This article is not a debate on drafting in SUP racing. Love it or hate it, drafting is here to stay. If you are a SUP race participant then chances are you have been involved in a draft train at some point during competition. The strategies and skills that you employ while drafting can be the difference between success and failure in a SUP race. I’m going to give you the inside drafting tips and strategies that will help you succeed at your next SUP race. Pay attention and don’t get left behind by the draft train!
Drafting is a skill used to conserve energy during a SUP race. A racer can position themselves behind a lead board and draft the wave, also called the wash, produced from that board. As a board cuts through the water it displaces a certain volume of water depending on the weight of the paddler and dimensions of their board. This displacement creates a tiny series of waves off of the back and sides of a board. The wake produced by a speed boat is created under a similar set of circumstances.
Drafting in SUP racing is not an exact science. Your SUP technique for drafting will vary based on the skills, body size, equipment and conditions of both yourself and the person behind whom you are drafting. For example, heavier paddlers and square-tailed boards will produce a larger wake than lighter paddlers and pin-tailed boards. Understand these variables and use the fundamental SUP skills and strategies for drafting to learn how to draft like a pro.
What Is All The Fuss About?
Drafting has been a topic of debate at the beach and online for years. In my opinion, drafting is an exciting element of competition and is one of the many factors that make racing fun. Paddling a 10-mile SUP race completely by yourself can be incredibly boring. Drafting another competitor, adds the dynamics of jockeying for position, mental games, tactical maneuvering and strategy.
Those who complain that drafting is unfair, they should know that the stronger, smarter paddler will almost always win a race, regardless of how much they are drafted. If you prefer to paddle by yourself, that is certainly your prerogative. However, if your goal is to make it to the podium at the next SUP race and have fun competition, I strongly advise adding drafting skills into your SUP race strategy.
Draft train. A draft train is the term used for a group of paddlers drafting each other in a line. Draft trains are generally composed of 2 to 10 paddlers. As with every aspect of SUP racing, drafting is a skill that needs to be practiced and perfected. Use the drafting skills below to improve your SUP race results immediately.
Use These SUP Race Drafting Skills
- Riding the wash
- Positioning on the wash
- ‘Paddling On One Side’ technique
- Comfort and stability on your board
- Tactics and strategy
Riding The Wash
Immediately after the start of a race, each SUP racer will be sprinting and jockeying for position. Depending on your goals, you will hopefully find yourself in close proximity to your competition several minutes after the start. After the initial sprint has settled into the race pace, start thinking about getting onto a nearby competitors’ draft. However, drafting is not as simple as getting behind the lead board and relaxing while you surf their wake.
Follow these steps to properly draft a competitor:
1. Approach the lead board. As you approach the lead board, you will have to climb the wake in order to get into the draft. You are essentially catching the wave of the lead board, much the same way you would catch an ocean wave. This is a critical time in drafting and requires the most effort. It is generally easier to get in the wake by coming into the draft at an angle. Instead of approaching the wake from directly behind the lead board’s tail, approach from an angle of approximately 30 degrees. Attacking from the side will allow you to slip onto the wake with less effort than trying to climb completely up and over the wake from behind.
2. Power into the draft. Whichever angle you take, be sure to produce extra speed and power to climb the wave and into the draft. Use a sprinting technique to produce the extra speed by adding more power and increasing your stroke rate.
3. Positioning on the wash. As you paddle into the wave, shift your weight toward the nose of your board. This helps you catch the wave the lead board is producing. When executing this technique correctly, you should feel a gliding sensation and at least a 10% reduction in effort. Depending on the race conditions and your skills, there may be as much as a 50-80% reduction in your effort while drafting.
4. On the wash. Stay toward the front of your board to ensure that you do not fall off the back and lose the draft. As previously mentioned, each paddler will produce a different wake based on their size, speed and equipment. For this reason there is no precisely correct spot from which to draft another board. In general, you’ll want to position yourself anywhere from a few inches, to a couple of feet behind the lead board. If the lead paddler speeds up or slows down, the sweet spot for drafting will shift. The faster a paddler goes, the further back the sweet spot will be and vice-versa. The more you practice drafting in your SUP training and racing, the more comfortable you will become with the drafting positions and SUP techniques that are most effective for you.
Drafting Off The Nose
Another position for drafting is from the side of a lead board. In this situation you will draft the side wave. Some paddlers feel that this type of drafting requires less effort than drafting from behind. While it may require less effort, the skills involved with positioning are much more difficult to master.
Positioning for this kind of drafting is much closer than drafting from behind. Line the nose of your board up with the area of the lead paddlers feet. This approximate area, at a distance of around one foot from the board, is where you will draft off the nose.
Drafting off the nose wave requires paddling mostly on one side of the board because of the close proximity. Be sure to allow enough room for the lead paddler to comfortably catch and exit their paddle. We will discuss the paddling on one side technique to help draft off of the nose in a future post. Drafting off the nose is a valuable tool, but is reserved for more experienced paddlers. Perfect drafting off the tail before you work on your nose-drafting technique.
Get Comfortable On Your Board To Paddle Faster
While paddling in a draft train you will experience turbulent water from the boards around you. Jockeying for position, lead changes and working to stay on the wash all create unstable paddling conditions. The more stable and comfortable your SUP race board, the more power you’ll produce and the more you can concentrate on athletic performance. Unstable boards cause increased fatigue and make it difficult to stay on the wash of a lead paddler.
Train with other paddlers and practice drafting during your sessions. Work on lead changes and positioning to simulate race-like conditions. Pay attention to how your board reacts when it is going into the draft, coming off the draft and in different proximity to other boards. Recognizing how your board responds to various conditions will help you handle different drafting situations on race day.
DDrafting tactics are among the most important strategies in all of SUP racing. Some of the only universal rules in SUP racing are those for drafting. They are easy to remember and should never be violated.
The de facto international standard for drafting rules, are as follows:
- No drafting out of board class
- No drafting out of gender
- No drafting other crafts (boats, outriggers, ect…)
Racers are free to do whatever they wish on the SUP race course as long as they adhere to the rulebook used to govern a selected race. If, for example, a paddler chooses to ride your wash for the entire race, it is their choice to do so and it is perfectly legal. However, a paddlers decision to do this unfavorably affects their reputation among other members of a drafting pack. The unwritten rules of racing help to keep order in the pack and on the race course. Follow these rules to set yourself up for success at your next SUP race.
Unwritten Rules of Drafting
1. Do your best to avoid hitting the lead board. Occasional bumps are a part of racing but hard and frequent bumping should be avoided.
2. The lead paddler will set the pace for the pack. If you are behind and do not like the pace then you may attempt to take the lead.
3. When taking overtaking the lead, paddle wide of the draft train, leaving enough room for the pack to comfortably paddle. Upon taking the lead, maintain the same pace or paddle faster than the train previously paddled.
4. If you are in the lead and feel that the other paddlers are not taking turns pulling, simply slow the pace. Wait until a new paddler takes the lead. If no one comes forward to pull then you can continue at a pace slow enough to avoid burning out and fits your race plan.
5. Never take the lead of a pack and then dramatically reduce the pace. This can lead to collisions and to paddlers catching up from further behind.
6. Take turns pulling as the lead paddler. The duration that each paddler pulls will depend on the distance of the race, the amount of paddlers in the draft train and individual preferences and strategies. For a small draft train consisting of two to three paddlers, each paddler should pull between 3-10 minutes. There is no standardized duration. The key to the best drafting etiquette is to communicate with the other paddlers in the pack.
7. In more experienced packs, the lead paddler will slow down slightly when they are ready to change. The second through fourth paddlers behind the lead usually take over pulling the draft train.The next lead paddler is often based on a sequential rotation of the top four paddlers. Paddlers in positions that are five or more paddlers behind will usually be too far back to gain the speed and energy necessary to paddle all the way to the front and pull.The fifth paddler in a draft train of 14’ boards will have to travel 56 feet (17 meters) to pull the pack. When a lead pack is pushing the pace, this relatively small distance can be quite difficult to cover while paddling alone. This natural barrier helps prevent paddlers who are ‘sitting’ on the back of the draft train for the entire race from sprinting to the lead at the end.
8. As the pack approaches the finish line there is usually an increase in speed and jockeying for position. The pack will often split up into individual paddlers or to smaller packs of two to three. This split occurs from a half mile to a few hundred feet before the finish line.
9. A paddler who has pulled for the majority of a race should not be drafted all the way to the finish and then passed in the last 10 feet. There are no rules against this, however, it is considered unsportsmanlike. You don’t want to develop a reputation as a mooching paddler who never pulls but happily takes the win at the end. If you wish to pass a paddler who has pulled an entire race, try to make your move at least 100 meters before the finish. This is a good SUP race strategy to use anyway, as it will give you sufficient time to complete the pass.
Use the tips and strategies in this article to get guaranteed results in your next SUP race. For more SUP racing strategies and 250 pages of valuable SUP training and racing information, check out the eBook, SUP Training The Smart Way. If you have any questions, comments or would like us to cover a specific topic, send an email and let us know your thoughts!