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Big up to iSUP Racing!

Black Project GBSUP National Series

Over the years, there have been several SUP booms as the sport has gained popularity in various circles. Recently, the post-lockdown surge was the biggest, with many new people getting on a SUP for the first time as a way to keep fit closer to home and enjoy the UK's diverse waterways. iSUPs have followed the growth trend to become the go-to product for newcomers, to the point that many people now say we didn't know they made hardboards. In racing terms, however, iSUPs are not as common as their hardboard cousins despite the many advantages of iSUP boards and the wide variety of shapes and sizes that can accommodate just about any type of paddling. In this blog, we look at why that might be the case, how we can encourage newcomers to the sport, and how they can accessibly get racing without owning a hardboard. We also have two guest writers who bring their own thoughts and experiences to the table, offering some great insight into what it's like on the start-line of an iSUP.

Racing iSUPs - A Brief History

With the development of iSUP technology, it was only a matter of time before the leading iSUP brands turned their eyes to racing. Right here in the UK, one such brand, Red Paddle Co, was perfectly placed to lead the charge of developing one of the first iSUP race boards. The co-founder of Red, John Hibbard, had been a regular racer over the years and put his experience into making an authentic feeling iSUP that could take on the hardboard cousins. Sam Ross was placed on the early Red Racers and showcased what is possible by competing at the national events and even winning a few, especially when the going got tough before the ultimate challenge for an iSUP racer was set, taking on the 11-cities endurance event. Sam completed the race in a respectable position, proving that iSUPs could compete at the highest level against the best boards in the business. However, it was still mostly the odd iSUPs competing against the mass Hardboards in one fleet.

This all changed when Naish developed the one-design Nisco board. Across the globe, there was now a dedicated iSUP-only one-design competition taking place, putting the emphasis on the paddler and opening up a gateway to get into racing by jumping in the deep end and having to compete against hardboards. In the UK, a Nisco championship was born, and the national series adopted the one-design fleet to have it as its own category, proving to be very popular over the first few years.

iSUP Racing in its prime at the 2016 Naish One Design UK Nationals - Credit: SUPBoarder

More recently, there has been a shift away from iSUPs, which in some parts was due to the big races and championships focusing on 14-foot boards only. The original Red Paddle Co racers and Nasih Niscos were 12'6 ", so they fell into a strange void of not being competitive against 14-foot iSUPs that were being developed and, of course, against hardboards. There have been a few races moving back to an iSUP-only event, and the National Series now has a fully-fledged iSUP entry, so fingers crossed that iSUP numbers are back on the rise and we return to seeing large fleet take on our most iconic races across the UK. So why choose an iSUP over a Hardboard? Even since their first conception, iSUPs have had to perform against the best board on the market. They offer a great balance of affordability (hardboard racers can easily be over £3,000 these days), performance and accessibility. iSUPs are easy to transport and very versatile as both a racer and for day-touring. With so many options now available, you can tackle an almost unlimited range of paddling conditions on one board. Transitioning from your first all-around iSUP to a touring board or racer is very easy, with many boards available in wider widths over their hardboard cousins. This makes iSUPs very accessible, and the racing caters for all levels, with paddler taking on the Challenge Tour as they get a taste for racing or pushing their performance, competing for top honours in the race fleet. The iSUP community and all racers are very welcoming, and everyone is welcome on the start line. Don't just take our word for it; here are our first paddlers' thoughts on racing an iSUP.


Paddler Insight: Helen Trehane

My name is Helen, and I've been racing a 14' isup since 2014. Here is my SUP Story about how I got into paddling, what SUP racing has taught me and why I love racing my isup. I'm a self-employed Sports Massage Therapist, BSUPA Level Two SUP Instructor, off-road runner, and cake baker!

My SUP journey began in 2008 in Egypt, when I stood on a windsurf longboard and used a homemade paddle to circle the bay, collecting rubbish on a calm day!

When I returned home, SUP was taking off, so I got involved through my work at Lagoon Watersports. I paddled for fun on all-round boards and learned to SUP surf in the waves.

A few years later, I ventured onto a wobbly race board and joined the race training group in Hove. I remember feeling very slow, unfit, and inadequate! There were some incredible paddlers in the group who were welcoming, encouraging, and pushing me, so with perseverance, things started to improve. I brought myself a carbon paddle, which was a game-changer! Being newly self-employed, I didn't have the finances for a board at the time.

Nervously, I floated on my first start line at the 2014 National SUP Club Championships at Eaton Dorney. Although somewhat overwhelming, the people were friendly, and it was so much fun. I used a borrowed (thank you, Lagoon Watersports) 14' Fanatic isup for the distance race. It was hard work, and I wasn't very fast, but I made it around the course to the finish. Four of us raced as a team on the Mega SUP fun race after we finished, and our competitive team captain called instructions out, and we won, making for a great day on the water!

Helen Trehane Eaton dorney 2014
Helen at the 2014 National SUP Club Championships - Eaton Dorney

Having previously thought of myself as not particularly competitive, this lit a fire, and I continued training with our group, taking part in GBSUP series races and The SUP Club Champs using the borrowed Fanatic. I've always found these events well-organised, inclusive, and attended by like-minded people.

In 2018, I dug deep and bought a second-hand 14' RED Elite isup. It had to be inflatable because I don't have my own transport, so I often hire a car or catch a lift. Inflatables are much easier to store and less vulnerable to breakages on land and in Hove's nasty shore dump! I'd witnessed others paddling their isups fast and competitively, so I felt inspired to see what I could do, too.

I've loved the variety of locations and courses the GBSUP series provides. A breezy Carbis Bay distance race taught me how much harder I could work when three of us battled it out for fourth place. There have been so many memorable moments, including the weather making it interesting, the excitement of the beach technical running around a flag with your board, and the short-lived pain of the sprint race (which I am learning to like!).

I now lead the SUP training sessions at Lagoon Watersports, where I try to create the same friendly, supportive, and encouraging environment I experienced. We meet weekly and train hard with long paddles, sprints, intervals, technique sessions and races around the buoys.

Helen Trehane - isup racer
Helen at the 2024 GBSUP National Series opener at Bewl Water

Many people tell me I should get a hardboard, which is the logical next step; however, for storage, transport and financial reasons, I am very happy with my inflatable. The fleet is growing at races, and often, there is a separate start, so it's less daunting than starting with loads of hardboards. It's friendly and competitive, and there's the challenge of seeing if you can catch up with the hardboards, which is always fun! And as the joke says, pumping it up is a great warm-up!

I'd love to see more people taking to the water and racing their isups. If you're interested and you have questions, I'd be happy to help.

See you on the water soon!


Hardboard and isup racing boards
Falmouth Bay Open - GBSUP Series 2023

What categories can iSUPs enter on the GBSUP National Series?

Race Fleet: iSUPs have their own race fleet category for an iSUP race or touring board up to 14' in length. The race fleets take on the full course distances and formats just like the hardboard fleet and are competitive but also accessible, with a range of paddlers taking part. Just like in the hardboard fleet, the iSUP race fleet is classified by overall finishing position, and every paddler is automatically classified by their age group.

Challenge Tour: The Challenge Tour is designed for novice paddlers to come and give racing a go and get a feel for what it's like without the stress of taking on a competitive race fleet. Think of the challenge tour as a fun run, with a whole mix of paddlers on the start line ready to take on the shorter distances for the Challenge Tour for their own goals. Any board size or style is welcome on the start lien so long as you can complete the required distance within the time window. The Challenge tour is open to anyone and is a great way to participate in an event without any racing experience or owning a dedicated race board.

isups at GBSUP
iSUPs a plenty in the Race Fleet and Challenge Tour (yellow bibs) at the 2024 Bewl Bash

Here is our next paddler insight to inspire you to get on to the start for all the right reasons.

Paddler Insight: Jonny Hebert

Hi everyone

I'm Jonny, been paddling for over 8 years and dabbling in racing since 2017.

I'm an explorer at heart, but I found my way to racing because I wanted to get fitter and improve my technique. Most of my early racing was at the club level, with the odd HOTD or Sup the Creek thrown in.

I'd always be on an isup as I only had one board. This board had to do paddles like 100 miles down the river Wye, and for a few years, I had a smart car, too, so a composite board was out. The more paddling I did, with lots of mucking about, the higher my skill level was, so I could explore on thinner boards (25/26" wide), which helped with racing as they were faster.

After finally recovering from tennis and golfer elbow in 2018/19/20, I set my sights back on the 11 cities nonstop. I needed help with this, so I contacted Scott at Haywood Sports and started training again. This is what led me to the GBSUP races, as I got to visit new places, and racing always pushed me and made me better. Coming to the GBSUP races was like the old club races but with more people. The friendly vibe was there in buckets. It didn't matter if it was another club racer or one of our top paddlers; everyone was smiley and chatty.

Jonny Hebert iSUP Racer
Waiting for the start - GBSUP National Series 2024 Bewl Bash

Taking part in the race was quite hard, and I don't mean the paddling part. I was lining up with a sea of hardboards in probably the biggest age group: 40-49. Although I didn't expect anything other than to put in 110%, I was always starting on a back foot with my isup. They're not slow—far from it, as an 8km/h average pace is very achievable.

Jonny Hebert flying start
Jonny racing on a Hardboard - Falmouth 2023

As I was getting fitter, the chance came up to finally buy a hardboard, which I used for a few races and did okay. But something wasn't right. Something didn't fit, and with that, I went back to my isup and just kept trying as hard as I could. I was happy again, back on the boards that I knew and loved and just embracing the race days, meeting friends, and having a chuckle.

This year, though, Scott and GBSUP have brought in the isup category, and it really fills me with joy. I mean, I like to overtake hardboards when I can, but having a fleet of isups racing against each other is so much better. We're just as competitive, but we like to pump our boards up for whatever reason before racing. It's also a much easier group to step up to budget-wise after the touring fleet, as you might not want to drop two grand + on a hardboard. You might (like me) be racing to keep fit and go exploring and don't even want a hardboard.

Whatever the reason is, I think having the isup race fleet will bring more people to the scene and give the touring group something to aim for.

This year, I was only planning on doing a couple of races; Falmouth is a must! I wanted to really up my distance training to see if the 11 cities are possible.

I was more going to support my girlfriend as she returned from injury. Now, though, I feel like I need to do as many races as I can, spread the word to come and join the iSUP category, and show just how friendly and inclusive these races are.

isup racing at the SHAC 2024
Jonny on his trusty Shark iSUP

It's great fun, and there's a massive choice of boards out there to suit all budgets. There are also a lot of touring boards that are perfectly at home racing, and we now have performance touring boards, too, from brands such as Shark, Starboard, Itiwit, etc, which are great for both racing and touring.

You get to meet a whole bunch of friendly folk and push your limits. Try some different kits, like the Oscar propulsion paddles, or learn from some of our pros. Hector Jessel gave us a great talk at Bewl about his experience racing and how different kits can help you paddle better for longer.

We had a decent group at Bewl, but we need more to keep it going, and it really needs to be kept for all the reasons above.

So this is my shout-out to the isup crowd: come and join me on the water.

Jonny :)

My list of isups that I've used in races from the start to the present:

Red 13’2x30 explorer

Starboard 14x28 airline

Starboard 14x26 airline

Shark sup 14x25 race

Shark sup 14x27 race

Jonny Hebery iSUP Racer


So, if you fancy giving racing a go, be sure to enter one of our events or reach out to your local club to get yourself on the start line. iSUPs are a perfect way to get into racing, and many paddlers continue to take on races over the years on their inflatable boards. We can't wait to see you at one of our next events.

Black Project GBSUP National Series Partners

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