Over a decade with SUP racing and running races, I’ve learned a few things that will help you get faster, easier.

12 SUP Race Strategies

1. Paddle smarter, not harder. This means using finesse vs power, take the short vs the long route, use waves to your advantage and learn to read water to look for a free ride.

2. Learn to coastal surf, river paddle and/or how to downwind. These rough water skills will give you an edge over those that can’t paddle in bumps.  I see too many racers only paddling on flat calm water. No guarantee your race will be flat and calm.

3. Learn to paddle in reverb (nautical term: “clapotis”). This is waves that bounce off a seawall or bridge and bounce back into oncoming waves making confused ‘messed up’ water. Use short quick strokes, don’t balance – paddle, bend your knees.

4. Learn to paddle your board straight. Not doing so will add distance and more work to you race. It cracks me up to see guys on $4k race boards that can’t paddle straight.

5. Got 21″ Board that feels tippy? Sure a good fin may help, but you have to become a better paddler too.  Learn to surf and downwind it so you can go over bumps in races with ease. If after a few months the board is still tippy, get a wider board. Learn the Sweeping Brace to get more stable.

6. Upwind isn’t the fastest route. I see a lot of paddlers paddle directly upwind when they could be paying attention to wind breaks, eddies and/or sections of water protected by the wind that will be easier to paddle in and have less stress on your shoulders. Long story – Point A to B isn’t always the fastest route.

7. Buoy Turns.  Get 100% on your turns. I see fast paddlers loose a lot of ground on turns. In fact most do. Learn to use the cross bow around a buoy vs the pivot turn which brakes the board. Use waves to help you round a buoy and if you can, don’t hit the buoy straight on – instead hit it as a 45 degree or 90 degree angle or on the opposite side take a wider turn vs stopping completely then running into folks. Get low, don’t stand up when turning.

7.1 Buoy Turns in wind or swell– If say you have a strong wind on one side of a buoy. Paddling straight to the buoy means the wind may push you downwind thus increasing your angle around the buoy. Instead paddle upwind before you get to the buoy, letting the wind push you into the turn.

8. Races with Wind Waves – Whenever I see many of our racers in a downwind situation, they tend to paddle through it, vs surf it. They all love to downwind but in a race they’re in ‘race mode’ and forget to relax and catch a free ride (and a break) using waves to their advantage.  In some situations, paddling through waves will slow you down.

Ballard Elks Monday night race in Seattle.

9. Relax. I learned this from Dave Kalama years ago. I see guys in races pushing super hard and looks super intense. Relax more. I beat a guy once who was in better shape than me because I was taking it easy and he was working too hard.  Loose grip, make sure you’re smiling – take it easy, have more fun and thus go faster.

10. Pay Attention to your Surroundings. Occasionally racers miss a buoy while other racers stay within the course. Or they may miss a wave that could’ve given them a free ride. Racers often get into an intense focus blocking out their surroundings.  As I mentioned in #9 – Relax and always take a look at our surroundings. Much like surfing, you want to see who else wants that wave, who’s paddling out towards you and you’re watching for incoming waves – 360 degree view of the situation. Is there a better route you can take?

11. Find your own route.  Everyone always follows each other. I’ve heard folks say ‘So and so is our fastest guy, I just follow him.’ Guess what? So and so wants to beat you and will find the best way to do so. Find your own route – the smartest route.  

12. Wear your Leash. Other than obvious safety reasons, when you fall off your board, you won’t be swimming after it and losing your place in the race. See it all the time.

Check out more sup race strategies and tips

SUP Guide to Racing Smarter

SUP Racing Mistakes and Solutions

Rob Casey
Seattle, WA USA

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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