In downwind paddling, the board goes faster than the waves, so the wave you want to catch is the one in front of you. (Courtesy photo)

The wave you want is in front of you

Downwind stand-up paddling is my new favorite sport. Here’s why …

The sport involves finding a windy place on the water with rolling waves. Rivers, bays, large lakes and the ocean can provide great conditions. The equipment you need is a paddle and a special board. The board is 12 to 14 feet long and 26 to 30 inches wide, with a bottom rocker that permits it to ride up and over waves — though it is too big to surf with in the classic style.

Since surfing has been around on the U.S. mainland since 1912, what took so long for someone to stand up on the board with a paddle?

Canoeists used paddles while standing for hundreds of years, and a few surfers in Hawaii in the 1940s stood on their boards to patrol the beaches. The sport itself took off in the 1990s, with the first competitions in the early 2000s. Novel board shapes and improved paddle design opened the sport up to the masses — so much so that it became the fastest growing water sport in 2013.

Downwinding is one amazing variant of stand-up paddling. Once getting upwind, either by land or boat, one paddles out into the middle of the waterway and points the board downwind. While you can stand still and glide, or paddle continuously and glide even faster, the skill of the sport involves accelerating at just the right time. You do this by paddling quickly, catching the motion of the wave and then surfing it downwind.

Unlike in normal surfing, where the wave you catch is the one behind you, the downwinding board goes faster than the waves, so the wave you want to catch is the one in front of you. This means riding up the back of the wave by paddling, cresting the top and then surfing down the face over and over again. The windier and wavier, the more fun, the more exhilarating and the more addicting.

So why my fascination?

There are few sports that provide speed, excitement, athletic power, balance and a little fear (from being out in the ocean and/or the speed of the waves); all without injury. Unless you fall onto your board, it‘s pretty hard to get hurt downwinding. And increasing your sports fun factor while not getting hurt becomes more important as you age.

I love taking risks, pushing the limits in sports and physical challenges, and competing with myself to achieve new goals. But I detest the downtime from injuries associated with almost all other exciting sports.

We teach our children to do dangerous things safely. For a sports injury doctor like me, it is nirvana to do dramatically exciting things with little danger of injury. I am actively searching for other sports like downwinding — for both me and my patients.

Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.

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