These are some general ideas to try and keep in mind as a beginner downwinding. But what you will learn over time is that some choices and techniques will apply more to your benefit in specific conditions that can vary tremendously depending on where you paddle and what the weather and waves are doing. The greater variety of on-water conditions you experience and practice in, the more you will increase your ability to recognize and adjust your tactics to your advantage - usually…
If the wave coming towards you is going to break significantly as you go into it, you probably want to be stroking with a blade in the water applying power as the wave hits you. Beyond providing greater stability and reducing the amount you stall, this is also better than holding your paddle horizontal trying to keep it above the wave. If you have your paddle horizontal and the wave still catches your paddle you stand a pretty good chance of getting smacked by your paddle.
Powering Through A Columbia River Gorge Wave
Gorge SIC Race Practice 2020 Photo by: Wilson Reavley - Click to enlarge
Technique - Putting it All Together
Advancing to rougher conditions and stronger downwind paddling
Downwinding in a double is one way to get experience on bigger runs if you can team with a more experienced paddler. Learning about bigger water in this manner is not without its challenges, though. In sitting in the back of a surfski with the more experienced paddler steering in the front, one may get enough water in their seat to feel like they will imminently float off and out of the surfski. The backseat paddler often gets a fairly steady shower of water in their face from the front seat paddle strokes. And even though the more experienced paddler may have the situation well in hand, it can feel to the less experienced paddler like their surfski is sometimes perilously off balance (though strong paddlers typically make double skis much more stable than the inexperienced paddlers can make them on their own). Some doubles allow steering to be done from either seat. But - bottom line - with a competent, experienced paddler in charge, a less experienced paddler can experience what an absolute blast downwinding can be in conditions that they are not yet capable of paddling solo.