Since getting hooked on paddleboard racing in fall 2014 I have gone through several boards. Here's a quick history of the race SUPs I have had in my possession-
1. 14'x26" 404 Pintail Zeedonk - This was my first race sup, which I bought because it was a really great closeout deal through CGT kayaks. I sold it after just a few uses because I wanted a more rugged SUP that I could put a windsurfing mast track in.
2. 14'x27.25" Fanatic Falcon - I bought this board, used, as a replacement for the Zeedonk. I really like the wide-nose narrow-tail shape, especially in rough water and upwind/downwind conditions. I put a windsurfing mast-track in the board and it sails nicely in light to moderate winds. I'm keeping the board for paddleboard race training, sharing with my wife, and windsurfing, but it's wider than optimal for the level of racing I'm striving for.
3. 14'x24" 404 v3 - I was in the market for a narrower board to challenge myself and increase my racing speeds, and I got a good deal on this one through CGT. I used it in a couple of races and did pretty well. However, though the 404 was faster than the wider Fanatic, I liked the style of the Fanatic better. I ended up experiencing buyers' remorse with regards to the 404, and I sold it to a friend so I could buy a narrow Fanatic instead.
4. 14'x24.75" Fanatic Falcon - ***FOR SALE***. This was my dream board when I got it in May 2015. It had the shape I loved from the wider Fanatic, but it was narrow enough to boost me into the next tier of competitive speed. I used it hard and put a few minor dings in the deck, which I repaired with epoxy, fiberglass, and not-quite-matched red paint. I stopped using the board in late August 2015 when CGT started half-sponsoring me by loaning me one of their Riviera boards to ride. The Riviera had a slight edge on the Fanatic in flat water, but still, nothing I've tried beats the Fanatic in nasty water. I'm asking $1000 for the Fanatic, which is currently on the consignment rack at CGT kayaks. Take it for a test run, make me an offer.
5. 14'x25" Riviera RP - This is the board I used per a sort-of sponsorship agreement with CGT Kayaks & Paddleboards. I did well in races on it, but I never actually owned it. Recently I returned it to CGT and it was purchased by another racer, Mark Hourigan. My next board will probably be a Riviera in the 23-24" width range, which ought to work well for me in racing, and ought to also help me attract customers to buy Riviera boards at CGT. If I'm on the new Riviera all the time I won't have any strong justification for keeping the narrow Fanatic, so the narrow fanatic has to go. Like I said, make me an offer.
Stand-up paddleboard racing is relatively simple and therefore has far fewer rules than sports like football or baseball. Most SUP rules hardly need to be stated, e.g.:
1. Do it standing up.
2. No sails or motors allowed.
3. Refrain from using your paddle as a weapon.
However, there a few SUP rules that seem to be major sticking points for debate. The three things that always get argued are:
1. Board classes and design regulations
2. Gender divisions (and to a lesser extent, age divisions)
3. Drafting regulations, especially in relation to 1&2
I’ll join the debate by sharing my current views on each of those three areas. I might change my views later. These are just my thoughts as of one year of SUP racing:
1. Board classes and design regulations.
First let’s consider what it would be like if there were no rules about equipment. I.e., if everyone paddled whatever size and shape of board was fastest for him or her. The optimal board length for most racers would be longer than what most people use now, because longer boards have a higher potential “hull speed.” (Hull speed is related to the dynamics of the wave that propagates from a water-displacing vessel. It’s very hard to go faster than the speed of that wave, but a vessel with a longer hull creates a longer, faster wave. Therefore a longer vessel can get to a faster speed before it starts pushing into the backside of its own wave.) The hull speed of an 11’ board is 8.2 kph; the hull speed of an 18’ board is 10.5 kph. Longer is faster. Of course, increasing your board’s length only works up to a certain point, because there Is a type of drag called skin friction which is proportional to the surface area of the board that is in contact with the water. At some board length, the negative effect of more skin friction negates the benefit of increased hull speed, because you can’t paddle hard enough to overcome the skin friction to reach the hull speed, anyway. Making the board really narrow can help reduce skin friction, and also help get around the hull speed limit. However, boards narrower than about 23” become prohibitively hard to balance on. If your balance is off you can’t paddle forcefully enough to be fast, and falling in the water is obviously slow, too, so there’s a self-enforcing minimum width limit.
Anyway, exactly what the “board length of no additional benefit” is depends on how narrow the paddler can go without getting wobbly, and how big and strong the paddler is. Since a bigger, stronger paddler can overcome more skin friction, a bigger stronger paddler can potentially reach the hull speed on a bigger, longer board. This suggests that without board length restrictions, the biggest paddlers on the biggest boards would dominate, although somewhat smaller paddlers with incredible balance abilities to ride narrow boards might also have a shot. With no board design restrictions we might also see more foot-operated rudders, and maybe even some wacky features like outriggers to stabilize super narrow, round-hulled boards that would be too unstable to stand on otherwise. Bigger, more complicated boards would be more expensive and harder to transport, and would be more cumbersome in races with rough water, lots of turns, etc. They might be less fun, too. Those factors, combined with the likely disadvantage for smaller people in unrestricted competition, create a good argument for having some kind of limits on or divisions by board size. The question then is what those limits or divisions should be.
Because board width tends to be self-limiting as mentioned above, board width rules or divisions are rarely specified- at least not at the amateur races I attend. But most SUP races do include at least two board length classes: 12’6 and 14’. Some races also include an unlimited length class, and some include a “recreational” or “surf style” class. Here’s what I think about each class:
The surf style class is a catchall for non-racing board designs, up to 12’6 in length but with wider, more rounded shapes. Since those are the kind of SUP boards most people start out on, it’s nice that they have a division that lets you use them to try out racing. You couldn’t really have a surf style class in a high-stakes competitive race, though, because people would start making fast “surf style” boards that were actually more like raceboards.
The unlimited length class is nice, in theory. It just doesn’t seem to be very popular. Though I’ve been to several big amateur SUP races in Florida I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than two people register in the unlimited class. More unlimited boards come out of the woodwork for super long distance races like the Chattajack in Tennessee. Also, specialized open-ocean unlimited boards are popular for downwind racing at a few select spots in the world like Hawaii. I’m curious to see if there are any changes in the popularity of unlimited class racing in the future, but I’m not holding my breath.
The 12’6 and 14’ classes are each pretty popular. By virtue of their shorter length, 12’6 boards are a little more maneuverable- easier to turn, easier to handle in waves, and perhaps quicker to accelerate from a stop to their top speed. They are also slightly easier to store and transport. On the other hand 14’ boards are significantly faster at cruising speed- about 0.5 kph faster than 12’6. 14 footers are also a little more stable, meaning they can be narrower, which contributes to their speed advantage. They “track” better, too, so one can get more paddle strokes per side before having to switch sides. For most people it’s easier to go farther, faster, with less effort, on a 14’.
Yet there’s a common, mostly untrue belief that 12’6 is faster for light riders. There is a kernel of truth to the belief, because WITHIN the 12’6 class, lighter riders have a slight advantage over heavy ones. Likewise, WITHIN the 14’ class, moderate weight riders have some advantage over very light or very heavy riders. So even though 14’ boards are overall faster for almost everyone, if you’re very light and you want to be as fast as possible WITHIN A CLASS, you might want to pick 12’6. Anyway, people overextend the true notion that lighter people have an advantage in the 12’6 class into the untrue notion that lighter people are overall faster on 12’6 than 14’. One reason this misconception endures may be that when lighter riders try a 14’ board for the first time, they try a 14’ board that is too wide and heavy for them. The optimal 14’ for a light rider is a lot narrower than the optimal 14’ for a heavier rider, and having a lightweight construction to the board is more important when the rider is light.
In Florida I think about 2/3 of male racers use 14’ and about 9/10 of the women use 12’6. Sometimes race organizers offer both classes for both genders, but the prize awarding can be awkward if there aren’t enough men on 12’6 or women on 14’ to have a full podium of winners not-merely-by-default. Yet, if you only award prizes for 14’ for men, or only for 12’6 for women it kind of forces people to use a board size they may not want to use. This brings me to the gender divisions question.
In SUP racing, the fastest men usually finish ahead of the fastest women. Of course, that difference is exaggerated by the fact that most men are on faster 14’ boards and most women are on slower 12’6 boards. If men and women were on the same length boards their speeds would be closer, but I think men would still be faster, on average, due to different physiology. So, gender divisions are probably necessary for fair competition. I don’t think there’s much controversy about that.
What there is controversy about is how prizes are apportioned among the genders- often unequally. If the prizes are money, I reckon the mens’ prizes and the womens’ prizes should be the same amount. That’s probably the best way to do it in a big race where the prize money comes from sponsors and you know there are going to be lots of competitors in both the mens’ and the womens’ divisions. However, if the prizes come from registration fees, and the number of participants is skewed strongly to one gender/class or another, then it might be fairer for the prize amounts to be based on the number of competitors in the class. For example, you could pay 20% of the class’ collective registration fees to first place, 15% to second, and 10% to third. E.g., if 50 women entered a race with a $40 entry fee, $2000 would be collected and first, second, and third prize would be $400, $300, and $200, respectively. (The rest of the money would offset costs of organizing the race.) If 20 men entered, $800 would be collected and the mens’ prizes would be $160, $120, and $80. You could do the same type of “awards based on the number of competitors” thing with board size divisions.
Division by gender makes sense. So does division by board length/type and division by age (typically 17 & under, 18-49, and 50+). But even though each division makes sense in itself, when you add them all together it multiplies the number of categories to the point of nonsense. Take the three age classes, times the four board classes, times the two genders and you get 3 x 4 x 2 = 24 unique classes, each of which will have a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place award, so 72 prizes/trophies! Many of those will be unclaimed or uncontested, and therefore kind of silly. So you can see why races want to limit the number of categories. One common way of limiting the categories is to only award mens’ prizes in the 14’ class and only award womens’ prizes in the 12’6 class. I’m not crazy about that because it’s basically forcing the women to do a longer, harder race than the men, since the same distance takes longer and feels harder on a 12’6. I’d like to see what would happen if they made mens’ 14’ and womens’ 14’ the major prize classes. The 14’ class is usually interpreted to mean “any board up to 14’ in length,” so a woman could still use her 12’6 if she felt she was faster on it. Besides making the races closer, getting men and women on the same length boards could facilitate coed training, because men and women could stick closer together on the same workout paddles. This brings me to my third point.
3. Drafting regulations.
Drafting is when you follow very closely behind another racer, in his or her wake. The wake makes it so you don’t have to paddle as hard as when you’re on your own. When drafting you can keep up with someone who would be a bit faster than you going side-by-side. But drafting isn’t magic- you can’t keep up with someone who would be a LOT faster than you. Drafting is allowed because it makes the racing faster overall and it adds an interesting element of strategic competition/cooperation in “draft trains” of several riders. The main rule about drafting is that you can’t draft “out of class.” I.e., you may not draft behind someone of a different gender or someone on a different board length. I suppose this rule is to encourage riders within a class to race with and against each other rather than tagging along with the fastest out-of-class rider they can catch. I reckon the rule makes sense for highly competitive races with money involved, but for less serious amateur races I think an “anything goes” drafting rule would be better. In an amateur race there are a wide range of speeds in every class, and fewer opportunities to draft within class. A fast 12’6 woman might be side-by-side with a draft train of 14’ men, but under the “only draft within class” rule she would not be allowed to join their train. Allowing drafting out of class would give progressing racers more opportunities to practice drafting.
The final thing I want to say about drafting rules is: if you're going to have drafting rules, you need to enforce them. Otherwise you're just giving a handicap to the people who follow the rules.
Left to right Donna Catron, Mark Payne, Justin DiGiorgio, and Jen Hayes blast off the starting line in the second batch of racers released.
On Sunday, December 14th, CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards hosted the first paddleboard / kayak race of their winter series. The course was a little different from the one in the summer series- it was only 5.1 km as opposed to 6.9 km. Everyone seemed to like the new distance. A few of the regulars from the summer series couldn't make it- Devin Turetzkin had the flu, and Matt Kearney was supporting his wife who was running a marathon -but the race was nevertheless well attended by a mix of new and veteran SUP racers.
These are the results in the format of Name, Class, and Time:
James Douglass 14' SUP 0:34:28
Mark Athanacio 14' SUP 0:34:29
Mark Hourigan 14' SUP 0:35:31
Murray Hunkin 14' SUP 0:35:59
Justin DiGiorgio 14' SUP 0:38:05
Kate Pagan 12'6" SUP 0:39:56
Mark Payne 14' SUP 0:41:11
Meg Bosi 12'6" SUP 0:41:27
John Weinberg 14' SUP 0:42:21
Jen Hayes 12'6" SUP 0:43:09
Beth Schadd 12'6" SUP 0:44:01
Damien Lin 12'6" SUP 0:45:42
Donna Catron 12'6" SUP 0:46:11
Saralane Harper 14' SUP 0:46:19
Joseph Gladieux 12'6" SUP 0:51:49
As you can see, I won, but just barely, and 3rd and 4th place weren't far behind. This is big change from the summer race series, where Mark Athanacio and I were always close together at the top, but there was a big gap between us and third place. Who are these upstarts threatening our hegemony?
Mark Hourigan- Mark H. is 55 years old, the most senior racer after Mark Payne, but he's obviously very fast. I think the main reason is because he has been committed to race training and fitness, and he has gotten incredibly buff. Most 20 year olds would be jealous of his physique. Also, Mark just switched from a 27" wide Yolo board to a 25" wide Riviera board. In fact he bought the very board that I used to win most of the summer race series, the white 14x25 Riviera RP in fiberglass construction (see below). I have to admit I was kind of jealous to see another guy on "Whitey," but I'm scheming to get a board upgrade that will put me ahead of the curve again. More on that later.
Murray Hunkin- Murray is a 49 year old long-time kayak racer and rugby player from South Africa who has switched to SUP in the last year. He's big and strong at 100 kg and he knows about race strategy and hard-core training from all his high-level kayaking. In the summer series we didn't worry too much about him because he was too busy training for a kayak championship to be fully dedicated to SUP. But lately he has been 100% into SUP and getting pretty darn good. Murray has also switched to a fast Riviera board- a 27" wide aqua-colored one of the same vintage as Whitey. The board has about 300 liters of volume and is clearly a better fit for Murray than his old ~240 liter board. Though Murray can somehow balance in a kayak as narrow and round as a telephone pole, balancing on a SUP, especially when turning, is his one remaining weakness.
Murray Hunkin the African riverbeest on his new 14'x27" Riviera RP.
How the race went: Because the Imperial River is too narrow to put all the racers in at once, we started in groups of four, chosen by the racers. Mark Athanacio, Me, Mark Hourigan, and Murray figured that we would be the fastest, so we made the first group. Technically it's doesn't matter which group you start in, because your time is calculated as your end time minus your start time, but if you want to use "drafting" to your advantage it's best to start with other racers who are close to your speed or faster. I wasn't sure how fast I'd be because I was on a borrowed board from the shop. It was a 14x25.5 404 v3 carbon with a nice "Stavron" fin. It felt great when I test rode it Thursday- very stable and, in terms of speed, not far behind the slightly narrower and pointier "Whitey". When the starting horn blew I put in a pretty good sprint and over 100 m or so the other guys got into my draft. I kept a fast pace but, unlike in previous races, I didn't shake anyone off. After about 1500 m we hit the first turn-around, the so-called "frankenbuoy" with a shrubby mangrove sprouting out of it. The 180 degree turn was a little dicey, and Mark Athanacio moved up to 2nd in the draft train by cutting it narrow when Murray and Hourigan went wide. Murray had lost the train and was sprinting to catch up when he fell off his board, which basically ensured that he wouldn't catch us. I was getting tired from leading the train and Mark Athanacio probably knew it. He said, "If you're getting tired from pulling, tell your boys they need to take a turn." So I said, "Boys, take a turn!" and we slowed down a bit to let Mark Hourigan into the lead. After a little while of egging Hourigan on to sprint as fast as possible, Mark Athanacio took his turn leading, with me in the middle. We were like that when this picture was snapped in the middle of the race.
On the upriver part of the race I started leading again, and Mark Hourigan dropped off the train because of all the bendy curves of the river. Athanacio asked if we wanted to let him catch up and I said, "No, just you and me now." I was tired, but I was scared that if I let Athanacio lead the train again I'd never be able to pass him, so my plan was to try to stay fast and stay in his way, and not fall, for the rest of the race. I did a pretty good turn at the upper turn-around of the course, one of the pilings of the bat-infested Matheson Bridge. I didn't know it until later, but Athanacio said he used a cool trick at the turn of resting the nose of his board on the tail of my board so my board helped pull him through a fast turn with no extra energy spent. Anyway, I definitely did NOT shake him off at the turn like I was hoping I might. On the final leg Athanacio told me I was going to question whether leading the draft train for most of the race had been a good idea. I was definitely questioning it, especially when Mark moved out to the side of me a bit like he might be trying to pass. I upped the speed and got in his way as best I could, although I think if he'd REALLY wanted to pass me he probably could have found a way to do it. Around this time I was getting very, very tired, and my heart rate was up over 190 bpm, but I knew if I slowed down Mark would pass me in a flash, so I kept moving. Also, my wife Rhonda had shouted when I was passing the mid-point, "Finish first or don't come home!" and just in case she wasn't joking I wanted to finish first. In the end I finished one second ahead of Mark Athanacio, too close for comfort.
Exhaustedly finishing just a tiny bit ahead of Athanacio. He was probably going easy on me. ;)
It's clear that from now on the local races are going to be much more interestingly competitive, with any of the top 4 probably capable of winning, given the right luck and strategy. The competition is also pretty hot in the other board classes, with Kate Pagan setting a new standard for speed in the womens' 12'6 class, with Meg Bosi and Jen Hayes not far behind. A trio of rookie racer women- Beth Schadd, Damien Lin, and Saralane Harper (Murray's beau), are also looking strong. Even last place rookie Joseph Gladieux finished in less than an hour, and probably got a heck of a workout. I hope everybody is back again for the next race in the series on Sunday January 3rd.
Womens' winner Kate Pagan.
Local veterinarian Damien Lin has a rowing background and has real good SUP form for a rookie. She seems to be hooked on the sport and should only get faster in the coming races.
Dr. Jose Antonio is a professor of exercise and sports science at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, and he's an avid paddler. I heard about him from Adam Pollock, a SUP racer / gear rep who was at the Lovers' Key race in November. Adam told me that Dr. Antonio was doing a study of the effects of a high protein diet on SUP athletes, and that folks from the CGT race team should sign up to be test subjects. I like science, and I like SUP racing, so participating in the study was a no-brainer for me.
This is the basis of the study, as I understand it:
A) SUP racing is getting popular, but compared to other sports there have been few scientific studies of the effects of different types of training and nutrition on SUP athletic performance. B) Studies of some other sports have found that a high protein diet increases athletes' fitness and performance a lot. C) A high protein diet might be effective for SUP athletes, too, so it's worth testing scientifically.
This is how the study is being done, as I understand it:
A) Adam Pollock recruits a bunch of Florida SUP racers to be Dr. Antonio's research subjects. B) Subjects use the fitness tracker website "MyFitnessPal.com" to record everything they eat and all the exercise they do, for a week. Dr. Antonio's lab technician Anya Ellerbroek "friends" them on the website to collect their data. C) After a week of logging their "baseline" nutrition and exercise, subjects go to Dr. Antonio's lab to get tested. Subjects are weighed and have their body fat/muscle composition analyzed in a futuristic device called the "Bod Pod." They also do a 500 m sprint test on a SUP ergometer, which is kind of like a stationary bicycle for standup paddlers. The SUP ergometer can record how much power you generate relative to your body weight; a proxy for your likely SUP performance. D) The Dr. sends you home with big jugs of protein powder, and you supplement your normal diet with a certain number of grams of protein per kg of your body weight, every day for 8 weeks. During that time you train normally. (My baseline protein intake was ~100g/day, which is low, so the 50g of additional protein I'm getting through the supplement should make a big difference.) There's an additional wrinkle to the study, which is that one group of subjects takes the protein in the morning and another group at night. It's a type of protein called casein, extracted from milk, and it's supposed to be absorbed by the body more slowly than other types of protein. The idea is that its slow absorption allows it to be gradually delivered to your muscles as they recuperate from workout damage. E) At the end of the 8 weeks you come back into the lab to do the bod pod and the SUP erg again to see if your body composition and fitness level has changed.
I did the testing on Friday with my CGT race team buddy Matt Kearney. Below are some pictures from the testing.
Matt in the orgasmatron bod pod. You have to strip down to tight underpants because any low density materials like clothing in the bod pod will inflate your fat percentage estimate. Matt was 11.8% fat, which is considered "Lean" and I was 12.6% fat, which is considered "Moderately Lean". Below lean is "Ultra Lean" (5-8% fat) which is the level found in elite athletes like Mark Athanacio. I would like to get from the moderately lean down into the lean category, but I don't reckon it's realistic for me to get into the ultra lean category at this point.
Matt on the SUP ergometer, with Dr. Antonio in the background. Dr. Antonio has the same style philosophy as me, i.e., just because you have a PhD doesn't mean you can't wear shorts and a t-shirt to work. Matt also has good style. He's wearing his "Chattajack" (ultra long distance SUP race that he did in Tennessee this fall) shirt and sporting his signature Man-Bun hairdo.
Just stepped off the SUP ergometer. Man, it gets results quick!
Me with one of the enormous jugs of protein the Dr. Antonio sent me home with. It's "cookies and cream" flavored. It tastes kind of funky if you mix it with water, but it's not that bad if you mix it with milk.
Over the last several years, ALL the windsurfing magazines in North America went out of business. Even the Canadian ones. I found that very sad and disappointing, but I understood that it was probably hard to make money on a windsurfing magazine when competing for a small number of die-hard windsurfers' attention with a lot of free information on the internet.
Fortunately, one of the former windsurfing magazine editors is starting his own new windsurfing magazine called "Windsurfing NOW". I read the first issue, which they sent out for free. It had an awesome picture on the cover of Dale Cook jumping in the Gorge, and the articles in the magazine were really high quality.
Also, call me crazy, but I like the advertisements in windsurfing magazine where you can see all the latest and weirdest boards and sails that the big companies are putting out. For example, Starboard is now making an inflatable windsurf that actually planes. They call it the AirPlane.
Anyway, I just bought a two year subscription (8 big issues) for $50. I think it will be well worth it.
PS- My buddy Alex, the only other regular windsurfer at our local spot of Wiggins Pass State Park, just bought an Exocet WindSUP 10'2 to replace his RRD Wassup 8'5 which had gotten waterlogged. (The 10'2 is a board I have been ogling since I first read about it online but I haven't been able to rationalize buying it myself.) Alex seems to love it so far. I have yet to mooch a ride on it but when I do I'll write a report on it here.