History of (Stand Up Paddle) SUP
The biggest myth going around is that stand-up paddle is an ancient Hawaiian
ritual. Captain James Cook didn?t see it in the 18th century, Robert Louis
Stevenson didn?t see it in the 19th century and Jack London didn?t see it at
the beginning of the 20th century. Cook did report in his journal watching a
canoeist catch a wave sitting down in Tahiti, and many of the early observers
of Polynesian watermen may have seen canoe paddlers stand up to paddle across
shallow reefs in search of fish to spear.
The first stand up paddle surfers emerged in Waikiki in the early 1950s, when the post-war tourism
boom saw Matson cruise liners deposit thousands of thrill-hungry Americans on
the beach under the shadow of Diamond Head.
Naturally, they wanted to try their hand at the new sport of surfing, or at
least take a canoe surf under the expert guidance of a Waikiki
beachboy. And there were plenty of beachboys up for the job. Duke Kahanamoku
and his brothers were a bit long in the tooth by this stage, but in their wake
had come a whole new generation of beachboys who lurked under the banyan trees
flirting with pretty heiresses until their bosses, the concierges of the luxury
hotels on the beachfront, waved them into action for the benefit of another
troop of newly-arrived thrill-seekers.
There being no point in risking life and limb in the pounding
breakers unless you had a photo to prove it, the beachboys were called upon not
only to teach the sport but to photograph it, and the box brownie cameras of
the day made that rather difficult. No one can now remember who was the first ?
maybe it was one of the Ah Choy brothers, Leroy or Bobby ? but one of the
beachboys came up with an ingenious idea. He borrowed a paddle from an
outrigger captain, hung a Kodak around his neck and paddled into the break
standing on his redwood hot curl board.
To fall was to destroy an expensive camera, but put them on a
board and beachboys can do anything, and soon full-frame photos of Cindy-Lou?s
first wave, shot from right there on the same wave, on the next board if you
can believe it, were de rigeur for the tourists. Inadvertently, the beachboys
had invented a new style of surfing which, naturally enough, became known as
This went on at Waikiki right through the ?60s and ?70s,
until even longboards got smaller and cameras became waterproof, yet no one
really picked up on the fact that, with a few basic refinements of equipment,
beachboy surfing could be big fun. Well, no one that is except a few beachboys like
the incredible John Zabatocky, who started to surf with a paddle to take photos
and soon adopted paddle surfing as his only surfing discipline. Still going
strong in his 80s, John is a true pioneer of SUP, along with Bobby Ah Choy, who
made the final of a SUP event in 2007, just weeks before his passing.
The renaissance of SUP can probably be tracked to a long
summer flat spell in 2000, when serious watermen like Laird Hamilton and Dave
Kalama on Maui and Brian Keaulana, Mel Pu?u and Bruce De Soto at Makaha, seized
on the idea of paddling their tandem boards as fitness workouts. It didn?t take
them long to realize how much fun this aspect of surfing could be. In 2004
Brian Keaulana introduced SUP as a division at his father?s famous surf event
and party, Buffalo?s
Big Board Classic at Makaha. It was hugely popular, got major media coverage
and the seal was broken. SUP was up and running.
Interestingly, in Matt Warshaw?s definitive Encyclopedia of
Surfing, published in 2003, there is not one reference to stand up paddle
surfing. Just four years later you can Google almost half a million references
to it, and SUP cultures are emerging in every part of the known (and unknown)
surfing world. With events like Australia?s
famous Noosa Festival of Surfing and Malfunction following Brian Keaulana?s
lead in creating SUP divisions, and barely-surfable locations like England?s Brighton Beach hanging their hats on SUP, the
potential for growth in the sport is enormous.
So enormous, in fact, that SUP surfers can stand by for a
backlash from board surfers at crowded breaks. But with world champion surfers
like Hawaiian watermen Keaulana, Kalama, Hamilton and Kalepa, 80s shortboard
star Tom Carroll, Pipe Master Rob Machado, longboard champions Joel Tudor and
Josh Constable, and former tandem champion Chris de Aboitiz setting the
standard and becoming role models for the new/old sport, it seems likely that a
code of conduct will allow everyone to enjoy the waves.
Our thanks to Grant of standuppaddlesurf.com.au for this article.