may increase water flow over the foil, making it easier to get up. Conversely, if the tide is with you, it can assist your progress. Monitor the wind conditions as well, noting whether it’s stable, decreasing, or increasing, and whether it will push you in your desired direction.

By following these safety guidelines and being well-prepared, you can enjoy your foiling adventures with confidence and minimize the risks associated with venturing further out into the water.

Embarking on your downwind journey is an exciting endeavor, but it’s essential to start with smaller steps to build a strong foundation. It’s astonishing how even minimal swell can provide a thrilling ride on a small foil, so it’s crucial to practice during days with less-than-ideal conditions. Mastering the ability to link these smaller bumps together on challenging days will pay off when you encounter excellent conditions. Additionally, honing your foil-pumping skills is another valuable asset, so check out our guide on how to and improving your pump foil skills here.

When it comes to the necessary equipment, every reputable brand offers options suitable for downwinding. If you find yourself struggling to determine the best fit for your needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or concerns. We’re here to assist you in making the right choice for your downwind adventures.

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