Virtual racing

Words: Sarah Elizabeth Thornely of SUPjunkie
Pics: SUPjunkie, Unscripted Adventure Photography, Above and Beyond Visuals & Piotr Kadziela

Did we ever believe in 2020 we would be involved in ‘virtual racing’? Did we even know it was a thing? Well, it is and it’s been BIG this year – I wanted to find out what our GBSUP racers thought about it, what they had entered and how they had fared… 


2020 has proven to be challenging if you love racing but virtual racing has been really well received by some to keep them motivated and training – if you’ve placed, that’s the icing on the cake, but it’s not all been about that. Some have loved it because they have enjoyed being alone on that start line with no associated nerves, no messy water, just you and the elements you are in – a race against yourself, where you CAN choose to go at your own pace if you wish even though you have entered a race. Calmer racing – if there is such a thing! 

The time frames of some of the races have proven challenging too – the virtual M2O, which was to be held over a weekend was extended to cover just over a week due to tricky weather conditions all over the world. Unlike normal racing, you also get more than one chance to better your time – if you have the energy! The APP Fast Track Sprint has people from all over the world submitting multiple entries to better their time – it’s been a great incentive. All virtual racing has given you multiple days, weeks and even months to complete. 

Ginnie Betts. Photo: Unscripted Adventure Photography
Ginnie Betts. Photo: Unscripted Adventure Photography

Here in the UK we have had a new kid on the block with Haywood Sports supported by Paddle Logger setting up a virtual SUP 5km TT. One 5km race down and keep your eyes peeled for four more coming up before November 1st! GBSUP has fully supported this as great home turf racing. 

Paddle Monster

Paddle Monster have a worldwide following and currently have seven Virtual Paddle League races from 200 metres to a half marathon and everything in between taking place. They are one of the biggest training platforms for SUP in the world and have certainly shown their experience in this – training videos aplenty from them to compliment the races. 

Many of our paddlers have loved virtually racing with others from all over the world – connecting with them in a way that they may never have done in normal times, making new SUP buddies and comparing results. Our very own Verity Thomas (Vee Jay) became the unofficial World Champion in the 10k race run by SUP United – an awesome achievement – she has also consistently placed in their other distances.  After getting ‘carried away’ with the Virtual Paddle League, she then committed to the SUP United races and it’s certainly paid off for her. 

Photo by SUPjunkie
Photo by SUPjunkie

The other joy of these races is ‘anything goes’ – where organisers have been less concerned about the craft you use and there are often no specific board classes. All these relaxed rules are possible when you don’t have to worry about the venue or safety cover you are supplying to your paddlers. 

Paddle Imua

Paddler’s personal costs due to lack of entries and travelling this year, have enabled them to support some great races, which are often raising money for charities across the world. Paddle Imua is one of those – where some organisers have also sent great swag bags out to participants in all corners of the globe – the M2O paddlers have all now ‘got the t-shirt’, many of them fully aware that their dream of travelling to that race will never happen due to costs, time restraints and ability. 

Ginnie Betts took third fastest time overall in the SUP stock category (some 1,800 paddlers entered from 53 countries) and the rest of the Cornwall crew also smashed out some great results, where UK stock prone paddlers and ocean ski pretty much wiped off the rest of the world’s results! 

One young man who should have been at the M2O was Sam Norton from Cornwall – he ended up coming first overall in the 12’ stock prone class. The bonus of doing it in the UK was some fantastic planning and training locally with a great crew, huge amounts of learning about the ocean and its mysteries but also paddling the event with his father, Mark – happy days for them both. 

Photo by SUPjunkie
Photo by SUPjunkie

Karen Greener from the Northern SUP Race Team, has entered almost every virtual race and has done incredibly well – consistently placing in many of them including the UK Endurance Race, APP, VPL, Haywood Sports and SUP United. Club motivation is at the heart of her achievements. 

GBSUP’s Adrian Soper has also been very keen with the virtual races – the training has been on going, the results are proven and it’s certainly kept him going throughout lockdown.   

Challenge Tour option

Certain clubs in the UK have also been running their own virtual races or more recently, socially distanced racing – support your local club and get involved if you want to start racing – you will get so much support and all clubs can be found on the GBSUP website. Virtual racing may be the way to start too with some paddlers I spoke to appreciating that not everyone wants to be thrown in at the deep end, although GBSUP do have the Challenge Tour option. Pushing yourself alone doesn’t suit everyone though, some preferring to be chased or chasing down the opposition to feel they have had their best race.   

Photo by SUPjunkie
Photo by SUPjunkie

There is nothing more motivating though than sitting at the top of the leader board of a worldwide race even knowing that you may be bumped down shortly. Most virtual races have kept the age categories, which has been a great motivator! 

Winter racing

The paddlers have loved the ‘virtuals’ and the ones I have spoken to think they should stay – is there a place for them when normal racing resumes? That is very much open for discussion, as there are so many races in the calendar already but who knows. I believe there is a place for them even if just for winter racing when you have the option of submitting your time from a longer window rather than being reliant on the weather being favourable on any given day, as there were plenty of races cancelled last winter due to bad weather. Could it also inspire many more paddlers to race – could we see the biggest ever race fleet in 2021?   

To summarise, virtual racing has certainly kept paddlers motivated and training for something, there have been so many positives to come out of this but in the words of Sasha Chisholm, “The biggest con of virtual racing is that I missed you all.” 

Adrian Soper taken by Piotr Kadziela
Adrian Soper taken by Piotr Kadziela

So on that note, keep having fun with your paddling and the virtual racing – if you haven’t had a go and have been inspired by some of the paddlers in this article, there is still plenty of time but personally, we cannot wait to see you in 2021 for our exciting GBSUP race series.

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