Over recent years many people have turned to the water as a place to exercise. One sport that has seen a huge growth in is stand up paddleboarding (SUP). British Canoeing, which includes paddleboarders in its membership, has seen a 127% increase in membership, since 2020. Results from the Watersports Participation Survey have shown a big growth in SUP, kayaking and canoeing, with 7.6 million adults across the UK taking part, an increase of 46% compared to 2020.
If you are someone that has taken up SUP and want to take it to the next level, then maybe SUP racing could be for you! Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced paddler, participating in SUP races can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Here is a guide to some of the main SUP races in the UK to get you started!
Photo credit: SUP Junkie
The main organiser of SUP races in the UK is GBSUP, who run the GBSUP Series and British Championship Races. There are two race series: firstly, the distance series, usually on flatwater and secondly the technical series, often on the sea. There are three races in each series and competitors need to do two races to position in the series, with the best two results over the three races counting. The distance races this year were 14km, 12km and 8km. The technical races are shorter and are usually around a course with lots of buoy turns, which require strong paddling skills and strategy. There are three main SUP race categories: (up to) 14 foot SUPs, (up to) 14 foot inflatable SUPs and the N1sco race class, where all competitors race on the same make of 12’6″ inflatable board. The N1sco class has traditionally been the entry level race and many elites started their SUP racing journey on this board. There are also prone board (lying down on your front) and multi-person board races but there is a smaller field in these categories. If you don’t yet feel ready to race there is also a 6km non-competitive ‘challenge paddle’ at each of the races.
GBSUP also organise the British Championship, a one-day stand-alone event, which this year saw competitors compete over an 8km distance race, a 3km technical race and a 200m sprint race. Again, there are board categories and age titles up for grabs.
The 2024 race calendar is yet to be released but you can find out more at www.gbsup.co.uk
Photo credit: SUP Junkie
If you enjoy the challenge of ‘ultra’ type events, then SUP endurance racing could be for you.
A popular distance SUP race is Paddle Skeddadle, a 27.5km endurance one way point-to-point race. The race is open to SUP, prone boards and kayaks and takes in some of the most stunning parts of the Norfolk Broads! www.norfolksupracing.co.uk/the-paddle-skedaddle
The Trent 100 is the U.K.’s longest team endurance challenge. It is billed as a ‘challenge’ rather than a race but nevertheless participants race against the clock and the times are published, so you can see how your fared against the rest of the field. The 100km race starts at Great Hayward, Staffordshire early on the Friday morning and finishes in Nottingham on the Saturday. It is a team event of a minimum of three and maximum of eight people all on one person SUPs. The fastest time this year was 11hours42mins (8.5km/h) and the slowest was 19hours12mins (5.5km/h) www.trent100.com
The Head of the Dart SUP Challenge is an annual event in April and sees more than 250 paddlers taking part, making it the largest SUP event in the UK. The event is seen as a must do race within the SUP community and often sells out within minutes! At 14km long it’s not really classed as an ‘endurance’ event but 14km is still a long way for even experienced SUP racers, so is definitely a long way if you are just starting out! The race along the River Dart runs between Dartmouth and Totnes, alternating directions every year: Totnes to Dartmouth one year, Dartmouth to Totnes the next. In 2024 it will run from Totnes to Dartmouth. The race categories are 14′ race boards (hardboard and inflatable), 12’6 race boards (hardboard and inflatable) and a small race of Red Dragon multi-person boards, for four people. www.headofthedart.wordpress.com
If you’ve already had a go at a triathlon then why not give SUP triathlon a go? Like traditional triathlons there are three disciplines and the format is usually SUP/Bike/Run or Swim/SUP/Run. The main SUP triathlon series in the UK is organised by SUP/Bike/Run and in 2024 there are races in South Wales (11 May), Dorset (20 July) and the Lake District (7 September). Each day offers either a road bike or mountain bike race and either a short or long distance. The SUP leg is always first and is either 3km or 6km on a lake. The run leg is always either 5km or 10km but the bike leg varies from race to race. www.supbikerun.co.uk
Another race over the swim/bike/run format in 2024, is the Soggy Bottom Triathlon on 16 June in Southsea, Portsmouth. Billed as a ‘SUPathlon’ the race is over the SUP/cycle/run format and there is a choice of a short (1km/14km/2.5km) or long race 2km/27km/5km. fitprorob.enthuse.com/ps/event/SoggyBottomTriathlon2024
The main swim/sup/run race in the UK is organised by Mad Hatter Sports and in 2024 takes place on 4 May in Carlyon Bay, Cornwall. The traditional bike leg is replaced with a SUP in the coastal waters. The race starts with a 750m swim, followed by a 1.3km sea SUP and ends with a 5.3km run. madhattersportsevents.co.uk/swim-sup-run
Whatever race you decide to try, one of the most striking aspects of the UK’s SUP racing scene is the strong sense of community and camaraderie among participants. Events often bring together people of all ages and backgrounds who share a passion for the sport. Whether it’s the cheers from the shoreline during a race or the friendly banter exchanged among competitors, the spirit of togetherness is palpable.
Photo credit: @p3t.photography
About the author
Helen is the current European Middle Distance Quadrathlon Champion. She is also the current GBSUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) National Champion and GBSUP Series Winner in the N1Sco class. In 2019 she was the Middle Distance World Quadrathlon champion in her age group and in 2018 the age group World Cup Series winner and Sprint Distance World Champion. Before turning to quadrathlon, Helen was age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. She is a British Canoeing ‘She Paddles’ Ambassador and named as one of this year’s Cycling UK’s ‘100 Women in Cycling’. You can follow her exploits on Twitter via @helengoth