Learn the secrets to going fast on a SUP at the 2021 GoPro Mountain Games
Photo: Jon Resnick

Learn the secrets to going fast on a SUP at the 2021 GoPro Mountain Games

Posted by: Shauna Farnell

There’s more to it than keeping your board straight in a quick current

Picking up speed and maintaining it on a stand-up paddleboard is not as simple as you’d think.

“It’s hard,” said George Steffey, who on a whim decided at the last minute to sign up for Saturday’s YETI Down River SUP Sprint at the GoPro Mountain Games. “I’ve never done a river before. I didn’t know how cold I’d get.”

Before the race, Steffey, who is an alpine ski racer from New Hampshire, thought he’d get a little pre-race practice upriver on Gore Creek. It resulted in the first of many swims he took before and during the event.

“The first thing I’d say to someone who’s never raced is, No. 1, go out and run a river,” Steffey said afterward. “No. 2, wear a wetsuit, especially if you’re on a river in the mountains. No. 3, send it.”

You’d think “sending it” on fast-moving whitewater would be straightforward when it comes to speed. For paddleboarders whose SUP experience has exclusively been on flat water – lakes or ponds – navigating rivers and creeks is a whole different animal.

“One thing that’s really important in whitewater is picking your line,” said 17-year-old Brayden Kirby-Billingsley, a Fort Collins paddleboarder who recently joined the Badfish team and who also made his racing debut Saturday. “You want to scope out your line, see where the current is and make sure you’re not steering into rocks.”

The YETI Down River SUP Sprint is one of many on-water competitions at the 2021 GoPro Mountain Games. Racers took to Gore Creek in Vail for the race on Saturday. Photo by Jon Resnick

Balance on the board is especially important – and more challenging – in moving water.

“A wide stance is key. You want to bend your knees a little bit,” said local SUP racing veteran Gentian Nuzzo. “You’re fastest if your feet are directly under your hips.”

In Saturday’s race, where Gore Creek was shallower than normal for this time of year, Nuzzo took on a slightly staggered stance.

“In whitewater, you want your feet staggered for stability,” she said. “In this low flow, where there are a lot of hidden rocks, I used tiny fins [on the bottom of the board] rather than big fins, hoping it would make me faster and help me avoid hitting anything.”

Kirby-Billingsley also took on a staggered foot stance in Gore Creek and in sections where conditions became even choppier, he moved into a full surfer stance. He emphasized that going fast on a SUP is hard work and while training on flat water, he built up his speed using timed sprint intervals.

“You really do get winded, even when the water is moving fast,” he said. “I worked on short sprints – starting with 30 seconds – and worked up to a minute and kept adding time.”

Max Rantz-McDonald believes a Speedo makes for more aerodynamic form on a SUP. Photo by Jon Resnick

Nuzzo said one of the most common mistakes people make when trying to go fast on a paddleboard is taking paddle strokes that are too big and keeping the paddle in the water for too long.

“You want to take short, quick strokes,” she said. “Just like riding a bike, you want a fast cadence. A lot of people end up bringing the paddle behind them, taking big strokes, but that will throw your balance off and it’s definitely not fast. You want to stop the paddle at your feet and think about bringing the paddle toward your body.”

If trying a downriver race one day is the goal, another aspect of getting faster is, inevitably, getting wet.

“You will fall,” Steffey said. “It’s a river. Everyone, especially people who have only been on lakes, will fall.”

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