Last Saturday I showed up at the local town beach for my first SUP race. It was the 4th Annual Raw Elements Waterman Eco-Challenge put on by Brian Guadagno, owner of Raw Elements sunscreen. The participants included about 15 prone paddlers and 60 stand up paddlers. As I waited for the organizers to start the SUP race, a few questions ran through my head. I saw a number of large bright, inflatable orange buoys out on the water and a couple of green buoys out in the distance. Where does the race start and finish? How many laps are you supposed to do? In what direction do you go? Luckily, Brian quickly explained where we starting and to what side of each buoy we were to go around. Once that was squared away I felt pretty comfortable.
This was a really fun event and I got a few ideas and learned some new lessons from the experience that I’d like to share. So here they are.
Weather: Checking the weather reports often before an event like this is obviously a good idea since you get a feel as to what to expect. Unfortunately, weather forecasting can only predict conditions, and marine weather can be very fickle. So on this day when the weather was forecasted to be relatively calm, it was actually pretty windy. Fighting your way through a powerful head wind and side wind challenges your stamina and balance a lot more than you think.
Tip: Practice paddling in adverse conditions every so often. Don’t be shy about it either, give it your best effort and gain as much firsthand experience as possible for dealing with head winds and side chop.
The Course: I noticed when I arrived at the beach that there were paddleboarders out on the water doing pivot turnsaround the buoys. Others were heading out through the shore break, coming in and going through it again. I thought they were just anxious and wanted to blow off steam. But now I realize that they were testing the course and warming up for the race. Our race began with a water start where we lined up in the water and took off when signaled. A lot people, including myself got bogged down as the waves broke in front of us. As a result, at the very beginning of the race I ended up one of the last people in the pack and had to fight my way towards the front. Secondly, every area will have its own unique currentsand rip tides. These forces often collide with the wind swell travelling across the surface of the water creating very challenging conditions. It can feel like you’re paddling through a washing machine.
Tip: Get to the race early, put in and get a feel for the beach break and how water behaves in that area.
Eat and Hydrate: SUP racing is intense. In order for you to perform on the water you need to drink fluids before the race. Don’t bother with sugar-laden energy drinks that will have you crashing as the starting gun goes off. Instead, slowly drink plenty of water over an extended period of time before the race. Mix in a good quality electrolyte powder like Skratch Labshydration mix. Also, eat some high energy food such as nuts and apples. I like nut butter energy packets- Pocket Fuel. I drank a liter of electrolyte water and had a packet of nut butter before the race. I felt pretty good throughout the 3 three miles but if the race were any longer I think I would’ve started to crash- which is to say, I cut it a little close.
Tip: If you want to perform, you need to manage your hydration effectively and eat the right foods. It is also important to drink and eat after the race to replenish what you lost. Spend some time researching this. Here is a good place to start.
Training: Training programs can help a lot with building stamina and give you a good understanding of how hard you can push yourself. I have been working with the Riding Bumps program for about 12 weeks now in preparation for Cape Cod Bay Challenge (CCBC) coming up in August. This program is based on working within several heart rate zones that you establish on the water. It is not based on speed or distance training. It includes working on your paddling technique, doing intervals, pivot turns, and incorporating non-paddling, cross training activities of your choice. The idea is to build up your anaerobic threshold over the course of 16 weeks. In short, it makes you a stronger and faster paddler. This is just one program among many but it has been very helpful to me especially because it gives me a good reason to get out on the water and stay disciplined.
Tip: Research the Internet for a SUP training program that you think fits your ability and schedule- and see it through!
I have to say that the best thing about this event was meeting new people that were just plain excited and giddy to be paddling in a race. All the participants were smiling and the scene was very laid back. I think it’s important to realize that your number one goal should always be to have fun, but also to try your hardest, and smile your way through every mile. Feed off of the positive energy you get from being outside in the elements, stay focused on your paddling technique and keep your pace up. Good luck!