May 27, 2014
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

Standardised SUP Race Distances? SUPAA Proposes New 5K/10K-Style Race Formats, Wants To Hear Your Opinion

The SUP Athletes Association just released an interesting proposal on the standardisation of SUP race distances. And they wanna hear your opinion…

In a bid to appeal to first timers and create some uniformity in the sport, SUPAA wants to promote a new set of standard race distances: 5km/10km/16km/52km. It’s much the same way that the running world has their 5km/10km/half-marathon/marathon formats. And I think it could work.

The Association isn’t suggesting that *all* races should fit into one of these boxes, just that perhaps we could promote these standards where possible in a bid to grow the sport.

The idea is that more uniformity, especially for entry-level and intermediate flat water events, would make SUP racing more appealing and accessible to newer paddlers. Encouraging higher participation and growing this sport of ours is a noble goal and while I don’t agree with every part of SUPAA’s proposals (and they’re just that so far – proposals), I do think it’s an idea worth exploring.

The whole 5K/10K running movement has fueled massive growth in that sport in recent decades, especially among novice joggers. The 5K distance in particular attracts a lot of corporate and charity events, which in turn grows the sport even more.

So why couldn’t it work in SUP?

5K race

Imagine all these people with a paddle in their hands…

SUPAA’s answer is that while many races (downwinders, surf races, unique-geographic-location races, etc) will have their own arbitrary distances, there are so many flat water events that can choose exactly how long their course is, so why not bring in some standards to try and boost participation?

The Association’s answer is to promote four standardised SUP race distances:

– 5 kilometres “Short Distance” for beginner races (roughly 3 miles)
– 10 kilometres “Mid Distance” for intermediate races (roughly 6 miles)
– 16 kilometres “Pro Distance” for advanced races (10 miles)
– 52 kilometres “Ultra Distance” for endurance races (roughly 32 miles, or the length of Molokai-2-Oahu)

I don’t really like the “endurance” distance idea – I think 52km is just too long to standardise. The current batch of endurance SUP races generally follow a unique course that can’t be standardised, plus there’s just not enough of these marathon events to make promoting a common standard worthwhile.

However the other three make a lot of sense to me.

In the running world, 5K/10K events have the highest average participation by a long way and are often an entry-level stepping-stone to the half-marathon and full marathon events. It’s not hard to figure out why: More people are physically able to do shorter distances. Plus these races usually have “5K” or “10K” in their name, which probably makes the event sound much less intimidating.

So perhaps having a standard 5K/10K distance for entry-level stand up paddlers would help boost race participation, while the 16K would be a good, standardised challenge for the advanced guys and girls.

The number 16 makes sense: an even 16 kilometres is an even 10 miles, plus it’s the approximate range for most elite distance races already.

Lost Mills SUP race germany

Germany’s Lost Mills is one event where the “Pro Distance” of 16km would work perfectly. This flat water race is already set at approximately 16 or 17km anyway, so why not make it exactly 16?

Personally I think three race distances is one too many. I’d like to see a focus on 5K/10K, which would mirror the running world, or even better, 5K/16K, which offers both an entry level race plus a real test for the top end. That way you could have a genuine rec race and genuine elite race in the same event.

But either way one thing is clear: This whole idea is aimed squarely at flat water racing.

Surf races, downwinders or any kind of event that follows a unique geographic course (such as the Rock 2 Rock or the Carolina Cup’s Graveyard Race) are always going to have an arbitrary final distance. However where this standardisation could really take off, and where I’m sure SUPAA sees the potential for our sport, is in the flat water recreational paddling communities.

Just to be very clear (coz we don’t want a repeat of *that* debate), SUPAA isn’t suggesting all SUP races should adopt one of these distances. They’re simply suggesting it might be healthy for the sport to have some kind of entry-level uniformity. SUPAA will still support your race if it’s 6km or 19km or whatever. Some races don’t need to change and some *can’t* change. However others might just see a boost in participation if they move to a standard model.

Race The Lake Of The Sky

Lake Tahoe would be the perfect breeding ground for this kind of race model.

On a side note, a move towards more races of the same distance would also pave the way for some legitimate race timing records, something this stats nerd would dearly love to see. Imagine an honour roll for all those who have broken the 60 minute 10km barrier? Or a leaderboard for the quickest 5km time trials?

This could actually have a two-pronged effect: Encourage more newbies to race for the first time, while also encouraging some healthy rivalry among the top end.

(One issue is that while the rest of the world understands how far 5 kilometres is, many in the USA are stuck on the Imperial System… However I think the popularity of the 5K/10K running movement is proof this could work Stateside.)

The idea of standard SUP race distances isn’t entirely new. For example there’s a new movement forming out of Sydney right now called SUP 5.0, which promotes standardised, flatwater time trials of exactly 5km. Over in France there’s a rule this year saying a distance race isn’t a distance race unless it’s over 10km, while many other national bodies are working on similar definitions.

Clearly this idea already has legs and hopefully SUPAA can help push it even further, for the good of the sport. But again, they want your feedback first…

And remember: Downwinders, surf races, adventure races and any race that follows a unique geographical course will still have their own random course length. SUPAA isn’t promoting this idea for ALL stand up paddle races or saying that current races have to change their courses. They just believe that a standardised model is probably a smart way to open up the sport to new participants. And who can argue with that goal?

So what do you reckon about all this?

Would you wanna see it at your next race?

And do you think it would encourage first timers to jump on board (pun intended…)?

Go check out the original article and send your opinion in to the SUPAA crew (or just leave a comment down below…)