Op-Ed: Making SUP Races More Viable by Shortening the Courses

Lisa Schell Columns Leave a Comment

Editor’s Note: This is another post, from a fellow paddler, father and doctor Steve Phillips, weighing in on the discussion about improving the status of paddle races.

Maybe SUP Races Need to be Shorter

I really liked your piece on finding a happy place. I agree with your suggestions and would like to add a personal perspective.

I started paddling about the time you did. I was at the first Cold Stroke and the first Carolina Cup and have only missed one when I was recovering from back surgery. I’m 54 years old and still paddle every day. I’ve given up training and rarely paddle longer than 30 minutes at a time. The early morning time on the water is more of a meditation than a workout for me and something I enjoy very much. I love the feeling of the blade connecting solidly with the water, the feeling of my weight shifting onto the paddle, and the feeling of the board slicing through the water. I love the quiet, the smell of the salt marsh and the feeling of being one with the beauty of nature. But I also still love to race.

I love going to races and feeling the excitement of the event. I love seeing old friends I have raced with for years. And even at my age, after 40 plus years ofracing in one form or another, I still love to compete. I love the feeling of being completely absorbed in the act of competing so that for a brief time, there is nothing but the competing.

Most of my life is about being a physician with a busy practice, a husband, a father of three teen and pre-teen boys and a volunteer coach of the high school track team. The paddling and the racing are a welcome diversion.

As the local races got longer over the years, from three or four miles to six or seven, to 10 to 13, I put a little more time into training and preparing, but it eventually began to be too much. The kids got older with more activities. I got older. I didn’t have the time or energy or interest to put in the miles necessary to prepare for the long races, so I entered the shorter races at events.

While there were still people to race, there were many fewer as the shorter races were often geared toward beginner paddlers. I have continued to go to races because I love the atmosphere and the people but would really like it if there were more people to race with. I am sure there are others like me who are not willing or able to do the long race training and who would really like to see one shorter race we can all do together at local events.

Something around 4 or 5 miles might be a good distance.

We’re finished in about an hour, gather briefly for a ceremony and something to eat or drink, then go back to the things we have to do that day, whether it be going to kids sporting events or just spending time with family or friends. I know there are those who would complain that a one-hour race is not enough of a challenge, but isn’t the race itself challenge enough? If you want a challenge, there are plenty available, like Chattajack or Graveyard. I’ve watched and competed in some of the long local races. After about 5 or 6 miles, there’s a pretty good gap between competitors, the places have been decided, and the rest is just a long slow grind to the finish.

I don’t care whether I am racing someone at the front of the field, in the middle of the field or at the back. I just like having someone there to race.

Having one race that’s a little shorter, makes it more likely that there will be someone beside me, competing with me.

I plan to continue to come to races as long as there is a short version I can enter. I just love it too much. I’m sure there are others though who would just skip it.

I really appreciate that you are thinking about what we can do to make fewer paddlers just skip it, and what we can do to make this great thing, local paddle racing, continue to thrive.

Steve Phillips