History of Stand up Paddle Surf
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.
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.
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.
AH CHOY BROTHERS
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 “beachboy surfing”
60s and ‘70s
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.
STAND UP PADDLE SURFING
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.