October 07, 2022 8 min read

Guide to SUP Racing

group of people sup racing

If you’ve been thinking of signing yourself up for a SUP race, or if you’ve taken the leap and signed up already, you’re probably wondering what things you need to do to prepare yourself for the big day.

Luckily, we’re here to give you some top tips when it comes to paddle board racing so you can be fully prepared to hit the water and potentially win first place. As you’re here for the beginner's guide to SUP racing, let’s get into it!

SUP Racing Gear

There’s a saying, “A man is only as good as his tools,” and when it comes to SUP racing, your tools and the way you use them are everything. 

SUP Race Board

Man and a woman paddle boarding on a lake

The first and one of the most important tools is your SUP race board. When you sign up to compete in your first SUP race, you need to carefully think about your paddle board’s construction and design. 

Inflatable or Rigid

Both an inflatable race board and a solid board perform well in SUP racing. However, rigid race boards tend to be the favorite as they’re more agile and can slice through the water at faster speeds. 

With that being said, however, what an inflatable race board lacks slightly in performance, it makes up for elsewhere. Inflatable paddle boards have the upper hand when it comes to transport and storage as they can be packed into a backpack and placed in a cupboard, a car trunk, or even on a plane. 

If you’re looking to travel with your race board to different states or countries, then an inflatable SUP may be the one for you. But, if you favor agility and speed, then you need to think carefully about the materials your rigid board is made from.

Bumps with other racers are inevitable in SUP racing. So although you may be inclined to opt for carbon fiber or carbon sandwich boards because they’re the lightest, they can be susceptible to bumps and dings, which can be expensive and sometimes impossible to fix. 

A good race board will be made from quality materials with bonus points if it has reinforcement along its edges and standing areas to prevent any damage during a collision.

Hull Type

Paddle boards have one of two distinctive hull types. The first is a planing hull, and the second is a displacement hull. Planing hull SUPs are flat with a rounded nose and often feature wider decks to make them more stable for activities such as recreational paddling.

Displacement hulls, on the other hand, have deep, pointy noses that are able to cut through waves and water far easier. A displacement hull race SUP is the preferred board for paddle board racing as they aren’t as susceptible to water resistance like their rounded bottom board cousins.


When it comes to the length of the race board, many people favor SUPs that are either 12’6” or 14’. The longer the board, the faster you’ll be able to paddle, but this additional length also results in a narrower deck which then compromises stability. 

A 12’6” board class with a displacement hull, on the other hand, is the recommended board length for beginners as they offer both speed and stability. Once your skills progress in the future, then you can think about upgrading to a narrower but faster board. 

Choosing your desired race board construction basically comes down to your paddling skills and experience. If you think of yourself as a pro paddler who can remain stable no matter how thin the board is, then opt for a 14-footer. But, if you still have a wobble from time to time, then a shorter and wider board would suit you better. 


Woman paddle boarding on a Meno touring paddle board

Racing and touring boards are typically the thinnest of the bunch. The thinner the deck, the less water resistance meaning these boards can slice through the water much faster than a wider deck board. 

Some boards can be as narrow as 24”, but keep in mind that these boards will be extremely difficult to stay balanced on and should only be paddled by experienced and professional SUPers. Instead, opt for a slightly wider board until you feel stable and advanced enough for a narrower board.

Weight Capacity

Weight capacity is another factor that needs to be considered when choosing a SUP racing board. All paddle boards have a maximum weight capacity that should never be exceeded. If you exceed the maximum weight, your board will sink into the water, which in turn will make it harder to paddle.

Heavier people may be able to use the same board as lighter people, as long as they weigh in under the maximum weight capacity. 

SUP Paddle

The next important piece of equipment is your paddle which can come in a variety of materials, shapes, and sizes

There are three main paddle materials, and these include aluminum, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. Aluminum paddles are the cheapest but also the heaviest, which will ultimately affect how fast and how far you can paddle. As a rule, the heavier the paddle, the slower you’ll be able to glide it through the water.

Fiberglass paddles sit in the middle as they’re more expensive than aluminum, but they also weigh less which helps to improve your overall paddling abilities. 

And finally, the most expensive of the three is carbon fiber paddles. Carbon fiber paddles are extremely lightweight, durable, and excellent for SUP races as they’re far easier to lift out, glide through, and remove from the water.

The paddle’s blade shape also plays a role in how fast you’ll be able to paddle. Smaller blades allow the SUPer to paddle faster, whereas larger blades are slower but deliver more powerful strokes. 

Other Accessories

Man paddle boarding with accessories

There are a few other important accessories that you should take along to your first race, these include: 

  • SUP leash - Many race organizations require all participants to wear a SUP leash. SUP leashes wrap around your ankle and keep your board tethered to you at all times. They’re a great help for those times when you fall off and need to get back on your board quickly. 
  • Life jacket - Life jackets are also sometimes a mandatory requirement, and we highly recommend a belt life jacket. Belt life jackets wrap around your waist to give your upper body full mobility. 
  • Water bottle - No matter what type of exercise you do, you should always carry a water bottle with you.
  • Sunglasses - Even on overcast days, sunglasses are a must. If you don’t want to be battling with the sun, then a pair of sunglasses will keep your eyes protected so you can focus on what's really important. And that is winning the race.
  • Fins - Tracking is also important in SUP racing as you don’t want to waste energy repositioning yourself to paddle in the right direction. Your paddle board should have a standard fin box system that will accept fins of all shapes and sizes.

Getting Started

So, now you’re all kitted out with your SUP race gear, you’re probably wondering how to get started. 

Types of Races

First off, it’s important to know that SUP races are held in all different types of waterways, from lakes, rivers, and marinas, to oceans and protected bays. 

SUP races that are open to all ability levels are more often than not held in lakes where the water conditions are calm and predictable. Before signing up for a race, however, we suggest calling the event organizer to ensure the water conditions and competition are up to your level. 


As with any athletic event, practice before the big day can help with paddling technique, stance, and stamina. Before your race, research your local area to see if any SUP schools offer race training courses. It always helps to get an outsider's perspective on ways you can improve after all.

Group Paddles

Another great way to practice your skills and meet like-minded people is to join in on group paddles. Other members of the paddling group may have some useful information about their previous races that’ll help set you apart from the rest. If you’re interested in joining a group paddle then check out Facebook as it is a fantastic place to find group paddles that are taking place in your local area.


Paddle boarders in Austin

As we mentioned before, training is important before any athletic event as you are able to develop crucial skills that’ll help you out on the race course.


Practice makes perfect, and the best ways to work out on your SUP are to paddle upstream, in different water conditions, and even by paddling with a heavier paddle. By switching up your paddling routine, you’re able to work on different skills and build your stamina which, trust us, you’re going to need. 

If weather or water conditions aren’t ideal, then you can also work out by swimming, running, cycling, or by participating in high-intensity training. Any type of exercise will be incredibly beneficial to your performance out on the water.


Before a race, try to eat foods that are natural and will provide you with energy throughout the entire duration. Sugary foods can result in a mid-race crash, so stay clear of those at all costs. Foods such as fish, yogurt, eggs, and nuts are all great pre-race options. 

Along with the right diet, you should also hydrate with electrolytes and water before the race begins. Just make sure you go to the toilet as close to the race as possible, as you don’t want a full bladder during your paddle.

Develop Your Agility, Strength, and Balance

The only way you’re going to improve your agility, strength, and balance is by practice. If you start spending more and more time out on the water, you will boost your muscle strength and your stamina, so you’ll be able to paddle for longer without feeling fatigued. 

Preparing for the Big Day

Preparation is key, and as you may be slightly nervous before the race begins, it is best to write a checklist to ensure you have everything you need to deliver your finest performance. Your checklist should include everything from your paddle board all the way down to your mobile phone and sunscreen. 

Another thing that’s worth mentioning is to get clear directions of where the race is and arrive as early as possible. After all, you don’t want to be late because you took the wrong exit or couldn’t find a parking spot. 

Have Fun

And finally, you know the old saying “it’s the taking part that counts,” and that couldn’t be more true. Sure, you may not win your first SUP race, but that doesn’t mean you won’t win the next. So, relax and enjoy yourself, we guarantee you’re going to have a great time regardless of the outcome. 


🏆 How do I train for SUP race?

The best way to train before a SUP race is to paddle in a range of different water conditions. If you’re used to paddling downstream, switch it up and challenge yourself by paddling upstream. If you usually paddle on flat waters, then take your SUP into the ocean and test your balance against the waves. 

Any time on your board will be beneficial to your SUP race training, so try to spend as much time as possible out on the water perfecting your technique and paddling skills.

👍 What is a good SUP race pace?

As everyone has different paddling abilities, it’s hard to determine the perfect race pace. But, for most paddlers, anywhere from 3.5 to 4.5 miles per hour should take you through the water at a reasonable speed.

🏝️ What do I need for a SUP race?

There are a few crucial items that you need to pack for your SUP race. These include the following:

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

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