By Pete Williams
I entered my first six-mile “elite” stand-up paddleboard race on Saturday as part of the SUP Splash Race Series at St. Pete Beach.
As about 30 or us waded out into the surf for the start – race organizers opted to forgo the carnage of the always fun but chaotic beach start – I noticed that I was the only competitor that did not have a sleek race board.
Of course, my Yoloboard Eco Trainer is narrower than many so-called “stock boards,” a phenomenal board made of quality materials and a terrific value.
But the Eco Trainer is not a race board, which is what everyone else in the field had. That didn’t bother me. After all, I routinely ride my entry-level road bike in triathlons past posers atop $5,000 rigs with wheels that cost more than my entire ride. Surely SUP wouldn’t be any different.
It was. When the horn went off, I quickly fell to the back of the pack. Oh well, I figured. I’m still a relative newcomer to this sport and I had never raced further than four miles.
But as I watched a pack of paddlers 15 yards ahead of me, I noticed that some of them didn’t possess forms any better than mine. And even though SUP attracts some pretty jacked people – I thought triathlon was an impressive collection of lean mass until I started hanging around SUP enthusiasts – I was pretty sure I was in better shape than at least a few of the competitors in the race.
One guy with a brand new race board fell behind me. He looked like he had not been paddling long. Either that or it was his first time on the less stable race board, which is not an adjustment to make race day. A woman in front of me fell several times and I’m pretty sure she bowed out of the race after just one 3-mile lap.
The SUP Splash was an incredible value for $40 with lunch, sharp T-shirts, cool awards, a well-organized race, and a tough endurance test. Paddling hard for an hour or more late morning is a challenge. I finished in one hour, 35 minutes, which I figured wasn’t bad given the choppy Gulf water. I hung around for the awards ceremony just out of curiosity.
I thought it was a mistake when my name was called, but it turns out they give awards for the first “stock board” to finish. There were many such boards in the three-mile race, but I was the only stockboarder to enter the 6-mile division. So I got a 15-inch, wooden mini-paddleboard trophy like the people who really know what they’re doing.
Afterward my SUP mentor Brody Welte explained that you’ll typically go 20 percent faster on a race board than a stock board. That’s sort of like when a triathlon has a “fat tire” division for those who enter in mountain bikes.
So perhaps I would have finished around 1:20 on a race board, 15 minutes faster than on the Eco Trainer. That wouldn’t have been very competitive in the race board division, but I would have been far from last.
So do I upgrade to a race board and hope to one day become a middle-of-the-packer in that category or stick with the Eco Trainer? I’ve been in triathlon for four years and never have felt compelled to upgrade my bike, even when some guy in my age group passes me on the bike in his $8,000 sled. (If you’re in my age group passing me on the bike, you’re one sorry swimmer.)
Bottom line: As stock boards go, the Eco Trainer is one of the best. I think I’ll stick with it and remain a contender as a stock racer.