It was a very windy day and Charlie Head and Brad Symington had invited me to join them on their paddle from Selsey to Shoreham. Unfortunately, due to iPhone OS6 failures they couldn’t set off as they wanted to plot the route on GPS so the paddle was postponed, but by the time this decision was made I had already had a Red Bull, 2 bananas, a flapjack and half a Mars bar so I was buzzing.
Desparate to go out and burn off all that energy I drove to Hayling Island to the Inn on the Beach. The wind had dropped off a fair bit and so had the swell, but it was a nice afternoon so worth a paddle back to Bracklesham.
I made a quick phone call to Steve and Mandy West to see if they wanted to join me. A resounding yes came back so i waited around for them to arrive. The wind had dropped a little more by the time they arrived but it was nice so we set off.
For those of you that don’t know the area, the perfect wind to get real assistance downwind would be a westerly but this was more southwest so we would need to be paddling left sided for most of the way. The distance as the crow flies is probably only about 7 miles but with the differing sea states it would prove to be quite tricky as we were side on to fairly big waves for a lot of the way.
Anyway, I have marked out our route on the picture above and labelled it so I can tell you what we experienced at each place.
Let me start at the launch site: You can see the white dot which is Inn on the Beach and our launch spot. To the left is a huge sand bar that stops and waves from pumping through hence why we had a smooth launch spot even though we had wind. From the launch spot we are heading left along the coastline away from the sandbar.
- We take of at Inn on the Beach in flat water. You can see on the map there is a sand bar that protects the shoreline from swell. This is a superb location for learning to paddle or just play around.
- Just getting into our stride and Steve has already opened up a good lead. I put that down to his technique. That’s one thing I have learned about paddling, “experience and technique count massively”. Anyway I digress, the water gets more bumpy as we leave the shallower water and start to get more wind blown chop that is coming from different directions.
- As the tide had been going out for about 4 hours we stopped on the mid channel sand bar that gave me a moment to catch my breath and study where we were going next. Steve has a lot of experience with open water paddling and it is too easy to forget how dangerous the sea can be, especially with currents you can encounter in areas like this.
- It was decided to head for the wreck of which there are two. The one furthest out to sea is basically a concrete structure used during the war for target practice whilst the other is a real vessel. I decided to head out further than Steve and Mandy so I could grab a couple of rides back in as the waves looked clean. What I hadn’t got right was how big the waves were. As I got within a couple of hundred metres of the wreck and cleared the channel I was met by waves jacking upto about 6ft, clean faces coming from different directions. I managed to catch a couple in their smaller state, but when they really pitched up I wasn’t quick enough to get back on the board and the rail tripped. Luckily this brought me in far enough to catch some of the smaller waves and I enjoyed that true downwind feeling.Interestingly, when you are out in this part of the channel you can stand up on the sand bars, but it does make for some weird currents so be aware.
- We are now paddling full on past Cakeham and to our right is a sand bar that is taking the immediate swell and jacking up some small waves. If the tide were higher we wouldn’t have had that protection.The water is now getting a lot rougher as we pass Joliffe with some fair sized side on waves coming in. I decided to head out a bit here as the side on thing is grating on my nerves so I paddle out past the bar.We are now just off East Wittering and the water has got even rougher. Looking at it from a map you can see that you have no protection from the Isle of Wight at this point and the outgoing tide is forcing all that water out and jacking up the swell that had previously been rolling.
- The finish is in sight now with the car park at Bracklesham and the big white block of flats being our main landmarks. The waves have increased in height and light is dimming so we timed it just right.Last run in and I grab a wave having seen Steve have a smooth ride in. I am paddling like the clappers and get picked up by a pretty steep face. Step back and get into surf stance. These 14ft boards are amazing but you gotta be quick to get that nose up and rails working for you. I ride it for a while and as it breaks the rail catches, I’m down.
Steve walks into the shorebreak and has a huge grin on his face. Well done man, good paddle. I am totally stoked that we have had such a great ride in less than perfect conditions.
Mandy joins us just minutes later. Everyone is safe and happy to be on land. What a ride.
If you are interested in trying your hand at downwind paddling then give us a ring or drop us an email. It is an amazing side to the sport that you need to experience. We regularly run training days for people looking to try this amazing side to the sport.