SUP Drafting – How and When to do it

For SUP, drafting means you’re literally tailgating another paddler to get a free or easier ride. If you’ve ever heard of cars tailgating large trucks to get an extra push, this works on water in the same way. Continue reading to learn about SUP drafting – how and when to do it.

How it Works

When you paddle, like any boat, your board creates a wake pushing away from the rails near the tail.  Some of the wake toward the tail (back) of your board creates an eddy, or recirculating force of water that draws backwards to the board. Like an eddy in a river (behind rocks) the water flow rotates around an obstruction like a rock then creates either a stream of upstream water or dead water (no current) behind the obstruction. Long story… When you paddle, your board is creating a wave behind it for other paddlers to surf.

The technique requires tailgating the tail of the board in front of you – literally a few inches away – to feel the effect. The effect can be a free ride. You’ll feel a surfing sensation that pushes you forward, while the other paddler does the work.  The trick is catching up to another paddler then aligning your nose to where you feel the sweet spot that allows you to surf.

It’s not always a free ride, often you may struggle to keep your nose in line, so it’s a good exercise in learning to paddling straight.  Square tail boards are easiest to catch and have the best effects as the square tail creates the biggest eddies. My pintail board (pointy tail) has a very small area to surf – often fellow racers tell me afterwards they couldn’t draft me.

Drafting for Races

Drafting is common in races (see pics) to either draft your opponent or work as a team with your friends to draft each other to save energy especially on long races.

Some races restrict who can be drafted. For example, a 14′ board can’t draft a surf style board. Or men can’t draft women (though they all do it anyway). It’s unethical to draft someone for an entire race then pass them at the finish.

Non-Racing Drafting

In non racing situations, drafting is great for paddling up wind or on a long paddle, letting your less strong or fatigued friend to draft you to help get back to shore and/or for fun, trying different boards to see how the effect varies.


(C) SUP Racer


Additional Reading on SUP Drafting

Drastically Improve Your SUP Race Results With Drafting

Drafting – SUP Racer

Larry Caine’s Technical Blog on Drafting

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 school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.


Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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