Active Outdoors: Be mindful of the way the wind blows

  • Windsurfing requires just the right amount of wind. Too little and you don’t move at all. Too much and it becomes a sport for experts only. Courtesy of Tim Jones

  • Strong winds can make sea kayaking a challenge. Perhaps that’s why there were no kayakers out along the Jersey Shore this past weekend. Courtesy /

Published: 10/13/2019 5:52:54 PM

To a meteorologist, wind is simply movement of air from an area of higher atmospheric pressure to an area with lower. It’s simple: the greater the difference in pressure and the shorter the distance between the high and the low, the stronger the wind is going to be. Pretty simple really, at least until you add in the earth’s rotation and the effect of friction into the mix.

But to someone intent on getting outdoors and enjoying life, the wind is a multi-faceted variable. It can make some days (and nights) outdoors an absolute pleasure and others an absolute misery. It depends on where you are and what you are intent on doing.

Take last night for example. I was sleeping in a tent tucked on a bit of flat ground at the bottom of a hollow in the hills of New Hampshire (sorry, not going to get any more specific than that.) This is a spot I camp often and, most nights there, I am lulled to sleep by the sounds of water running over stones in a tiny brook that trickles past.

Not last night. A front blew through with a quick rain shower as I finished dinner and the whole night was a full on symphony played by the wind in the trees and rocks on the ridges above me. I had some trouble sleeping – not because I wasn’t tired from hiking all day or because I was in any way nervous – but because I wanted to lie awake in my warm sleeping bag and listen to more of Mother Nature’s stellar vocal performance.

Protected and sheltered as I was, the wind was a very good thing.

That was a very different experience from the time when, camped on an open lakeshore in the far north, my companions and I had to get up in the middle of the night and pile heavy stones on the tent pegs and guy ropes to keep our tents from being blown away by a 100-plus mph wind storm that arose unexpectedly.

We lost one tent that night, could have lost them all if we hadn’t acted quickly. Wind can be a mixed blessing.

This past weekend, my sweetheart Em and I were down on the Jersey Shore for a family wedding. Big to-do, lots of people, several wedding-related gatherings spread over three days.

Of course, I wanted to bring sea kayaks and spend some time exploring the protected waters of Barnegat Bay. It’s an areas I’ve read about all my life but had never visited. But I was told firmly that we wouldn’t have time for that. So I sadly left the kayaks at home.

Turns out if was probably a good thing. Strong winds out of the north kept both the bay and the open ocean off the barrier island churned with whitecaps all weekend. I have some experience sea kayaking in high winds – just enough to know that it can get you into real trouble if you aren’t careful. I couldn’t have safely gotten in any paddling alone and I definitely wouldn’t have expected Em to go out in those conditions.

But the north wind was beautifully crisp and refreshing, and made two long solo sunrise walks and one sunset walk on the beach with Em a pure pleasure.

On the solo walks, the wind became my companion as I watched the waves splash and the seabirds dance in equally intricate patterns in the flowing air above the foam. Had the air and sea been calm, the flat landscape would have lacked dimension. I’m afraid I’d have found it pretty uninteresting. The wind brought it to life.

On the sunset stroll, the wind made it natural for Em to tuck into the shelter of my arm as we walked together. Kinda nice. Maybe there’s something to those “long, romantic walks on the beach” after all.

While it was clear why there weren’t any kayakers out and about, it surprised me that I didn’t see any kite surfers or sailboarders out on the water while we were in New Jersey. Maybe the winds were just too strong. I did watch a group of surfers get blown about half a mile down the beach one morning as they tried without much success to catch the scrappy waves hitting the shore at an angle.

As we transition toward winter, the wind is bound to become more of a factor in deciding what to do on any give outdoor day.

For example, a strong north or northwest wind may make you choose to ski at a ski area with a gondola, tram, or a bubble chair so you can ride up the hill out of the wind and cold. Or you might choose a smaller area like Bromley in Vermont, Cranmore or Black Mountain in New Hampshire, which face south and are protected from the north winds.

Or you might choose to skip the hills altogether and go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the protection of the trees instead.

If you get out in the wind this fall or winter, be sure to stop and listen to the voice of the wind as it touches the world. That’s a symphony worth hearing. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy.

(Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email:

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