History SUP

History of Stand Up Paddle Surf


SUP has its ancient roots as a way of displacement but it has only been a sport for 20 years. It is associated with the history of Surf – as it is an evolution of it- and we can identify three great periods:

Ancient roots (3.000 years before Christ): paddling while standing on a vessel is as old as Egypt and the pyramids. The nymph that found baby Moses, who was floating down the Nile in its crate, was paddling among the reed. Moreover, people in Peru used a vessel called “TUP”. There are also some curious illustrations and photos of standing paddlers on their vessels. Venetian paddlers and their gondolas are famous for their elegancy and tradition.

All this ancestors share the fact that they paddle while standing. That is the definition of Stand Up Paddle. We have a standing position and we move with a paddle. Nevertheless, there is one key element missing: these vessels have little or nothing to do with a surfboard.

So… when did Stand Up Paddle start? If we want to research the origins of surfboards, we have to go thousands of years back in time to Polynesia. Surf was born there and its epicenter is Hawaii. It has been proved that surfing is a millenary activity. However, was SUP practiced in Hawaii thousands of years ago? Again, Ben Marcus has the answer for it: before the 20th century, SUP did not exist in Hawaii nor anywhere else and he provided documentary and technical data about this absence.

Documentaries: None of the “surfer” writers like Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson or Jack London mention the practice of SUP in the Polynesia. Those three writers, born adventurers, described surfing in their novels for the first time at the end of the 19th century. Besides, the three of them tried to learn how to surf and spent long seasons in Polynesia investigating their culture and history. Yet, none of them mentioned SUP. We can imagine that the image of someone “walking on water” would have moved their poetic sense. On the other hand, Thomas Edison’s movie “Surf in Hawaii”, made in Oahu in 1906, gathers many hours of locals surfing all types of waves but none of them is doing SUP.

From a technical point of view, evidence is astonishing: keels are a modern development. It is very difficult that Hawaiians could paddle while standing on Alaia, Paipos and other types of surfboards that lacked keels and be able to move around or catch waves.

Thus, in Egypt and other ancient civilizations people paddled while standing on vessels that were very different from surfboards. In Hawaii, people caught waves on surfboards but they did not paddle while standing on them.

Grandparents (1900-1980): They were the first surfers that paddled. They are the parents of modern Surf and grandparents of SUP as a sport.

Duke Kahanamoku (Honolulu, 1890-1968): father of modern surf and ambassador of the Aloha spirit. He was an Olympic Swimming Champion and had excellent people-skills. Therefore, he could spread surf all over U.S.A. and Australia at the beginning of the 20th century. He is both a myth and a legend because thanks to him millions of surfers enjoy waves nowadays. There is a video recording of Duke catching waves and paddling while standing on a surf-skiboard style that was probably given to him by an Australian rescue team.

John Zapotocky (1918-2013): he surfed Waikiki with a paddle at the beginning of the 60’s. He declared being inspired by Duke Kahanamoku.

Pop Achoy: he also paddled while standing during the 60’s and 70’s but due to pain on his knees. Zap and Pop are pioneers of SUP. However, they did not have an important role in its spread.

Parents of modern SUP: Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama developed SUP as a sport and spread it around the globe. Both watermen are living legends of the ocean and modern SUP was born thanks to them. It all started with a photo shoot for Oxbow in 1996. Dave had some canoe paddles in his car and they started playing with them, as there were scarce waves. They fell in love with the potential of paddling while standing on a surfboard and could not stop.

Malibu, September 12th, 2002. First photo of Laird Hamilton catching waves on a SUP that became famous around the world. It is an icon: Laird had a U.S.A flag on his paddle, which was a tribute to the victims of 9/11 on its anniversary.

This photo represents the evolution of SUP from a game between friends to the aquatic sport that had the biggest progression in history. 15 years after, millions of people practice SUP around the world thanks to Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama.

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