Intro to Downwind Paddling! - Maui Surfer Girls

Intro to Downwind Paddling!

Intro to Downwind Paddling for Surfers: The similarities between downwind paddling and surfing 

Words and Photos Courtesy Josh Riccio 

For those not familiar with downwind paddling, it is a type of paddling where the intention of the session is to utilize the wind generated swells (whitecaps) to surf your stand-up paddle board, outrigger canoe, or surf-ski (ocean kayak) from point a to point b. Similar to a downhill run on a mountain bike or mogul run on skis the terrain is challenging but fun requiring the rider to constantly read, react, and/or anticipate the ever changing ocean-scape around them. 

josh riccio maui downwind paddle racer


Since I was a kid I’ve been attached to the ocean, and surfing has always been my favorite way to enjoy the ocean for over 2 decades now. About 10 years ago I began stand up paddle boarding as another way to enjoy the ocean during flat spells when the surf was minimal or non-existent, but I quickly learned that Hawaii’s trade winds provide world class conditions for downwind paddling during periods of no surf, which essentially allows paddlers to surf open ocean swells when the waves nearshore aren’t enough to give you that stoke your after. 

josh riccio maui SUP paddle surfer racer


On Maui we are fortunate to have a great downwind run starting from Maliko Gulch and finishing in Kahului Harbor that provides 10 miles of open ocean downwinding.  Wind speed, wind direction, swell, tide all factor into making the run faster or slower every time but on a “good day” you are paddling 5-10 strokes then surfing for 15-30 seconds on average then paddling a few more strokes into the next ride until the end. The action is constant, rather then paddling back at for another wave that might come in the next 3-15 minutes you are only spending seconds in between swells before the next ride. Besides being a great way to get more water time, the board control, footwork, cardio, and balance required in downwind paddling will greatly benefit your surfing so I find downwind paddling to be an excellent form of cross-training for surfers. I could continue with a loooong list of reasons why I encourage surfers to try downwind paddling but more water-time that will improve your surfing when surfing isn’t an option is tops on my list. 

Here is a downwind edit I made during a 26 mile paddle from Maui to Molokai, to give you some perspective of what it looks on a “good day”




Here are some resources to help you get into downwind paddling

Sup Downwind Tips:

Tackling your first downwinder:

Professional Downwind Guiding on Maui:

Maliko Shuttle Service:

josh riccio paddle imua
Josh at a recent Paddle IMUA event, with a flying fish nearby! PC @frankiebees

More About Joshua Mathew Riccio: 

I grew up on the gulf coast of Florida, which is where my love for the ocean and my connection to salt water first began. As a kid I grew up fishing, surfing, skim-boarding, boogie-boarding, bodysurfing, wake-skating, wake-boarding… basically anything water I was into it. In high school I started teaching surf lessons at a kids surf camp during the summer for my local surf shop West Coast Surf Shop which is where I first discovered the reward of sharing my passion for surfing and the ocean with others. Since my move to Maui in 2010 I’ve been consistently teaching surf and sup lessons on the West Side of Maui. When I’m not teaching surf lessons I’m probably enjoying my own water time on Maui, hiking the mountains, or off island competing in Professional Stand-up Paddleboard races across the globe, besides surfing, paddling is a huge part of who I am, and what I live for. While I enjoy pushing my own limits in the water through competition, I like to take a really slow and easy approach when introducing others to the waves because my ultimate goal is to make your experience with me in the water a great one! Whether it is your first time in the ocean and you are completely terrified or your are eager to progress your skills and ocean knowledge to the next level, I’m always happy to share and do my best to create the most memorable and enjoyable session in the water with me. 

Use code JOSH10 to save 10% off your surf lesson and request Josh as your instructor!




Downwind Paddling Maui  | Intro to Downwind Paddling

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