So You Think You Might Want to Race, Now what?

do the Cold Stroke

Entering your first standup paddleboard race

Chances are, if you just bought your first paddleboard and you’ve discovered you’re addicted to it, the thought of entering a paddleboard race has crossed your mind.  Or maybe you’ve just discovered that sup racing is actually a thing and you’re intrigued.  You want to try it, but you’re not sure how, where or what to do.  Here’s some help!

Why Race?

Races are where the paddle community comes together.  And unlike a lot of other competitive events, many first time paddle racers discover the level of stoke at paddle races is extremely high. There is something that’s just different about paddle racing, versus say, triathlon.   Even if you are not super competitive, chances are your first sup race will not only be fun, because you’re out on the water, but because you’re out on the water with people who are at the same skill level you are and who are just as excited about the sport as you are.  It’s a great place to meet other paddler and share experiences.  Be prepared, you might actually find a new family! And it’s not about how fast you can go, but about the fact you simply went.

Races often come with clinics, which provide an easy and affordable way to improve your overall paddle skills. Take advantage of those opportunities. They will help you improve you paddle efficiency, avoid injury and will increase your stoke level.

Finding that first race

Chances are, there’s a local sup race near you.  Check out the Distressed Mullet race calendar  and choose a race that’s close by and perhaps on familiar water.  Even if you’re in great shape, consider starting out with a shorter distance race for your first time out, say a 5K or 3-miler. Keep it simple to start. Like any first time endeavor, chances are you will be a little nervous, so keeping it simple helps minimize the jitters, and keeping it local or at least somewhat local and on water you’re somewhat familiar with will help reduce the stress.  Keep your first race within your skill level when it comes to the type of race.  If you’ve only paddled on flat water, don’t enter an open ocean race for your first time out.  You know, that sort of thing,

If you know someone who’s done the race you’re thinking of entering, talk to them about it.  Chances are, the race has a Facebook page- visit it, read the posts, and use that page to post any questions you might have ahead of time.  Paddle folk are usually really helpful and love to pass on information.

What you’ll need

In addition to a stoked up, positive attitude, you’ll need a board, of course, but it doesn’t have to be a mega-carbon, streamlined, high powered racing machine.  You can enter a sup race with any kind of board. Most races have “divisions” or “classes” for each of the main designs of paddleboards out there, even inflatables. Be sure you enter the right class. That way, your time will be compared with other racers paddling a similar kind of craft. Your first race should be about the experience of it, and the fun of it, so don’t worry if that all-around, big surf style board isn’t as fast as those mega carbon boards.

You’ll of course need a paddle, PFD and leash.  PFDs and leashes are almost always required if not strongly suggested for all races.  You will want a hydration pack to carry water and possibly some snacks.

Wear paddle clothes appropriate for the conditions.  Board shorts, tights, compression clothing, whatever you’re comfortable in works.  Keep in mind the water temperature and weather conditions on race day.  Wear sunscreen.


Have a Sherpa

A race “sherpa” is a good friend or family member who comes along to help and cheer you on.  This is the person who makes sure you have everything you need, who grabs your board at the end of the race and helps you get it back on your car afterward and who makes sure you get something to eat.  A good sherpa can make all the difference during your first race experience.

Set Some Goals

My first race was the Cold Stroke Classic, which is held every January in Wrightsville Beach, NC.  The weather is always questionable, and the water is cold. That first race, I had three goals: Don’t Fall, Finish, and Have Fun. Set your own objectives for that first race, and keep the expectations reasonable.

What to expect on the starting line

SUP Racing in the Northeast

Races can start in the water, on a starting line, on the beach or lakeshore.  How the start will go is usually spelled out in the race information on a race registration page and will be further detailed at the pre-start racers meeting. ALWAYS attend the racer’s meeting. That’s where you get helpful details, instructions and learn if there have been any changes as a result of conditions, or extenuating circumstances. That’s also the place where you can ask questions about the course and how things like tide and wind might be affecting it.

If the race is starting on the water, racers may go out en masse or in waves according to classes or genders. You’ll paddle out, line up and then go when a horn or gun goes off.  You may have to sit on your board before the start or not. Once the gun goes off, be prepared for choppy water.  Race starts are usually a bit nerve wrecking, especially that first time.  The pack will evetually thin out and things will calm down, and you can settle in to paddling. The first time, take it easy at the start and let your nerves calm down.

If it’s a beach start and there are waves to contend with, then it’s helpful to have some practice get out through those waves.  Chances are, your first race probably won’t be one that requires dealing with shore break.  But if it is, make sure you have practiced that skill and are comfortable with paddling out through waves.

The Most Important Thing

Just have fun.  Most folks love paddle races because it means spending a day or possibly a weekend with people who are just as excited about being on the water as they are. Sure, you can set time goals, you can make a run to get on the podium or beat so and so, but at the end of the day, no matter what happens, sup racing allows us the opportunity to enjoy the connection we all have via the water.

And that’s really what it’s all about.

Got a tip to share for the first time racer? Share it in the comments!


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