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SUP Strategy & Tactics

SUP Race Osterville, MA

Water is a dynamic environment, even what is "duck pond" calm. SUP races are rarely occurring on a duck pond, so the complexity of these watery environments increases. The larger elements include the wind, waves, water depth, and water current. There are times when the conditions allow these elements to be used to your advantage, and other times where they can be a huge disadvantage, especially if they are ignored.

There are many factors to train and consider for SUP racing. There is the board and paddle selection, physiological training, and technique. One area that tends to be neglected is strategy and tactics relating to the race venue. There are many races that occur in coastal areas, open bodies of water, and river environments. The conditions and features of the course will create situations that have adverse or advantageous affects for your performance.

SUP Race Hong Kong Island

A great race to use as an example is the Paddle for the Bays Race that was held for the past two years on Grand Island in Osterville, MA. The venue for the race occurs in-shore of the coast, but it is a tidal venue that includes open waterways, constrictions, harbors, and shallow flats. The race is a circumnavigation of Grand Island for the 5 mile course and two laps for the 10 mile course.

Paddle for the Bays Race Course 2018-2019

One of the best options to begin building your strategy and tactics for a race is to get out and paddle the race course area. If this is not possible, then using google maps to get a bird's eye view of the area is another source. With the satellite imagery you can look for hazards such as shallow areas, piers, and mooring areas. You also need to access the tides and weather to begin building a picture of what the conditions may present themselves. Doing this beforehand will allow you to determine your positioning for crux areas such as crossing an open water section where wind, current, and tide will influence. West Bay, of the Paddle for the Bays Race, contains contains all of these along with motor and sail boat traffic.

Open water section with tide, wind, and boat traffic.

It's a lot easier to make sense of what the current, tide, and wind will do when you're not currently paddling. If you've waited until you're in the midst of the race, you're going to struggle making effective decisions based on conditions. In most cases with cross winds, it will be to your advantage to stay high on the wind. If you get blown down, paddling head into the wind is exhausting both physically and mentally. There will usually be wind shadows near the shore when the wind is coming off of the land, and as you get farther out in open water the wind will start to increase the texture of the water into wavelets and waves. In crossing West Bay with South-to-South-West winds and a foul tide, staying high on the wind allowed for a better finishing position.

Constriction area with wind, current, boat traffic, and shoals.

In refining your strategy and tactics for the race, it is important to determine when and how much of your energy output you will use. If there is a section where you will have wind and current aiding you just before a crux area where you will need to work against them, this may be a time to lower your output to save that energy. Breaking the race into legs where you determine an optimal route and stamina will make a difference in overall performance.

Final leg of the Paddle for the Bays Race 2018-2019

One of the last key points is to make sure to identify markers that will allow you to determine where you are at on the race course. There are devices that can do this for you, but there are times that they run out of power or have poor reception. There is a false point on Grand Island that can mess with people's momentum where they think they are at the finish. At the actual point near the finish, there is a shallow sandbar that if the tide is low will catch your fin. Identifying markers to know your route will allow you to keep your momentum and energy when you need it.

I hope that you have found some of the suggestions useful and best of luck on your next race. See you out on the water!

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