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Paddleboarding participants are propelled by a swimming motion using their arms while lying, kneeling, or standing on a paddleboard or surfboard in the ocean. This article refers to traditional prone or kneeling paddleboarding. A derivative of paddleboarding is stand up paddle surfing and stand up paddleboarding. Paddleboarding is usually performed in the open ocean, with the participant paddling and surfing unbroken swells to cross between islands or journey from one coastal area to another. Champion paddlers can stroke for hours and a 20-mile (32 km) race is only a warm-up for well-trained paddlers.
Paddleboarding, the act of propelling oneself on a floating platform with hands or the help of a paddle or pole, traces back to thousands of years ago and across many continents, but its current form and popularity originated in Hawaii in the 1900s. Records of earlier forms of SUP and prone have been found as early as 1,000 B.C. (i.e. 3,000 years ago) and its iterations span over various regions such as Peru, Israel, Italy, China, and beyond. By contrast, the modern form of stand up paddle boarding, where a surfboard-like vessel is used, has a much clearer heritage, dating back to the 1900s and emerging from a collection of loosely related activities by a few very specific characters, such as Duke Kahanamoku and Dave Kalama. Once it reached California in the early 2000s, stand up paddling formed four epicenters, each with its own fountainhead: Rick Thomas (San Diego), Ron House (Dana Point/San Clemente), Laird Hamilton (Malibu) and Bob Pearson (Santa Cruz). From there, the sport gained exponential popularity and California served as the catalyst for worldwide adoption. By 2005, SUP, which had until then been almost entirely a surfing discipline, began to diversify into racing, touring, rivers, yoga, and fishing. Its surfing heritage coupled with its various disciplines made the sport attractive and accessible to everyone all over the world, paving the way for its global growth and enthusiastic adoption. Here is a summary list of earlier forms of stand up paddling, their timestamps, and regional centers.
caballitos de totora, Peru, 1,000 BC (3,000 years ago)  Hasake, Israel/Arab, 700’s AD  gondola, Italy, 1,400 AD  boat hull, UK, 1886 AD  Single-bamboo drifting, China, 1900’s  surfboards, Hawaii, 1900’s and early 2000’s AD 
Ships Artist, John Webber, accompanied Captain James Cook to The Sandwich Islands in 1778, and in the lower left foreground of his 1781 engraving is depicted a Paddleboarder/Surfer Rider.
Thomas Edward Blake
Thomas Edward Blake is credited as the pioneer in paddleboard construction in the early 1930s.
While restoring historic Hawaiian boards in 1926 for the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Blake built a replica of the previously ignored olo surfboard ridden by ancient Hawaiian aliʻi (kings). He lightened his redwood replica (olo were traditionally made from wiliwili wood) by drilling it full of holes, which he then covered, thus creating the first hollow board, which led to creation of the modern paddleboard. Two years later, using this same 16 ft (4.9 m), 120 lb (54 kg) board, Blake won the Pacific Coast Surfriding Championship, first Mainland event integrating both surfing and paddling. Blake then returned to Hawaii to break virtually every established paddling record available, setting 1⁄2 mi (800 m) and 100 yd (91 m) records that stood until 1955.
In 1932, using his drastically modified chambered hollow board, now weighing roughly 60 lb (27 kg), which over the next decade he would tirelessly promote as a lifeguarding rescue tool, Blake out-paddled top California watermen Pete Peterson and Wally Burton in the first Mainland to Catalina crossing race—29 mi (47 km) in 5 hours, 53 minutes. During the 1930s, Blake-influenced hollow boards (called “cigar boards” by reporters and later “kook boxes” by surfers) would be used in roughly equal proportion to solid plank boards for both paddling and surfing until the new Hot Curl boards led wave-riding in a new direction. For paddleboarding, however, the basic principles of Blake’s 1926 design remain relevant even today.
Paddleboarding experienced a renaissance in the early 1980s after Los Angeles County lifeguard Rabbi Norm Shifren’s “Waterman Race”—22 mi (35 km) from Point Dume to Malibu—inspired surf journalist Craig Lockwood to begin production on a high quality stock paddleboard—known as the "Waterman." Its design, that has arguably won more races than any other stock paddleboard, remains a popular choice today. Shortly after, L.A, surfboard shaper Joe Bark and San Diego shaper Mike Eaton began production, and soon with Brian Szymanski's North County Paddleboards (NCP) became three of the largest U.S. paddleboard makers, eventually producing nearly half of the estimated 3–400 paddleboards made each year in the U.S. today. L.A. lifeguards Gibby Gibson and Buddy Bohn revived the Catalina Classic event in 1982 for a field of 10 competitors. Concurrently in Hawaii, the annual Independence Day Paddleboard Race from Sunset to Waimea was drawing a few hundred competitors, many using surfboards due to lack of proper paddleboards on the Islands. As paddlers began ordering boards from the Mainland, local surfboard shapers like Dennis Pang (now one of Hawaii’s largest paddleboard makers) moved quickly to fill the local niche. On both fronts, paddleboarding has been consistently gaining momentum and popularity.
In 1996 the sport of paddleboarding was making a comeback. Once the domain of only dedicated watermen and big wave riders in the 50’s and 60’s, the sport found a new set of acolytes on the North Shore of Oahu and in Honolulu at the Outrigger Canoe Club. At that time Hawaii’s top paddler was Dawson Jones. After completing the 32 mi (51 km) Catalina Classic, from Catalina Island to Manhattan Beach, Jones returned to Hawaii inspired to establish a race across the Ka’iwi Channel. In 1997, the race that is now known as the Molokai-2-Oahu Paddleboard World Championships was born. Today the race sells out with both prone and stand up paddleboarders (SUP) from around the world who compete in solo and team divisions.
Standup Paddleboarding (SUP)
By the early 2000s, Archie Kalepa and the Hobie Dream Team gave the world a hint that stand-up paddleboarding had a potential far grander than waves. Kalepa began unofficially participating in cross-channel races between the islands of Hawaii, making him one of the forefathers of downwind stand up paddle racing. Meanwhile, in California, three exceptional athletes (Chuck Patterson, Colin McPhillips, and Byron Kurt) joined forces to represent the newly formed Hobie SUP Race Team. These three would show up at local prone paddle board races, which were just beginning to have SUP divisions, and put on a show of not only performance but also product R&D. Each would carefully pull his board in and out of board bags, trying to keep their edge in product development on the nascent race scene. Sensing and expanding on that flatwater movement, Ernie Brassard (together with Rick Thomas, Bob Pearson, Blane Chambers and a few others) organized the world’s first inland SUP event and race, hosted at King’s Beach on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, California. It was dubbed “Ta-hoe Nalu” and still runs to this day. That event back in 2007 was arguably the world’s first stand up paddle specific event. Around the same time, Nate Brouwer founded the inland-oriented stand up paddle company “Tahoe SUP,” making a bold departure from the sport’s surfing heritage and diving wholeheartedly into the flat water, inland market. With that SUP wave sweeping inland, river running came next. A bevy of core white water kayakers decided to start running rivers while stand up paddling. Dan Gavere (Oregon), Corran Addison (San Clemente), and Charlie MacArthur (Colorado) became the pioneers of SUP River Running and introduced the sport to a whole new demographic and exposed standup paddlers to entirely new possibilities, from slow running streams to class 4 and 5 rapids. From a less turbulent perspective, Nikki Gregg (Oregon), who was Dan Gavere’s girlfriend at the time, began doing fitness workouts and pilates on stand up boards. Sarah Tiefenthaler (Orange County, California) and Gillian Gibree (San Diego, California) added yet a slightly different spin by bringing their yoga classes to the water on SUP boards. And then came the ultimate emancipation of SUP from its roots: fishing. Among the first was the Lane family down in San Diego, later a few people off Cabo San Lucas, but it wasn’t till it reached Florida that SUP fishing became a certifiable chapter of SUP history. Corey and Magdalena Cooper, from Destin, Florida, launched a stand up paddle company primarily dedicated to fishing, BOTE SUP. Now, the SUP fishing industry has inflatable boards like the Fish Stalker Pro to be more easily transported. And with that, standup paddling became a highly diversified discipline and its core foundations were then in place.
In 2007 the concept of paddle boarding on flat water began to take serious shape and a year later the first touring board manufacturer, Tahoe SUP, released the "Woody" and the "Zephyr" as a specifically designed, flat-water paddling boards. Since 2008, Tahoe SUP, led by founder Nate Brouwer, has directed the touring industry with innovative designs and materials that differ from that of surf-style boards. Tour Paddle Boarding has become a way for individuals to seek adventure, serenity, personal achievement and a deeper connection with nature. Brouwer introduced a new shape, differing from the traditional surfing styles on the market and created a more accessible leisure activity that could be taken inland; The touring board can carry extra gear and has a more efficient hydro-glide. With Piercing displacement hull, increased volume to carry a payload, and lowered stabilization standing platforms, touring board designs differ from SUP surfing boards significantly. Brouwer met with several flat-water kayak manufacturers and distributors to create features that would allow for more comfort, stability, and efficiency. A major implemented feature from these interactions was the installation of deck plugs. These are a built in system designed for securing external cargo. The first kayak shop to distribute a touring paddle board was Tahoe City Kayak, and now has rentals, lessons, and add-on equipment sales.
Paddleboarding may be added to the Olympics and the Court of Arbitration for Sport will decide whether it is represented by the International Surfing Association or the International Canoe Federation.
Paddleboards are divided by length into three classes: Stock, 14 Foot, and Unlimited. Stock boards are 12 ft (3.7 m) long, and best for paddlers around 180 lb (82 kg) or less. Stock boards are easy to accelerate and fast in choppy water. But with their short waterline, they lack the calm water top speed of 14 foot or Unlimited boards.
14-foot class boards are arguably the best all-around board. At 14 ft (4.3 m) in length, they combine many of the best characteristics of stock boards with nearly the calm water speed of Unlimited boards. Only about half of all races have a 14-foot class.
Unlimited boards are the fastest boards afloat. Their speed comes from their long waterline and this also gives them a longer glide per stroke. Though usually 17 to 18 ft (5.2 to 5.5 m) long, the class is defined as "anything that floats" and boards over 20 ft (6.1 m) have been built. They can be difficult to handle in choppy water and their length makes them harder to transport and store. Modern Unlimited boards have rudders that are steered by a tiller between the paddler's feet.
There is an additional board class, the 10' 6". These boards are not used in the long ocean races that are run with the Stock, 14 Foot and Unlimited boards, but are used in surf and sprint races. 10' 6" class boards are known by several names: Ten-Six, Sprint Board, Surf Racer, or Racing Mal.
Paddleboarding can also be done on various pieces of equipment, including surfboards. Paddleboards are made of fiberglass, epoxy, and/or carbon fibre and are generally quite large, ranging from 8 ft (2.4 m) to 21 to 18 ft (6.4 to 5.5 m). An emerging paddleboard technology is an epoxy surfboard, which are stronger and lighter than traditional fiberglass. Cost of new boards range from $1,500 to $3,500 for custom boards. Used boards that have been well kept are in high demand and can be sold fairly easily on paddleboard listing web sites.
- Catalina Classic, California, USA – 51 km (32 mi)
- Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard World Championships, Hawaii – 51 km (32 mi)
- Hamilton Island Cup, Australia – 8 km (5 mi)
- Trent 100, United Kingdom – 100 km (62 mi)
- Thomas Michael O'Shaughnessy, Jr. - Guinness World Record paddleboarding the English Channel; created the East Coast Paddleboard Championships held yearly in Ponce Inlet, Florida
- Peter L. Dixon (2001). The Complete Guide to Surfing. Guilford: Lyons Press. ISBN 978-1-58574-346-9.
- "1930's Era Hollow-core Surfboards & Paddleboards; Thomas Edward Blake: March 8, 1902 - May 5, 1994". Vintage Wooden Surfboards. Retrieved 2010-12-12.
- Mathier, Victor (16 June 2017). "Let's Settle This in Court: What, Exactly, Is Stand-Up Paddleboarding?". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
- "Fastest crossing of the English Channel by paddleboard". guinnessworldrecords.com.