The stand up paddle race start is one of the most critical moments in SUP competition. Use these guidelines to set yourself up for a successful SUP race start.
One of the first and most important elements to consider is the starting sequence being used at your race. As president of the Stand Up Paddle Athletes Association, I’ve made an effort to standardize SUP race rules and starts so that the athlete has the best experience possible. I realize that not every race uses the SUPAA rulebook, or any rulebook for that matter.
Be sure you are familiar with the specific rules implemented at the SUP races you attend.
Is the race starting on a horn blast or a whistle? What time is the start? Is it a mass start or separate start for board classes?
These might sound like simple questions but the answers are often not clear and can be critical to your success. Understanding the start sequence will allow you to relax as much as possible and focus solely on your athletic performance before the race.
Stand Up Paddle Beach Starts
After you’ve established a spot on the start line, check the area directly in your path to the water. Look to make sure there are no holes or unstable sand spots that could cause injury and impede your speed. Go into the water directly in front of your starting position and check the bottom. Wade into the water until it is just over knee deep to ensure there are no holes or obstructions.
Running with your board and executing a good glide onto the water can be a huge competitive advantage during a beach start. Apply the basic principles of a beach start below and find what works best for you. The key is to develop starting skills before race day. Each paddler should find their prefered beach start method based on experience, equipment and comfort.
Holding The Board And Paddle
If you are right handed, hold the board on your right side, and vice versa. You can hold the paddle in your left hand or you can try holding the board and paddle with the same hand. Find the combination that allows you to run with ease and feel the most confident. If your board has handle inserts on the forward section, or in the middle, try using these as well.
Running To The Water
Assume a low and athletic position with your knees bent before the start horn goes off. Be ready for the sound of the starter so you are not caught with dead legs standing straight up. Sprint as fast as you can to the water without pushing too hard and risking a fall or injury.
Approaching the water, shift the board so that the bottom is no longer against your side but facing the ground. The timing of this shift will depend on which technique is the most comfortable and the way in which you hold the board. When you reach the water you should decide how far to run before throwing your board down and jumping on.
Mounting your board too early can cause the fin to hit in shallow water and a potential fall off your board. If you are too deep in the water, you’ll lose all the speed gained while running. The key is to maintain your running speed and translate it into the glide onto the water.
Gliding Onto The Water
Form an idea for where you would like to mount your board before the race starts. In fact, complete a few practice starts to ensure you have a good plan and can work out any kinks before the race. A depth of approximately shin to knee deep is a good indicator for where you should be mounting your board.
Upon reaching the area where you would like to get on your board, dive onto your board while maintaining forward speed and glide. There is no precisely correct method for this component of the start.
Some paddlers will dive onto their stomachs and then pop up to their feet while more advanced paddlers may jump straight onto their feet in one single bound. Whichever method works best for you, concentrate on translating your running speed into the speed of your board gliding onto the water.
Faster is not always better. Popping up too fast can cause a drop in speed and a less efficient glide. Try waiting an extra second before popping up onto your feet and see if this feels faster. Test different methods of running and gliding onto the water to see which technique is the fastest and feels the best for you.
Different combinations include: holding your board using different handles, switching your board and paddle to different sides of your body, and holding your board and paddle in the same hand.
Stand Up Paddle Water Start
A water start has fewer variables and is less dynamic than a stand up paddle beach start. Consider lining up next to someone who will paddle on the same side as you at the start. Paddlers are friendly people so you can simply ask which side your neighboring competitors prefer to paddle on at the start. This will help ensure that you have room to place your paddle in the water and will not hit theirs.
If there is wind and waves, be sure to provide sufficient room between yourself, the start line and other paddlers. This will help you stay clear of trouble and avoid false starts.
On The Start Line
Choosing a spot on the start line is much more important than simply lining up in a random position. When racing familiar paddlers, line up next to those you would like to beat or who race at a similar speed. Aligning yourself next to a paddler who is the same speed will make it easier to find them and to begin drafting after the start. Lining up next to a paddler you are aiming to beat can provide extra motivation to stay at their pace once the race begins.
The layout of the course relative to the start line can have an impact on the best place to line up. If the first turn in the race is a right buoy turn 200 ft from the shore, then the right side of the start line will have the shortest distance to the buoy, provide inside positioning and will be the fastest line assuming there is not wind, current or waves.
Inside positioning may not be as favorable if external factors are affecting the path to the first turn buoy. Your start-line strategy will improve with experience in different starting scenarios.
Should you use inside positioning, anticipate racing at the same speed or slightly faster than the majority of the racers. If you are slower, you run the risk of being squeezed too far to the inside, making it difficult to navigate the mass of paddlers and to properly round the buoy. If your goal is to simply finish the race, it is often the best strategy to line up away from the inside position, giving yourself plenty of room to paddle.
After The Start Horn
Some of the most difficult water to paddle through is in the washing machine conditions created by a large group of paddlers at the start of a race. The waves created by all of the boards refract back-and-forth, resulting in a choppy mess. Hopefully you have executed a clean start and are toward the front of this messy water. If you are not in clean water then you will want to be prepared to paddle with the necessary form as described in this article about stand up paddle stroke variability.
Now you’re off to the races!
Stand Up Paddle Race Start Strategy Recap
Use the information in this article to help execute a strong stand up paddle race start at your next event. As always, remember you can read and watch videos as much as you want but nothing beats practice. If you don’t get out on the water and continually practice these skills, you will not see drastic improvement.
What types of problems are you running into during your SUP race starts? Let us know by joining the conversation on the Paddle Society Forum.