Stand up paddle boarding, often just referred to as SUP, is the act of moving yourself on a floating platform by using a pole or paddle. This activity dates back thousands of years and was used across a number of continents. While the paddle boards used in the past were rudimentary compared to modern options, they still had the same basic function.
What is known as paddle boarding today originated in Hawaii during the 1900s; however, there are records of earlier types of SUP dating back to 1,000 B.C., or more than 3,000 years ago.
Today’s paddle boarding involves a surfboard-like product that is stood on by the user. Surfing is a sport that also dates back to the 1900s, but its heritage is considered more common knowledge than that of paddle boarding. The pioneers of modern paddle boarding are Dave Kalama and Duke Kahanamoku from Hawaii. The sport reached California by the 2000s where Bob Pearson, Laird Hamilton, Ron House and Rick Thomas made the sport commonplace.
By the time 2005 arrived, SUP, which until that point had been mainly a discipline of surfing, started to diversify into fishing, yoga, rivers, touring and racing. It is the surfing heritage along with the various disciplines that made the sport extremely accessible and attractive to everyone from all over the world. This is what paved the way for its enthusiastic adoption and global growth.
The Earliest Forms of Paddle Boarding
When you begin looking into the earliest forms of paddle boarding, you won’t find items similar to the popular Tower Paddle Boards that are used today. The options were more basic, rustic and from the earth than the modern materials that are used today.
Essentially, the first paddleboarder can be dated back to anyone who stood up and paddled. However, in an effort to pinpoint the origins, the information here only focuses on those who used equipment that was specifically designed for the purpose of standing up and paddling. Some of the earliest users of paddle boarders included:
- In Peru in 1000 BC
- In Israel 700 AD
- In Gondola, Italy 1400 AD
- In Boat Hull, United Kingdom 1886 AD
- In China with single-bamboo drifting in the 1900s
- In Hawaii as surfboards in the early 1900s
Paddle Boarding: The Modern Movement
When you think of products such as the Solstice Bali Stand-Up Paddleboard, this is the type of item that is seen in modern paddle boarding activities. The modern sport or activity began on two Hawaiian Islands, Maui, and Oahu. The surfboard roots of this activity explain why many people use surfboards for this sport still today. A timeline of modern paddle boarding and key players in its development are highlighted here:
- The early 1900s consisted of people such as Bobby and Leroy AhChoy and Duke Kahanamoku
- In the mid-1900s, new stars emerged, including Joseph “Scooter-Boy” Kaopuiki and John “Zap” Zapotocky
- During the latter part of the 1900s, you had Archie Kalepa, Brian Keaulana, Waterman, Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama
- In the early 2000s was individuals such as Bob Pearson, Laird Hamilton, Ron House and Rick Thomas
The California Catalyst
In the 1900s, Hawaii served as the main area for modern paddling; however, in the 2000s, California was the new home. This is where the sport was diversified by new players who really wanted to see what it has to offer. While there are many instrumental figures to consider, few have done what Rick Thomas has in regard to bringing new people into the sport and even setting the entire tone for the paddleboarding community. Out of San Diego, Thomas was a Vietnam veteran and one of the most private and happiest people around. He introduced new people to SUP with an amazing attitude, which encouraged them to jump on a board and try it out.
Even though Laird was someone who was considered a “paddle boarding God” and served as an inspiration to others, Thomas offered the personal touch that has become such an important characteristic of the stand-up paddleboarding community.
Diversification of the Paddle Boarding Discipline
The modern face of paddle boarding has a clear and evident surfing heritage. It is also considered an exclusive surfing activity – well, this was true until approximately 2005. At this point, the surfing appeal that was made popular by people such as Leleo Kinimaka, Brian Keaulana, Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama began to make room for an all-new chapter in the history of SUP – a diversification of the discipline.
It was at this time that the standup paddlers started to participate in paddleboard races and eventually there were SUP only divisions created. Additionally, those into fitness started doing yoga and Pilates on boards designed specifically for those activities. From this point, stand up paddling started to emerge and evolve into something much more than just what was offered in the beginning.
Some of the pioneers in different users for paddleboards included:
- Racing was the Hobie Dream Team (Byron Kurt, Colin McPhillips, Chuck Paterson) with Archie Kalepa
- Surfing was Leleo Kinimaka, Laird Hamilton, Brian Keaulana and Dave Kalama
- Flatwater and touring was Ernie Brassard
- Fishing was BOTE and the West Coast Paddlers
- Fitness and yoga was Sarah Tiefenthaler, Gillian Gibree and Nikki Greg
- River was Charlie MacArthur, Corran Addison and Dan Gavere
The Worldwide Wave
By the time 2005, paddle boarding had grown exponentially. However, between the five year period of 2005 to 2010, stand up paddling and the products available, such as the Tower Adventurer 9’10” Inflatable SUP, grew quickly. It first gained popularity in the state of California and then spread to other areas throughout the United States. It was not only a fun activity but also a way to engage with a community and get healthy.
However, since California and Hawaii are considered world-renowned destinations for tourists, it didn’t take long for this activity and new sport to spread all the way around the world. There is no question that the sport was quickly adopted by other surf cultures, including France, Brazil and Australia. However, the flatwater appeal of the activity also became widespread and it was something participated in by the people of Germany, Portugal the UK and a number of other nations.