Racing & Drafting…A Beginner Racer’s Perspective. Guest Post by Kristen Jacobson
In the past three weeks I have doubled the number of “official” paddlesport races that I’ve competed in, ever. Three races in three weeks bumps my total race history up to seven, with four of those being in 2011. While this doesn’t count our Whatcom Paddler’s Wednesday nighters, they have all been races that are longer in distance and more of a challenge. I’ve had a few good races so far this year and a few I wish I could do over again. I keep telling myself that my mistakes and lack of racing tactics comes from my racing inexperience that many others out on the water have, whether it be from racing surfskis or other boats, collegiate rowing, or competitive biking.
As an beginner/intermediate level female paddler, I often end up being in limbo between packs… stronger packs ahead, slower packs behind, and me slogging away. The guys, with the sheer number’s difference between the two groups, always seem to have a pack to work with during races where drafting is more relevant than surfing. The women, with four or so competing as singles in any given local race, don’t seem to have that luxury for the most part. For myself at least, latching onto a wake and holding onto it for all you have seems to be the best tactic, otherwise it’s a solo endeavor for the next few hours. After the first half mile, things really thin out towards the middle and back and being in a pack at that point is crucial.
This past Sunday at the Tour de Indian Arm in Deep Cove, I managed to hang onto a draft for the first 5 miles that kept me cruising along between 6.7 and 7.3 mph. Once getting dropped, I made some navigational decisions, bee lined it towards the next buoy working through eddies, and threw in some 60 second on 60 second off intervals until I caught back up with said draft, 2 miles later. At this point a deluxe draft from a sea kayak came cranking along and I made that my home until the finish line. Conversely, at Dirty Dan Harris Challenge in early May, I lost my draft at the turn around point when they took a riskier line through some shallows and I didn’t. I got dropped in the blink of an eye. While getting dropped off a draft seems to happen before you realize it, catching up is much harder. A few boat lengths can grow to 1/8 mile pretty quickly.
After talking with other racers and having a few more surfski races under my belt this season, I’ve learned that being able to get in a group and stay with the pack is essential for flat water races. Being that the last four local races have all been flat water conditions, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the top pack, middle, or back, your racing time and experience will improve if you have others to draft.