Active Sports

What You Need to Know to Start Paddleboard Racing

Man racing a paddleboard in the ocean

Are you addicted to stand up paddleboarding (SUP)? If so, then chances are, SUP racing has crossed your mind. Or you’ve crossed paths with like-minded riders who race paddleboards, and you’re ready to try it yourself.

The great thing is, you can get into paddleboard racing regardless of your skill level. The sport is not just for advanced riders. It’s for anyone with a passion for paddleboarding, who loves to challenge themselves physically, and wants to compete in a fun sport on the water. Before you dive into your first race, there are a few basics and tips that you should keep in mind.

Paddleboard Racing Basics

Woman standing on racing paddleboard

There are many different types of paddleboard races you can compete in. From an easy 5K straight-line paddle on your local lake to the Yukon River Quest, a grueling 444-mile race through the Canadian wilderness, there’s a SUP race for everyone.

Races start on land, on the shore, or in the water, in waves or heats separated by gender, experience level, sign-up time, or type of paddleboard. You can race in the ocean, on flat water, and in flowing rivers.

Every race starts with a pre-race meeting, a gathering of all competitors where everyone reviews the rules, safety measures, and information about the course. This is your chance to ask questions about the race, so it’s important to attend this meeting, especially if it’s your first one.

During registration, you and fellow competitors will be broken up into classes or divisions. Classes are usually split up by board type and age. According to the World Paddle Association, there are several classes based on your board type: 12’6″ and under (least competitive), 14′ and under (moderately competitive), and over 14′(most competitive). There are also classes for juniors (ages 13-17) and kids (under 13).

The vast diversity of competitors is what makes paddleboard racing such an easy and fun sport for people of all ages and physical abilities to get into.

Types of Paddleboards for Racing

You can invest in a specialized racing paddleboard, or simply start out with the one you already have. With the ever-increasing popularity of the sport, you can easily find a class or division to compete in using a short, all-around board, or even inflatable paddleboard.

Eventually, you might be ready to upgrade to a paddleboard designed specifically for racing. These boards are typically longer than 14 feet, with a pointed nose and a shape similar to that of a kayak. Racing SUPS are much narrower than recreational boards, around 25-29″ wide, and are tougher to balance on. They often feature a displacement hull, with a pointed V-shaped nose that cuts through water for a faster, smoother ride.

Investing in a racing paddleboard means you’re serious about the sport. Specialized racing paddleboards start at around $1200, but are worth it when your goal is to cover a lot of ground (or water) as fast as possible.

Gear

Woman racing a paddleboard with all her gear

You’ll need to carry a few important accessories on board during every race. First, all races will require you to have a personal flotation device (PFD) and a leash. In some races, you’re required to carry a whistle in case of emergencies.

Second, you’ll want to invest in a high quality, lightweight carbon fiber one-piece paddle. A good paddle means less effort spent paddling and being able to go longer distances with fewer strokes.

Finally, make sure to bring along some creature comforts, especially if racing longer distances. A lightweight hydration pack is a must, eliminating the need to fuss around with water bottles. Bring a hat, waterproof phone case, water shoes (to prevent your feet from getting sore on the deck), sunscreen, and chapstick.

How to Find a Race

Chances are, you’ve already seen or experienced a race in your local SUP community, or at least talked to someone who has. Talking to someone at your local SUP shop or paddle guide business is a great place to start. They’ll be able to point you to races that are close to home and in waters you’re already familiar with.

When you’re ready to branch out, Paddle Guru is a great resource to find races across the country. Stand and Paddle has a smaller listing of races by date, and SUP Connect has a large listing of all types of SUP events, not just races.

If you’re not having much luck finding something on the larger websites, check out your local Facebook groups and events by searching for SUP races. Sometimes people will host events that aren’t publicly listed or sponsored. These smaller races are some of the best, bringing together the most enthusiastic paddlers in your community.

Get Involved

Since paddleboarding is such an inclusive sport, you don’t have to be a competitor to get involved. If you’re still not sure about racing, you can start out by volunteering to work the race while you learn the ropes. You can work the registration tent, help with setup and breakdown, and facilitate spectators’ needs.

Many paddleboard races work with not-for-profit organizations and charities to raise money and awareness for special causes. You can volunteer to assist with fundraising or promoting the event, or even sign up to be a vendor and promote your own cause or business. Or you can just attend as a spectator and cheer on a friend!


No matter how or why you get into paddleboard racing, just make sure to have fun! It’s one of the only sports where beginners can compete right alongside experts. And don’t worry about going at it alone. You’ll meet people from all walks of life who have one thing in common: a love for being on the water.

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