Your First Race
How to gear up for the big day
This feature originally appeared in our 2016 Skills Guide. This article is the final installment of a weekly six-part series focusing on six equipment solutions for six different scenarios.
Take a deep breathe—you're already over the hardest part: signing up for your very first standup race. And we can't blame you for being nervous. But here's the thing: once that gun goes off adrenaline is your friend and in its firm grip, your first race will be over before you know it. The key is to eliminate all the variables you can beforehand so that once out on the course, all you have to do is paddle your guts out. Here's how to do it.
We'll assume that if you're racing you have an appropriate board, most likely 12'6" or 14'. Aside from keeping it clean, its hull free of grime and schmutz (OnIt Pro is the go-to in SUP for removing said grunge), there's not much to worry about. There's only one moving part: the fin.
But choosing the right fin for the right race is still crucial. You can get really technical about this but for the most part, long, flatwater or downwind courses with no surf and very few buoy turns favor a shallower, broad-based keel fin that will facilitate tracking and speed. In and out of surf and around multiple buoys: go for a more vertical fin template and less fin surface that will allow the board to pivot more sharply.
On land it's pretty simple: stay warm, have your towel laid out, drink plenty of fluids and get your board and paddle set up at the start line with plenty of time to spare. Easy. It's a whole different deal out on the course. Let's get one thing out of the way: you're going to overheat. If it's your first event, about halfway through the second lap you're going to wish you hadn't worn that short-sleeved spring suit and the broad-brimmed floppy hat with the Foreign Legion flap down the neck.
So strip down—you're racing here, generating way more body heat than usual. If the water temp is over 60 degrees and there's no whitewater or surf to contend with, you'll probably never be in the water and won't need a wetsuit. A long-sleeved Lycra rash guard should suffice for sun and wind protection and a foam trucker cap for glare (hint: it floats if it falls off). If you want to wear sunglasses, buy a cheap pair at a gas station the day before or get a good set of sunglass retainers. Don't forget sunscreen, lathering it on but avoiding the forehead: your hat will protect you there and you don't want it stinging in your eyes. Coiled deck leashes can be nice but any standard leash will do. Neoprene booties? If you must, get the low-cut, reef-walker type, as regular high-cuff surf booties, when worn without a long wetsuit, can mean Squish City when they fill up with water.
Speaking of water, if you plan on being out on the course for more than a half hour, use some sort of hydration system (see Gear Up for SUP Part 5: Hydration)—and make sure to try it out before race day. That's the key: try everything before the Big Race. You never want to use anything for the first time on your first time.