The Importance of a Fair SUP Race Start

Global Partner

By: Chase Kosterlitz
President, Stand Up Paddle Athletes Association

3…2…1…GO!!!, the starter yells. You clamber through the start line, banging boards and smashing paddles as the water quickly turns into an angry cross-chop. The paddler next to you started early somewhere around ‘2’ and you are lost in the choppy mess trying to get your footing. You fall in, get up as fast as you can and navigate the mayhem.

Eventually you find clean water and try to figure out how you ended up at the back of the pack. Most of your race is spent recovering from the hectic first few moments at the start.

Does this sound like something that has happened to you? Unfortunately, we have found starts like this are all too common and can reduce an otherwise positive SUP race experience. Bad starts include too many paddlers on the line, insufficient room to paddle, damaged boards, false starts and unclear starting sequences.

Stand up paddling is becoming a mature sport where botched starts should not be the norm. Every individual paddlers’ time is priceless. The time someone takes to attend a race and the time they choose to train should not be wasted in the first five seconds of an event. Fair starts should be implemented for paddlers of all skill levels. Competitively, the start can be the single most critical part of a race. Organizationally, it is one of the easiest areas to execute in a fair and safe manner.

Let’s take a closer look to see why the race start is so critical to having a good race.*

A board traveling at 5 mph will go roughly 7.3 feet per second. Let’s call this our race pace.

A board traveling at 6 mph will go roughly 8.8 feet per second. Let’s call this our sprint pace.

A board going 6 mph will travel 1.5 feet per second faster than a 5 mph board.

The start is chaotic, there is no room on the start line and the paddler next to you bumps you off your board. In the best case scenario you get back on your board and start paddling to reach a speed of 6 mph all in the span of 6 seconds (you are scary fast!). Meanwhile your competition is sprinting away at their 6 mph sprint pace.

During the time in which you fell off and got back on your board, the competition has traveled 52.8 feet, or roughly 4 board lengths ahead if you are racing on 12’6. This is the BEST case scenario. It is more likely to take you twice the amount of time to get back up, gain your balance and reach 6 mph. In this situation you are now 100 feet behind, or 8 board lengths.

If all things remain equal, you will not catch a competitor who is of equal speed. Let’s examine the situation if you ARE faster than the paddler who bumped you off and is now 8 board lengths ahead of you.

You dig deep and are able to get your pace up to 6.5 mph. This is an all out sprint and you are exhausting every ounce of your energy to stay at this speed. Now you are traveling at roughly 9.5 feet per second.

At this rate it will take you 1 minute and 26 seconds to catch the paddler in front of you, or 1/15th of a mile.

By the time you catch up you have expended an incredible amount of energy (try sprinting at your max effort for 1 minute and 26 seconds. It is an eternity!). Despite the fact that you are now drafting your competition, you have exhausted yourself and still have the remaining 6 miles of the race to paddle.

Your race went from normal to an all out effort that drained most of your energy just to be in contention. This occurred all because of a split second during a botched start.

How do we fix it?

There will be contact at the starts of SUP races. We understand that one of the only ways to completely eliminate contact and unfair advantages is to race in a straight line down marked lanes. We are not suggesting this scenario. We are proposing a more fair, safe, organized and standardized means to start SUP races.

Regardless of the level an individual competes at, every paddler deserves a fair and equal chance to paddle a race to the best of their abilities.

Below are the proposed starting sequences from our rulebook. The starting sequences are written so that there is little room for interpretation in order to give a clear and standardized means for starting a race. All races will not have to follow this is exact format. However, we believe that some standardization of starting sequences and other rules will make SUP races better for race organizers, athletes and all stand up paddle constituent groups.

Virtually any sport in existence starts their events the same and with standardized rules. Why should SUP racing be any different?

Below are the rules for starts from the 2014 SUPAA rulebook. We have established these sequences based on the knowledge and experience of as many qualified athletes and race directors as possible. We would like to continue to improve all of our rules with your feedback as well. Please read the rules and send us suggestions for how we can make them better. In this way we can move forward in a unified and positive direction.

Take note that separate starts are designed to help eliminate illegal drafting, allow for more room on the line and create a safe and fair race. These are the suggested SUPAA rules. We recommend this outline for a successful race start, however, we understand there can be alternative starting sequences used successfully.

Visit our Facebook page and let us know what you think or send an email to

* We are not math majors and understand that the math used is not exact to the 100th decimal place. Our attempt to quantify a bad start is meant to show the reader how critical a start can be using math 10, not rocket science.

Sign up for our race official certification courses coming up this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin and August 13th in Chigasaki, Japan.

Happy Paddling,

Chase Kosterlitz
President, Stand Up Paddle Athletes Association

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