I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of team racing in sports that are otherwise an individual pursuit.
For example, I never really understood the Tour de France growing up and in turn never much cared for it. But after watching it closely one summer and understanding how it all works, I came to be fascinated by the spectacle. And there’s surely nothing more fascinating in the Tour de France than the teams.
Although only one individual champion is crowned in Paris, the Tour de France actually features 20-22 nine-man teams that control the flow of the race and ultimately decide who wins. Most teams have a designated leader (who has the best chance in the overall individual standings) with the other 8 riders often employed to be selfless helpers (or “domestiques”) that protect their leader and basically do whatever they can to help him win.
This article does a much better job of explaining it, but long story short: The Tour de France becomes far more interesting, entertaining and exciting once you can understand and follow the team strategies and tactics that are being used.
And so I’ve often wondered: Why don’t we see that same team element in SUP racing? Ours is one of the most perfect sports for team tactics to be employed, and for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, the very notion of drafting, something that’s critical in paddleboard racing (at least the flat water version), is rooted in cycling and is a central element of team strategies. Secondly, our sport is based almost entirely around teams already, just not in a very structured way.
Team Starboard. Team Naish. Team NSP. The vast majority of riders rely on board brands as their primary sponsor, and therefore teams are a vital and very visible part of the racing scene (we even have a whole page dedicated to team rankings) here on SUP Racer.
Teams already often send three or four athletes to any big race, but although we occasionally see them work together in a loose fashion, it’s usually every man or woman for himself. However I think some races could become far more interesting (for both paddlers and fans) if we introduced incentives for teams to work together, particularly when it comes to drafting. This certainly wouldn’t work in every race, but in certain, very specific events it could add a whole new and reinvigorating dimension.
The classic SUP 11 City Tour, for example, is one race where I believe team tactics would take the event to a new level. We already call it the “Tour de France of SUP” anyway, so why not go one step further and really embody the classic cycle-racing spirit.
Sure, this would require some paddlers to put their ego aside for the good of the team – paddlers are often just as competitive with their team mates as they are with other rivals – but if everyone could see the bigger picture, I think they’d agree it’s an idea worth exploring. Because let’s face it: SUP racing isn’t always the most exciting thing to follow, especially the flat water variety, so why not play around with some fresh new ideas. It doesn’t have to be pro teams either, it could be just as easily be amateur teams among friends at your local club race.
I bring this up now because I just read a great article by Chase Kosterlitz that does a good job of explaining this whole ‘teams racing’ concept and how it could be applied to stand up paddling. Go read the full story over on supathletes.com, then have a think about how teams could make your next race more interesting for both competitors and fans (and join the debate on the SUP Athletes FB page).
Could teams be the future of racing? It would certainly make the jockeying in the draft trains a lot more interesting…