Stand Up Paddle Board Racing: Equipment, Training and Techniques

SUP racing is taking off quickly, almost as fast as a race board cuts through water on race day. In 2016 alone there will be more than 220 official races worldwide. We want to give you an introduction to SUP racing and everything you need to know if you are thinking about competing. We cover the basics like gear, technique, training and resources.

Stand Up Paddle Board Race Gear: 

Race Paddle Board 14

Let’s start at the beginning – the board. What kinds of boards do racers use? Well, there are different lengths and designs. Women generally race 12’6” boards, with some using 14’ and others as short as 11’. Men mostly race 14’, some use 12’6” and a few race unlimited boards (over 14’). Every reputable SUP brand will have a race board model, but not all race boards are made equal. This is something you will have to research and explore.

Choosing a board is a very personal experience. If you have decided to buy a race board, you probably already have an idea of what you are looking for. The look of your board will be something that speaks to you. You may already have a favorite brand of SUPs that you are hoping to stick to no matter what the shape of their race board. Our advice is to go to races and try out the demo boards that sponsors will have available for that exact purpose, or attend race clinics and try out different boards. Speak to fellow racers and ask them what they ride and why.

When choosing a board, take into account your size, technique, balance and ability to maintain stability. For example, a narrower board will be faster if you are able to keep your balance and stroke quality while riding it. Another factor to consider is your budget. Carbon fiber construction will result in a faster, lighter, but also more expensive, board.

If you are going from a flat-water board, you may want to consider getting a displacement hull or touring board. This is a good transitionary board and many people race on them. The differences between these and racing boards are that racing boards are narrower and usually lighter (depending on length) than touring boards.

There is some general gear that you need to look into other than your board and those are: your paddle, what you wear, hydration packs, waterproof phone or iPod cases, the type of fin you use, snacks, PFD, and leash. Look at what the pros are using to race or refer to the many online reviews for these products.

A note on paddles: choosing the length of your paddle is important. Make sure it is a one-piece paddle and not an adjustable one. Adjustable paddles will loosen throughout the race. Choose a light paddle, preferably carbon fiber.

Race Techniques

Paddle Board Race Technique

As with every professional sport, there are a number of key techniques that you must master in order to take part in competitions. For us these techniques are: the race start, paddling, pivot turning, and drafting.

SUP Race Starts

How you start the race is very important! There are 3 prominent race starts that you will definitely see: sitting on board like in the World Series where each leg is on either side of the board, running starts, and starts where you are standing next to your board in the water. Research and practice each technique until you are comfortable with them. Time yourself doing each one and make them a part of your regular training regime.

Paddling Techniques

Let’s look at paddling next. In order to improve your stroke, you have to increase your reach. Practice reaching forward as far as you can and inserting the blade of the paddle at the front of your board. Activate your core and pull yourself towards the paddle, rather than pulling the paddle towards you.

Once your paddle is next to you, pull it out. Efficiently pull out the paddle and bring it back around to the front in one smooth movement. Any paddling that happens between you and the back of your board is useless. In fact, it wastes energy. Pull the paddle out with a flick of the wrist. Cut through the air with the blade of your paddle so as to not create any resistance. Bring your blade forward in a straight line. You want to do this as fast as possible.

Your recovery should be minimal. If you bring your blade back to the front in a wide semi-circle, you will loose time and maybe be pushed back by the wind, requiring more effort from you to get back to where you were.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding Race Techniques: Drafting

Drafting is a race tactic that any serious competitor must learn. The wake or path that a paddleboard leaves behind is what is used to draft. It is a resistance-free zone that allows the drafter to move faster with less work. Racers use drafting as a chance to recover. You can save up to 30% of your energy by tucking in close behind the nearest paddle boarder, then use this stored energy to pass them and move forward.

There are specific rules regarding drafting. According to the SUPAA rulebook, drafting is defined as being within 1 meter of the tail for longer than 10 seconds. It is allowed only within the same board class or gender, except for during the first 200 meters of the race. Familiarize yourself with the drafting rules of the race you are competing in.

To get comfortable with drafting, practice doing it during social paddles. It requires learned skill to be as close behind a paddler as you can in order to draft. Your nose is inches away from their tail and any movement on their part may lead to a collision.

Paddle Board Race Techniques: Pivot Turns

Lastly, lets look at turning. Pivot turns are essential for paddleboard racing. It is the quickest and most efficient way to get around a buoy. To do the turn, step, shuffle or cross-step your feet back towards the tail of your board. You will have one foot back and one forward so that you are in a surf stance. The more momentum you have going into a turn, the easier it will be. As you step onto the back of the board, the nose of your board will naturally tip out of the water. Now, insert the paddle by the middle of the board and circle it away from the board.

The closer your foot is towards the back fin, the quicker you will get around the buoy and the less you will have to paddle. Once you are done turning, walk back to the middle of the board. If you feel unstable, you can always use your paddle to hold yourself up by bracing it and hitting the water with it. You would be surprised to know how much a paddle can support you. Pivot turning is one of those skills that will come with practice. Be prepared to fall off a few times while you get used to the feeling. Maybe leave your glasses behind while practicing pivot turns.

Paddle Board Race Training

Once you have decided what board you are going to use, you can start the training process! Make a plan. You have to have your own race-training program. Fortunately there are a lot of places online that offer these programs. We like a website that has a different SUP workout every day of the week – They vary in length, strategy and intensity.

Do some research and find the program best suited to you. Make sure it includes endurance and interval training. For endurance, you can train yourself on your SUP as well as off it. A few sessions of power yoga or a few miles run here and there never hurt.

Paddleboard racing is relatively new yet it has grown at an ever-expanding rate!

There are a ton of race resources online. To sign up for a race or for general race information, check out It has over 100 races around the world. They have links for signing up for the races as well as all of their pertinent information.




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