How It Began
Stand Up Paddling has become such a diverse and vibrant sport it defies strict definition, leaving its early roots as elusive as its modern surge into popularity. Even now only two things seem constant: we stand while paddling a surng-style craft and we use a long paddle to propel the craft forwards.
It seems that stand up paddling in some form or another has been around for thousands of years. Ancient cultures from Africa to South America used boards, canoes, and other watercraft propelled with a long stick to fish, travel, make war, and even ride waves. Warriors in parts of Africa stood up in dugout canoes and used their spears as paddles to move silently into enemy territory. For nearly 3,000 years, Peruvian sherman used a craft called a “Caballitos de Totora”, a small craft made of reeds that is so called because its instability made it like riding a horse. They used a long bamboo shaft somewhat like an elongated kayak paddle, and after a day’s fishing they would surf the waves in just for fun. In fact, its quite possible that this is the true roots of all surfing, let alone stand up surfing.
While stand up paddling may have developed in various places around the world, the modern surfing tradition has undeniable Polynesian ancestry. In 1778, Captain James Cook sailed into the Hawaiian Islands and became the first European to witness the Hawaiian people surfing. He’e nalu, as it is called in the native Hawaiian tongue, was done either in canoes or on special, ritually carved boards from the Koa tree. The village chief got the biggest board, sometimes as big as 5m long, while lesser village personages had smaller 2 or 3-meter boards. Because of the sheer size of the boards, a paddle was often used to power out and onto the waves.
Modern stand up paddle surfing has its own Hawaiian roots as well. In the 1940s, surf instructors in Waikiki like Duke Kahanamoku and Leroy and Bobby AhChoy would take paddles and stand on their boards to get a better view of the surfers in the water and incoming swells, and from time to time they would surf the waves in themselves using the paddle to steer the board.
Injured in a car accident that restricted him from swimming or kneeling, Bobby would stand up, cigarettes lashed to his arm, camera about his neck, and paddle into the surf zone shouting hints to others. His brother Leroy and father John would also stand up from time to time.
The AhChoy’s in turn introduced their pastime to John Zapotocky, who could certainly be considered the father of modern stand up surfing. John first went to Hawaii in 1940, and instantly fell in love with the ocean. He made his life there from that day on and after seeing Duke Kahanamoku and the other Beach boys like the AhChoy brothers on stand-up boards, he took to it and has been surfing with a paddle ever since. All through those old days he was a regular athlete, including swimming, diving, paddleboard and canoe racing. He became such an icon amongst the beach boys that they gave him the nickname of ‘’Pearl Diver’’.
In Tel Aviv, lifeguards have been using a stand up board called a Hassakeh since the first decades of the 20th century, an idea they borrowed from fishermen that dates back hundreds of years. With a board almost 5 feet wide and using a double bladed paddle, the lifeguard can paddle quickly out to a distressed person and haul them on board, while the standing position gives them full view the entire time. While the boards were not designed for it, the lifeguards did sometimes surf the waves in while practicing rescue techniques.
Evolution of SUPing
In spite of the presence of innovative surfers and paddlers elsewhere, the modern version of stand up remained a Hawaiian thing until Vietnam veteran, Rick Thomas, brought one back to California in 2004. It caught on instantly. You could argue that from his influence SUP has spread all over the world. Bob Long from Mission Surf has suggested that there are 6 degrees of separation between anyone in California who has learned to stand up paddle and Rick Thomas.
Stand up paddling was a much-needed breath of fresh air into an industry that was stuck in its glory days of the 1960s. Stolid, stale, and elitist, surfing had become a highly commercialized multi-million dollar machine where everyone from Kansas to California was wearing surf clothing, speaking surf talk, but not welcome into the surf line-up. “Locals” shun anyone not born within a 5-mile radius of a given break, and beginners (being as beginners are in any sport) were branded “kooks” and equally driven out from the beaches.
In contrast, stand up surfing offered instant appeal and accessibility to all kinds of surfers. It allowed them to paddle to far away and little known breaks that were uncrowded, and it increased the number of waves a surfer could have in a session and the range of conditions that could be surfed. In fact, very quickly stand up paddlers realized that the “surf” could be taken out of it, and recreational and racing SUP were discovered as sports unto themselves. All across the USA, and now in Europe and Australia, landlocked people have started using stand up boards as a replacement option to the canoe or kayak.
Providing a great core workout, as well as increased visibility both above and into the water, stand up paddling as a recreational craft has now etched its place into surfing lore, and by 2009 it was the single fastest growing part of paddlesports in North America.
As a true indication that stand up paddling has “arrived”, in 2008 the US Coast Guard classified SUP boards as vessels like canoes and kayaks; as a result SUP riders are obliged to wear a personal flotation device when paddling in certain areas outside of the surf zone. Drawing on roots that are thousands of years old, stand up seems here to stay in the world of modern paddlesports.
In the very recent past more and more celebrities such as Rihanna and Will Smith have shown their interest in the sport, advertising it to a whole new audiance.
Disciplines Of SUPing
SUP Yoga is a great new way of working out and is already a craze in the states. Essentially SUP Yoga comprises of yoga postures with Stand Up Paddle Boarding, the board playing the part of the yoga mat. SUP YOGA provides great benefits to the mind and body, this is easy to see when each of the aspects alone gives amazing benefits to health, and together they provide the perfect combination. The board is used as an alternative yoga mat; the intensity of each pose is increased by providing clients with a greater challenge and added benefits. Your balance will improve as will your yoga performance, as the board is constantly moving, you body is working hard to stay stable, if done regularly it will lead to improved proprioception. It’s also a great way to tell if you are performing your yoga poses correctly, if you put to much weight through one side of your body, the board will react.
Surfing is the most technical form of Stand Up Paddleboarding, and the publication of pictures of Laird Hamilton and friends surfing 20+ foot waves in Hawaii stoked the imaginations of the new generation of SUPers. But it's not just extremely big waves that SUPs can deal with: you can also catch waves that are way too small for conventional surfing - or too 'messy'. The length of the board and the fact that it picks up waves earlier make it a real wave catching machine and, once caught, it's much easier to stay on the wave, making surfing 'poor' surf much more fun. It is this fact that is behind the increasing interest in SUP by regular surfers who can get on the waters much more often with a SUP in their quiver.
SUP Races are where Stand up paddlers compete against other Stand-Up Paddler, last summer the Jever SUP World Cup took place in Hamburg, Germany, where hundreds of paddlers from all over the world competed against each other. In December, a very scenic race took place in Paris, France.
There are different disciplines, long distance races, relay races or short sprint races like the London SUP Sprint Challenge where paddlers competed against each other in a 120x30m indoor pool.
Whitewater standup paddleboards are often inflatable boards made out of the same material as whitewater rafts. If you thought staying upright in a whitewater kayak seems tough, try keeping your feet on a SUP while going through a Grade III rapid.