Words: Sonny Z Erdelyi
Photos: Dave White http://davewhite.me
SUP is such a great way to get on the water and have fun, either alone or together with family or friends. However, more and more people are taking this sport seriously and are keen to compete against each other in races. In this article, I will give you some ideas about how to prepare for a race.
I assume if you are interested in racing, you’ve already paddled on a SUP board. If not, no matter how fit you are, I’d advise you to take some lessons from a qualified instructor to learn the basics such as knee paddling, stand up paddling, board control, water safety etc. If you’ve got the basics and you are able to paddle, now it’s important to spend time on the board learning the right paddling technique and learning how to deal with the environment, first on flat water then on the sea and the ocean. There are many things out there to cope with, for example; choppy water, waves, different wind directions, temperature and so on. It is also important to learn essential board skills like how to change direction without slowing the board down, including the most common type of turns, reverse kahi stroke or step back (pivot) turns.
Find a race
Once you’ve got the essential skills, let’s find a race! There are many races held within the UK, Europe and worldwide. You need to be smart when choosing a race as it’s important to select the right one. You need to be clear what you are good at and what you aren’t. For example, if I practice on flat water, I won’t choose a downwind race as it would be out of my scope. You need to think, “What can I achieve if I do that race?” If you’ve only just got into racing in this sport, then don’t expect results from the races initially. Go for experience and learn from every single one, so you can improve steadily. In the early stages, the number of races is more important than the quality. Try to join as many races as possible locally. If you are an advanced paddler and have experience in racing, then the quality comes as a priority. Do fewer races in a season but make longer and more advanced preparation for them.
The race season is quite busy, so often there is only 2-4 weeks to prepare for a competition. To break it down: 1-3 weeks hard training and one week before the race of reduced training to recharge for the race event. If it’s your first race, choose one which is no sooner than six weeks away. This will allow you to plan for two blocks of three weeks; two weeks training, then have a rest week. At the end of this third week, try to simulate a race – you’ll learn a lot from it.
You might want to consider if the recovery period on the third week was too much or too little. You could learn about the right type of nutrition needed during the training period or the type of hydration required when you simulated the race. Once you know this, you can move forward to the next three week block and adjust where necessary, maximising the time available to ensure you are fully prepared. Normally training starts on a low intensity level with higher quantity. Closer to the competition the intensity becomes the priority and the quantity reduced. The warm ups, cool downs and rests are essential parts of the preparation. It is important not to over train and allow yourself a break, if your body needs it. Training is not easy, especially if you are training alone, but remember each session is a step closer to success.
If you have ever prepared for a race before, you know your diet has changed at some point. It is important to be aware of the right type and amount of nutrition at the right time. Before a training session I want to be hydrated and fuelled. If I’ve had a large meal, I avoid training within at least 90 minutes. I aim to eat low GI foods which are broken down slower in the body so the energy lasts longer. If you need to eat before training, fruit will keep you going for a while. During paddling I always take hydration with me in the form of water or an isotonic drink. After a session, I eat within 30 minutes which aids a quicker recovery.
At the beginning of the week before a race, I normally feel tired after the previous week’s hard training so my primary aim is to get energised again. I still paddle, but a reduced amount. I practice board skills and turns and stretch out my muscles. Normally two days before the race I don’t paddle and the day before, I have an easy recovery session.
Hopefully, I begin to feel my energy come back and although I want to train more this week, I have to save myself for the race. Try not to fall in the trap, when feeling strong, of training for the race at the last minute, as all you will achieve is to get tired for the competition. I also spend some time checking the weather and the conditions for the race and prepare my food and hydration.
It is also useful to make sure your kit is ready (board, paddle, fin, leash, clothes for different weather conditions) and if anything’s missing you can still get it before the race. Nutrition wise, I want to make sure I eat enough and be recharged for the competition, but I wouldn’t change anything in the diet at this point as the body might find it difficult to adjust.
The day before the race, I make sure I have enough calorie intake, have an early night and a good sleep. If you prepare your kit in advance and have everything ready, you will be more relaxed for the race, which is essential. Have a plan for your food in advance; when, what and how much to eat.
When you arrive at the venue, register first, then find out more about the event and the facilities. Where is the changing room, board dropping area, place for the briefing, the schedule of the race? Look around, negotiate the weather and water conditions, and if you have time, go for a little paddle.
Usually, the briefing is right before the start of the race, so get your kit ready and once the briefing is over, start warming up straight away. It is important to listen carefully at the briefing and ask questions if something is not clear. Before the race, don’t be afraid of using your energy for warm up, this is a good investment. You may feel a bit nervous, but as soon as the race starts this feeling will go.
The start is like a sprint race and then the riders normally paddle in a ‘chain’ using each other’s washes. It’s important to do a strong start and stay calm, keeping alert throughout the race.
When you’ve finished, it’s good to cool down and stretch out your muscles, especially if there’s another race on the same day, as it will help you recover quicker. Eating straight after also helps in the recovery. Take your time to evaluate the race, what went well, want didn’t go quite as planned.
Take one or two days off from training after the race and if you haven’t yet, choose another race and start your preparation. If you decide you don’t want to race for a while then cool down for a week with easy paddles, stretching etc. but watch your calorie intake if you train less as you could easily gain weight.