Patience, Grasshopper. It took the wind a while to arrive in 2018, but when it finally, spending almost and entire month downwinding in the Gorge taught me A LOT. My reason for my personal extended downwind training "camp" was due to realizing there were some holes in my "game" and the biggest hole for me last year was downwind. I had never been horrible at it, but I wanted to be great at it. Furthermore, I didn't want it to be the reason I fell behind in a race with varied conditions, EVER.
The top 4 things I learned while downwinding... that may help you out one day:
1. Know when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em When to NOT paddle is just as important as when to paddle. There's no need to paddle your ass off the entire time and get tired. Someone else will inevitably sit there and watch you hammer while they wait for the next bump, they'll take a few hard strokes, and they'll be in - gliding past you. Wait for a small bump, and catch it. Use the energy from the smaller bump plus some more of your energy (that you haven't used up over-paddling) to catch an even bigger bump. This starts the "linking bumps" process. You rarely jump in on the biggest wave of the day, you just aren't going that fast. When you've lost a bump, or are falling off the back. Don't fight it. Good news: another one is right behind it. Although, the best downwind paddlers have insane water-reading skills and can follow a bump for miles, chances are you'll fall back a few times. This is OK, and you'll just let that one go and not tire yourself out. Relax off the back and charge hard to catch the next one. When you're on the bumps stay upright with brace strokes and maintain your speed with quick strokes (point 2). 2. Lighten up! Fast, light, tappy-tap strokes are superior to heavy, deep, power strokes. In downwind, you'll want to switch to that "higher gear" like a bicycle. Higher turnover with decent pressure, but very up front. Its a sprint style stroke where you're utilizing the catch over and over. Some would describe it as having "pop" others would say "springy." However you like to describe it, its a quick stroke, but with the wind at your back and a bump lifting your tail, the drag/resistance of your board will be relatively low - you'll be shocked at how fast you can get your blade moving under such little resistance. This is going to be fun for the neurological development of your fast twitch fibers :-D Be sure to revisit point 1 and glide along on some bumps to give your brain and body a break! 3. Go with the Flow Sometimes you want to go left, and the wind and the board say go RIGHT. Sometimes its just best to let it be and correct your heading on the next bump. The smoother your board walking skills, the easier steering becomes. In lieu of lightness-of-foot, you'll want to just practice patience. If you force the board right and its already set a course to go left and you're not in the right position you'll definitely go right... without the board. Try to set your course when catching a bump, then when walking around becomes easier, you'll make your way to the back of your board. Try to get your back foot close to the location of your fin, this is where you gain control over steering, and can weight your rails to gently steer down the lines. 4. You look up, you stay up. You look down, you fall down. Keep your eyes ahead of you, you'll want to see the bump, and you're really not concerned with the one you're on. Look out and see the bump running away, maybe left, maybe right. Do your best to pounce and paddle after that bump. It won't happen if you're looking at the nose of your board. All that will happen if you keep looking at your board is falling down.
First up: Gratuitous windy paddling in the outrigger canoe
Here's some not windy footage of the six man race recap and some sternwheeler surfing, its technically the first video.. but it isn't as interesting to me :-)