The 2018 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life are less than three months away and that can only mean one thing: It’s time to hone your skills.

Hopefully you’re already training physically (if not, there’s no time like the present). But an often-overlooked part of training are the techniques used to prepare for various race courses. For the PPGs that means one thing--paddling in the surf zone. #PPG2018 is held in the surf break at the world-famous Doheny State Beach which means competitors will have to navigate getting in and out through the waves, which can be tricky with limited experience. To prepare you for surf racing, we put together five tips to help you look like a veteran and minimize wipeouts.

1. Practice Beach Starts

Our technical races begin on the sand which means when the buzzer sounds, you’ll be sprinting towards the water with a board and paddle in your hands. While pros make this beach sprint look like a breeze, it’s harder than it seems. This isn’t a lesson you want to learn the hard way by face planting on race day.

The beach starts at PPG are a sight to behold. Photo: JP Van Swae

To avoid this indignity, practice running into the water with your board and work on the transition from land to water. The quicker you get to your feet, the quicker you can leave the mayhem of the pack in your wake. Bonus points if you can practice your beach starts at Doheny. Understanding the bottom contours of the Doheny shoreline and how the tide affects these is essential to getting a quality start. Hint: there’s a a deep channel right where the waves hit the sand.

2. Practice in the Surf

If you are going to race in the surf, first, you must practice in the surf.

While SUP surfing is a great way to get comfortable in the waves, be sure to practice on the board you will race with. SUP race boards and SUP surfboards are entirely different beasts and just because you are comfortable SUP surfing, does not mean you’ll be comfortable surfing a race board--especially if you haven’t practiced.

Get through the surf with ease. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Once you are out there, there are a few basic tips you’ll want to remember. When paddling out, always keep your board perpendicular to the oncoming waves and avoid being directly behind another paddler so you don’t become part of someone else’s yard sale.

When catching and riding a wave back to the beach, get all the way to back of the board so that you don’t bury the nose at the bottom of the wave. It also helps to bend your knees and get low, while also using your paddle as a brace once the wave breaks. Being over the fins also helps you to turn.

3. Practice Pivot Turns

Buoy turns are where Technical races are often won and lost. Being able to execute a dynamic and tight turn will give you a huge advantage over your competitors.

Pivot turn madness, how many spots could you pick up? Photo: JP Van Swae

To take full advantage, practice getting comfortable with both left and right buoy turns--the open technical course features both. Not to mention, the footwork skills you develop doing these turns will also help you in the surf.

4. Leg and Cardio Workouts

Of course, having a successful run at #PPG2018 is about much more than just developing the proper skill set. This is a high-intensity race and to avoid a mid-race burnout, you’ll need to do some leg and cardio work in preparation.

Strong legs are essential for buoy turns and staying on the board when punching through waves. Meanwhile, cardio training will keep you feeling strong throughout the entire race. You’ll want to train both in the water and on land — focus on interval training and HIIT exercises to prepare your body for the demands of the surf race.

This is when you wish you did more training. Photo: JP Van Swae

5. Watch the Ocean

One of the most overlooked aspects of preparation is the easiest of them all: Look at the ocean!

Unlike most flatwater, the ocean is a dynamic place and you don’t want to go barreling into the water without a solid understanding of what the swell, current and wind is doing that day. Shortly before your race begins, spend at least 15 minutes watching the conditions — where the waves are breaking, how often the sets are coming, how many waves are in a set and so on. Once you have a good picture about the conditions are doing, formulate a strategy for navigating in and out of the surf during your race.

Hopefully these tips help you trust your training, stay calm and, most importantly, have fun come race day.

We’ll see you in October.

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#PPG2018 Race Director Anthony Vela’s Tips for Surf Racing