Ticket to Ride, The Wind is Free
My favorite gym is free, totally accessible, open 7 days and requires nothing more than the love of the outdoors.
One thing you can count on in the fall and all winter long is the wind. The wind is nature’s kettle bell class. Its nature’s treadmill if you will. My biggest challenge is finding a ride back from my destination. On the east end if the waves are not happening chances are there is always wind. Today, I made a half dozen phone calls to the hardy folks I know who may join me if the stars align. My favorite run with the wind is from Lions head in Spring to Gossmans Dock in Montauk, thirteen miles as the crow flies. The wind needs to be WNW for optimum cruising. The wind speed, 20 -30 kts with 40 kts gusts, and you should see wind blown white caps, smoke on the water as we say. It should also be very tricky to get your 16’ down wind board off the truck rack without creating a dangerous flying object.
Now the fun begins. Leash on, inflatable waist belt, whistle, cell phone in waterproof case, camelback with hydration, 2 chocolate Kind bars, and a hand held VHF radio. This time of year I wear a pair of poly liner shorts and polypro shirt under my 4mm Isurus wet suit with hood attached. I throw down my mat and pull on my suit; 5mm split toe boots and 3 mm gloves. I wax up my quick blade carbon paddle with some sticky bumps and give the wind direction one more check. The tides are important too, you want all the advantages you can get; 40 kts wind directly at you stern, the tide going with you, flowing strong with the wave action creating a following swell that is your ticket to ride.
When all the elements come together you become a human flying machine ready to ride an endless wind wave for 13 miles.
First stop, out past Lions head rock, I head straight north towards Gardiners Island. This is to get some distance up wind to align your vector and then you can become one with the wind. Now I’m about ½ mile off shore and I look east to my right, I steer my toe rudder my right. The board turns on a dime and now I’m ready to synch with tide and wave action, the wind is directly over my back pushing me down wind.
I relax my legs, my arms, my neck, and start to pull with short efficient, rapid paddle strokes. I time my pull so that the carbon paddle blade catches just in front of my longest reach. I feel the tail of my board lift as the nose drops down the swell line. Now I’m starting to pick up speed. Just as I get to the bottom of the trough of the wave and my nose of my board drops very close to the surface of water ahead of the swell line, I heave with all my force on the paddle and pull my self down the swell line. My toe redder directs the board away from the breaking wind wave. I’m now on a plane. The lift is magic. The board is my magic carpet and I feel the acceleration. This is the free ride, the payoff, and the reason for my addiction.
The only additional cost of this lift ticket is core strength, amazing balance, leg stability, and a constant drip of adrenaline and release of dopamine in the brain! Not bad fro a free year around membership. Let face it, there is no excuse for not paddling down wind- it is amazing cross training for surfing. At 53 years old I’m surfing like I’m 23, my endurance in the waves is amazing. My stability on my board and feel for the ocean has grown exponentially.
The sport of down wind paddling is virtually undiscovered in the northeast. It’s hard to believe but there have only been a couple of us doing this sport for the last 10 years. With the exception of a couple of fellow waterman it’s very hard to fine people to paddle with when the conditions are so extreme. Jeremy who is always game to be my wing man on his OC1 (outrigger canoe) or Mark on his surf ski, or the Rhino on his down wind SIC board, they are a hardy crew to say the least, who like to play in the icy wind waves of winter.
Now I’m about 30 min into my paddle heading due east and start to find long sculpted lines. The bottom is getting shallow and here she comes, the Cartwright Shoals. What a magical place, pristine, with seals, cormorants, diving ducks, and the only sound, wind on water.
This is my chance to check in with my equipment. I tighten my toe rudder system; adjust my camel back, check phone case, and drink! I slam down a kind bar too. I notice my one big toe is a little numb so I shake the blood into it and do a few down dogs to loosen up the shoulders and align the back.
As I walk across the sandy spit of land I take in my surroundings. Not a boat, a person, or any signs of humanity for miles in all directions. My mind is clear and the sound of the wind howling across the shoals is like a symphony of nature.
It’s now time to get going again. I slip into the cove on the east side of the shoals and point my board up wind towards Gardiners Island. I use this opportunity to gain a better vector on the wind, as I want every advantage to plane my board with ease. I want to get to the top of Tabaco cove so that the wind will take me directly to Montauk.
I turn hard right and push off the shoreline and head out into the middle of Gardiners bay. The tide is ripping now; she’s going out strong flowing around Montauk into Block Island sound. I gaze over my right shoulder; the walking dunes are majestic on the east side of Napeague Harbor. Next stop is Fort pond Bay, then the inlet at Montauk Harbor about 8 miles due east from my location. Over my left shoulder Gardiners disappears and Orient point is in the distance beyond Gardiners slowly disappearing from site. I’m now about 2.5 miles out to sea with just a few diving ducks around and the howling wind at my back. My black Isurus 4/3 wetsuit absorbs the heat of the sun now starting to get low I the sky. I still have about 2 hrs. Of sunlight left. No worries, as long as nothing goes wrong! I’m using the Montauk water tower as my point of reference I don’t want to drift too far to the south and lose my wind advantage. My toe rudder is always tweaked to my right, which keeps my board on an easterly tack.
Now this is where my meditation starts. I catch the water with my paddle, pull, and glide, repeat. I’m feeling the rhythm in the moving swells as my timing starts to synch with each wave of swell. It’s not about paddling super hard. It’s all about when to paddle. The timing is everything for linking together wave after wave and staying on a plane, the magic carpet ride! You need to exercise patients, wait for the slight yawn in the hull on top of the swell, then tip your weight forward, lean into the paddle and pull. I synch with the board finding the fall line of the wave. Bingo, it’s all glide as you are now o a plane riding the following swell with ease. My eyes are focused out in front 25 yds. Looking for the next hole to steer my board into. Now that I’m hydroplaning I can find another swell line offering me another ride, so I toe rudder hard to the left following the swell and driving the board into another trough. Over the next peaking wave I ride, then down the next one, I keep planning and realized I have connected 3 full swells and I’m still riding. Wait a minute this shouldn’t be happening, this is way too much fun! I start to get giddy and find myself laughing out loud.
Now it’s all coming together. It’s taken me about a hr. to really dial in this rhythm. The better my timing the better the glide. Relax, pull, glide, and repeat. Its key to stay lose, flexible and be ready to steer the board into another opportunity to stay o a plane. Paddling is an opportunist sport. You cant let the ocean pass you by you must be in synch with her.
The wind is picking up and the gusts are now well over 40 knots. This is like hitting the jackpot! You’re all in synch and Mother Nature just comes along and gives you a massive power boost! The inner laughter bubbles up!! Now connecting rides that are 100-300 yds. Long.
Just before I reach the turn of the coast that folds into Fort pond bay in Montauk the swells hit a sweet spot for about a half-mile. They jump in size, get close together and get twice as steep. Now it really feels like free surfing when you drop in and free fall with your board into the belly of the swell. All the energy of wind, wave and tidal flow come together to create ramp after ramp of pure bliss.
I suck down a few more water infused chia seeds anticipating bigger seas as I approach Culloden point. I can see how the SS Culloden went down here as the bottom comes up out of nowhere and the shallows lure you in unexpectedly. I have been in the zone now for a solid hr. and a half. I start to feel a tinge of sadness as Montauk inlet is just up ahead and my journey is coming to an end. I’m sad because I’m I the zone, the wind is increasing, swells are increasing, but I’m out of run way unless I want to continue to Block Island another 23 miles to the east. Not an option for today as I’m out of sunlight. I have paddled to Block about 20 times it is an epic paddle!
I slow down just to survey my landscape. Not a soul around for miles. This is where someone will usually spot me and call the coast guard. I try to let marine patrol know my route ahead of time so they don’t send out the coast guard cutter. They do love the training but I don’t like all the explaining I have to do. They just don’t believe I’m doing this for fun.
The last few waves of my session are now in sight as I line my board up for the beach entry. The marine forecast is for small craft warnings all week and thanksgiving is always windy! I look forward to our turkey shoot out down winder on Thx giving morning! I thank my outdoor gym one last time. I feel so blessed to live in this ocean environment with 50 plus miles of world class paddling all yr. round! No lift tkt required.
I invite anyone who is reading this to join me on a paddle anytime! Safety is always my number one concern and your equipment is number two. I will teach you the rest! This is my 12th yr. doing down winder’s and I have been surfing my whole life. I have paddled the roughest channel In the world called the valley of bones from Molokai to Oahu in the Hawaiian islands, a 32 mile wind and wave challenge.
Please join us on Thanksgiving Day for the turkey shoot out down winder. Check out hhtp://www.mainbeach.com for the go or no go on wed. Evening.