Like any sport, when you begin to specialise in a particular discipline you will certainly find yourself being more kit specific but this is all personal so let’s look at what downwind board works in UK conditions.
It is important to consider a few things before you spend your money on a board so you can get more out of your time on the water.
- How often do you paddle?
- Do you downwind paddle in a harbour/protected water or are you open sea only that gets rougher and often confused water?
- Your weight makes a big difference in board choice?
- Construction and board weight?
- Board length?
- Board shape?
- Custom or stock downwind board?
How often do you paddle?
If you are starting to consider downwind board for downwind paddling then you have already reached a level of competence that will see you capable of handling choppier conditions. Riding bumps doesn’t specifically need a true downwind board that is more of a long surfboard as you can use a raceboard, but often they are more tippy so bear this in mind when considering. Don’t test a board in flat water as this is a false indicator so anything you are trying needs to be done in rough water to see how it helps you out.
Do you downwind paddle in a harbour/protected water or are you open sea only that gets rougher and often confused water?
We are lucky in Sussex as we have Chichester Harbour that has so many direction options for some pretty tasty downwind paddling. Choosing a downwind board to use in these conditions is quite easy as the water never gets too big or confused and everything lines up nicely. An openwater raceboard with a soft nose will be good here as it will have good speed and the nose keeps it manouverable.
Open water can be a lot more tricky and conditions change quickly so be aware of this and don’t go too narrow with your downwind board as that can be a real hinderance if it gets messed up.
A true downwind board offers great stability with something like the M14 as it is slightly wider but also has sharp rails that lock the board down so it doesn’t roll about too much. The Rail has a V in the underside that increases the speed but also gives a slight tippy feel. Something like a raceboard is also good but again, consider going up a width to account for the rougher and changing conditions.
Your weight makes a big difference in board choice?
Rider weight doesn’t make too much difference until you start getting to the 100kg mark. Anyone above that need too make sure the baord they choose has a higher volume and possibly width to account for their size.
Construction and board weight?
A strong board is a must as you will be blown about and possibly bump it during transporting from car to water with all that wind.
If you can afford it then carbon gives a lovely responsive ride. Certainly the SiC Bullet downwind board in carbon is very rigid and you can feel every pulse of power from the bump to rider. The Jimmy Lewis Rail in carbon is a similar feel and feels alive and responsive. If you go for a glass construction then it may be more software underfoot, but this isn’t to say the board won’t be fast. Personally carbon is my preferred construction material.
14 or 12’6 is down to the preferred size of the paddler. Your own bodyweight will be a big factor here. Certainly if you’re 90kg+ maybe a 12’6 is too small as it will drag so 14 will deliver more glide and float.
We also talk about the chop/bump length and being able to drop into a bump and not hit the wave in front. This is always going to vary as you can ride over a shoal and find the nice open waves are now super short and sharp so don’t worry too much in relation to board length and this.
I’m sticking to 14ft as I weigh 93kg and need that volume to carry me and deliver the glide.
Do we go all rounder, race or classsic downwind board surf shape. Again it is down to you and your budget.
A raceboard with a non piercing bow is certainly quick in more marginal conditions. A classic downwind shape like the M14 or Rail will be fun when things get more breezy and will hold their own as the runs start to become more joined up so speed is no longer your issue. An all rounder with a maybe a piercing bow or flat rounded nose will be ok in light winds but as you start to get more serious the bow itself will become pain and the board won’t carry speed so well.
Personally I love my classic downwind shape. I don’t wanna prove who is fastest and just love the ride I get from a long surfboard.
Custom or stock downwind board?
Is it necessary to get a board made or will there be something out there to suit you? Well there’s always going to be someone who wants something made and that is great if you really know what you’re after. Saying that there are so many boards capable of delivering a really good downwind experience that it seems like a bit of a novelty really. You’re not going to get any better performance and I don’t think there is going to be a real price advantage to getting something made.
Something like SiC, Naish and Jimmy Lewis all offer proven downwind shapes. Yes, downwind boards are expensive hence why you need to try them, but once you’ve got it, it should last for years. Transport it in a bag and keep it in good condition if you want to make sure you have years of fun for your money.