Stand Up Paddle Surfing is an ancient form of surfing. It can be traced back to the very early days of Polynesia. It’s most recent history dates back to the 1940’s when the beachboys (surf instructors) on Waikiki beach used to stand up and paddle out to the break using a one bladed paddle. The reasons for this are 2 fold. First it allowed them to have a better visibility over their group of surfing instructors and allowed them to call the sets easier as their upright position meant that they could see the swell long before the prone surfers. Secondly it allowed them to keep their wealthy customers camera dry and allow them to take pictures of them surfing. As time moved on board designs and fashions changed, the paddle was all but lost in the history of surfing. A few surfers in Waikiki continued to use a paddle but they were very much in the minority.
Fast forward to the first part of this century and the paddle made a return to surfing in the hands of some of the world’s most famous watermen. They were re discovering stand up paddle surfing to allow them to keep in shape for the bigger days of tow surfing as well as adding a new dimension to their skills. Standing up and paddling out through the waves is a totally new experience, most of us are more used to lying down and ducking under the waves.
Modern technologies have allowed the boards to come down a lot in weight and modern understanding of board design has allowed the large boards to be maneuvered easily on the waves. Carbon paddles cut weight and increase board speed and suddenly Stand Up Paddle Surfing has been reborn. It isn’t going to revolutionize or take over the world, but it does add another angle to surf riding and will mean that your time on the water can be greatly increased.
The sports greatest impact could possibly come on the waterways of the worlds great cities or inland water bodies. Slowly but surely, people’s eyes are being opened to the fact that there’s a watersport for everybody, in that anyone can do it.
It’s the most peaceful way to get out and experience some nature whilst simultaneously allowing people to exercise in a way not possible before. Core exercise is the current catch phrase for fitness and pilates instructors, with SUP being the perfect whole body and core workout, trying to remedy a large percentage of the population suffering from a bad back.
SUP has hit the ground running – or more correctly – hit the water stroking. If anyone doubts that, check out the Doheny event. Over 300 racers on the course. Spectacular! What a send-off for a fresh new sport — or rather: the next new thing!
But is it new? Well no., its antecedents date back several millennia. Well before the emergence of the western religions and even before the development written languages. Cave paintings are all we have to go on but they show stick figures standing and sitting on what can only be logs — later to be hollowed out with hot coals from a fire — propelling themselves with some sort of sticks — later to be developed into oars. So oars, paddles if you like, have a very long and distinguished history in the affairs of mankind Just note, if you will, 1) that there are more oar and paddle disciplines than there are sailing disciplines in the Olympics, 2) there are more oar powered boats sold every year than sailboats and 3) romance is more easily accommodated in a rowboat than in any sailing dingy, large or small.
Now, onto the stage of maritime history strides the humble paddle held by an all too human paddler, both standing on and using distant relatives of that log and stick I mentioned above. Where will he take this new sport? An easy guess is that — like its sister sports, skiing, snowboarding and windsurfing — it will quickly morph into three or more sub-disciplines, each having its own more-or-less distinctive paddle and board design. Already there are point-to-point, course racing and wave events. Those will take care of themselves with or without my help. But the discipline I would find most fulfilling is the one that inspired the Serenity. Distant but still close to land; absorbed in how the waves work with board and the board with the waves; utterly lost in one’s thoughts. Brief moments like these are…..well….. you know, priceless.
Thanks to Starboard SUP for this article