Race Starts and Strategies

By Thomas Maximus Shahinian

Luckily with the help of some amazing coaches, mentors, teammates, books and 15+ years of ocean paddling/racing outrigger team canoes, OC-1's and now SUP's, I've learned a few “secrets”: the fastest and best conditioned athletes are beatable! The "secret" pertains to training and paddling "smarter before harder" and refers to many aspects and topics regarding SUP Racing.

Considering there are so many different race courses, locations and factors, we'll begin with the basics.
Paddling and racing smarter is all about gathering Information, knowing your competition and formulating a strategy based on those key components:

– Prior to most races I'll get a map of the race course, occasionally printing them for further study and marking the wind direction, current and tidal flow based on the estimated race start and finish times. This is especially important for channels, harbors and rivers. I also mark important turns, hazards, kelp, etc. (depending on the course I may race with a GPS to identify currents, though many times it may become a distraction if you're focused on GPS screen rather than sighting small wind and ground swell energies, which offer a huge advantage)

It's helpful to know your course ahead of time

It's helpful to know your course ahead of time

– Pre-Run the course if possible in the weeks prior to important races. Knowing the course, conditions and how your body feels throughout the course can be a valuable advantage.

– Check the weather forecast for updates regarding air temperature to decide on clothing, hydration/nutrition (based on temp and previous course times), wind speed and direction.

– Talk to race hosts and local paddlers, fisherman, surfers, etc. for valuable information regarding local currents, kelp, rocks, start sequence, finish line, turns, markers, buoys, landmarks, etc. (for example using a weed fin when kelp or eel grass is present can be a huge advantage).

– There is a reason why winning teams, fighters and athletes watch videos of their opponents prior to events- it's definitely helpful if you can identify the local favorites since they may be privy to local knowledge and poorly marked race courses, etc. It's also helpful knowing the paddlers who are your closest competition along with racers who start fast, finish strong, favored upwind/downwind or play the draft strategy to formulate a pre-race plan.

Thomas leading the drafting pack

Thomas leading the drafting pack

– Lining up on start line varies depending on conditions and course…though generally my strategy is to get off the start line quick and clean without any entanglements with other competitors…even if it means taking a slightly longer course. One of the most important factors: "be on the line and ready" when the horn, gun, whistles, flag, etc. (also knowing which signal is important) is sounded! Know the start sequence and start time, be aware of start boat wakes, wind, currents, etc.

Read more about Thomas Shahinian by clicking here.