Winter Preparation for your First Paddle Race

BRITTANY, FRANCE — When starting a new sport, regardless of whether it is at leisure or at competition level, one is required to observe a few rules in order to get started in the best conditions. Gaétan Séné, pro-rider from Starboard, takes on a new role as “Le Coach” and reminds us that Stand-up paddle is no exception.

After a first experience on a SUP board, perhaps during your last vacation, you have decided to take SUP to the next level, make it your new sport and, why not, take part in races. It is now time for you to choose the right equipment and clothing and follow a progression in order to avoid injury.

For touring, fitness or competition, choose a board which is about 12’6 feet in length and 30 inches wide. The question of whether it is inflatable or rigid is of little importance as far as performance is concerned in the beginning.

More precisely, I found that the speed difference between a rigid shape and an inflatable board of the same width and length is approximately of 0,5 km / 0.35 miles per hour. A good rider on an inflatable board can therefore go much faster than a beginner on a rigid board. The loss of speed can however be compensated if one knows how to draft. The inflatable will definitely show a lot more weaknesses during sprints and intense efforts though. An inflatable board has therefore some drawbacks but its many obvious benefits such as storage, strength, transportability and weight as well as its price make it a very attractive choice for a first board. I use mine frequently for these reasons.

The size of your paddle must be the best possible fit between 18cm to 26cm above your head, preferably with a narrow blade area. In terms of clothes, you must obviously adapt to the weather and sea conditions : a Long John wetsuit if the risk of falling into cold waters is high, a simple running outfit if you practice on calm waters.

Before developing the outline of a winter preparation, you must set your goal.

Goals can be totally different from one paddle racer to another. Big or small, setting your own objective will determine your level of involvement and training. Whether it is to win a competition, improve your racing skills or challenge your friends, you should try and put a lot of your winter focus on low-intensity, technical work. Concentrating on finding the proper technique at first will prevent injuries on the long run. The right movement will also mean a more powerful stroke, plenty of physical energy saved and extended fun for less efforts. 

Depending on the frequency of your training sessions, you can vary between paddle drills – I would say there are approximately 20 to 30 technical points on which you can focus your attention – and race-related exercises : turning, drafting, passing waves, balance…

In addition to improving your technique, you should also focus on developing your stamina. In winter as I mentioned you should favour low-intensity work-outs and long sessions. Do endurance training and easy laps from time to time and make sure to alternate those with technical exercises. Later on in the season, inject resistance, power laps and sprint drills in your training.

Taking part in your first competition can be done with little preparation though. That is still depending on the objective you have set to yourself. A little advice from a pro rider, do not put yourself under enormous pressure for your first race and don’t set overly ambitious results. Many factors such as nervousness, a bad control of your breath, losing your balance or a general lack of racing experience could make your first race an unpleasant one and spoil your fun.

Take a first race as a round of observation and an opportunity to familiarize yourself with a SUP race environment. Learn the rules and the competition routine and show some friendliness to the other participants as you are likely to meet them again at upcoming events. Warm up well, do not start at full throttle, enjoy the scenery and the pleasure of being on the water. Do not forget to hydrate before, during and after the competition. And start thinking already about the next race !

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