August 8, 2014
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

Introducing The Super Lap: A Unique New Method For Making Flat Water Racing More Exciting (And Less Predictable)

Flat water SUP races. They’re everywhere. They can be held just about anywhere and just about any paddler can easily and safely compete. Flat water racing is a big reason why stand up paddling is growing so far across the world.

However there’s just one catch: Flat water racing is pretty darn boring for all but the most hardcore of SUP fans.

Yet given how vital a role it plays in our sport, it’s worth exploring ways to make it more fun and exciting not only for spectators but also the paddlers themselves. There have been some good attempts so far: Jamie Mitchell’s “Survivor” format springs to mind, while Race The Lake of the Sky’s awesome SUP Cross start gates are another. But a new idea coming out of the Gold Coast, Australia could be the best one yet.

Enter the Super Lap.

The Super Lap concept is pretty simple: During a multi-lap, flat water course race, each individual paddler gets to take a shortcut on one lap of their choice.

So let’s say you’ve got a five lap race on a flat water course. It’s the standard “M shape” course with six buoy turns and each lap takes around three minutes to complete. Pretty straightforward. With the Super Lap concept, you add an extra buoy that acts as an alternate turning point for one of the regular buoys.

It’s basically a shortcut.

This shortcut takes 15 or 20 seconds off your lap time and each paddler in the race can take this shortcut once (and only once).

Stand Up Paddling Super Lap

That means if it’s a five lap race, each paddler has four regular laps and one Super Lap. The regular laps might be around 250 metres or 3 minutes in length, whereas the Super Lap could be around 220 metres or 2 minutes 40 seconds in length.

The key here is that each paddler gets to choose when they take the Super Lap. The race director doesn’t say which lap is the “super” lap, rather each paddler decides on their own. Every lap has the potential to be the super lap for each individual paddler. That’s what makes it so random and unpredictable.

So within the same race, some paddlers might take their one Super Lap on the first lap, others might save it for the final lap while some will try and make a move in the middle of the race.

This throws up so many interesting possibilities that could turn your average, kinda-boring flat water race into an unpredictable, tactical battle.

2014 ISA Worlds Nicaragua Final Day (14)

I believe events such as the ISA Worlds flat water course race would be the perfect candidates for the Super Lap concept (photo: International Surfing Association)

Draft trains will be broken. The paddler in first place could briefly move all the way to last place. The competitor in last place could briefly jump to first. The leaders will be looking over their shoulders to see if their rivals are going to cut the corner on this lap or not.

It would be awesome.

The concept for the Super Lap is the work of Fanatic International team rider Paul Jackson. Jacko first told me about his Super Lap idea earlier this year but he couldn’t convince any major race directors be the guinea pig. So instead Jacko used the Currumbin SUP Club, the local paddling group on Australia’s Gold Coast that he recently helped form.

Currumbin SUP Club debuted the Super Lap concept today and according to Jacko it was pretty easy to implement and made for some very unique SUP racing. Draft trains got broken and the standard race tactics were totally changed up. It was also a hell of a lotta fun for everyone involved. There was even a Superman-inspired trophy for the winner.

So there you go. The Super Lap.

I love the idea. This could add a whole new tactical element to racing.

When do you take the super lap? First lap? Last lap? In the middle? When you’re leading? When you’re trying to catch up? When the paddler in front of you takes it? When the paddler behind you takes it?

We could see Danny Ching shake everyone off his tail by taking the Super Lap shortcut early, but then have to fight to hold his lead while everyone else played catch up. Or we might see Connor Baxter go from first to last on lap one, before moving from last to first on lap five. We could see paddlers in 10th place move all the way to 1st with one smart move.

You wouldn’t know who’s going to win until the very end.

2014 ISA Worlds Nicaragua Final Day (6)

I love flat water racing but I think we need to make it more exciting if we’re ever going to cross over and appeal to the more general sporting fans (photo: International Surfing Association)

We could see guys and girls deliberately sitting in second or third so they could sneak away from the leader. In fact I think the leader would have the least advantage out of anyone here: If you’re in first, all the paddlers behind you have the option of following your Super Lap move. However because the lead paddler can’t really see what’s happening behind them, they couldn’t easily respond if one of their rivals made a sudden move around the Super Lap buoy.

So yeah, the more I think about it, the more I love the Super Lap concept.

The only obvious issue is how do you police it… According to Jacko and the Currumbin SUP Club crew, it worked pretty easy in a race with up to 20 competitors. After that you’d need to have dedicated spotters keeping track of everyone that’s rounded the Super Lap, to stop paddlers intentionally or accidentally rounding the buoy twice and gaining a huge advantage.

With 50 or 60 paddlers out on the course you’d need some seriously good spotters to keep track of it all, though I think it’s still manageable. Alternatively: I’m pretty sure there’s a way to manage this with some kind of advanced timing/GPS tracking chips.

Either way I think it’s a rad idea and hopefully some major races jump on board and try it out.

This would be very interesting to see in a race such as the ISA World Champs flat water course race. In fact I’d strongly encourage the ISA to seriously consider something like this: We’re all well aware that if SUP ever made it to the Olympics, it’d almost certainly have to be held on flat water. However I think everyone would also agree that flat water SUP racing needs to be more exciting before it can ever become mainstream.

SUP racing needs to become the water sports version of Olympic BMX racing or the Winter Olympics’ Boarder Cross event: Short, sharp and exciting while also being slightly random, unpredictable and a little chaotic.

The Super Lap could go a long way to helping in that area.

So… which major race director wants to step up and be the guinea pig?