Before embarking on a downwinder there are a lot of things to remember. This is my downwinder check list that will get you started on your first downwinder or be a reminder on what you ought to remember next time.
1. kite Buddy
Don’t forget your best kite buddy. Catching those waves with someone else makes the experience that much grander. Also for doing downwinders you need optimal safety and of course at least two cars to get between spots on land.
- Intermediate to advanced
You don’t start your kitesurfing career doing downwinders. Master all the basics first. That is go grab a multi day course preferably a kite camp minimum one week. DON’T do 1 day courses or training with a friend.
- Open water safety pack down
Open water safety back down is taught in professional kite schools and is a must know for doing downwinders. If something goes wrong you need to be able to save yourself and preferably also your gear. When choosing between your gear and safety always be prepared to abandon your kite. See instruction video for safety pack down here.
- Launching and landing buddy kite with your own kite in the air
Most of the time you won’t have other kitesurfers around you to launch and land thus you need to practice launching and landing the kite of your buddy while keeping your own kite in the air and out of the way.
- Self landing your kite
You might end up in a situation where your buddy is not there to help you land your kite and thus you need to do so by yourself. See instruction video here.
Advanced kite flying skills are needed when going down wind especially if the wind drops unexpectedly. Kiteloops can be your friend to get more power and get back to shore or further down wind to your designated landing spot.
- Wind Direction
I thought this one was one of the obvious ones but after seeing your comments on SoMe I opted to add this: You NEVER do downwinders in off shore conditions with the risk of drifting to sea. Downwinders are side onshore or preferably sideshore. If there’s a risk of slight off shore winds I would not do the downwinder so if you do at least be sure to remember the flotation vest and follow the guidelines below.
- First aid
Doing an extreme sport like kitesurfing you NEED to know first aid and be able to perform CPR for your buddies and other people in need. Keep your skills updated and maintained on a yearly basis. Sign-up for first aid course here + download the Red Cross First Aid app (Danish app) here.
- Water proof pouch + phone
Surfing with your phone? Yes, with a water proof pouch this is possible and needed if you need to call for emergency or get a cab if you do not make it all the way on your downwinder due to lost or broken gear.
- 112 Emergency number
In Denmark 112 is the emergency number (as a foreigner not on a danish phone that is +45 112) and for Danes I recommend the 112 app that can be downloaded here. This app basically calls the emergency number but at the same time it also transfers your GPS coordinates (GPS has to be turned on). This can be extremely helpful when we are out in nature with no specific adress.
- Beach Numbers
Just recently all danish beaches and coastlines where given numbers to ensure better safety. So be sure to make a note of these new green signs at your kitesurfing spot. Learn more here. For the norths coast downwinders the beach numbers start at K154 – Liseleje and stretches to K317 – Hornbæk.
- Marinestaben Phone Number +45 72 85 00 00
“Marinestaben” or in english the “Joint Operation Center” are the guys to contact in case of emergency at sea. Also and perhaps most relevant you need the number so that you can call if you lose a kite or board at sea. Not because SOK will go get it for you but because a lost kite or board not reported to SOK could result in an expensive rescue mission – which is extremely costly. So ALWAYS call SOK to report a missing board or kite. I have done so myself one time and they are pretty happy to be informed about these things.
- Operation Sømærkning – “Board Sticker”
Due to the fact that SOK has 73 yearly rescue missions that dos not involve an accident but just a lost boat, board or kayak Trygfonden and SOK has developed a sticker to but on your surfgear with name and number. In this case you can be contacted if a board or kite is found -and SOK can be sure that you are okay. Which is the primary reason for “Operation Sømærkning”. You can order your sticker and more information here.
- Credit card / money for taxi
It happened for me at least once that I did not complete my downwinder. Once due to wind conditions and another due to a broken / lost fin. A fair amount of times I have also had to leave one from the down winder party behind due to failing equipment. So first rule is to use new and well functioning gear the second is to make sure you have cash, credit card and/or phone so you can somehow get back to one of the cars. You look pretty funny hitchhiking in a wet suit even though it sure can be done.
4. The practicals
While it is theoretically possible to downwind at some places alone if you are so lucky to have a bus near the coast route I would not recommend it. Buddy surf is safer and more fun. Basically you need at least two cars. One that is parked at the landing spot and on that can take to to the starting spot.
- Key box
Do not surf with your car keys but buy a key box that can be attached to your car so that you and your buddy can get to the car. This way you don’t lose the car keys at sea and most importantly your buddy can also get to a car in need of emergency. This has proven valuable once before for me. Eg. if you have gear malfunction and you need to get to the closest car which is not always your own. Thus remember that you need to know the number for your buddies key box.
- Changing clothes
I normally change into the wetsuit at the first rally point of the cars (being the landing spot) and I put my everyday clothes, wet bag and empty board cover in the car that stays behind. Also I move kites and gear not needed to that car as space is always limited on downwinder drives. Others like to bring extra changing clothes that they leave behind but I recommend that you find your style with you buddy and that you do it the same way to save time. Also be good about having wet bags for your wet suits and board bags for you wet board so that the stay behind car is not trashed with sand and water.
- Seat covers
Seat covers can be really practical when you have wetsuits that are wet from the day before or if you are doing multiple downwinders.
- Blanket and Broom
You will never be able to avoid getting your car filled with sand but a blanket to put in the bottom of the car and a broom to brush of boards, bags, bars and kites are pretty handy. I recommend storing a hand broom in the trunk which is where you are going to need it.
This is highly individual but I enjoy a energy drink (Faxe Kondi Booster) before surfing, and on long downwinders a “baby snack” you now those litlle smart tube packages with fruit smoothie, and after surf bananas and Cocio chocolate milk. And I always try to hydrate well before and after surf with lots of water.
- Hands Signs
On the water it’s really practical to be able to communicate simple things as wind and waves makes conversation difficult. These are a few of me and my buddies simple signals.
1. “The pointer” is used when all buddies are on the water and we are ready to signal a let’s go or if we had a break (see nr. 3) the finger pointing down wind means let’s continue.
2. “The waving hand/arm” basically means “I need attention” and the more frantic the wave the more likely it means that something’s wrong. I could also just be to point to something interesting.
3. “The fist” is adopted from the military “Freeze” and when raised it means “break” and often “I need to go to shore” and fix something.
4. “The rotation” signals let’s stay on this spot for a while. Sometimes on a downwinder you get to spots with perfect waves and you want to play around for a bit at that spot.
5. “The Shaka” the surfer greeting that is basically used to greet other surfers and signaling pure joy and hand lose style.
6. “The Wanker” used to signal to your buddy that you saw the awesome strapless air trick that he pulled or the perfect way that he ripped.
Okay it’s pretty obvious that you need to remember your kitegear but nevertheless here is the check list.
For space reasons you can’t take all your kites. On downwinders you need less power as your are travelling down the wind so keep that in mind.
- Bar + lines
Twice I have had to leave a buddy behind (i need to downwind to get to the car) because of broken lines or trashed kites. It has always been due to old gear that should have been replaced. Don’t do downwinders with old gear. Take a look at you bar and lines and replace parts if needed and possible.
Obviously you don’t do down winders on a twin tip as this is no fun at all. In the waves and going down wind you use a directional surf board and in my opinion strapless is the only way to go. It’s pure surf freedom.
I have had a lot of issues with my harnesses through out the time but I have finally settled on a harness that does not ride up and also only doing wavekiting I have a sliding hook which is perfect for the waves.
Neoprene belongs in the past as they are oil based and a terrible waste product when depleted by use. The new Patagonia 100% Yulex wetsuits are without neoprene and wetsuits of the future. They are expensive but this is the way that we have to move forward.
Don’t just look cool also be smart and wear a helmet. Waves can surprise you and your board can hit you real hard. So put on that helmet not only for your sake but also for the sake of your buddy. I do not want to be put in the situation of having to rescue an unconscious buddy on the water. Please take care.
- Line cutter
Hopefully you’ll never need to use your line cutter but keep it in your harness and know where to reach for it in the case of an emergency.
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