5 Epic Downwind runs for your bucket list
Downwind paddling is seen as the holy grail for most surfski paddlers, and the reason why many choose to take up the sport. We’ve chosen our five best downwinds in the world.
Let us know how many of these iconic runs you’ve ticked off your bucket list, and if there are any runs you think we've left out.
5. Tarifa (Spain)
Distance: 23km with 18km of pure downwind
A downwind in the Strait of Gibraltar is probably the most spectacular downwind we have in Tarifa, according to Boyan Zlatarev. Boyan lives in Tarifa and runs the very successful Surfski Center, where paddlers from around the world visit him to hone in on their downwind skills and experience the FUN that surfski has to offer. The Strait is a 23-34km paddle running parallel between the continents of Africa and Europe. On one side you see the magnificent mountain shores of Morocco and on the other side the Spanish Campo de Gibraltar national park.
Tarifa has no windy season. It’s windy all year and there is a slightly higher probability for westerly wind in the winter months compared to the summer. The most dominant wind direction is east, known as the Levante. There are other downwind runs to do when the popular Levante is blowing, but for now let’s focus on when the westerly is blowing.
The strait is a notorious passage for sailing vessels due to very consistent winds and often very strong currents (up to 4-5 knots). The current ripping against the direction of the wind creates a unique standing wave affect- perfect for downwind paddling as it makes the runs stand up nice and steep.
The downwind works best with a westerly wind, known locally as the Poniente. The minimum wind speed should be around 15-20 knots. The downwind starts from Playa Chica near Tarifa port on flat water and from there you need to paddle about 1.5km side on to the waves to get to the south cardinal buoy to start the downwind run.
From the buoy where the current is often the strongest you have 18km pure downwind fun all the way to the lighthouse at Punta Carnero in Algeciras. The waves vary in direction and steepness depending on the wind strength and direction of the current. “On the right day, you could easily have rides of 20-30 seconds and a huge smile on your face”, says Boyan.
The strait of Gibraltar is a bucket list adventure you would love to experience at least once…ideally more than once!
4. Hawaii Kai run (O’ahu, Hawaii)
Distance: 13.5km (Hawaii Kai- Kaimana Beach Park).
This is arguably one of the most famous downwind runs in the world. Everyone who goes over to compete in the Molokai, will be doing this run as a warm up in the week prior. The Hawaii Kai run is very consistent. Bar a few bad days in the months of December-February, the rest of the year is non stop downwind action. The water is warm year round. The start, at the Hui Nalu Canoe club, is in very calm water, and the runs slowly build as you head out to sea. By the time you are in the bigger runs, you are well warmed up and ready for the action.
The Hawaii Kai run is relatively tame compared to what you can find out behind Hanauma Bay and Sandy Beach (this is just before the start of the downwind), and thus is suitable for most paddlers looking for a great downwind experience. The runs can be described as short and steep, with lots of great weaving to the right and the left. By the end of the run when you are entering Diamond head, the runs become longer and more spread apart, making it even more exhilarating. The finish is at Kaimana Beach Park, or the world famous Outrigger Canoe Club in Waikiki. It doesn’t get much better than that. If you're wanting to try this run then get in touch with Epic Kayaks Hawaii as they run downwind camps on this run in May and June each year.
3. The Drummers run (Perth, Australia)
Downwinds in Perth are just awesome. The wind seriously blows in the summer, and unless there’s a heat wave which kills the wind completely, you are pretty much guaranteed to get a pumping downwind. The same can’t be said for their cold, windless winters, however. The Drummers run is the most popular downwind run in Perth, and is just under a 12km course. You start at Port Beach, just north of the Fremantle Harbour, and head up the coast to City Beach. You can actually keep going to Trigg Beach, or even on to Sorrento if you want to add more km’s. The start is sheltered by a harbour wall, and you can actually paddle up the wall until you have a perfect line down the coast, with ripping runs all the way home. If you turn downwind earlier, you will have the runs coming slightly over your left shoulder. Paddlers are able to clock up massive average speeds on this run as there is no a counter current slowing you down. Local Perth paddlers might argue that the Snapper run is actually a better run than the Drummers, but logistics for this run make it a bit harder for local paddlers to do on a regular basis.
2. The Maliko Run (Maui, Hawaii)
Little is known about the Maliko Run in the outside world, as it has very little hype around it, and we don’t see much of it on social media. However, Maui paddlers swear that it’s like the Hawaii Kai run on steroids. That’s a bold call, but it is accurate. The wind on Maui is second to none. It is consistent, and always blows a few knots stronger than any of the other islands on the same day. After all, it is where kitesurfing was invented! Logistics are easy, the Hana Highway runs right along the north coast of the island, making it great for hop-on-hop-off style downwinds. The paddle starts just to the east of the famous big wave surf spot Peahi (Jaws) and runs 14-15km down the coast to the main town of Kahului. You finish off safely in the harbour at Hoaloha Park. The runs on the Maliko are long and fast. Strap yourself in for the ride of your life, because the Maliko run is seriously up there with the best downwinds in the world.
1. The Millers run (Cape Town, South Africa)
In first place arguably the most famous downwind run in the world is the Millers run, and for good reason too. The wind blows in Cape Town year round. Summers are hit by the south easter, and the winter storms are brought in by the north wester- both of which are perfect for the Millers or the reverse millers, whichever way you look at it. To give you an idea of the consistency of the Millers run, Dale Robinson clocked 222 Millers in 2021. There aren’t too many other places in the world where that is possible.
The Millers run was first paddled in the late 70’s/ early 80’s and has been popular ever since. However, it was the Mocke brothers who properly brought it onto the international scene with their famous downwind camps run from December- February. At the time of writing this blog, Jasper Mocke holds the record for the fastest Millers run at 36:36 in his V14, averaging over 19km/h.
The Millers run isn’t the most technical downwind there is. Its popularity comes from it being a helluva lot of fun; with clean, groomed runs. You do need to make sure you surf right every once in awhile. If you chase those big drops too far to the left, you will end up in Glen Cairn, and not Fish Hoek. Paddlers of most abilities are able to enjoy what the millers has to offer. If conditions are too hectic for some paddlers to time their run around Bakoven rock, they can opt to launch at the Chicken run on the northern end of the car park, where they put in in a sheltered cove. Although the water is relatively cold compared to other locations mentioned here, local paddlers stick together and look out for one another. The NSRI in Simons Town has a brilliant track record of helping paddlers out in need.
It’s hard to get lost on the millers run. The halfway point is the world famous Roman Rock Lighthouse stuck in the middle of the bay. The goal is to aim for the lighthouse and once you pass it, it’s an easy run on into Fish Hoek with honking runs all the way home.