Do You have a SUP Race Strategy?  8 Tips for Paddling Faster..

A few years ago pro SUP racer Dan Gavere was visiting and participated in a local weekly race.  When the race started most of the racers followed the local fast guy who usually wins.  This route was straight up current and wind directly toward the turn-a-round buoy.
Dan on the other hand took a completely sheltered route with no wind or waves which instead was curved vs straight.
When the sheltered section ended, Dan was clearly ahead of our local fast racer, and the rest of the pack.  Not only was he ahead, he had more energy left since the sheltered section was easy paddling vs fighting bumpy incoming waves and 15 knots of wind.After the racers went around the buoy (actually a navigational tower) Dan downwind surfed the waves back to the finish line in no time.  The pack was scattered throughout the race area, some still rounding the buoy, most finishing quite a bit later and most trying to paddle vs surf the waves back.

Lesson Learned?

Study your race course and look for environmental advantages where you can excel. Even test the course.  Don’t follow the lead paddler who is trying to beat you.

8 Tips for Paddling Faster and Easier:

  • Point A to B isn’t always the quickest way there.
  • Incoming wind – Use points of land, slight curves or dips in the shoreline to find wind breaks. Look for glassy spots for less wind.
  • Incoming current – Eddies are recirculating sections of water behind an obstruction like a dock, point of land or large rock.  River paddlers use these to take breaks or to link to each other to cross current. Often it’s back current pushing you back upstream giving a free ride. And use shorter strokes paddling up current.
  • Paddling Downwind – Use every little wave or wavelet to help propel you forward.  Even an ankle high wave can give you a push – don’t be picky.  Surfing will give a break and a free ride.  I once passed a much stronger paddler who was paddling hard through little waves which I was surfing.
  • Learn to Read the Water – Look for sections of calm or sections of moving water.  Check a marine chart or aerial photo of the route before you go.  Look for how the wind will affect you from one or a few directions – where are the breaks from wind or current?  What is the main direction for wind in this location during the time of day the race occurs?  In Seattle we get a northerly on blue sky days in summer – but not in winter.
  • Paddle the Race Course – Paddle the course before the race.  Get to know it’s quarks, cons and benefits. Find out how you can edge out other paddlers. Locals will know the tricks.
  • Don’t expect races to be flat calm.  Most I see are waiting for ‘nice days’ to paddle.  That fails if the wind is totally upwind or side wind.  Can you handle those conditions? If not, you won’t win or place well in the race. Even big race starts are super rough.
  • Drafting – It’s legal to draft in most races.  Essentially you get behind the tail of a racer of the same or slightly better speed than you.  Get right up there nearly but not hitting their board.  Those popular square tailed race boards create a great back eddy which you can use to push you forward – easy paddling!

Observation: I’ve noticed racers go downwinding for fun but don’t downwind in some races.  Or take advantage of waves for a free ride, they instead paddle through the waves. Take every advantage you can get!

Diagram showing how current works by going around points of land leaving reverse current recirculating behind.  Use the pink arrows to go forward.
The above works for wind or current

About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP and Kayak school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips