It’s the halfway point of a 10-mile flat water SUP race and you feel your muscles burn with each stroke. The draft train is 18 paddlers deep and the pace is settling down for the second half of the race. You know you could go faster than the current pace, but restrain yourself because you have an important plan to stick to.
Mile 8 soon comes and the pace begins to quicken. You anticipated this surge and realize it’s time to execute your plan. Peeling off of the long draft train with two other teammates, you go into a mad sprint.
Wait, teammates? Yes, teammates!
You pull as fast as you can for two minutes while your teammates draft behind you. Two minutes pass and now the next teammate takes over to keep the pace high. Two minutes later the third teammate takes the lead to complete six total minutes of sprinting.
After the last teammate’s turn you are back in front of your 3-paddler team train and you’ve lost the other 15 paddlers. The main draft train did everything they could to keep up but they were not prepared for such a well executed attack at such a high speed.
Perhaps if they had worked together they could have stayed on your draft train. You think to yourself, even the fastest paddlers cannot match a well-trained team working together with a solid plan.
There is now less than a mile left in the race and you and your teammates split for the final sprint to the finish. “May the best paddler win”, you say.
Welcome to team SUP racing and what could be the future of SUP racing.
SUP team racing can be done in an explicit, SUP team racing event, or it can be executed in any existing individual SUP race. Athletes already work with surrounding paddlers (pseudo teammates) in their draft trains. However, there is usually no pre-set strategy established between each racer in this circumstance.
Athletes mostly take turns drafting until an individual falls off the train or decides to separate based on their SUP race strategy. Drafting in an individual SUP race is fun and I love everything involved with pacing and deciding when to make a break for it. However, imagine if instead of working alone we had one or multiple teammates whom we were working with.
I believe that once paddlers start to implement team strategies at existing SUP races, a strong team may be nearly impossible to beat.
What interests me more than team racing at individual events would be the format of an exclusive ‘team SUP race.’ Finishing results could be based on the combined time of all teammates or combined placing. There would be a lot of strategy involved in deciding if the team will work together in a draft train or if a stronger paddler will push ahead and try for a faster time or better placing. Teams could be made up of 2-4 paddlers with categories for male, female and coed.
Another possible team SUP racing format is a lap system where one teammate races while the others wait on the beach. Once a lap is completed the next team member will ‘tag in’ and complete a lap. This kind of team SUP race could create a fun atmosphere where paddlers socialize and cheer on their teammates while they wait their turn on the beach.
Endurance team racing is nothing new.
Cyclists have a well established formula for team racing where they execute intricate strategies. A strong hill climber may lead the way through mountain stages while the main ‘team captain’ rests for the final stages where they will go for the overall win.
I don’t want to get too bogged down in the details of team SUP racing. The formats and possibilities are endless. Hopefully you get the general idea at this point. Team SUP racing is a completely different way to approach what has largely been an individual sport for nearly a decade. Team competition can encourage new paddlers to get into the sport, reignite the competitive stoke for existing paddlers and help to build the SUP race industry. If you’ve ever watched or participated in a SUP team relay, then you’ve had a little taste of the fun and energy involved with team racing.
This article is merely an attempt to present the idea of team SUP racing and get feedback from the SUP race community. Maybe some SUP race directors reading this will even host a team SUP race to test the format!
Join the conversation on the Stand Up Paddle Athletes Facebook page and let me know what you think!