12 SUP Racing Mistakes & Solutions

Downwind More

When racers have an opportunity to downwind in non specific downwind races, often they don’t do it. I’ve seen this many times, even from racers who downwind locally or at Hood River in Oregon.

Every Wave can be Downwinded

Paddlers who only downwind in big wind conditions often don’t see small waves as something that can be ridden. Truth is, any size wave, even a knee high bump can give you a push.

Check out Blue Planet’s video on using small waves as on ramps to catching bigger waves.

Paddling Downwind vs Downwinding Surfing is Slower

Last night during a race in 16 NE wind, the flood was pushing in 3′ wind waves which created nice rollers that were easy to surf. I only saw one racer out of the bunch getting nice glides, the rest were muscling through it as if on flat water vs taking the glides. Paddling downwind vs surfing the bumps is actually slower and you will fatigue sooner.

When you see a wave going in your direction, take it, chill out on the glide while taking a break and enjoy the glide. Check your watch and note the notable speed increase of glides vs paddling.

Improve Rough Water Skills

“I’m not good at side chop” “I don’t like right turns” I hear these comments at races. When developing races, racers have asked me to avoid having the course go through difficult water. As an instructor I like to train my racers to push themselves to improve overall skills such as those in reverb, waves or on buoy turns. I refuse give them a flat easy course that won’t improve their skills.

Side chop or reverb is also the nautical term ‘clapotis’. Paddle reverb by getting low and using quick short strokes for balance. Stay loose, allowing your board to rock and roll a bit and trust your board’s rails for secondary stability. Paddling is stability. Get tippy? Don’t stop – stay low and keep paddling.

Goofy and Regular Feet for Buoy Turns

Are you left handed so only like to turn or surf left? Start going right, you may not rock it but get better so it’s not an issue.

Paddling Around Rough Water or Obstacles Makes it Longer

Instead of paddling offshore to avoid reverb, plow right through it.  Paddling offshore increases your race distance.

When you see a dock that you could go under or on the inside of, do so. Going around will add more mileage to your race. I use rubber Superflex 9″ fins in shallow areas.

Buoy Turns

We do a lot of buoy turns. No matter how often I recommend racers to not bunch up and jam into each other around buoys, they keep doing it.

A few thoughts.. 

Go wide around a buoy. I’ve found going wide still keeps me competitive and I don’t lose speed. I can plan my turn before I get there and avoid the traffic jam.

Jamming around super tight next to others, sometimes losing balance while doing a pivot/buoy turn kills your speed so you have to start out from 0 once you get around to speed back up.

Avoid the pivot turn.  The pivot is a braking move, you’re jamming your tail into the water thus slowing the board down. I use it at the end of a surf ride to slow down before I turn around. Ya it lifts your nose but you also slow down nearly 100% to a stop while do little side turns to swing the nose around, then run back to center, then speed back up, to do it all over again on the next buoy.

Instead try a cross bow, stay wide around the buoy thus not slowing down (or much), not losing your balance and not running into folks.

Use Wind and Waves to go around a Buoy

Why work around the buoy when the wind and waves can do the work for you?

Wind – If the wind is coming from the right, and your buoy is straight out, then go right into the wind/waves letting it push you around the buoy at a 90 degree turn.

Not doing so means the wind will push you left down wind/wave to where the buoy is now on your right and will require a 180 degree turn to get around it

Waves – Got waves rolling through from the Right? As you approach a buoy in front of you, go slightly right so the waves don’t push you too far left (see above) making for a harder buoy turn. But also if you have a wave approaching the buoy, aim into one that will lift your nose. Once it lifts your nose, do a sweep stroke on your right side on the crest (top) of the wave to swing the board around – in the direction the wave is going for a super easy free flowing turn around the buoy and down wind/wave.

Or ignore the waves and try to power through them doing a pivot in a bumpy place losing balance and falling in onto the other racer thus losing crucial ground in the race.

Ballard Elks Summer Race in Seattle

Look at Where You Want to Go – I teach this to my beginning students. Don’t want to hit that rock? Don’t look at it.  Going around a buoy? Keep your eyes on where you want to go, not at the buoy itself. Are you doing a cross bow turn? Look at where you’re turning, not forward (common).

Paddling Up Wind and Current

Paddle in the Lee and Use Eddies – Last night during a race, we had a 16 knot upwind section. A few guys were ahead of me at a buoy but chose to paddle directly upwind (and up current on the flood tide). I chose the wind and current protected shore (lee shore) which was also glassy. Though my route looked longer, I met them at the next buoy.

If you don’t have a protected shore or eddy, use short quick strokes (to your toes) with a good feather (flat blade on your recovery) to paddle up wind. Not all races require you to stand, so sit or prone paddle up wind for best results. Why ruin your shoulders if you’re not in a pro cash purse race?

Ballard Elks Summer Race in Seattle

Paddling Up Current?  At your race we often send racers up Salmon Bay which is the outlet for the Ballard Locks, which is essentially a dam.  There’s always outgoing current. Add a SE wind the wind pushes (the surface) water very fast. But if a N wind opposes the current small waves develop.

Tips for padding into wind and current – Find a protected area along the shore such as docks, moored boats, cliffs or sections of land jutting out. See the glassy section behind each? Aim for those pockets and link them together.

Tips for paddling in opposing current and wind – You won’t know till you get in it whether the wind is stronger than the current or opposite.  In our location the current is always stronger than the wind. So for going up current, like the tip above, I look for eddies which are protected areas behind obstructions that will give me an area of no current to work with. Link those together.

Diversify your Skills

I see a lot of racers only practicing on flat calm water. What if race day isn’t? What if it’s blowing 20 knots?  When you downwind, also paddle up wind and side wind. Get good at each.  Learn to surf both ocean waves and boat wakes (hard to catch). Learn to surf your 14′ board. Paddle in rivers, in reverb, try different ways around buoys (develop a new technique?).

Race Strategy Tip –
You might think hanging with pack or more experienced racers is the best route? But each of them are trying to beat you. Find your own smarter route. Not all packs or the leader are taking the smartest route.

Check out these other links for more SUP Racing Mistakes & Solutions

Tips for Paddling Race Boards in Surf

Stay Drier with the Sweeping Brace

Do You Have a Race Strategy?


Need more info or to take our classes give me a holler..
Rob Casey
Seattle, WA USA

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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