Paddling with the wind?

Hi Everyone,

I have three Canoes (two tandem, one solo) and I notice that it always seems easier (and faster) to paddle against/into the wind. Has anyone else had a similar experience? Is it the lack of resistance that makes it feel slower? Trim level (although I’ve tried changing seating position forward and stern)?

Thanks for any input.


– Last Updated: Oct-20-13 2:09 AM EST –

I always feel like I'm going faster into the wind, especially when I can feel it on my face... :)

It's all perception.

Slower for me
I always thought it seemed slower going into the wind. What’s more, it really IS slower, and the stronger the wind I’m paddling into, the slower my maximum speed becomes. You may be encountering some kind of effect that alters your perception. One thing I used to notice was that going against a very light chop “sounded faster”, but with experience that illusion went away entirely. Take a GPS with you and that should set things straight.

When I was younger I got some paddling stripes on a tributary of the Chesapeake bay, oak creek to the miles river. It’s the waves coming at you that makes you think you are going faster than you are.

Not me, but why is it:
if I am biking, canoeing or kayaking the wind is always against me ?

Even if I am doing an out and back?

jack L

Yeah. Illusion.
The wind in your face and those ripples coming at you make you feel like Superman. The GPS lets you know you’re a mere earthling. I don’t know about canoes but in my kayaks a light headwind is kinda nice. The boat steers itself…no skeg required… no correcting strokes. Like auto pilot.

Good morning, Jack! I’m hoping to bike this morning if this recently developed sciatic pain will allow.

Hi Rex
Just got back from racing the Suwannee river race down in north Florida, and then we did a three night camping/paddling trip down a portion of it.

We made our base camp with the travel trailer at The Stephen Foster Culture Center State Park which is as nice a park as you could be in.

The state park paddle in camp sites were absolutely amazing.

I don’t want to steal this post describing them so I’ll do a separate one on the other message board as soon as I get a chance.

Jack L

Thanks for the kind answers
Thanks for the feedback everyone. It sounds like it just feels faster into the wind. I’ve been out with GPS a couple times on my phone and it always shows the same 4mph…

I find the hardest is a strong…
quartering wind.

Two people paddling on the same side, sometimes need to go a hundred strokes or more before getting the boat turned the right way. It gets old real quick!

Every so often it might even require a wasted rudder stroke from the stern if sweeps don’t do it.

Jack L

What you are experiencing
is apparent wind… I learned about it when sailing

Apparent Speed is Relative
Factors that you observe are relative but not absolute.

As others have mentioned the airspeed when going down appears slower. However, the water movement tends to be also downwind too. The wind pushes the surface water down wind. This makes your speed relative the water seem seem slower than your speed relative to the shore.

You’ve discovered…
…manifestations of Resistentialism, the philosophy that holds inanimate object are at war with humans. Seems perfectly reasonable to me:

In open water without tides
or currents water orbits and does not move. Waves move

There is a net movement …
… of surface water in the downwind direction, hence Langmuir spirals (you see the evidence of those spirals in the form of streaks of foam on windy days, with all the streaks being parallel), the accumulation thick algae and warm surface waters on downwind sides of a lake, etc, but though huge volumes of water are moving downwind (and correspondingly huge volumes of deeper water are flowing in the opposite direction), the speed of flow is so much slower than the speed of a boat that no one would ever notice it.

By the way, this downwind surface flow movement is independent of what happens due to wave action, and the two things are not related.

I’m learning a lot
Thanks for the information everyone. Very interesting stuff. Cheers.

When rowing or sculling,
it always felt better going into the wind. It’s because things you’re supposed to be doing for maximum effectiveness, especially snaking the blade into the water for a firm catch, are easier to do when the wind is supplying a bit of resistance. With a strong tailwind, the boat seems to be slipping away from under you, and a sharp catch is more difficult.

Any rowing crew is likely to be faster with a tailwind, but only the very best crews have the technique, the sharp slippery catch and leg drive, to row effectively and set record times with a strong tailwind.

The same will be true for a solo canoe paddler. A headwind gives the feedback that makes it easier to paddle properly, with a good reach and a slippery, firm catch. But with a tailwind, your form must be that much better, because the tailwind is slipping the rug out from under you.

Nice post
I found tail winds to be tricky when I first started canoeing the open bays and inshore waters of South Florida. I usually lean toward the wind and use a sweep-like power stroke. I prefer delta hulls, sitting or kneeling, and sit and switch with ZREs. You can really take advantage of a tail wind, but you must match the wind speed with proper technique, power and stroke rate or you’ll end up sideways to the wind and waves. That’s been my experience.

Wind direction
Kayamedic is right about apparent wind which is well known among sailors. I have never liked headwinds. Sometimes it is impossible to make headway at all. Tailwinds, following seas can be really fast but really dangerous once you start surfing with the ever present danger of pitch poling butt over teakettle. Everyone’s idea of windy is quite different.

I like to put up a sail using a bedsheet with two canoes for tailwinds.

What I like most is no wind or light winds under say 10 knots.

Practice? I could go to a lake
of moderate size, like Stone Mountain Lake east of Atlanta, on a day with reasonable wind, that is 8-12 mph, and set an up/down course for practice. Paddling into and then with the wind in alternation should help sharpen the technique used for each.

Or I could stay home and watch football.

Fewer Corrective Strokes Are Needed
Paddling into the wind (light to moderate), especially when paddling only on one side. This way, more effort is being used for going forward instead of steering.