What is Stand Up Paddle Boarding?

Stand up paddle boarding (aka SUP or Hoehe'e nalu in the Hawaiian language) are outgrowths of surfing that originated in Hawaii. Unlike traditional surfing where surfers paddle with their hands in the prone position, stand up paddlers utilize a paddle to push themselves through the water.


In less than 10 years stand up paddle boarding has gone from near obscurity to the sport with the most first-time participant in America in 2013. One reason SUP has become so popular is the tremendous about of variation the sport has to offer. You can paddle just about anywhere, from lakes to rivers to ocean. Activities range from fitness (paddle board yoga) to sight-seeing (touring) to surfing ocean waves or paddling through rapids (white water SUP). And let's not forget about fishing on your paddle board!

Paddle Board Origins

The term "paddle boarding" is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to stand up paddle surfing. Historian and author Steve West attributed the contemporary view of stand up paddle boarding to the Waikiki Beach Kids of Oahu through the 1960s. They believed that there was a direct link between the concept of standing on aboard outrigger canoe and using a paddle to propel oneself forward. This was a common activity throughout Oahu in the 60's.


When there was very little swell, in the 1990 stand up paddle boarding was educated at Hawaiian surf colleges as an alternative method to surf. This exercise became increasingly well-liked so surf teacher Brian Keaulana decided to add "Beach Boy Surfing’’ to the world recognized "Buffalo Big Board Contest’’ in 2003. The response to this new group was overwhelming, with many recognized users choosing to participate to partake. Stand up paddle board races became common; in the year 2012 Lenny won the finals of the initial Standup World-Series championship races. The initial magazine dedicated to the sport, Stand Up Journal, was founded in June 2007.

What do I need to SUP?

What to Wear

Depending on what you plan on doing, you can wear various types of clothing while you paddle board. Since the vast majority of paddle boarders are paddling in calmer waters, most paddlers can wear normal street clothing. Since most of your time will be standing on the board, dress for the air temperature.


Your Paddle

Other, more adventurous paddlers might want to wear a wet suit. There are a number of different types of wet suits that vary in style, cut, and thickness. The thicker the wet suit, the warmer you will be while paddle boarding through waves.


To move through the water, most paddlers make use of an adjustable paddle. These paddles are commonly made from aluminum or carbon fiber, the lengths of which can be changed to suit the height of the paddler. Some custom paddles can be made from wood but these can be very expensive.


Another method is to go sans paddle, reverting to the traditional method of paddling. In order to get around, Ancient Hawaiian paddlers had traditionally knelt on their paddle boards and utilized their hands to propel the board forward. They did this using a stroke similar to a swimming butterfly stroke.


Your Board

Traditionally, stand up paddle boards were constructed from single planks of wood. It could take a skilled craftsman weeks to fabricate to shape a stand up paddle board. These boards could be upwards of 12-15 feet and, being made from solid wood, were heavy and very hard.


While you can still find wooden boards, most are thousands of dollars, putting them out of reach from the casual paddler. The more affordable, modern day equivalent of a wood board is an epoxy or fiberglass stand up paddle board. These boards are very hard, much lighter, and the preferred boards for surfers.


Still, casual paddle boarders might not want a board to take up so much room in their house. Many of these paddlers prefer inflatable stand up paddle boards or iSUPs. These boards can be deflated and rolled up, making them very easy to transport. Recent advances in manufacturing techniques have put inflatable stand up paddle boards on par with fiberglass boards, but for a fraction of the price. As a result, the popularity of inflatable paddle boards has increased significantly over the past few years.

Paddle boarding around the world

There is evidence that paddle boarding, or variants of SUP, was a prevalent sport in Africa. There, Africans used paddle boarding and other traditional canoe paddling as a form of exercise. Warriors used paddling boarding as a way to train, build up their stamina, and grow stronger. Some even used SUP as a way to stealthy ambush enemies.


The contemporary type of the sport was invented in the 1500s where Hawaiian surfers would surf on boards of to 15 feet in length. These surfers utilized a paddle to control boards that were otherwise heavy and difficult to steer.


In Tel-Aviv in the 20th century, lifeguards stood on broad planks to ensure a clear view of potential swimmers in distress The life savers used stand up paddle boards to propel through the water fast to save swimmers.