“The Last Paddler Standing changes everything we know about endurance racing”: Yster SUP Rider Craig Sawyer is set for the race

Just hours before the start of  The Last Paddler Standing race (watch it live here) taking place at the Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida, TotalSUP caught up with Craig Sawyer, UK based Yster SUP Team Rider, endurance paddler and SUP Coach, to get into his mindset before this unique SUP endurance challenge.

What’s appealing for you personally about the Last Paddler Standing?

Well, I think it’s a really interesting format. When I say interesting, fascinating format. It changes everything we think now about endurance racing. It’s not about how fast you can go, although speed can play part of your strategy. But it can also mess with your strategy. So I think first and foremost, it just really changes the way we think about an endurance race and that appeals to me. What also appeals to me, it’s a race with yourself, really. It’s all down to your mindset.

If I had to put it down to percentages, it’s going to be 40%, mindset, 40% food and nutrition, and 20% of actual paddling speed or paddling. I don’t want to use the word, skills, but I think you probably get what I’m saying.

This race starts after 48hrs of racing essentially… What comes into play after that? Do paddlers need a strategy or is it pure grind?

It’s going to be a mental challenge to consistently paddle a lap every hour. And you’ve got to think about things like, do I go really fast each lap to get a slightly longer rest, but then risk elevated heart rate and then having to recover? Do I take it slow and steady and then have less time before I start my next lap? Either strategy will work depending on the person you are, some people have really quick recovery times and they train for that and others don’t. So I think everyone’s going to be on different strategies. That’s the first thing.

What appeals to me about this race is you’ve got to firstly get out of the game of whom are racing against, because you’re basically racing against yourself. Then you’ve got people that have never paddled or only paddled for a bit on the start line, who have just as much chance as going the whole hog as more established endurance racers.

The race starts after four hours of racing and that’s interesting, isn’t it. It’s the 48 hours, you know, obviously getting to that point is going to be a such an achievement in itself. For anyone. The conditions this week are actually quite windy and we could find a lot of people don’t get anywhere near that point of 48 hours, because it could really play into tiring people out on the laps as well.

But if you make it through to 48 hours, which is when the course gets extended, I think at that point, I think the race will finish pretty quickly. I mean, to maintain that kind of average pace that you would need to do to get round the lap and under an hour, after 48 hours of paddling it’s going to be pure grind. At that point, you’re going to be so broken. So the mindset is going to be key there. And I’m fascinated, see what happens and see how it plays out with whoever may be left standing at that 48 hour time if anyone is at all.

From a strategy point of view for that 48 hours, you want to make sure you’re ready for it, you know, so keeping on top of your food, hydration and nutrition across the two days, because you can’t suddenly start smashing in calories and downing water as you approach that 48 hours. It’s too late. So basically what you do in 48 hours, it’s going to position you with the best possible opportunity to do well post those 48 hours.

What’s your board set up?

I’ve just literally opened the bag and unrolled my Yster ISUP 17’3”x26” Linear. I left it at the finish line of the Yukon 1000 back in July and I have been so excited to get the board back. It’s been on its own adventure. It’s travelled from Alaska with our good friends Glenn and Maureen, in fact when it went to Brad Friesen in Winnipeg, who used it for one section of the Alabama 650 race. Trey Reeves then took it and brought it down to me here in Florida.

I’ve just opened the bag and pumped the board up and I’m so pleased to say it’s still covered in all the markings of my race in the Yukon 1000. The stickers are still just about hanging on and it was actually quite emotional to open up the bag and see it, when the last time I saw it was after the 1000 miles in the Yukon. So, yes, I’ve got my Yster SUP 17’3 x 26. It’s seen me good for everything I’ve ever done in endurance race formats and I can’t wait to get out on the water here.

What are your expectations?

Blimey, it’s really hard to tell, you know, I’m sitting here now and it’s windy. I do know, from experience that I’m very good when tired as in, I don’t get that drowsy tired, I’m able to fight through that. I mean, if you speak to Scott ‘Skip’ Innes, he will probably say the same. But I do know that I have an ability to keep sharp and keep motivated and keep positive when I’m at my tiredest and most exhausted. So personally, I think that’s something that will do me well and I’m not worried about that side of things. I’m actually looking forward to experiencing what it’s like to carry on paddling when you’re feeling really tired and it’s dark, and most people are starting to have that tired nod off kind of thing.

My expectations are to make the most of those times. I won’t be power napping because I can’t do that, once my eyes are shut, I’m done and I fall asleep. My hydration with my food is the main thing and it’s all in little mini bags. I’ve kind of really finessed that over the last couple months, particularly after the SUP11 City Tour. Ella Oesterholt, who was supporting me during the SUP 11 Cities, she fixed a few of my things and I’ve kind of brought some of the things that she educated me on into this race

I think the ultimate goal for me has got to be to hit the 48 hours, to do two days continuous and get to that point of the course being extended. But you know, there are some incredible racers this year of such calibre that you know, we could have twenty people still paddling at 48 hours. Who knows? I’m just gonna be happy if I finish the race, knowing that I gave everything – what an end to a year that would be!

I set out the beginning of this year with three big, hairy, audacious goals:  Yukon 1000 – done (completed in eight days, 13 hours three minutes); SUP11 City Tour non-stop ultra – done (finished the monster poacher in 33 and half hours); and now this – The Last Paddler Standing – to be honest, coming out here for some lovely Winter sunshine, get on the water, meet some amazing paddlers, share an experience with them. So I’m already happy and my expectations are already blown away. But yeah, I think I want to hit 48 hours and see what it’s like to go for that, that big lap and after that, who knows.

Thank you so much Craig and go for those 48 hours!

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Watch the race LIVE here

About the Author

Anna Nadolna

Anna is the Founder of SUPer Whale, a Cambridge(UK!)-based emerging watersports brand and a stand-up paddleboarding community. She is a certified SUP Flat Water Instructor accredited by International Surfing Association (ISA). Anna is also a digital marketing, storytelling aficionado and a growth hacking enthusiast.

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