The Carolina Cup: So It’s Your First Race? Don’t Freak Out

I signed Up for the Carolina Cup, Now What?

As we’ve stated before, the Carolina Cup is the first race for many new paddlers. The 5K Harbor Island course is the perfect intro to the paddle racing world – it’s the perfect length, it can be challenging with tide, current and wind, but definitely doable on whatever kind of board the first-timer has to paddle.  So, looking back on what it was like the first time we ever paddled that course, here’s some helpful hints:

Relax.  Breathe. Take it All In

Remember, this is supposed to be fun.  Enjoy the moment. It is just a race. You will do great!

Paddle The Course (if possible)

Arrive a day or two early and take a shake-down cruise on at least part of the course, if not all of it.  Just to get a feel for things and take away some of the mystery.

Get Local Intel

Distressed Mullet will be posting course overviews in the days leading up to the race.  Read those, talk to Wrightsville Beach residents who paddle around Harbor Island everyday.  They can tell you when to hug the docks, when to paddle in mid-channel as well as give you other helpful hints.

Set Your Own Goals

My first race, I had three: Have Fun, Don’t Fall, and Finish.  Pick your own and race your own race.  Don’t worry about anyone else. #YourRaceYourPace

Have a Logistics Plan

If you are not staying at the Blockade Runner – the event hotel – then figure out when you will arrive at the race site, where you will park your car and how you will manage your board.  Allow extra time for all of that and get familiar with the Pay By Phone metered parking system on Waynick Avenue. That’s the last thing you want to worry about the morning of your first race!  Having a sherpa – or helper  who is not racing – to take care of  those kinds of things is extremely useful!

Attend the Racer’s Meeting

At the racer’s meeting, the morning before the race,  you’ll get specific information on the course and you’ll have a chance to look at the course map and ask questions.  If you are not sure about something, ask. Know when your racer’s meeting is, and where it will be held. Get there early so you have a good spot where you can see and hear clearly.

Use the Safety Gear

Be sure you have a leash – preferably a coiled one for this kind of race. It won’t drag in the water behind you.   Wear a PFD. If you are using an inflatable PFD, before the race, open it up and make sure you know how it is designed – not all inflatable PFDs are alike.  Know how to deploy it. The Harbor Course could take you more than an hour to finish, so be fure to have a gel or bar and water. Oh, and read all the race rules!!

Don’t Sweat the Start

Sometimes the start of the race is the worst – unless conditions dictate otherwise, you’ll paddle out to a start line and wait for the horn to go off. The first quarter mile or so after the start can be choppy and gnarly, as the water is kicked up by everyone paddling and jockeying for position.  People can fall here.  So, just chill, maybe even hang back and let the herd thin out.  Then you can find your pace and rhythm.

And remember…

The best paddler out there is the one having the most fun!


Photos: Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club

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Lisa is managing editor of and is an avid paddler of all the things - including sup, SurfSki, outrigger canoe and prone, though she especially enjoys paddle surfing and downwinding. She is a former journalist with more than 30 years experience in print and broadcast journalism and in government communications. She is a six-time Chattajack finisher, racing both sup and OC2. When not paddling, she is an outdoor instructor.



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