Understanding Wind Direction for Stand Up Paddleboarding

Posted date: 10-September-2022

Wind can be the Jekyll and Hyde of your paddling adventures. Knowing its direction and strength can be the making of a great session or its ruination!

You may have heard more experienced paddlers using the terms Offshore, Onshore, Cross shore etc - these are all descriptions that describe where the wind is coming from.

Offshore wind: Wind that blow from the land to the ocean (out to sea)
Onshore wind: wind that blows from the ocean to the land (i.e., to the shore/coast/beach)
Cross shore wind: wind that blows sideways (parallel) to the shore.

When you are starting out, you should be cautious going out in winds that are too strong for your ability, or that are blowing in the “wrong direction” for your planned route. You should only paddle in winds up to 12 knots (walking speed is 4 knots). Ideally for beginner paddlers, paddling without an instructor should always be paddling in minimal wind conditions – 4 knots is ideal.

As you gain more experience, you will start to learn what your thresholds are. If you set out on a paddle and the wind is at your back (meaning the wind is blowing on your back pushing you along), it is easy to get blown away from shore quickly.

A common mistake (especially for beginners) is being blown too far away from shore because you cannot gauge how tough the paddle back is going to be. Weather and water is very dynamic and conditions, particularly on exposed waters / ocean, can change very quickly and dramatically. 

Pay attention to these factors and you will be better prepared.

Where possible you want to start off heading into the wind - that means the wind is blowing on you.   The paddle will be harder because you are going against the wind, but on the return, the wind will be behind you, meaning it will be a lot easier to paddle, especially as you may already be a bit tired.

Always check the wind forecasts to know if the wind direction is supposed to stay constant or if there is an anticipated shift in direction while you should be out paddling. Ideal conditions for paddling are light winds and ones that are onshore. Worst case scenario is that the wind will blow you back to shore.

The winds we need to be most cautious with are Offshore winds; these will blow us away from the shore and make paddling back difficult (as you are going against the wind to paddle back to shore).

Be cognisant of your abilities and energy level as you gain experience. 

If you paddle the same spots often, you will learn some behaviours of the wind relative to the surrounding land. But many times, you are checking out new spots and you don’t have the luxury of all of this background knowledge. Always check weather forecasts, ask the locals and sit on the shore for a bit to study conditions.

Stay aware of how the conditions are changing throughout your paddle. The weather is dynamic and the water is also dynamic, so you have these two forces doing their own thing and you are at their mercy. Stay close to the shore at all times. 


The ASI SUP Wise Intensiv course provides detailed information in relation to weather and wind conditions. Available online
 

Weather forecasts

Ref: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/forecast

How to read wind forecasts and what does it mean? Wind forecasts are readily available; type into the internet weather forecasts, and you usually get wind information. Each location is different - it depends on which way the location faces and if there are any landforms that block the wind. 

Scenario 1

This weather forecasts show a hot day, 30C

Wind direction is changing throughout the day from ESE (East South East) to ENE, N,  NNW and more.

Wind speed ranges from 3 knots to 6 knots (miles per hour) but there are gusts from 7 to 10 knots.

Wind strength is not very strong, which makes for nice paddling conditions.  

This location is an ocean.  

Winds from the South are onshore winds. You will be blown back onto shore.

Winds from East are offshore winds. You will be blown out to sea.
 

 

Scenario 2

A few days on and the weather temperature cools.

The winds are now mostly from the north.   

Wind at this location is blowing offshore. Winds can blow you out to sea.

The wind is much stronger, 9 to 14 knots, with gusts of 14- 20 knots. 

It will be more difficult to paddle against the wind. 

ASI recommends no more than 10 knots for beginner paddlers at ocean locations, but ideally you should be with an experienced instructor or paddler.
 

If you go paddling, you need to be aware of wind and make sure you stay very close to shore at all times. Make sure you have awareness and safety above all else.

 

 

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