Like it or not everyone knows now that drafting is a huge part of this sport. If you want to keep up with the lead pack chances are you will have to be good at drafting. It can be hard to learn at first but the more you do it the easier it becomes.
Jim Terrell of QB told everyone in the NC clinic that you want to be 2-4 ft behind the person in front of you and directly in their wash. When you get in their wash you want to lean forward or move up on your board so that your bow/nose catches the wave. I have found that a lot of it depends on who you are drafting and what kind of tail they have. Some boards put off different wakes so sometimes it’s better to be right on the person’s tail almost bumping their board and other times its better to be a foot or two back to really feel the pull.
Once you do a few races and see who you compete against every race you will learn the best spots to be on each person’s board. That is another fun aspect of racing in local races, not only do you get a great workout but you get to build up great rivalry’s with other paddlers who go at the same pace as you.
The best way to practice drafting is to go paddle with someone and take turns pulling. Do not go 100% sprint speed, go at a normal pace that you both can handle. Really try and feel the pull you get when you are in someone’s wake and practice steering with your feet and staying in the draft. The more you do it the easier it becomes.
Having great drafting skills is also a way to “Paddle above your fitness level”. If you get in a draft train of faster or better conditioned paddlers it will help you stay with them longer then you would if you were racing side by side. Let’s be honest most of us do not have time to train everyday or for multiple hours each day. Whether its kids, spouse, work, social life it’s hard to dedicate hours every day to training. To those that do, that is awesome but for most of us that isn’t possible. Drafting is a great way to “Paddle above your fitness level” during races.
Be sure that if you are in a draft pack you STAY WITH IT. Once you lose a draft pack it can be a battle if not impossible to catch them. In the Baltimore race this year I found that out first hand, I was in a 3 way draft pack at the start of the race for the first two laps. On the third lap I fell going around the turn and watched the pack pull away from me in a hurry. I sprinted trying to catch up but I just couldn’t quite get back on and that was all she wrote.
Just MAKE SURE you use proper drafting etiquette. Offer to take turns pulling/leading the draft pack, you do not want to draft someone the whole race and then pass by them the last half mile. If the person in front of you does not want to get behind you or says no, then that is a different story, but you have to at least have the courtesy to ask. You both will go faster if you take turns.
Check out this HUGE draft pack from the race in Lake Tahoe last weekend. Danny Ching out in front as usual and everyone else trying their hardest to stay close. You can also see the other pic from the local Sup Annapolis/KIOCC race where the top 3 guys Goose Norman, Brian Meyer, and Ron Gossard had a 3 way draft pack going for most of the race. Emerson Smith and Jeff Cook had a draft pack for 4th and 5th. And the top 2 females Dawn Ehman and Corrine Banks also had a draft pack going.
Now GO PRACTICE