Fiona Wylde gets off the start line at her hometown race in Hood River, Oregon. Photo: Lorenzo Menendez/Flux Photography

Whether it’s SUP surfing or SUP racing, competitive standup paddleboarding can be one of the most rewarding forms of paddling. It can also be one of the toughest to break into. Popular competitions like the APP World Tour and Pacific Paddle Games look intimidating to the entry-level competitor, but there are plenty of ways to gradually approach competitive SUP before moving up to the big leagues.

With a little advice, taking on your first SUP competition can be much easier than it seems. Here are some tips from champion standup paddler Fiona Wylde to help you get off the start line.

Safety Is Smart

Safety first. Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Black-Schmidt/SUP Magazine

Some people aren’t super comfortable on the water at first, and that’s OK. It takes a couple steps to get there. Wearing a life vest rather than just a PFD belt can help calm the nerves. And of course, always wear a leash. These two things are so important to staying safe and can make you more confident in the race, which always helps.

Note: Many races make PFDs mandatory, so make sure you are prepared.

Compete In Your Age Group

Act your age. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Adams/SUP Magazine

I encourage new SUP competitors to start in their age group rather than other divisions. Competing with other athletes your age allows you to be around other people of a similar ability. Maybe somebody’s going to blow you out of the water, maybe you’re going to be the one who’s way out in front. Either way, you don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Join Community Race or Paddling Group

Community is everything. Photo: Courtesy of SUP Magazine

High-profile events with advanced competitors are tough to break into. Starting in your age group at a local race is a great way to build confidence, plus it’s only up from there. Starting out in smaller local events is a great way to meet other paddlers and become part of the community. The community is constantly growing and having friends to compete against is awesome motivation.

Be Comfortable With Your Equipment

Buying new equipment for your first race is not a bad idea, but it’s important to remember not to go too narrow with your race board. If it’s your first race, you want something wider and more stable so you don’t have to worry about falling in and you can just focus on paddling. But you don’t necessarily need to buy a new board for your first race. If you have something that you’re comfortable with, try racing that first to get used to the process.

Take in Your Surroundings

Soak it all in. Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Black-Schmidt/SUP Magazine

Regardless of what level of competition you’re trying to get to, SUP races typically take place in gorgeous places. Make sure you take time to look around and enjoy your surroundings because that’s part of what makes it fun. SUP racing can take you to some pretty unique places and it helps to appreciate it, even when you’re grinding! It’s also a good idea to check the map and be sure to memorize the course you are paddling, even the top racers get it wrong sometimes.

Eat a Healthy Breakfast on Race Day

Don’t eat anything more than you would normally on race day, but a healthy breakfast that leaves you feeling good will help keep your energy up. Make sure you have enough carbs and protein. If the race isn’t until later in the day, make sure you have a snack beforehand so you stay fueled and don’t end up skipping a meal.

Bring Water and High-Energy Snacks

Plenty of water is essential. Photo: Courtesy of Lorenzo Menendez/SUP Magazine

It’s a good idea to bring water along for the race, even if it’s a short race. Conditions can change and sometimes you end up on the course for longer than expected. Having water never hurts; just throw on a hydration pack and throw an energy bar in there. You may not need it but it’s always good to be prepared.

Bonus Tip: Remember to have fun! That’s why we are out here, so let’s enjoy it!

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