The Importance Of A Fair SUP Race Start

3…..2……1……GO!!!, the starter yells. You clamber through the start line, banging boards and smashing paddles as the water quickly turns into an angry cross-chop. The paddler next to you started early somewhere around ‘2’ and you are lost in the choppy mess trying to get your footing. You fall in, get up as fast as you can and navigate the mayhem.Eventually you find clean water and try to figure out how you ended up at the back of the pack. Most of your race is spent recovering from the hectic first few moments at the start.Does this sound like something that has happened to you? Unfortunately, we have found starts like this are all too common and can reduce an otherwise positive SUP race experience. Bad starts include too many paddlers on the line, insufficient room to paddle, damaged boards, false starts and unclear starting sequences.Stand up paddling is becoming a mature sport where botched starts should not be the norm. Every individual paddlers’ time is priceless. The time someone takes to attend a race and the time they choose to train should not be wasted in the first five seconds of an event. Fair starts should be implemented for paddlers of all skill levels. Competitively, the start can be the single most critical part of a race. Organizationally, it is one of the easiest areas to execute in a fair and safe manner.

Let’s take a closer look to see why the race start is so critical to having a good race.

A board traveling at 5 mph will go roughly 7.3 feet per second. Let’s call this our race pace.

A board traveling at 6 mph will go roughly 8.8 feet per second. Let’s call this our sprint pace.

A board going 6 mph will travel 1.5 feet per second faster than a 5 mph board.*

The start is chaotic, there is no room on the start line and the paddler next to you bumps you off your board. In the best case scenario you get back on your board and start paddling to reach a speed of 6 mph all in the span of 6 seconds (you are scary fast!). Meanwhile your competition is sprinting away at their 6 mph sprint pace.

During the time in which you fell off and got back on your board, the competition has traveled 52.8 feet, or roughly 4 board lengths ahead if you are racing on 12’6. This is the BEST case scenario. It is more likely to take you twice the amount of time to get back up, gain your balance and reach 6 mph.  In this situation you are now 100 feet behind, or 8 board lengths.

If all things remain equal, you will not catch a competitor who is of equal speed. Let’s examine the situation if you ARE faster than the paddler who bumped you off and is now 8 board lengths ahead of you.

You dig deep and are able to get your pace up to 6.5 mph. This is an all out sprint and you are exhausting every ounce of your energy to stay at this speed. Now you are traveling at roughly 9.5 feet per second.

At this rate it will take you 1 minute and 26 seconds to catch the paddler in front of you, or 1/15th of a mile.

By the time you catch up you have expended an incredible amount of energy (try sprinting at your max effort for 1 minute and 26 seconds. It is an eternity!). Despite the fact that you are now drafting your competition, you have exhausted yourself and still have the remaining 6 miles of the race to paddle.

Your race went from typical competition to an all out effort that drained most of your energy just to be in contention. This occurred all because of a split second during a botched start.

While this start may be visually impressive, it can be not much fun for the competitors.

While this start may be visually impressive, it can be not much fun for the competitors.

How do we fix it?

There will be contact at the starts of SUP races. We understand that one of the only ways to completely eliminate contact and unfair advantages is to race in a straight line down marked lanes. We are not suggesting this scenario. We are proposing a more fair, safe, organized and standardized means to start SUP races.

Regardless of the level an individual competes at, every paddler deserves a fair and equal chance to paddle a race to the best of their abilities.

Below are the proposed starting sequences from our rulebook. The starting sequences are written so that there is little room for interpretation in order to give a clear and standardized means for starting a race. All races will not have to follow this is exact format. However, we believe that some standardization of starting sequences and other rules will make SUP races better for race organizers, athletes and all stand up paddle constituent groups.

Virtually any sport in existence starts their events the same standardized rules. Why should SUP racing be any different?

Below are the rules for starts from the 2014 SUPAA rulebook. We have established these sequences based on the knowledge and experience of as many qualified athletes and race directors as possible. We would like to continue to improve all of our rules with your feedback as well. Please read the rules and send us suggestions for how we can make them better. In this way we can move forward in a unified and positive direction.

Take note that separate starts are designed to help eliminate illegal drafting, allow for more room on the line and create a safe and fair race. These are the suggested SUPAA rules. We recommend this outline for a successful race start, however, we understand there can be alternative starting sequences used successfully.

* We are not math majors and understand that the math used is not exact to the 100th decimal place. Our attempt to quantify a bad start is meant to show the reader how critical a start can be using math 10, not rocket science.


2014 SUPAA Rulebook: Chapter 3: Racing Regulations


Article 17: Race Start

17.01    Shall be executed by the Starter and the Aligner as outlined in Article 7.

17.02    Shall be approved and adjusted by the Race Committee.

17.03    When there are 60 or more paddlers there must be separate starts for men, women

and board classes.

17.04    If the race has a cash prize then there will always be separate male, female and board

class starts.

17.05    Sprint courses always have separate starts for men, women and board classes.

17.06    Shall use a single horn blast or starter gun.

17.07    Shall work in a best effort to sound the start signal from the middle of the start line.

17.08    Shall provide a safe and controlled means for beginning a race.

17.09    Shall not give an unfair advantage with wind, current, waves or other external factors

on the start line.

17.10    Shall start according to the published race time and format.

17.11    Shall start within 5 minutes of the published race start time.

17.12    Shall bring the competitors to the start line no greater than 10 minutes and no less

than one minute before the start.

17.13    Any competitor who does not follow the instructions of the Starter or the Aligner or who

is ahead of the start line once the starting sequence has begun shall be given a false

17.14    Alternative race starts may be made in the case of unique geography, race formats or

conditions. All alternative starts must be approved by a SUPAA certified official.

17.15    Race start sequences shall be as follows:

Unlimited Men

Pro Men

Unlimited Women

Pro Women

Open Men

Open Women

17.16    There shall be no fewer than 3 minutes between each start and no more than 10

17.17    Beach Start:

(a) Shall be parallel to the water.

(b) Shall be no less than 1 meter (3.3 ft) and no greater than 5 meters

(16.4 ft) from the highest water line.

(c) Shall be marked on both ends by a set of flags.

(d) Shall have a start line that provides 1 meter for each paddler

on the line (100 paddlers, 100 meter length start line).

(e) Shall use a black rope, tied at the bottom of the end flags, to mark a

straight start line in the sand.

(f ) If a rope is not available then there must be a flag placed every 5

meters (16 ft) along the start line.

(g) The Starter will bring competitors to the start line with the

command, ‘racers to the line’ and/or a single short horn blast, no

greater than 1 minute before the start.

(h) Racers must have their foot on the black rope, but not completely

(i ) If flags are used for the line, competitors must align their body with

the flags.

(j ) Any competitor with their body completely in front of any start flag

will be given a false start by the Race Committee.

(k) Any competitor that has their foot completely over the black line

will be given a false start by the Aligner.

( l) The Aligner may record the name and number of the competitor

and let them know they have a false start at the earliest possibility.

(m) Once the Aligner determines that a fair start line has been formed

the Starter will begin the race on a single long horn blast.

(n ) Unsafe Beach Start conditions include winds in excess of 30 knots,

insufficient space on the beach and natural or man-made obstacles.

Follow the protocol in article 17.18 if beach start conditions are not

17.18    Water Start:

(a) Shall be facing in a direction that is perpendicular to the first turn

(b) Shall be marked on either side by a set of buoys that are no larger

than 1 meter in diameter.

(c) Start buoys shall use a chained anchor line.

(d) Start buoys must not move more than 1 meter (3.3 ft) in any

(e) Shall provide 1 meter of length on the start line for every paddler

on the line.

(f ) The Starter shall call paddlers to the start line with the command,

‘racers to the line’ or one short horn blast, no greater than 30

seconds and no less than 5 seconds before the official start time.

(g) Competitors must work in a best effort to not be within 1 meter

(3.3 ft) of the start line before they are called to the line by the

(h) Competitors with their body completely in front of the buoys

before the start horn sounds will be given a false start.

(i ) In the event of high winds or choppy seas, racers may be asked to

sit on their boards behind the start buoys.

( j) Once competitors are called to the line the race shall start within

the next 5 seconds on a single, long horn blast.

( k) If the Starter or Aligner is not satisfied with the line once the

competitors are called up, the command will be ‘STOP’ and

competitors will begin the starting sequence again.

(l ) A pre-start line may be established in order to gain more control of

competitors. This line will be 4 m (13 ft) behind and parallel to the

start line. Competitors will be called to the pre-start line 1 minute

before the start with a single short horn blast. The pre-start line will

be enforced in the same manner in which the start line is. The

Starter shall call competitors to the start line with the command,

‘racers to the line’ or a second short horn blast. The race will then

begin in the next 10 seconds on a third long horn blast.

17.19    Downwind Start:

17.20    Shall follow the rules for Beach or Water start when geography and conditions allow.

17.21    If the start is an open ocean start then protocol for a Water Start shall be followed with

these amendments:

(a) There shall be a pre-start line marked by boats or buoys no less than

20 m (66 ft) upwind of the start line and no greater than 50 m

(164 ft).

(b) The Starter shall call competitors to the pre-start line no more than

10 minutes and no less than 2 minutes before the start.

(c) The pre-start line will be enforced the same as a start line.

(d) The Starter shall call racers to the start line with two horn blasts and

the raising of a flag.

(e) The race will now start on the next long horn blast and lowering of

the flag within 15 seconds.

(f ) Any competitor with their body in front of the start buoys at the

official start will be given a 2 minute time penalty.

17.22    Sprint Start:

17.23    Shall follow the required starting rules as outlined in Article 17

17.24    Competitors will receive a false start if they are not present on the start line once

the start sequence has begun for their heat.

17.25    Starters shall not wait for any tardy paddlers.

17.26    Alternative race starts may be made in the case of unique geography, race formats or

conditions. All alternative starts must be approved by a SUPAA certified Race Official.

17.27    False Starts:

17.28    Competitors over the line once the Starter calls, ‘racers to the line’, will be given a

false start.

17.29    On the second false start infraction a competitor will be disqualified.

17.30    Competitors must only react to the starting signal and must not try to anticipate the

17.31    Competitors must not make any forward racing strokes once called to the line and

before the start.

17.32    In the event of a False Start on the start horn for any Pro SUPAA Distance Event,

competitors will be given a 2-minute time penalty. If the False Start is more than two seconds before the horn then the competitor will be disqualified.

17.33    A False Start on the final start horn for a Sprint Race will result in a long horn blast by

the Starter to bring all competitors back to the line. The competitor will be issued a

false start and subsequently disqualified on the second False Start infraction.

17.34    Failure to Start:

17.35    If a competitor does not start in an assigned heat for any reason other than sickness or

injury, the competitor shall be disqualified from all events scheduled that day.

17.36    Paddlers who are late for their heat start time will be disqualified and not allowed to

17.37    Re-Start:

17.38    If there is outside interference or any other unforeseen circumstances, the Starter may

recall all competitors with two long horn blasts. The Starter will begin a new starting

sequence once all competitors are behind the start line.