September 5, 2013
by Paul Jackson

Paul “Jacko” Jackson’s Take On The Age Old Debate: Drafting

Drafting in SUP
Boss Man’s note: Paul Jackson is one of the fastest guys on the water and follows the SUP racing scene more closely than just about anyone else. He’s also got some pretty strong opinions. A lot of them. You may not always agree with what Jacko has to say, but at least he’s not afraid to say it. And that’s something I think we need more of in a sport that can be too politically correct for its own good sometimes. Now after yet more controversy surrounding drafting recently, Jacko weighs into the debate with his take on the tactic.

Quick background: There was some drama at the recent Gorge Paddle Challenge after disagreement between the leading ladies, Jenny Kalmbach and Candice Appleby, over drafting: whether or not you could draft guys, whether or not it was in the rules, whether or not it was sportsmanlike, etc… Jenny went out on a limb and boldly posted the story on Facebook, after which a debate ensued both publicly and in private. That brought the topic of drafting up again and so below is Jacko’s take on the issue in general.


The Many Opinions of Paul Jackson, part #1: Drafting!

All right so here we go back on the old topic of drafting in SUP! It’s always a surefire way to find 50 different opinions and get a few people hot under the collar!!

Right after we finished our race in Hamburg the other week, I checked out Facebook only to see lots of people talking about drafting. A big debate raged after an incident between the leading ladies at the Gorge Paddle Challenge but I’m not sure we got anything solved. So here’s my humble attempt to see if I can convince anyone to change their minds.

This is how I feel about drafting…

First I will start by saying if you are going to enter a SUP race then read the rules as every race seems to set different rules and as a racer its OUR job to know what we can or can not do! It’s not up to the officials to make sure we know, it’s our responsibility.

(Hopefully event directors actually have proper rules in writing before the event, though unfortunately too many times these things seem to get made up on the spot five minutes before the race starts… which is where some big problems can stem from)

Yes, it’s a little random between the different races right now, but as our sport grows, more and more rules will get put in place and the section that covers drafting will (hopefully) become much more clear. But until that happens this is my personal take on it all:

First thing I will go into is drafting etiquette (aka sharing the workload at the front of the draft train).

What is “drafting etiquette” you ask? Well stuffed if I know!

Where in any rule does it say that the drafting must be shared? It doesn’t!! I simply call it tactics & strategy, and if the person at the front wants to lead then fine. I would be more than happy to sit there and wash ride the whole way and pass my rival at the end and take the win. If you don’t like someone wash riding you then tough, because it’s going to happen more and more and as the money gets bigger the rules will be pushed to the limits. You either adapt or die!

If you are good enough then you might be able to lead the whole way (see the photo above of Kai in Germany…), but if someone is on your wash then think smart and learn how to make their life harder back there. Remember the person in front still always has the advantage. I’m sure a bunch of people will say “Oh it’s not good sportsmanship,” but hey we are not playing chess here, we are competing in a sport where skill, tactics and some damn hard training all has to come together, and if you are weak in any of these areas you will have a tough time getting to the top!!

So then… what drafting rules do we have right now? Well, none, unless the event you are entering has them written down for all to see!

Some events have a “free for all” rule, while others try to police it to some degree.

The main drafting rule I see, at least in some events, is that you can only draft off the SAME GENDER!! And this is a great rule!! If you’re a female competitor and want to draft off the men, then enter the men’s division. The same goes for the guys; if a fast girl is passing you then don’t try and get on her wash as she is in a different race!!

I have seen way too often the fast girls will be in a train battling and then some guy gets in the middle and stuffs them up. For me this a big no no!!

The other rule that pops up a lot is about drafting between board classes – i.e. having someone on a 12’6 drafting off a longer board. I think this is another rule that should be brought in at more races. If you want to race a 12’6 then only race other people on the same board. I feel it’s cheating if you get on the wash of a bigger board!!

Some people will say “How do you know who’s on what board though?” Good point but easy to fix: Have people in the 12’6 class wear a green top, the 14 footers a blue jersey and the Unlimiteds something black. Problem solved! Or you could just put green, blue or black stickers on the tail of each board. Even easier!

But in saying this, if the rules don’t say anything about drafting between classes or gender, then go ahead and wash ride anything you like. If it’s a free for all, it’s a free for all everyone.

So I’m sure I will get some people who disagree but for me this is how it is! If you are good enough then none of this should matter anyway, but if not, and if you have to rely on drafting like most of us, just read the rules and do what you can to survive!

Drafting between genders is a problem and I don’t like to see women losing a race because other women got a slightly easier ride sitting behind a fast guy. It’s tough to find a solution when we have mass starts and everybody is in everybody else’s way, so maybe the only way to solve it is have separate races for women? That way they’d get more of the spotlight, as the first woman over the line would be the first paddler over the line, rather than the 20th, and it would also totally solve the gender-drafting problem!

Anyway those are just my thoughts…

– Jacko