Stand up paddle surfing and stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is an offshoot of surfing that originated in Hawaii. Unlike traditional surfing where the rider sits until a wave comes, stand up paddle boarders stand on their boards and use a paddle to propel themselves through the water. The sport was documented in a 2013 report that identified it as the outdoor sporting activity with the most first-time participants in the United States that year. Variations include flat water paddling for outdoor recreation, fitness, or sightseeing, racing on lakes, large rivers and canals, surfing on ocean waves, paddling in river rapids (whitewater SUP), Paddle board yoga and even fishing.
Stand up paddlers wear a variety of wet suits and other clothing, depending on water and air temperature since most of their time is spent standing on the board.
A related, traditional sport, paddleboarding, is done kneeling on a board and paddling with the hands, similar to a butterfly swimming stroke. The term “kooks" is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to stand up paddle surfing.
Historian and writer Steve West claimed that the contemporary notion of stand up paddle boarding, if attributed to the Waikiki Beach Boys of Oahu during the 1960s, considers that outrigger canoeing should be recognised as the direct link between the idea of standing on a board and propelling it with a canoe paddle, since the individual SUP skills (board riding and paddling) already existed, used by people who had traditionally grown up learning them.
Standup paddleboarding (SUP), the act of propelling oneself on a floating platform with 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 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 till 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.
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 paddleboard 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. Since then, the market has evolved to include paddle boards meant specifically for flat water.
SUP originated in Africa where it was common practice for individuals to stand on their canoes and use their paddle to propel themselves forwards. This method was used by warriors in an attempt to conduct stealth attacks.
The contemporary form of the sport originated in the 16th century where Hawaiian surfers would surf on boards of up to 5 meters in length. These surfers used a paddle to operate boards that were otherwise unwieldy.
SUP continued in Tel Aviv in the twentieth century where lifeguards stood on wide boards to ensure a clear view of possible swimmers in distress. The lifeguards used a paddle to propel them through the water quickly to rescue swimmers.
In the 1990s SUP was taught at Hawaiian surf schools as an alternative way to surf when there was little swell. This practice became increasingly popular so surf instructor Brian Keaulana decided to add ‘’Beach Boy Surfing’’ to the world-recognized ‘’Buffalo Big Board Contest’’ in 2003. The response to this new category was overwhelming, with many recognized surfers choosing to partake.
SUP races became common; in 2012 Kai Lenny won the season's finals of the first Standup World Series championship races.
The first magazine devoted to the sport, Standup Journal, was founded in June 2007.
In 2007 the concept of paddle boarding on flat-water began to take serious shape and a year later the first touring boards started to hit the market. This style of board differed from traditional surfing style SUP’s in that it includes a displacement hull. The discplacement hull allows the board to glide and track similar to a canoe or kayak. Many other features soon came out on touring boards including deck rigging to carry gear. The fast design with more glide is an attractive option for those who plan to keep their adventures inland. Tour Paddle Boarding has become a way for individuals to seek adventure, serenity, personal achievement and a deeper connection with nature.
The ultimate emancipation of SUP came back to its roots when SUP fishing boards came into production. Among the first was the Lane family down in San Diego, later a few people off Cabo San Lucas, but it wasn’t until it reached Florida that SUP fishing became a certifiable chapter of SUP history. Corey and Magdalena Cooper, from Destin, Florida, launched a standup paddle company primarily dedicated to fishing, BOTE SUP. Now, the SUP fishing industry has inflatable boards like the Fish Stalker to be more easily transported, but inflating does tend to be a hassle vs just pulling a rigid board from your vehicle.
Nikki Gregg (Oregon) 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.
According to the Outdoor Foundation's 2013 Outdoor Participation Report, stand up paddle boarding was listed as the most popular outdoor activity among first-time participants. The report stated that the median age of stand up paddle boarding was 28 years old.
The Outdoor Foundation's 2015 Special Report into Paddlesports found that 2.8 Million (or 0.9%) of Americans participated in standup paddleboarding in 2014. This is up from 2.0 million in 2013. Ages 25–44 made up the highest percentage of overall contributors (47%). The highest participation rate was teenagers ages 14–17 (1.8%), with males comprising 76% of this age bracket.
Materials and design
New SUP board prices range from US$400 to US$3500, and most use glass-reinforced plastic construction using polyester or epoxy resin that is compatible with the polyurethane or expanded polystyrene foam used in the core. Some SUP boards use a hollow wood construction instead of foam with epoxy resin. In the last few years, inflatable boards have been introduced as well. The boards are generally longer than 9 feet (2,7 m), and can be longer than 12 feet (3,6 m), with features such as padded decks and concave hulls; they generally have one or three surfboard-style fins in the stern for tracking. Boards can also be a short as 7 feet, typically made out of high-performance Carbon Fiber. Boards such as these are used in Stand Up Paddle Surf competitions (smaller boards are more maneuverable). Race boards, which range from 12ft6in to 14 ft, are usually made of fiberglass or carbon fiber.
Performance surf boards were traditionally made from laminated layers over foam cores. SUP boards are larger boards and the desire to travel with them has led to the development of an inflatable system where the board and pump can be carried in a backpack. The core material is called 'drop stitch'. Thousands of locked nylon stitches keep the board at a specific thickness. Pressure from specially designed hand pumps can inflate a board to over 30Psi. This creates a board not much less rigid than a hard board. This makes inflatable paddle boards both durable and transportable.
Safety and regulations
Water safety is practiced and regulated by a wide range of overlapping authorities.
In many areas of the US, SUP surfing is treated like bodysurfing, boogie boarding, or other forms of prone surfing (surfboard riding). No regulations require the use of a personal flotation device (PFD) while using a SUP board in the surf zone. However, the jurisdictions and rules requiring a PFD may vary according to the type of water: surf zone, internal waters, harbors and other inland waterways. The US Coast Guard classified SUPs as vessels, like canoes or kayaks. Hence, SUP riders are required to wear a PFD when paddling in certain areas outside of the surf zone. Additionally, areas such as Myrtle Beach, SC or Virginia Beach, VA closely regulate beach and surf zones, requiring the use of leashes on a SUP board similar to the law for surfboards. These regulations and requirements may be enforced seasonally during high-tourism seasons or all year. Additionally, it is important to use a quick release belt  when paddling in whitewater conditions as this allows the paddler to safely detach from a tangled leash.
No regulations require the use of a personal flotation device (PFD) while using a SUP board in the surf. In flat water environments localised regulations may require the use of a PFD such as on lakes, rivers and inland waterways. In a teaching environment SUP schools and clubs individual risk assessments may require the use of PFD's for less confident stand up paddle boarders. The use of a leash is always recommended in all paddling environments and is a key piece of safety equipment. Specific leashes are designed for specific uses of the paddle board.
A stand up paddle is used to propel an individual across the surface of the water while standing on a surfboard. The paddle consists of a blade, shaft and handle.
Materials and design
Paddles used for stand up surfing are similar to but longer than traditional canoe paddles. They are usually constructed from carbon, fiberglass or wood with a flat blade on one end connecting to a handle on the other end by a long smooth shaft. The blade ranges from 6 to 10 inches in width with an oval or round shaft ranging from 67 to 86 inches in length with a 1 to 1.5 inch diameter. Blades are designed with several shapes and features. Normally the blade has a banana peel shape sometimes with a slight keel on the back side of the blade. Other commonly used shapes include diamonds, or oars. Different blade shapes are sometimes used for different types of paddling conditions (long-distance, flat lake water versus ocean surf for example).
The proper form for paddle surfing requires a paddle of the correct length and size. A common rule of thumb is a "shaka" length, or 5 to 7 inches, above the rider's height for surfing and about 10 inches above rider's head for racing. Paddles are held with two hands, using a wide grip instead of keeping the hands close together. The proper way to hold the paddle is with the blade tilted away from the body. This propels the paddler through the water quicker. The push-pull method is the most effective way of paddling when stand up paddle boarding. This method requires inserting the paddle gently into the water ahead of the feet, and then pulling it backwards and lifting it back out of the water.
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- 2015 Special Report into Paddlesports downloaded from American Canoe on 12 September 2016
- "Barefoot Boards - Handcrafted Wooden Boards". www.barefoot-boards.com. Retrieved 2011-01-29.
- "About inflatable SUP boards". Retrieved 2018-01-29.
- "Code of Federal Regulations Title 33 Part 2(A)". e-Code of Federal Regulations. U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
- Casey, Robert (2011). Stand Up Paddling: Flatwater to Surf and Rivers. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers Books. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-59485-253-4.
- "Myrtle Beach Laws - MyrtleBeach.com". MyrtleBeach.com. City of Myrtle Beach. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
- "Local Ordinances of the City of Virginia Beach" (PDF). vbgov.com. City of Virginia Beach. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
- "6 Essential SUP Safety Items that You Should Never Be Without". SUPconnect. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
- "A leash is a necessity not an accessory!". SUPboarder Mag. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
- "The ABC's of SUP boards with advice on choosing equipment". Archived from the original on 3 June 2013.
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