So You Think You Can SUP?

3 experts share everything you need to know before your first SUP competition

Katie Jackson

You’ve done the rental thing, and perhaps now you’ve invested in a board. Maybe you even have a “Keep Calm and SUP On” sticker on your SUV. Still, you’re not quite sure where you stand when it comes to stand up paddle board competing and you don’t know if you’re ready to add registration day to your calendar.

As it so happens, today is a actually a great day to answer that question. In less than two weeks, more than six hundred paddlers are expected to gather at Wrightsville Beach, NC for the East Coast’s largest SUP competition, the 2014 Carolina Cup. Although the most elite paddlers in the world will be headlining this five-day event, the beauty of Carolina Cup, and many other SUP competitions, is that registration is open to all abilities.

Finding a SUP event is the easy part, but signing up for a race or a long distance paddle requires confidence and insight. We asked three seasoned competitors—Jarrod Covington of Wrightsville SUP, Jessica Bellofatto an ambassador for BOGA Yoga Paddleboards and Gina Bradley of Paddle Diva—for a few insider tips on how to transition from casual SUP to competitive paddling.

What is the barrier to entry like for SUP competitions?

Jarrod: Most entry fees are in the $20-$50 range so the barrier isn’t that big—the biggest hurdle is if you don’t have a board, and most races are affiliated with surf shops so you can usually rent one.

Jessica: Low—it’s not like a marathon where you need to qualify or win the lottery; there are usually divisions for all skill levels.

Gina: There’s a very low barrier to entry—most races are affordable and the best part is that many are by donation and they benefit good causes!

Why should paddlers who already love the sport consider competing in it?

Jarrod: There’s no better way to connect with the SUP community. Competitions bring everyone together, and it creates a unique environment that you won’t find if you paddle solo or stick to your usual group. You feel like you’re part of a big SUP family.

Jessica: I love to compete, so for me it’s a natural extension of paddling. The one thing about racing—even for those who don't want to 'compete'—is the group atmosphere is a ton of fun.

Gina: It's another way to make the sport interesting and it’s a great reason to buy a new board. I always say that it’s impossible to waste money on doing things that keep you active. You’ll be adding years to your life and SUP racing is one way to do that.

How does a SUP competition compare to running a race on land?

Jarrod: It’s definitely more challenging because you have to focus on more factors like the tide, the wind and your balance. You also don’t have huge crowds cheering you on so it’s definitely more of a mental sport. Still, being out there on your own with the elements is unreal.

Jessica: We paddle slower than we run, so a SUP race takes a lot longer.  

Gina: SUP racing is harder because there are more variables that can affect your speed. Although it’s more challenging, the experience is more fun and rewarding because you’re on the water.

What advice would you give to someone before their first SUP race?

Jarrod: Focus on having fun and definitely don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

Jessica: Pace yourself! Try to get into a sustainable rhythm with your paddle stroke, your breath, etc. Wear a hydration pack and stay hydrated because it can make a huge difference in performance.

Gina: Your first race should be about having fun and finishing. Don’t worry about winning or placing until you’ve gotten a feel for a SUP race; then it’s okay to start setting those kinds of goals.

Do you train for races? If yes, what is your regimen like?

Jarrod: Not really, I just lead a very active lifestyle and try to mix up my workout routine so that I don’t get burned out in one sport.

Jessica: Yes, I try to train for races by paddling several times a week, cross-training with TRX, yoga, and running. I also do one distance day and one speed day on the board.

Gina: When I train for a race, I just make sure my body is ready to do the distance the race will be. I do that distance a few times a week prior to the race. Most importantly, I cross-train and do other sports like running for endurance, CrossFit for strength and SUP surfing for fun!

How long was it between the first time you were on a board and the first time you competed?

Jarrod: My first race was about a year after I first got on a SUP board. It was a smaller race on a river in Florida, and I ended up winning!

Jessica: After four weeks I found myself signed up to compete.

Gina: Same as Jessica, it was about a month. Jessica ended up beating me in that race, but we’re still good friends!

What is your favorite part of a SUP competition/event?

Jarrod: The camaraderie, but I also like how you learn from other competitors who challenge you to take your paddle to the next level.

Jessica: My favorite part is the start line when everyone runs into the water and you’re looking around trying to figure out who’s going to be your main competition for the next hour or so.

Gina: I love seeing all the athletes and the recreational paddlers together. SUP is such an intimate sport and unlike a lot of other sports, it encourages camaraderie—even in competitions.

Have you won any competitions?

Jarrod: Yes, I’ve won a few, but my greatest accomplishment was receiving the first ever All Waterman Award in 2013. I’ll be inducted into a hall of fame and be defending the title at this year’s Waterman Ocean Festival right after I compete in the Carolina Cup.

Jessica: I’ve won several Long Island races for a few years in a row. Although I didn’t place, I did really well in a 6-mile race last August when I was 7.5 months pregnant.

Gina: Winning is less important to me, I don’t race to win. My passion is the stroke, not the win, so I leave it to the women who really dedicate themselves to training to place.  

Do you think SUP should become an Olympic sport?

Jarrod: Yes, eventually. There is a growing shift from traditional paddle sports to SUP, and the industry is continuing to grow.

Jessica: YES!

Gina: Yes, I think it would make for fun, but I don’t expect it to become an Olympic event any time soon since it’s hard to make a long SUP race an exciting spectator sport—which is why people should be competing instead of watching! 


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