Fun Fact Friday: Stand Up Paddleboarding

paddleboarder at sunset

  • Stand up paddleboarding (or SUP) has existed in some form or another for thousands of years.
  • South American and African cultures used boards, canoes, and other handmade watercraft along with a long stick to propel themselves to travel, fish, or ride waves recreationally.
  • African warriors stood up in dugout canoes and used their spears as paddles to move quietly into enemy territory.
  • Ancient Peruvian fisherman used a craft called “caballitos de totora” which was a small kayak-looking craft made of reeds that was equated to riding a horse due to instability. They used a long bamboo shaft like a long paddle and would surf the waves after a day of fishing.
  • In 1778, Captain James Cook sailed to the Hawaiian Islands and was the first European to witness the locals surfing.
  • Hawaiians surfed on a board they called the “he’e nalu” which were canoes or specially carved boards made from wood of the Koa tree.
  • In Hawaiian villages, the chief got the biggest board.
  • In 1886, photographer Peter Henry Emerson snapped a picture of a man stand up paddleboarding through the marshes of East Anglia in the UK.
  • In the 1940s, Duke Kahanammoku, Leroy and Bobby AhChoy would teach surf lessons in Waikiki while standing on their boards to get a better view of the surfers in the water, using paddles to move around and stabilize themselves. This morphed into riding the waves using the paddle to steer.
  • “Beach Boy Surfing” was born when Bobby, Leroy and their father John would stand and paddle around the surf zone.
  • British surfer and photographer James Davis photographed John “Pops” AhChoy SUPing in 1980. John is the oldest SUP surfer in the world and still goes out on Waikiki a few times a week.
  • The AhChoys introduced the sport to John Zapotocky who is largely considered to be the father of the modern stand up surfing movement. Zapotocky fell in love with Hawaii and surfing when he visited there in 1940 and got into stand up after watching Duke Kahanamoku and the AhChoy family.
  • In Tel Aviv, lifeguards have used a stand up board called a “hasakeh” since the first decades of the 20th century to be able to survey the area better. They borrowed it from fisherman who used it hundreds of years prior. They were on a very wide board and used a doubled-bladed paddle so lifeguards could paddle quickly out to a distressed person and use the board to carry them back with an unimpeded view.
  • Two Brazillians, Osmar Goncalves and Joao Roberto Hafers, started SUPing sometimes in the 80s, riding a board they called a “tabua havaian” which means Hawaiian plant.
  • In the 1980s, Brian Keaulana, Rick Thomas, Archie Kalepa, and Laird Hamilton started SUP as a way to train while the surf was down.
  • Those guys started entering paddleboard races and eventually got “beach boy surfing” recognized at the “Buffalo Big Board Contest” in 2003. There were 49 participants in the stand-up division.
  • A picture of Laird SUPing was circulated in surfing publications and the first stand-up boom began.
  • The modern version of stand-up remained a Hawaiian phenomenon until Vietnam veteran Rick Thomas brought one back to California in 2004 where it instantly caught on. Stand up offered instant appeal and accessibility.
  • Recreational and racing SUP became its own sport in the 2000s.
  • Landlocked dwellers all across USA, Europe, and Australia have started using stand-up boards to replace lake and river options like canoes or kayaks.
  • In 2008 US Coast Guards classified SUP boards as vessels, similar to canoes and kayaks.
  • In 2009, SUP became the single fastest growing paddle sport in North America.
  • The largest demographic is 35-44 years old for both men and women.
  • In Brazil, SUP grew 500% in one year.
  • There are now over 150,000 SUPers in the US, a number that is expected to grow 10 times by 2016.


Happy Friday, everyone! Hope you enjoyed these stand up paddleboarding facts! Now go quiz your friends!

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