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A Beginner’s Guide to Stand-Up Paddle Board Racing

beginners guide to stand up paddle board racingSo, you enjoy recreational paddle boarding, but have you ever considered racing? Signing up for stand-up paddle board (SUP) races is a great way to test your strength and ability in the sport; plus, it’s another adventure that allows you to do something you enjoy while meeting new people. In this beginner’s guide to stand-up paddle board racing, we give you the lowdown on the gear you should have, the types of races available, where you can find lessons, and how to train for your first race. Get excited, because your next adventure starts now!

SUP Racing Gear

Success will come when you’re SUP racing if you have the proper gear. The equipment you use for racing could be slightly different than what you would use for leisure activity. Below we explain what gear you should have, as well as which configurations will be best for racing.

SUP Paddles

In general, you will want the lightest paddle on the market, so you can easily maneuver them through the water—and they’ll make you faster, too. Aluminum paddles might be great for leisure paddle boarding, but they would be too heavy to use during a race. Instead, consider fiberglass or carbon fiber paddles because they’re both lightweight and durable. Additionally, you must decide on the blade size; larger blades make more powerful strokes, but add pressure and stress to the body, while smaller blades allow you to paddle faster with lower strain.

Inflatable or Rigid Paddle Boards

There are two options to choose from regarding the board you use for racing. Choose between an inflatable board or a rigid one made with a hard shell. Rigid boards can cut through the water more efficiently, but inflatable boards allow athletes to travel more easily with the gear. Keep in mind that you will bump into other racers on the water, so you will need a quality board to prevent damage.

SUP Board Length

There are three different types of classes you can race SUP in, and the length of your board determines which category you fall into. The three are 12’6’’, 14’, or unlimited. You can paddle faster on a longer board, but you will have less balance and stability.

The 14-footer race is likely the main event for many races, but if you’re a beginner, a 12-foot 6-inch board race is best because it will suit your skills better. Once you improve your skillset, you can dabble in the 14’ and unlimited races. Unlimited races are less popular and more specialized because the board is exceptionally long and is typically used for downwind races.

SUP Board Width

Water paddle board width is also an important decision for you to make because it can help you retain your balance on the board. While the length of the board determines which race you participate in, the width is a preference choice. Beginners should start around a 28-inch width; once you develop your skills, you can downsize to 22 or 24 inches, so the board is narrower and faster. Always begin your SUP racing journey with comfort in mind until you can gather your wits for more advanced gear.

As a pro tip, learn the weight capacity for each board. If you were to use an inappropriate board for your weight, it could sink into the water and hinder your paddling. Remember, how fast and well you perform this water sport depends on the gear you use.

Two Hull Types

The shape of your paddle board or the hull type comes in two different configurations: planing or displacement. Planing hulls are flat with a rounded nose. This hull is often wider and typically used for leisure and recreational SUP boarding.

Displacement hulls have a pointy nose, higher sides and often a recessed deck area. This type of hull is often the choice for racing because it cuts through the water more efficiently.

Miscellaneous Gear

Aside from the board and the paddle, there is other gear you won’t want to forget, either. This includes the SUP leash, a PFD or life jacket, a water bottle, and fins. The leash and PFD will keep you safe during the race. You can also bring a water bottle to stay hydrated, and use different fin attachments to better guide your tracking and direction through the water.

Types of SUP Races

Not every SUP race will partake in the ocean—after all, not everyone lives near one! You can use many types of waterways for a race, ranging from lakes to rivers to protected bays. Because water conditions are much calmer in rivers and lakes, these races are likely reserved for beginners. Always look at the conditions of the water and where the race is taking place to ensure that the race is suitable for your skill level.

Lessons for SUP Racing

Now that you have the rundown on the gear you should acquire and the types of races available, let’s review how you can find lessons to prepare for the race. Reach out to any local SUP board shops in your area to see if they offer lessons in paddle boarding. Maybe you have a friend who is an avid paddler; consider asking them for advice too.

You could also search on various social media apps to see if any local SUP groups are accepting members. Join these groups to gain valuable information. They may even host group paddles where you can meet more people and learn new techniques.

Tips for Training for Your First Race

This beginner’s guide for stand-up paddle board racing wouldn’t be complete without some training tips for your first race. Building skills through lessons and training is very different; training puts a lot more pressure on the athlete because you’re strengthening your abilities and using discipline rather than learning and easing into new techniques with lessons.

After you sign up for your first race, you must begin training and preparing your body. Racing is much different from recreational paddling and takes a lot more energy. To build your stamina, take your board out regularly and paddle through the nearest body of water. Consider taking a heavier paddle to build strength in your arms.

Aside from practicing your paddle boarding, don’t forget to hit the gym for swimming, cycling, or HIIT training to better your performance for race day. You can do these exercises on days when the weather prevents you from being on the water. Don’t forget to work on your balance because it will be a crucial step when racing.

Your diet also plays a significant role in your performance. For example, sugar provides great energy at first, but you’re likely to crash halfway through the day, which can’t happen on race day. Start fueling your body with a balanced diet and the proper nutrients to help build stronger muscles.

Do you think you’re ready for your first SUP race? If you’re feeling anxious, arrive at the race location early and ask the organizers for directions and rules or regulations to better prepare yourself. Remember that your performance will reflect on the gear you choose, how well you practice, and what you’re fueling your body with. What are you waiting for? Take on the challenge of racing with your SUP board!

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About the author: Julian Kidd
I have been an avid stand up paddle boarder since 2009. I retired from a decade of professional kiteboarding to focus on SUP. Green Water Sports grew from this love of all things SUP. As well as being a keen paddle boarder, I'm a football fan, closet petrol head, web tinkerer, husband and father.