‘SURFSKI ENCYCLOPAEDIA’ PLOTTING DOWNWIND COURSES ALL OVER THE GLOBE
It started off as one of those ideas.
As surfski paddlers, we all know the ones.
Somewhere, at some point during the middle of a paddle, the lightbulb goes off.
But Lizelle Kemp could never imagined that fleeting thought would evolve into something like this.
“I’m amazed, I really am,” she says.
“I’m just lucky that the idea fell into place, and it’s just snowballing.”
The Scottish paddler is behind Downwindable – a new free, online database that lists downwind runs all over the world.
The idea is simple.
Paddlers head to the Downwindable website and fill out a form, detailing the start and finish locations of their local downwind runs, as well as any other insights that might prove handy.
GPS maps are encouraged, but not mandatory.
“You know when you come off the water and you’re all stoked with all of these nonsensical ideas?
“I decided to ask a question on Surfski Scotland [Facebook page] saying I was considering putting a database together with all of our surfski runs.
“I didn’t get a huge response from it, but a paddler down south called me really taken by the idea.
“So I thought, ‘Well, I’m not a web developer but I’ll make it into a website and see what happens… and it’s just gone bonkers.”
In the space of just a few weeks, Downwinable has collated almost 100 unique surfski courses, submitted from 22 countries – and counting.
Like most things within the surfski community, word is spreading fast.
And while others have created similar projects in the past that have failed to take off, Downwindable is making serious waves.
“It’s connecting with so many people in so many countries,” Kemp says.
“I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible, because I know from my own experience that the last thing you want to do after a downwind run is sit in front of a screen compiling data and uploading it to a page.
“The contributors name is there with each post so, in this day and age, it’s dead-easy to get in touch with the locals to find out the intricate details.”
Managing the website has become a daily ritual, but still stuck in the UK’s lockdown, it’s certainly an enjoyable one.
“I love opening an emails every morning thinking, ‘Oh, there’s a new country! And there’s a new place to visit!’ She laughs.
It’s that sense of community that is making the work all worthwhile.
“It’s what keeps me passionate about surfski and is so different to other paddle sports.
“I do a bit of K1, and I come from a sea kayaking background, but one of the things that I love about surfski is that it’s so humble.
“You can stand on the start line next to the world champion, and at the finish line the top elite paddlers are there to ask you about your race.
“There’s none of the snobbery that can often be encountered in other sports, where the elite and the likes of me are separated.
“The top paddlers are such good ambassadors for the sport, and I think it’s of the run-ins with the ocean we’ve all had.
“As soon as I’m feeling over-confident, the sea will give me a slap to get back in line.
“For me, it’s so humbling in so many ways.”
Kemp is one of the more enthusiastic paddlers involved in the sport – and living in Dunbar, on the south-east coast of Scotland, it’s put to good use.
The water temperature is currently 5 degrees, and at this time of year, the air temperature isn’t much better.
If that’s not challenging enough, current COVID-19 restrictions mean that local paddlers can’t shuttle cars for downwind runs.
So to get out on the water and paddle… you really have to want it.
As a result, it’s created plenty of time to dream about ticking off Downwindable’s growing list of international locations.
“We’ve been leaving the skis at the start, driving to the finish, cycling back up to the start and paddling to the finish.
“I’ve been saving for a van for a couple of years, and as soon as I get one, we’re going to travel around the country and do as many downwind runs along the coast as possible.
A fitting example of the sense of togetherness created by her spontaneous project.
“Sharing your passion will encourage so many others,” she says.
“This is all about sharing knowledge all across the world and connecting each other – and that’s really nice.”