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The Origins of Stand Up Paddle boarding Part 1


The Origins of Stand Up Paddle boarding
The Origins of Stand Up Paddle boarding

Tracing the origins of stand-up paddling is a difficult task. Firstly, we have to define what SUP actually is and restrict it to a particular arena or style. The sport has become so energetic and diverse that even defining it is difficult to do, meaning that its earliest roots are hard to trace. There are two things that appear to be constants, however: we paddle a surfing-style craft while standing and we use a paddle to propel that craft forwards.

It started in Peru

It would appear that various forms of stand-up paddling have been in existence for thousands of years. Ancient South American and African cultures used watercraft such as canoes and boards with a long stick to propel it forward while making war, travelling, fishing, and even riding waves. African warriors stood in dugout canoes and used spears to paddle in order to silently make their way into enemy territory. For close to 3,000 years, fishermen in Peru used a small craft made from reeds, along with a bamboo shaft they used like a kayak paddle, and would surf the waves after fishing. This may be the origin of surfing, in general, in fact.

Beach Boy surfing

While stand up paddling itself may have developed in multiple places around the world, surfing as we know it today undoubtedly has Polynesian roots. Captain Hook sailed into the Hawaiian Islands in 1778 and was the very first European to see Hawaiians surfing. It was performed in canoes or on boards carved from the Koa tree. Modern stand up paddling also has Hawaiian roots, Waikiki surf instructors from the 1940s, such as Duke Kahanamoku, would stand on their paddleboards to better view the surfers and incoming swells. They would also occasionally use the paddles to surf the waves themselves. Another instructor, Bobby Ah Choy, would stand up as he was restricted from kneeling or swimming due to an injury he suffered in a car accident. He shouted out hints to others, with his father John and brother Leroy also occasionally standing up. And so we saw the birth of Beach Boy surfing.

Beach Boy surfing
Beach Boy surfing

In 1980, British surfer James Davies, who was a travel photographer by trade, visited Hawaii where he took some photos, including one of a man stand up paddle surfing. This is one of the few photos in existence of John Ah Choy. The Ah Choys introduced their hobby to a gentleman by the name of John Zapotocky. John, who instantly took to the ocean on his first visit to Hawaii in 1940, can be regarded as the father of modern stand up surfing. He settled down there, and after witnessing the Ah Choys and Duke Kahanamoku in action, he began surfing with a paddle and never looked back. He loved getting involved in watersports such as canoe racing, diving, swimming, and, of course, paddleboarding. The beach boys thought him such an icon, they even gave him a nickname: “Pearl Diver”.

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