Downwind SUP Foiling: Best Winter Sport Ever?

Downwind SUP Foiling: Best Winter Sport Ever?

A steep learning curve. Lots of struggle. But in the winter, all that physical exertion delivers warmth, and maybe even, progression. Maybe … 

By Eddy Patricelli 

I’m sweating. In December. Out on the Columbia River. My toes are toasty. Ditto for my fingers. I’m breathing heavily. Snow blankets the hills around me. Whitecaps froth and roll by, urged on by 35 mph gusts. Yet sitting on my board in 30 degree air temps, I turn my face into the bone-chilling breeze, lean in, and inhale. Ahhh … 

Relief is rare air when learning to downwind SUP foil. The boards are narrow and tippy. The water is churned. And the sport’s promise of effortless motion – so sexy and soulful – resonates to wobbly newcomers like me as devastatingly distant. As in, humble pie, served by the kilo. 

My take is that old man winter lightens downwind SUP foiling’s learning load. I speak from experience. I’m on river session #5. All of my attempts happened in November and December here in the Gorge. My cursing, flailing, and falling were barely a blip over the empty winter waterway. And that is just fine. Perfect, even. As if meant to be. 

Here’s why winter works for this fledgling SUP foiler, and what’s needed to safely join the fun. 


1. What Cold?

The parking lot is chilly. Stepping into the water is chilly. And that’s the end of the cold. Prone paddling into the river swell gets my heart pumping. On my knees, the heart pumping continues. On my feet requires full concentration. Then comes the paddle flurries and, holy crap, leg pumping. Lots of both. Heavy breathing and overheating follow. Winter? Whatever. I’m working here.    

2. Siloed Suffering

Some forms of suffering are best endured in solitude, or surrounded by only your closest friends. An overcooked calzone, the loss of a loved one, or – in my opinion – when attempting to stand on a downwind SUP foil board with side chop present. Obscenities, paddle throwing, punching the water, cursing the sky … It’s all on the table. The less witnesses the better. Winter ensures what happens on the water, stays there. 

3. Full Commitment

Experts say ditch your wing, ditch your kite, and go all in. If you truly want to learn to downwind SUP foil, eliminate all distractions. In the winter, the only wind sport on the river I’m comfortably warm throughout is downwind SUP foiling. Winter makes “all in” easy. 

4. Winter Water Fix

The older I get, the sooner my thoughts in the winter turn back to the water. Sure I dream of perfect waves and wind, but as a dad, perfection means air travel and unicorns. What I really want is an everyday winter water sport that challenges me, and keeps my strength and balance primed for the summer fun to come. Downwind SUP foiling in the winter does all that. And best of all … 

5. Wind or No Wind: You Go

If it’s windy, and my husband/dad stars magically align, I’m on the river. If it’s not windy, I head to the boat basin and work on flat water pop ups. The latter can be a quick half hour session that leaves me gassed. Water fitness on demand, available at all times, no excuses. There’s no not doing it. The sport is there and waiting, winter be damned.



If you’re hitting the river, you need a partner. Period. Not just for shuttling, but for safety. It’s a big river, made more perilous by the cold. You want someone watching you, and you watching them. It’s far safer, and far more fun.  

Trustworthy Leash

THE essential “must have” for downwind SUP foiling in the river. Your board is your flotation, lifeline, and your means of getting to your buddy if needed. On a windy day, your board will run away in seconds if you dare ride without a leash. Don’t do it! 

Calf Leash

Waist Leash


By law, paddlers must use a Coast Guard Approved PFD. These from Mustang Survival feature dual flotation, and allow shoulder mobility for paddling.


Don’t skimp here. A 5/4 hooded wetsuit, 5 mm booties (or thicker) and 3 mm gloves or mitts are best. I also dig the O’Neill Thermo-X undergarments. 

O’Neill Men’s Hooded Wetsuits

O’Neill Women’s Hooded Wetsuits

Gloves and Mittens


Downwind SUP Foiling: Best Winter Sport Ever?
Downwind SUP Foiling: Best Winter Sport Ever?