The downwinder in the news

For those of you in the Maryland SUP community I am sure you heard all about the news from this past Friday. Anytime a paddler see the words ” Paddlers missing” come across your news feeds your heart sinks, and when it is people you know its even worse. That is how we felt this past Friday when the news came in, our phones were going off the hook with people asking if we heard anything.

We know all the paddlers who went and even talked to one of them right before they launched so we were very relieved when we found out the true story and everyone was ok.

Now that we know everyone is fine and that we heard the paddlers side, we feel the need to share it. The paddlers are taking  A LOT of heat online, people calling for their heads almost and all from news that was not even accurate.

For those of you that do not know what a downwinder is please watch this link.   This video is from one of the board manufactures that makes boards designed specifically for this. It also happens to be the brand of board that two of the paddlers were on. We will not mention his name as the media has been really harsh but he also sent us pictures from his Gopro camera that was on board. Does this look like a paddler in distress?

Downwinding is a lot of fun, its essentially like surfing  but a smaller/longer wave. We also want to say ALL 5 paddlers are very experienced paddlers, they all had thick wetsuits on, pfd’s, leashes, and cell phones. And told multiple people their route plan. So they did take a lot of precautions.  They were doing a 9 mile paddle and had finished 5 of those miles before being stopped.

So long story short is, a bystander on shore saw them out on the water and thought they were in trouble. They called 911 to report it, now we can’t blame the onlooker and in fact we give them credit, had something actually been wrong and they did not call it could have ended bad. The problem is the sport is so new and the downwinding side of it is unheard of for people who do not follow the sport. Had these paddlers had sails or a kite like windersurfers the onlooker may not have even been worried.

After the call according to the paddler we spoke to the Coast Guard arrived and actually pulled up next to him and talked to the him. After seeing that everything was ok the coast guard left and let them proceed. However shortly after down the river DNR showed up and it was a different story. This is where the story on the news is not accurate to what the paddlers are telling us! DNR pulled next to the paddlers and told them they had to get off the water immediately. The paddlers listened and boarded their boat, they were then dropped off on a random beach (far from their cars) and hit with a $320 each fine for “Negligent Boating” and also an $80 fine for “not having a whistle”. $400 in total!

They were never in distress, they were never rescued, and they never asked for help. The report of 3 being found and 2 missing is just plain false.

Now we get that people are angry and are saying they should have never been out there. We get both sides of the argument and this is not a post to determine who is right or wrong, we just wanted to post the TRUE story behind it and show people what they were actually doing. It was not 5 drunk people who said lets go do something crazy, these were 5 strong paddlers who do this every time the wind is blowing.

The paddler we spoke to said if there was a wind restriction on SUP he would follow:  “If there was a max wind threshold for windsurfing or downwind paddling we would respect it. But there is not one published. Due to these factors, I feel we were not negligent and should not have been cited”

The argument on if they should have been out there or not is a whole different topic. Both sides feel very strongly about their opinions and neither side will change the others thinking. All we want is the news to report it accurate


Stay safe out there paddlers




Showing 11 comments
  • Andy

    Please let me know if any of these gentlemen need legal assistance. As a paddler who has had some interactions with the DNR, this kind of thing is incredibly frustrating.

  • Mark B.

    It would really be good to also hear directly from both the Coast Guard and MD DNR officers involved in this “rescue,” not just the point of view from the SUPers. I belong to several local kayaking groups, many venture out in rough conditions but are also properly equipped like these SUPers were. That said, the ever worsening conditions on Friday, coupled with the unpredictable nature of this storm, seems these paddlers should have not gone out. Instead of complaining about being rescued, they should be thanking the officers involved. Now, do they deserve a fine? No. They were experienced sportsmen who appear to have the proper equipment, safety gear and preparation.

    • Sean Attebury

      Mark, the DNR were bragging all over Twitter that they “rescued” reckless paddlers. They shared their footage with news networks. Please read all of the details and sources. These paddlers were plucked from the water toward the end of their journey and dropped on a shore nowhere near their vehicles in hyperthermic conditions. That is not a rescue. The DNR were acting like overzealous meatheads abusing their power. Capital SUP has a detailed account as well. The DNR bragging on social media is a bit sickening. I’ve been out numerous times in over 50 mph conditions. We call the Coast Guard, and they leave us alone. In this instance, the DNR overstepped.

  • Laird Hamilton

    What laws were cited to be broken? Why would they be required to have a whistle? Next they’re going to tell them they need a fire extinguisher. They are not a registered boat are they? DNR at their worst? The only negligence I hear in this story is DNR, on an actual boat, getting too close to the stand up paddle borders.

  • T K

    I have heard of the coast guard terminating a voyage for a vessel in “extremely hazardous condition”. I don’t know the powers of the DEC, and I don’t think this even remotely qualifies. They may have overstepped their authority in response to a shore side, do-gooder caller. I paddle all winter in New York waters, sometimes in “advanced” conditions, and will side with the paddlers here, assuming their report is accurate as stated. If the DEC was so concerned for their safety, why leave them stranded outdoors in adverse weather?
    I won’t try to judge this occurrence, but I’m left to question why they were cold. If they were dressed for the water, why would they get so cold on land? Sure they weren’t exercising/paddling. But should they have been prepared for an unexpected stop? One guy was reportedly wearing a 4 mil wet suit. I don’t think I would paddle winter conditions with anyone dressed in that. This time of year we require dry suits in my club(s). Not trying to provoke a dispute, just wondering.

  • Katie

    Very well written and detailed. I too can see both sides; nice to have this clarification.

  • Larry Lunners

    test message to Maryland SUP: I doubt that is real Laird Hamilton posting

  • marylandsup

    Yeah the interesting part will be if this affects paddlers relationship with DNR moving forward. Hopefully we can both move forward in a positive direction after this incident. Going forward though every paddler better make sure they have all the proper equipment on board with them including whistles

  • Capt Chris

    john q public needs some more common sense. why the do gooder didnt call the marine police first or like some one said assess the situation for a min before acting. Coast Guard will have a report, those boats are not just cruising around out there, so there should be a record. IMO if we(downwinders) have to carry a radio, and then have to respond on it when hailed come on really ? i have only a few serious DW’s under my paddle and i really would NOT want to stop to answer the f—ing radio. and just to add , yea you get cold in a wet suit not moving around in or out of water. not enough experience with dry suits to comment. also ask any one who works out, when they get a good sweat on and then stop-you get chill.

  • Kelly Slater

    Come on down to the surf ranch where you don’t have to worry about the DNR thrashing your sesh brahs!!

  • Stephen B Schneider

    It seems to me the law requiring a whistle is outdated. They were carrying CELL PHONES! That is a far more effective way to call for help if needed and it also provides an easy means to precisely locate the caller! (I do down winders in winds from 20 to 40 mph often in the Columbia River Gorge in Hood River Oregon.) I dress for the weather, am never further from shore than about 200 meters, and my inflatable PFD also has a whistle to comply with the law, although a whistle is only useful if someone is within hearing range. The sport of paddle boarding including down-winding has been huge in this area for more than five years. Downwinding races have been held all over the world for at least that long. I am really suprised the local DNR and Coast Guard are so ill informed. It points to a real need that their knowledge base needs updating.

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