The Marina del Rey Strava SUP Throw Down

Strava SUP, Infinity SUP

Strava SUP

I love paddling in the ocean just cruising along, finding bumps and looking for dolphins. Sometimes. Most of the time I like to paddle fast. Fast is a relative term for a 50-year-old guy, but I really enjoy the fitness and competitive side of SUP. This could be from my years as a competitive cyclist and runner. Or, that I’m just one of those typical type “A” guys that needs to compete to have fun.

I’m blessed to live in beautiful Santa Monica, California. I can go to Marina del Rey for flat water paddling or ocean paddling right off the beach in Santa Monica. The only downside is there aren’t many fellow SUP racers in the area to train with. I’ve posted on a SUP message board looking for other paddlers to train with but had no takers. Sure, I see plenty of recreational paddlers out in the marina and I even jokingly ask them if the want to “race” when I pass them.

This is not the case with road cycling and running where there are many groups of varying levels that meet for weekly workouts. I know that training with other people, especially faster people, will make you get better. There are some great paddling groups in Dana Point and San Diego which meet for race training and I wish I had the time to join them.

So I figured that if I can’t find anyone to push me I’ll just have to push myself. I record all running, cycling and paddling workouts with my Garmin Forerunner 620 watch and upload the data to Garmin Express for analysis. One of my mountain biking heroes, Ned Overend, wrote a great article about staying competitive as you get older. One of his tips was to push yourself by making “segments” in Garmin’s Strava and work on setting a fast time then improving on it. Strava is a free website and mobile app that allows users to track and share their workouts or “activities”. I signed up for the free version and like many apps, there is a paid “premium” version with advanced features.

My Strava SUP Segment

Strava SUP, Infinity SUPWith that in mind, I decided to create my own local Strava SUP segment. This turned out to be pretty easy. First, I signed up for a free Strava account at www.strava.com and uploaded all my workouts or “Activities” from my Garmin 620. There is one downside of paddling a SUP with a running watch and that is that it is not easy to look at your wrist to see how fast you are going. You’re holding a paddle so you need to stop paddling, look at your watch then continue to paddle. Needless to say, this defeats the whole “paddle fast” thing.

My solution was to buy another GPS device and mount it to the deck of my board with velcro. This waterproof GPS is a Garmin GPSMAP 78c. I set the 78c’s screen to read max speed, current speed and distance. Being contained by a theoretical hull speed (and my age), my 14’ SUP can only go so fast under human power. The difference from a paddler going slow and fast on a SUP is sometime only 3/4 to 1.5 miles per hour. So for me, it’s really important to get realtime feedback on my current speed. I can then adjust my effort, paddling technique or position on the water to maximize my output.

Starting Off Right

Now I needed to find my ideal Strava SUP segment that I could attempt repeatedly in somewhat controlled conditions. I decided that the 2.1 miles from Marina del Rey’s Mother’s Beach to the harbor entrance would be a perfect route. There are the usual variables like wind direction or power boat traffic, but it’s typically calm in the mornings. The next day I drove to Marina del Rey with renewed purpose. It’s like a race day but I’m the only competitor. Slowly drifting up to my “starting line” between 2 buoys I push the start button on my Garmin 620 and begin to paddle like a madman.

Strava SUP, Infinity SUP
Photo: Mark Stevens

I’m trying to imagine that this is a start of a race and there are 80 paddlers on the line all vying to get out front and establish a good position. As a newer SUP racer this is where I sometimes struggle. After 45 seconds of hard effort I back off to my tempo pace and settle in for the next 20 minutes of pain. The good thing is that I don’t have to deal with competitor chop sending me off in all directions, but the bad thing is there is no one that I can draft. So I just imagine that I’m leading the race and everyone is drafting off me and get on with it.

Inevitably I’ll come huffing past a kayaker or another paddler on a SUP. I’m usually pretty friendly on the water but I tend to become super focused and zone out when I’m putting in a big effort. My wife calls this my “Hostile Running Face”.  Knowing that I must look pretty crazy to these other paddlers I make an effort to look up and say “hi” but it usually comes out like “haaaah”. This probably makes it even worse.

At the 1.5 mile mark I can see the giant American flag that flies over the breakwater at the harbor entrance. This is my cue to shift into a higher gear and charge for the finish line. I don’t need to stop my Garmin because it’s been recording this entire time and it will record my time as I complete the segment. The ocean swells can be pretty big right at the harbor entrance and I’ll sometime just fall off my board because I’m so cooked and my legs are wobbly.

After a quick recovery I’ll go for another three miles at an easy pace and maybe do a finish sprint back at Mother’s Beach. Once at home I’ll upload my activity to the Strava website. Strava will recognize I did the segment, show my time and highlight if it was a personal best. There is also a segment leader board and I was surprised to see some other paddlers doing my segment.

While it’s not nearly as good as training with other paddlers, doing interval or tempo training with Strava can be a useful tool. If you are in the same boat (or board) as me and don’t live by a community of SUP racers, try creating a Strava segment in your area. If you do live in the LA area, I challenge all SUP racers to come down to Marina del Rey and try my 2.1 mile Strava SUP segment. It’s labeled “MDR SUP Mother’s Beach to Harbor Entrance”. Here is the link: www.strava.com/segments/11177271 .

See you out on the water.

Michael Kelley
About Michael Kelley 8 Articles
Michael lives in Santa Monica with his beautiful wife and two teenage sons. When Michael is not paddling in the ocean on his SUP, he's creating motion graphics for films, commercials and network promotions. Michael is available for private and small group clinics. Contact: supcoach.net@gmail.com.

1 Comment

  1. Michael,

    Thanks for setting up the Strava segment. I see that I am the second fastest from back in February without even trying–but I was in my Epic V7 surfski!

    There is another short segment in the Marina toward the end of yours.

    As far as live competition in the Marina is concerned, there is the First Saturday Paddle Races open to all types of paddlers at 9:30 am the first Saturday of each month. Check it out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/mdrpaddlers and http://tinyurl.com/mdrpaddlers. Next races are June 4.

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