Racing is one of the most rewarding disciplines in standup paddling, but where to get started with SUP racing isn’t always clear. Just watching the popular events—elite races like M2O and Pacific Paddle Games—can be intimidating, but there’s plenty of competition out there for entry-level paddlers. With a little advice, taking on your first SUP race can be much easier than it seems. Here are some tips from champion standup paddle racer Fiona Wylde that will help you get off the start line. -MM
Safety is smart.
Some people aren’t super comfortable on the water at first, and that’s OK. It takes a couple steps to get there. Wearing a life vest rather than just a belt PFD can help calm the nerves. And of course, always wear a leash. These two things are so important to staying safe and can make you more confident in the race, which always helps. Note: Many races make PFDs mandatory so make sure you are prepared.
Know your ability & fitness level.
People tend to underestimate the amount of training they need before their first race. At my first Carolina Cup I thought I’d trained enough, then three quarters of the way through I was spent! If you know you can paddle the distance of the race, then the rest doesn’t really matter—you can go as fast or as slow as you want but at least you’ll know you can get there!
Compete in your age group.
I encourage new racers to start in their age group rather than other divisions. Competing with other athletes your age allows you to be around other people of a generally similar ability. Maybe somebody’s going to blow you out of the water, maybe you’re going to be the one who’s way out in front. Either way, you don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Start with a community race or local paddling group.
High-profile races with advanced competitors are tough to break into. Starting in your age group at a local race is a great way to build confidence, plus it’s only up from there. Starting out in smaller local events is a great way to meet other paddlers and become part of the community. The community is constantly growing and having friends to compete against is awesome motivation.
Eat a big, healthy breakfast on race day.
Don’t eat anything more than you would normally on race day, but a healthy breakfast that leaves you feeling good will help keep your energy up. Make sure you have enough carbs and protein. If the race isn’t until later in the day, make sure you have a snack beforehand so you stay fueled and don’t end up skipping a meal.
Bring drinking water & high energy snacks
It’s a good idea to bring water along for the race, even if it’s a short race. Conditions can change and sometimes you end up on the course for longer than expected. Having water never hurts; just throw on a hydration pack and throw an energy bar in there. You may not need it but it’s always good to be prepared.
Be comfortable with your equipment.
Buying new equipment for your first race is not a bad idea, but it’s important to remember not to go too narrow with your race board. If it’s your first race, you want something wider and more stable so you don’t have to worry about falling in and you can just focus on paddling. But you don’t necessarily need to buy a new board for your first race. If you have something that you’re comfortable with, try racing that first to get used to the process.
Find the right fin.
In my opinion the RAY fin is the best fin for beginner racers. It provides lots of stability and tracking without adding drag. You will be surprised how bumping it can get on the start line or when paddling with lots of other people nearby. You are not fast if you are falling off so a bigger fin will help you concentrate on paddling hard which is especially important over longer distances as you get fatigued.
Take in your surroundings.
Regardless of what level of competition you’re trying to get to, SUP races typically take place in gorgeous places. Make sure you take time to look around and enjoy your surroundings because that’s part of what makes it fun. SUP racing can take you some pretty unique places and it helps to appreciate it, even when you’re grinding! It is a good idea to check the map and be sure that you know where you are paddling, even the top racers get it wrong sometimes.
Bonus Tip: Remember to have fun! That’s why we are out here, so let’s enjoy it!
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