There’s been a lot of buzz in the racing scene about drafting. Some competitors think race directors need to make a call on whether or not drafting should be allowed, while others say it’s all just part of the game. Anthony Vela has been a successful SUP racer for the past few years, winning surf slalom, short course and long distance races while also starting his own Performance Paddling Clinics with fellow elite paddler, Candice Appleby. Now, Anthony shares his view on the controversial issue of drafting. – Shari Coble
Drafting is a part of every racing sport that comes to mind. My first sport was swimming, and I can remember being taught about drafting as young as nine. We even practiced drills to get the feel of using someone else’s energy. When I ran track, we worked on drafting too. Car racing, horse racing, bike racing, kayak racing, paddleboard racing- basically in every racing sport I can think of, drafting is a strategic part of the race. Lately, there has been talk in the standup paddle community about drafting. People have their own thoughts on drafting in SUP races, but for me, drafting has always been a part of racing.
The 1st Annual Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge in Hood River, Oregon combined a picturesque, technically demanding racecourse with some of the world’s top SUP racers. Connor Baxter, Kai Lenny, Jay Wild, Chase Kosterlitz, and myself ended up bumping, battling and drafting for all four laps of the 1.5-mile course.
Jay Wild led the pack around the first turn, followed by Connor, Kai and I. It seemed that every buoy Kai and I were bumping each other, allowing the pack to stay right behind us, and also allowing Connor and Jay to pull ahead. By the back straightaway Connor started to pull away from Jay, while I was leading the chase pack.
In a drafting pack, the person in front is working the hardest. The second person in line has to work pretty hard to stay with the leader, but saves about 15-25% energy. The third person in line doesn’t have to work as hard as the second person in line, perhaps saving 20-40% more energy than the first paddler, and anyone else behind the third person saves around 20-40% of their energy. These percentages are not exact, but are based on actual facts from drafting studies in other sports, and expressed as my personal opinion.
There was a lot of action on the second, third and fourth turns. Going into the fourth turn, Kai snuck inside of me. I was now in third going into the long straightaway, but then I saw Chase breaking away with Jay on his tail. Kai was drafting Connor, Jay was drafting Chase, and I knew I had to make a choice of who to draft next. I thought Chase might be ready to make a big move since he had been drafting for most of the race, so I opted to draft him. Just when I thought he was making a move, he decided to tuck back in behind Kai. All of a sudden I was in fifth, but at least I was getting a break.
At the end of four laps, six miles, twenty-four buoy turns, and countless place changes, it came down to a fifty-yard sprint. The Gorge Paddle Challenge provided a great venue for an epic race. One of the draws to standup paddling is its versatility. I believe the same is true with SUP racing. There are races where drafting plays an integral part, like Hood River, and then there are races where drafting is impossible, like Molokai and the Teva Mountain Games. But the bottom line in racing- regardless of whatever your opinion is on drafting- is to get out there and have fun.
Be sure and check out Vela’s drafting technique piece in the spring issue of SUP magazine.