Do You have a Race Strategy?

A few years ago Dan Gavere was visiting and participated in a local weekly race.  When the race started most of the racers followed one of our local guys who usually wins.  This route was straight towards the turn-a-round buoy directly upwind in open water with knee to waist high wind waves.
Dan on the other hand took a completely sheltered route with no wind or waves which instead was curved vs straight. When the sheltered section ended, Dan was clearly ahead of our local fast racer, and the rest of the pack.  Not only was he ahead, he had more energy left since the sheltered section was easy paddling vs fighting bumpy incoming waves and 15 knots of wind.

After the racers went around the buoy (actually a navigational tower) Dan and the lead racer downwind surfed the waves back to the finish line in no time.  The pack was scattered throughout the race area, some still rounding the buoy, most finishing quite a bit later and most trying to paddle vs surf the waves back.

The Lesson?  Study your race course and look for environmental advantages where you can excel.

Point A to B isn't always the quickest way there.  I put on a weekly race in Seattle on Shilshole Bay where we have tidal current, river current, wind and boat traffic.  The faster racers are not necessarily the strongest. Often they know how to read the water conditions to make the smartest decisions vs just powering through it.

Some things to keep in mind:

Incoming wind - Use points of land, slight curves or dips in the shoreline to use to avoid going directly upwind.

Incoming current - Eddies are recirculating sections of water behind an obstruction like a dock, point of land or large rock.  River paddlers use these to take breaks or to link to each other to cross current. Often it's back current pushing you back upstream giving a free ride.

Paddling Downind - Use every little wave or wavelet to help propel you forward.  Even an ankle high wave can give you a push - don't be picky.  Surfing will give a break and a free ride.  I once passed a much stronger paddler who was paddling hard through little waves which I was surfing.

Learn to Read the Water - Look for sections of calm or sections of moving water.  Check a marine chart or aerial photo of the route before you go.  Look for how the wind will affect you from one or a few directions - where are the breaks from wind or current?  What is the main direction for wind in this location during the time of day the race occurs?  In Seattle we get a northerly on blue sky days in summer - but not in winter.

Paddle the Race Course - Paddle the course before the race.  Get to know it's quarks, cons and benefits.

One Big One - Don't expect races to be flat calm.  Most I see are waiting for 'nice days' to paddle.  That fails if the wind is totally upwind or side wind.  Can you handle those conditions? If not, you won't win or place well in the race. Even big race starts are super rough.

Drafting - It's legal to draft in most races.  Essentially you get behind the tail of a racer of the same or slightly better speed than you.  Get right up there nearly but not hitting their board.  Those popular square tailed race boards create a great back eddy which you can use to push you forward - easy paddling!

One that drives me nuts - I teach because I like to help people.  In my races I watch participants struggle with pivot turns, paddling against direct wind when they could save a ton of energy and pain by using an eddy or wind break.  Take a lesson from a quality instructor who can help you solve these problems and become a more successful racer with just a few tips!  It's about finesse and smart planning, not just power or pure strength.

The above works for wind or current


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