Stand up paddle boarding or SUP as it is often referred to is seen in various cultures all with slightly different origins and long histories linked to hunting, life guarding and for fun. In parts of Africa warriors would stand on their canoes and propel them forward in order to be more stealthy when attacking or hunting. In Hawaii hundreds of years ago people would stand on boards up to 5 meters in length and propel them forwards while standing. And in Tel Aviv life guards use paddle boards in the fairly still waters there to get a better view of swimmers.
A Brief History
The current form of SUP that we see today originated in Hawaii in the 1900s but forms of stand up paddle boards have been seen all over the globe from Peru, to Italy, to China.
In the 20th century, paddle boarding in Hawaii began to get adopted by some American surfers who then brought the sport to the States and 4 epicenters of the sport began to grow. San Diego, San Clemente, Malibu and Santa Cruz became the SUP destinations in America. Spearheaded by 4 surfers Rick Thomas, Ron House, Laird Hamilton and Bob Pearson respectively.
In the early 2000s stand up paddle boarding had gained some momentum but was for the most part still just popular within the surfing community and the sport was surfing waves. But in 2005 this changed. An athlete named Archie Kalepa started using a stand up paddle board to compete in cross channel races between some of the islands in Hawaii. There is now a whole sport of downwind paddle board racing to which he is considered the forefather.
In 2007 a group of stand up paddle boarders including Ernie Brassard and Blane Chambers saw the potential of the sport and organised the first inland race on the north shore of Lake Tahoe in California. That race is still going today and it’s perhaps the starting point of the development of boards specifically for flat water rather than for surfing.
Boards and Materials
The type of board used for stand up paddle boarding in the surf is very different from the boards used for touring on flat water. The surf designed ones are pointed at the front and flat on the bottom, they essentially look like a large surfboard. But the touring boards are rounded at the front, often a lot wider, and some even began to be available with a displacement hull a bit like a canoe or a small boat. Additional features such as padded tops for comfort while riding, and deck rigging so you can carry gear and clothing were added to some boards. This made them a vessel for adventure and a great way for people to relax on the water or go fishing or even travel between islands. Traditionally paddle boards were made of glass reinforced plastic with an expanded polystyrene core. And many performance boards still are. However recently inflatable SUPs have been gaining popularity since they are far easier to transport and much more durable than you might think.
So How Do You Actually Do It?
When you see surfers riding waves. You will notice that the stand sideways facing the side of the board rather than the front. If you, like me, have ever thought stand up paddle boarding works the same way, then you will have probably embarrassed yourself and fallen off a few times.
Stand up paddle boarding requires the user to stand facing the front of the board, unless you have caught a wave in which case you will want to turn sideways and stand as you would on a surfboard. The reason for standing forwards is because the width and shape of the board gives you stability in that direction whereas standing sideways and trying to paddle will cause your balance to shift horizontally on the board and consequently probably fall off!
The actual paddle is shaped a bit like a V. You want the point of the V to be facing behind you as you push through the water or again you may have issues with balance as well as simply finding it very difficult to push through the water
Stand up paddle boarding is a fantastic way of relaxing. You can use it like a surf board and enjoy the waves or you can use in on still waters and cruise along. This versatility has led it to become a very popular sport in recent years and you can learn at many surf schools, as well as SUP specific schools inland on lakes!