Home » Blog » 7 Tips for the Perfect Paddle: Preparing for a Race Like Paddle Imua

Tim Lara wins 1st Place OC-1 at Paddle Imua 2013
photo by Alex Merk

7 Tips for the Perfect Paddle: Preparing for a Race Like Paddle Imua

Tim Lara wins 1st Place OC-1 at Paddle Imua 2013
photo by Alex Merk

Imua Family Services and Paddle Imua is happy to welcome guest blogger, Tim Lara of Hawaiian Paddle Sports to our Paddle Imua blog today.

In addition to being a champion paddler, business owner, and all-around exceptional human, Tim serves as Vice Chair of the Surfrider Foundation Maui and is a certified marine naturalist. Tim was the first place men’s OC-1 paddler at last year’s Paddle Imua.

Take it away, Tim!


Ah, the quest for the “perfect paddle”.

Well, the first thing I think worth noting is that there is no “perfect recipe” for race preparedness. Every person is different and what works well for one person might not work at all for another person.

So, with that said, here are some general things that I’ve found helpful:

1. Get to Training!

Its no secret that you have to train in order to do well on race day. Some years I’ve been “all in” training hard for major races and other years, life happens and training falls by the way side. My race results are in direct correlation to the amount of work I’ve put in training. You have to train if you want to race at an elite level. However, if you just love paddling and want to have fun, then there is room for that too. Balance is key with most things in life and that holds true for paddling. A mix of hard training –  but still finding time to have fun – has led to my most enjoyable race seasons. If you’re new to paddling and don’t have a clue where to start with training, there are some good resources out there. First, start by asking around. Find paddlers who seem to be racing well and ask them for some suggestions. This should help you get a good base and start to paddling. As you progress and need a more detailed training program for a race season, think about hiring a coach. Suzie Cooney (Suzie Trains Maui) and  Dave Kalama (Kalama Kamps) are two SUP coaches I know. Phil Gomes is a great coach for outrigger canoe paddling (808-359-1809).

2. Rest & Recover

Its impossible to mention training without mentioning rest. You have to let the body recover. It doesn’t matter how much you train and how hard, if you don’t give your body the required time to rebuild. This is where “training smarter not harder” comes in. Make sure your training program includes off days and cross-training days which will allow your body and muscle groups time to recover.

3. Take Supplements

Recovery can be helped and sped up with supplements. This is a subject that can go a thousands different ways. Everyone finds their own secret sauce when it come to supplements, yet others don’t take any at all and swear by ‘nothing but water’. I personally like to take a recovery drink after practices when I’m training hard. Most recovery drinks have a mix of carbs and protein that – when taking immediately after exercise – help the body to build muscle and recover faster. Some say that beer is the best recovery drink. I have no experience with that, but it seems popular after most races! (Watch for Maui Brewing Company at the Paddle Imua finish line this year.) During races, I usually use a mix of carbohydrates and electrolytes in my water pack. There are hundreds of brands of supplements, I’ve enjoyed Hammer Nutrition and First Endurance. Remember though, its important to try many different brands and find one that works for you. Also, its important to note that – with supplements – sometimes less is more. Don’t take more than whats recommended, and even sometimes take less, or you else could end up with stomach problems mid-race. Also never try something new on race days. You never know how something will affect you, and you don’t want to find out an hour into a 3-hour race that the gel you decided to try doesn’t agree with your stomach, and find yourself projectile vomiting. Please learn from my experience on that one.

 4. Eat Right

Just as important as supplements during the race is your diet leading up to the race. If you put water into your car’s gas tank, you won’t get the desired result. A car runs off gas, and the better gas you put in the better the car runs. The same goes with our bodies. If you put junk food in, you can’t expect it run well at a high level. I’d be lying if I said I was on a regimented diet for all of race season, but I do try to stay consistent on what I eat the days before and on race days. Again, you will find a wide variety on what works well for paddlers. I personally like to eat a lot of fish and proteins a few days out, and slowly taper to carbs and vegetables. I also don’t eat very heavy the night before, where as others like to eat a big pasta meal the night before. In the morning, I won’t eat anything within two hours of a race and I’ll try to eat something simple and easily digestible for breakfast: fruit, granola, oatmeal. I’m also addicted to coffee, so I drink coffee every morning – including race days. Like all these subjects, I’ll again suggest try many different approaches and find what ultimately makes you feel the best on race day.

5. Stay Hydrated

Hydration is equally as important as nutrition. Sticking to the car analogy, we’ll let proper hydration be like keeping sufficient oil in the car. If you don’t have oil in the car, the car runs hot and eventually blows up. With our blood being 80% water, its important that we are well hydrated… but not over hydrated. I make sure I’m drinking plenty of water the week before races so I’m never dehydrating myself before a big race. The morning of a race, I drink about 20 ounces the hour before the race. Throughout the race, I try to drink around 20 ounces per hour. This works well for me. However again, everyone is different. Some people sweat more than others and need more or less water. Something not talked about very often is the possibility of over hydration, and this is often just as much a factor in a race as dehydration. If you drink too much water the day before or morning of a race, you run the risk of flushing your system of valuable electrolytes and nutrients. I take electrolyte pills the day before and throughout race to make sure this doesn’t happen.

 6. Prepare Mentally

If you’ve trained hard, let your body rest, given your body good “fuel” and kept it well “oiled”,  you should be set up for a good race. That being said, you should also be mentally prepared. Knowing that you’ve done everything you can to the best of your ability should let you go into a race with no doubts. The body is only as strong as our mind, so if your mind is weak,  your body will be too. You’ve worked hard up to this point, so on race day go out there and have fun and don’t beat yourself up. The most important thing is to race your own race! Don’t let what others are doing influence what you do, just stick to your race. This is the probably one of the hardest things for people to grasp. If someone passes me during a race, I have to stay disciplined to not respond and kill myself (and my race) by trying to pass them back. I constantly tell myself that it just took everything in them to pass me and they will blow up any second. If I stay calm and relaxed, racing my race at my speed, I’ll be able to pass them again at the right time. I’ve heard all kinds of mantras people tell themselves during races to stay focused and relaxed. Find something that works for you, but definitely don’t let your mind defeat you on race day.

 7. Gear Up

Its worth mentioning that having good equipment helps, too. There is the old saying “it’s not the canoe/board it’s the paddler that wins race”. This might be true for 90 percent of paddlers, and for most, switching to better board or paddle won’t make you win races. But for elite athletes, any slight advantage they can gain from their equipment could be what pushes them up to the podium. Like I’ve said before, try as many products as you can and find what works best for you. Some like stiff paddles, some like a lot of flex. I use a double bend Viper Vaa paddle which is spooky light and has a good flex. I also paddle a Pueo 2 from Kamanu Composites which I’ve found to work well in all conditions. However on those few insanely big surf days I’ve found one Kai Waa’s OC-1 works better for me. Once finding products that you think work well for you, its important to stick to them and get time on the water. Each product has its own nuances, so the more time you use them the better you’ll get them dialed in.

For long races, the sun can take a toll on you as well. I try to stay covered up with an SPF jersey, hat and sunglasses. BLUESMITHS hydrophobic jerseys are amazing, and not only keep me out of the sun, but also keep me cool and dry the entire race. Maui Jim sunglasses – hands down – are the only glasses I wear when I’m on the ocean. I also prefer some sort of stretchy neoprene shorts under my board shorts to prevent chafing.

I’ve said it many times through this blog post, but feel it’s worth mentioning again just in case you missed it:  This is what works well for me… take the time and try many different things while training (not racing) to find what works well for you, so that you will be ready to go on race day.

Speaking of which, BLUESMITHS Presents Paddle Imua is this Saturday so its time to register!

Early registration ends tonight,May 1st at midnight, and if you’re one of the first 150 people to register you’ll even get a killer gift package!

See you there,


p.s. Thanks to Handsome Bugga Produtions for keeping us all safe on the ocean each year.