SUP Training Technology: What’s Out There & How To Use It

stand up paddleboard technolgy
Global Partner

SUP training technology maximizes your performance. Would you land a modern airliner without a full digital color display of airspeed, altitude, horizontal situation and weather? Unlikely. Would you barrel your Ducati 1098R motorcycle around the Isle of Man without speedometer and tach? Not recommended.

Then why paddle a SUP on a wing and a prayer in hopes that good fortune will strike?  Here is an overview of the latest SUP training technology and how to use it for maximum benefit.

Casper Steinfath APP World Tour
Casper Steinfath charges out of the gates at the London SUP Open. The Dane’s renowned sprint ability is definitely a measure of stroke rate, distance per stroke and maximum oxygen level. Technology makes champions. Photo by: Si Crowther / APP World Tour


Exercise Science:  How to Use It to Win

Many of us have a nuanced take on politics, craft beer, fine wines, gourmet dining, the environment and even the economy. However, when it comes to fitness, we are Luddites eschewing the vast and incredibly sophisticated fields of biomechanics, exercise physiology, performance fueling and motor learning. We have the misguided notion that adding technology to our workouts flies in the face of some philosophical dictum or might somehow be immoral.

Yet exercise science delivers enormous benefits. It has the ability to make us far faster, fitter, healthier and younger while bringing great intellectual fascination and satisfaction to our workouts. In this article, I will explore how exercise science can improve your paddling prowess to make you the fittest and fastest you’ve ever been. My hope is that you will develop the same fascination for exercise tech that you do for vintage wines and beautifully shaped stand up paddle boards. Let’s take a look at assembling the finest wearable and SUP technology gear onto the dashboard on your paddle board.

The Paddle League Yuka Sato Air France Paddle Festival Tahiti
Yuka Sato’s endurance performance is the result of careful development of speed over time. Photo by: The Paddle League

SUP Technology Makes You a Stronger, More Efficient Paddler

I pilot a twin engine turbine aircraft with an incredibly sophisticated dashboard to show me the surrounding air traffic, terrain, satellite weather and a completely synthetic vision of the plane and its surroundings. This makes me a far better (and safer) pilot.

From the Carolina CUP to M20, from Standup for the Lake in Vermont to Chattajack in Tennessee and Surf 2 Sound at the legendary Wrightsville Beach, I assemble a small arsenal of SUP training technology onto my stand up paddleboard’s dashboard to make me a better paddler and allow me to place in races where age alone says I have no chance at all.

Grace Rosato ISA Worlds prone paddleboard
Grace Rosato eyes the finish line at the end of the women’s prone tech final. Photo by: Pablo Jimenez / ISA Worlds

Wearable SUP Technology:  Performance & Fitness Tools

Garmin 945: The Garmin 945 collects and displays most data you’ll need both for real time performance enhancements. I tape two of these side by side on my paddleboard. One displays muscle oxygen consumption and heart rate, the other speed and time. The Forerunner series from Garmin also has a SUP training setting which will show strokes per minute and distance per stroke. It comes in a variety of prices and records the data for your review.

SMO2: The genius device of SMO2 from Human and Moxy measures real time oxygen consumption in key performance muscles such as your quads. The Human has a color display system so you can see when you start to go anaerobic. The display turns orange and then bright red when your muscle is out of oxygen and spewing toxic amounts of lactic acid. You can place the sensor right over the muscle which is held in place by a strap.

Whoop: Training programs with HRV demonstrate a far greater improvement in race pace and maximal oxygen uptake than any standard SUP training workout. As Michael Booth once told me, “I only train when I feel great.”

We all should and the Whoop Strap will tell you when!!

Whoop is a great new piece of fitness gear in this generation. The display shows you a high green on the days you should hammer and bright red when you should rest and recover. The device allows you to see inside your body what no coach can. Heart rate variability is the heart of the Whoop device and reflects whether your nervous system is switched to fight/flight or rest/recover.

Many of us do the same training day in and day out which leaves us stale. Whoop will get you in the green! Connor Baxter showed me his scores which were through the roof! No wonder he trains so hard!

Varia Vision:  I wear this eyepiece for the Carolina Cup when it’s just too choppy to look at your board.The Varia Vision displays 4 real time fields for competition in your eye. I choose speed, oxygen consumption, stroke rate and heat rate. It may make you look like a cyborg and spook the competition, but it gives you a great edge since you can develop a constant pace without ever dropping off.

Heart rate strap: Wrist heart rates are notoriously unreliable. Garmin’s inexpensive chest strap that will send much more reliable heart rates to your Garmin watch.

Bruno Hasulyo Starboard ISA Mens Distance race
Bruno Hasulyo claims a golden moment for Team Hungary in the iconic Distance Race in Copenhagen, Denmark at the ISA World Sup & Paddleboard Championships. Photo by: Georgia Schoenfeld

Utilize Your SUP’s Dashboard with On-board Devices:

Velocitek: Velocitek offers the clearest and easiest to read display of speed, heading and time for your SUP training. For navigation, it has a built in GPS compass which I use for M20. The Velocitek helps keep you on a straight course on the rhumb line when the temptation is the ride waves straight downwind and veer too far south.

Velocitek charts intervals. You can set you intervals for very short speed refreshed readings. This will show the effect of each part of your stroke. For instance I can see the kick at the end of my stroke with an acceleration shown on the Velocitek. The reading is big and clear in any conditions so its a fantastic aid to follow the effect of each individual stroke on speed.

Speed coach SUP2: The Speed Coach SUP2 is built with real accelerometers. This sophisticated piece of technology is the best way to improve your stroke rate. I was stuck at 37 stokes per minute and was able to get up to 60 using this device. You’ll also see Speed and Distance per paddlestroke. As you work on shortening your stroke and speeding up your recovery, you’ll see your stroke rate increase. This device also records speed in miles per hour. You can upload and analyze the data to follow your performance.

GoPro: The GoPro is a terrific way to study your form. It always finds massive flaws! I recommend you aim your GPS sideways as we do as Burlington Surf Club practice to get a side view of your teammates…and vice versa…as you paddle next to each other. For instance, you are apt to find that your entry into water with your blade could be far cleaner or that you pull your paddle out too far past your feet. Send this off for analysis to coaches like Larry Caine or Michael Booth for further analysis.  There is always so much room for improvement!

GoPro Stand up paddling
The GoPro is an excellent way to capture your stoke on film to break it down and analyze where improvements can be made. Sharing such film with experts like Larry Cain and Michael Booth bring maximum benefit.

Online Platforms to Grow Your Peak Performance

These online sites are great ways to review the data you collect from the Garmin and SMO2.

Training peaks: This online training platform collects Garmin data and puts it into a graph where you can see your overall training load and effect.

Whoop: Whoop offers daily recovery and HRV scores. I don’t even get out of bed until I see mine!

Garmin Connect: This is a great way to collect and review all your workouts. I look at mine for speed heart rate, SMO2 and stroke rate.

Starboard Men's Sup Race start1080
Pro athletes on the start line are well trained and well versed in their heart rate, stroked per minute, and distance per stroke rate. All of this is recorded using SUP technology.

Putting it All Together: Racing with SUP Technology

So let’s put this all into action with an actual race or training dashboard.

Warm up: This term quite literally means that you are raising the core temperature of your muscles up to the point that they can maximally produce energy. SMO2 displays this brilliantly. Pre race I’ll see my SMO2 at a low 59%. After a stiff warm up (the harder the better), SMO2 will settle about 75% so I know I’m ready to go.

Race start: Carefully observe SMO2 so you don’t go deep red which will load your muscles with lactic acid and slows you down. Try to ride SMO2 right on the edge, just barely touching orange so you are getting maximal oxygen through your muscles. I’ll race at 63%. Any lower and I’m red!

First mile: Try to aim for a steady race pace and hold it for the duration. I aim for 6.2 mph on my unlimited. By this time, my heart rate has responded and is at max, around 147 BPM. The biggest fault in a race is unconsciously slacking off when heart rate may drop 20 beat per minute or pace may call to 5.5mph. Keep a steady pacing will give you a far better race result.

Strive for a constant stroke rate, faster in upwind sections. A fall heart rate can also be a sign you have overloaded yourself and need to shorten your stroke into the wind.

Race course corrections: The heading mode on the Velocitek proves itself in making certain you are on a constant heading. You may end up paddling an extra quarter mile with lots of zig sagging. Practice keeping your board on a constant heading You can also judge the effect of current on the inter coastal part of races like the Graveyard challenge by seeing if your speed rises or falls as you move in and out of the deep channel.

Training intervals: The biggest secret in training is getting the highest possible training stimulus. This means waiting for a green day on your Whoop so you have maximal recovery. Then, using your SMO2, to be sure you are consuming the maximum amount of oxygen possible. For instance, every Wednesday I train with 3-time Olympian Tommy Buday. We do 15×4 minute intervals with 3 minute rests. I used to hammer in the first 15 seconds, then fall back. Now, I carefully monitor SMO2, keeping it in the green for the first three minutes, then going red in the last minute. Today, I know I have had my best possible workout providing maximal stimulus to build the highest capacity to consume more oxygen.

Results: Regular Use of SUP Training Tech Will Help You Achieve…

  • Faster speed
  • Steadier pace
  • Straighter line
  • Better navigation between islands
  • Far more efficient intervals
  • Better race results
  • Higher fitness
  • Higher anaerobic threshold
  • Higher VO2 max

Finally when someone says how was your race, I can answer, “perfect.” My dashboard and wearable tech allow me to paddle a perfect physiologic race at maximally taxing my heart, lung and muscles. I know I’ve raced as hard as humanly possible with a consistent pace, speed and high stroke rate. Whether gaining a podium or finishing in the back of the pack, you’ll get the personal satisfaction of having crushed it.

In my years working with Olympic Nordic skiers, I am always impressed by how they never predicted a win or talked about defeating another athlete. They just wanted to do the very best that their physiology would allow. That’s all we can do. If I’m beaten, I offer a hardy congratulations knowing the other competitor just outperformed me and deserves credit!

I’m confident, by utilizing SUP training technology, you’ll derive great satisfaction in learning much more about how your body works and how to tune it up into the finest shape…ever!

Written by, Dr. Bob Arnot

Dr. Bob Arnot stand up paddle

About Dr. Bob Arnot:

“An author and chief medical officer for a humanitarian nonprofit that does work in Iraq, and former medical and foreign correspondent for NBC and CBS, Dr. Arnot has always been interested in health and fitness. Paddling appealed to his obsession with endurance sports and biomechanics. “The part I love most about sports is learning new techniques,” he says. “I was instantly captivated by the SUP stroke.”

Dr. Arnot hired various coaches, including former Olympic canoeists Tommy Buday and Larry Cain, to help improve his form and speed. He says his pace has improved from 4½ to 6½ miles an hour. He competes in about 20 races a year, from April through November, often finishing first in his age group, and holding his own in the open-age division. “Races are like my cocktail parties,” he says. “I get to chat before and after with new and old friends.”’

– excerpted from Wall Street Journal article, “No Ocean Is No Problem for this Vermont Stand-Up Paddleboarder

Aloha, Bob and thanks for all your years of stoke!

Previous articleCan the APP World Tour Pull Off Red Bull Heavy Water Safely?
Next article“More About Survival Than Competition,” Says Casper Steinfath on Red Bull Heavy Water
Dr. Bob Arnot, M.D. internal medicine, is an award-winning journalist, author of twelve books on nutrition and health, host of the Dr. Danger reality TV series, and previously chief medical and foreign correspondent for NBC and CBS. He is also the founder, and former or current board member of several humanitarian aid organizations.