SUP Racing for Beginners – Tips for a Successful Training Program

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Riding a paddle board can be a great way to stay in shape while you enjoy the outdoors and relax. These days, paddle boarding is quickly becoming one of the best outdoor recreational activities for beginners, since these boards are much easier to handle than surfboards. SUP racing is a perfect choice if you want to get in shape fast, boost your stamina, and shed those unwanted pounds. This guide on SUP racing for beginners will show you exactly how to train for paddle board racing, what gear you need, the proper diet to follow, and how to navigate the waters on a SUP.

Picking Up a Paddle

There are many reasons people want to use a paddle board, whether it’s to spend more time with family, get closer to nature, or to lose weight. If you’re new to paddling, buying a the best inflatable paddle board for racing can be a great investment and one of the best ways to get in shape and finally get a body that’s swimsuit ready.

Learning how to race on your board can help you lose weight fast, can boost your physical and mental health, and can introduce you to new people with the same fitness goals. But getting in shape for a race is going to take some serious dedication since you’ll need to focus on increasing your stamina and lengthening your paddling distance. If you’re new to paddling, then you may only be able to paddle half a mile before you’re exhausted. Many SUP races designed for beginners are three to six miles in length, so you’ll really need to put in the work to prepare.

Regardless of why you want to learn how to race on your SUP, this guide will show you how to get started and train for a race just like the pros.

Choosing Your Gear

When you’re training for a paddle board race, you’ll need a couple of important pieces of gear; the SUP and a SUP paddle. The board you choose should be long, with a narrow nose, which will help you slice through the water faster. I recommend the ISLE Airtech Inflatable Explorer Stand Up Paddle Board.

Keep in mind, when you’re shopping for a new board, you need to find one that can handle your weight. If you choose a board with a low max weight capacity and you weigh more than the recommended weight for the board, this is going to cause a lot of drag in the water. Your board will sit lower, it will be difficult to steer, and paddling will be a real struggle. If you want to ensure you end up with a faster board, then avoid going over the max weight limit. You can learn more by clicking here to read my article on how much weight can a paddle board hold?

The Racing Paddle

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Investing in a good SUP paddle will also have a huge impact on how you perform. A paddle that’s made out of lightweight materials and equipped with a smaller blade will allow you to easily slice through the water, faster, because the blades can easily slide in and out of the water when you take a stroke, with minimal resistance. When it comes to shopping for a paddle, you should also take water conditions into consideration. A paddle that’s made out of fiberglass will be more durable and it’s a great material choice for rivers, however, for other types of water conditions, you’ll want to choose a model that features a carbon blade since these paddles are more efficient and much lighter. A low-quality paddle can be difficult to use, may be flimsy, and isn’t designed with paddling efficiency in mind. So, regardless of the quality and speed of your stroke, a poor-quality paddle will just slow you down.

Other Important Accessories

A SUP pump will be another piece of paddling gear that you’ll want to keep on hand since it will allow you to easily and quickly inflate your board, right before a race. These pumps are often priced affordably, and many come equipped with built-in gauges which you can use to ensure your board is inflated properly, to the recommended PSI.

Water shoes for paddle boarding will help to improve your traction on the board, so you won’t have to worry about sliding on the surface of the board as you focus on pulling ahead of the competition. Many of these shoes can also protect your feet from injuries from marine wildlife and sharp rocks and other types of dangers that lie underwater and onshore.

Choose the Type of Race

There are many different types of SUP races to choose from. Some are held in a variety of environments including bays, rivers, the ocean, or a lake. In open waters, you’ll have to keep an eye out for swimmers, surfers, boats, and kayaks. As a beginner, you should start off with an easier race, which will take place on a lake where the weather and water conditions will be predictable and won’t change drastically during the day. Races for beginners are often six miles in length. By signing up for a race early, you’ll get to check out the route and focus on increasing your paddling distance and stamina based on the length of the race.

Starting a Training Program

When you first start a paddle boarding training program, the goal will be to increase your stamina, perfect your paddling technique, and improve distance. If you’re new to paddling, then you probably don’t know how to gauge your paddling distance. You can use the GPS on your phone or a smartwatch to track how much distance you cover each day, and have a goal in mind. Be careful not to overdo it. You don’t want to strain your muscles or place too much stress on your joints. Pace yourself and have a reasonable paddling goal in mind.

The first time you practice, only go as far as what feels comfortable. This will give you a good baseline so you can gradually increase the paddling distance, without overdoing it.


If possible, sign up for SUP lessons, where you can learn how to properly power your strokes and pace yourself. Powering your strokes correctly will allow you to conserve your energy so you can make it for the duration of the race and not be left exhausted after just a mile or two.

Even if you have some paddling experience, if this is your first race, then taking a refresher course can help and will focus on perfecting certain skills such as how to paddle faster, how to perfect quick turns, and how to feather the paddle properly.

If you can’t afford lessons or a trainer, then you’ll need to practice on your own. Create a workout that includes working on your paddling, increasing stamina, and training out on the water, at least four days a week for one hour per training session. Make sure you begin training for the race as soon as you sign up. You’ll need as much time to train as possible. Most pros recommend training at least four to six weeks before the big day.

Training in Different Weather Conditions

While four days a week is the minimum, try to get out in the water as much as possible. It’s also important that you paddle in different types of weather and water conditions. Paddling on a windy day can be a total gamechanger and will definitely be a struggle if you’re not used to it. Since wind is so unpredictable, try training on windy days as much as possible. When doing so, you’ll get a killer workout, and you’ll also learn what you need to do to change up your paddling technique in order to paddle faster. If you can’t practice on a windy day, then use a heavier paddle than you normally would, for the extra resistance.

Improving Strength and Balance

Improving strength and balance will come with practicing often. Hit the water as much as possible. After a week or two, you’ll notice your stamina increases and you’ll feel faster and stronger. The first couple of weeks will be tough. You’ll notice that you get winded easily and you may not have the stamina to make it back to shore as quickly as you anticipated. This is why preparing for the race weeks in advance is so important.

Following the Proper Diet

If you’re training for a race, you can’t follow a diet that’s high in fat, processed foods, and fast food. Instead, you need to make the switch to eating clean and learn how to use food for fuel, not entertainment. You should also avoid a diet that’s high in sugar since a high-sugar diet can cause muscle cramps and can quickly zap you of energy. Try eating foods that are high in healthy fats and lean protein. This includes:

  • Yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Nuts

It’s also important to focus on staying hydrated when you train. Increase your daily water intake to one gallon a day.

The Day Before the Race

Get out into the water early. Spend an hour or two practicing but try not to overdo it since the last thing you want is to feel tired and sore the day of the race. Go over the proper paddling techniques, time yourself, and basically enjoy your time on the water. Make sure you also focus on hydration and eating healthy. Don’t eat a heavy evening meal since this can make you feel sluggish and bloated the next day.

The Day of the Race

Entering a race for the first time can be exhilarating and terrifying, so it’s crucial that you feel prepared. Create a checklist of everything you need for the big day, including snacks, water, your phone, your board, pump, shoes, leash, and other gear. Many beginners will either make the mistake of eating a heavy breakfast or skipping breakfast altogether. Remember, your food is your fuel. You don’t want to hit the water with an empty tank. You also don’t want to eat too much, which can cause nausea and an upset stomach, especially when you’re paddling as fast as you can for several miles. Instead, eat a light meal such as a cup of yogurt, a piece of fruit, and a cup or two of plain oatmeal. Top the oatmeal with sliced almonds for an additional healthy protein source.

Once you’ve eaten and have all the gear you need loaded in your vehicle, it’s time to go.

Show up to the race early to sign in and get your number. This will also give you plenty of time to practice and warm up your muscles.

Final Thoughts

You may not win your first race, but that’s really not the goal here. When you take out your board, the goal is to get exercise, have fun, and enjoy your time outdoors. So, if you don’t crush the competition for your first race, don’t be too hard on yourself. You should be proud of your commitment and dedication. Plus, if you’ve been training for several weeks, then you’ve probably lost a significant amount of weight while gaining some muscle. This guide on SUP racing for beginners can be used to help you prepare for an upcoming race, or you can use it as basic guidelines to whipping your body back in shape. Whether your goal is to win a race or look great out on your board, the tips I’ve included here will help you achieve your goals and enjoy your time out on the water doing what you love.