Standup paddleboarding

Standup paddleboarding in light surf
Standup paddle boarding in Lake Annecy
Kai Lenny, World Cup Sylt 2009
Paddle surfing at Playa de Las Canteras, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, 2018
Paddle surfing at Playa de Las Canteras, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, 2018
Paddle surfing at Playa de Las Canteras, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, 2018

Stand up paddleboarding (SUP) or Stand up paddle surfing 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.[1] 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. 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 athletes (Chuck Patterson, Colin McPhillips, and Byron Kurt) joined forces to represent the newly formed Hobie SUP Race Team. The 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 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.[citation needed]

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 1940s Waikiki surf instructors Duke Kahanamoku and Leroy and Bobby AhChoy began SUP as a way to stand on their boards during incoming swells, known as beach board surfing.[2]

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 participating.

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.[3]

SUP touringEdit

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 differs from traditional surfing style SUPs 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 were soon offered, 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.

In 2018 Cal Major became the first person to paddle Land's End to John o' Groats, the classic British long-distance journey, taking 59 days.[4] Her route took her along the Cornish and Devon coast into the Bristol Channel, up the River Severn and by canals to Blackpool, by sea around Cumbria and the Mull of Galloway, across the Firth of Clyde to Arran, along the whole of the Caledonian Canal, and up the coast of north east Scotland.[5]


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 boarders was 28.

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 was 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.[6]

Materials and designEdit

Paddleboard and paddle on the beach at Siesta Key

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.[7] In the last few years,[when?] 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 as short as 7 feet, typically made out of high-performance carbon fiber. Boards such as these are used in stand up paddle surf competitions, as smaller boards are more maneuverable. Race boards, which range from 12 ft 6 in to 14 ft, are usually made of fiberglass or carbon fiber.

Inflatable boardsEdit

Inflatable paddle boards make transport much easier than rigid boards. When deflated, an SUP board fits into a backpack. Inflatable SUPs are made of various layers of reinforced PVC and can be used for all kinds of paddling: cruising or touring on flat water, or even catching waves or paddling in white water. The round edges of inflatable paddle boards are not ideal for surfing or racing, even though SUP manufacturers make constant improvements on their products year after year.

SUP brands like Aztron and Starboard have set new safety standards in the industry with their paddle boards featuring double air chambers. The inside chamber provides 50% of the whole buoyancy of the board,[8] and acts as a safety buoyancy in case of puncture or leak. The double chamber technology also provides up to 30% more stiffness compared with single chamber boards, as the second chamber is placed right in the standing area of the SUP.

Inflatable paddle boards are made of PVC layers joined together by thousands of polyester threads which give the board its shape and stiffness. This material is called dropstitch, and there are various kinds:[9]

  • Single layer: lightweight and more affordable
  • Single layer + stringer: extra PVC strip that usually runs down the middle of the board
  • Double layer (glued): a second PVC layer makes the SUP stiffer than with a stringer; double-layer paddle boards tend not to age well.
  • Double layer (laminated): a second PVC layer is laminated onto the first one without any glue, which enhances the rigidity of the board while making it lighter.[10]

Most inflatable paddle boards have a max pressure of 15 psi, but some can be inflated to higher pressure.

Inflatable paddleboards are built from a drop-stitch core covered by a layer of water and airtight PVC, and edged with a strip of PVC coated cloth bonded to the top and bottom layers of the drop-stitch core. Drop-stitch core is two layers of cloth with many parallel threads of equal length connecting them together so that when inflated, the top and bottom surfaces are held apart by air pressure and held together by the drop-stitch threads. The quality of the drop-stitch core and the method of construction determines how much pressure can be used to inflate the board. Higher pressure produces a firmer and stiffer board, and a thicker board is also stiffer.[11]

A single-layer SUP board is formed when a single layer of PVC coated cloth is used to form the skins. An extra layer of PVC can be added for reinforcement over all or part of the board making it harder, stronger and stiffer, but also heavier.[11]

Safety and regulationsEdit

Water safety is practiced and regulated by a wide range of overlapping authorities.

United StatesEdit

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[12] 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 classifies 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.[13] Areas such as Myrtle Beach, SC[14] or Virginia Beach, VA[15] 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. It is important to use a quick-release belt[16] when paddling in whitewater conditions as this allows the paddler to safely detach from a tangled leash.

United KingdomEdit

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 PFDs 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.[17] 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 designEdit

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 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 in) in width with an oval or round shaft ranging from 170 to 220 cm (67 to 87 in) in length with a 2.5 to 4 cm (1 to 1.5 in) 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 and oars. Different blade shapes are sometimes used for different types of paddling conditions (long-distance, flat lake water versus ocean surf for example).[18]


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 about 15 cm (6 in), above the rider's height for surfing and about 25 cm (10 in) above rider's head for racing. Paddles are held with two hands, using a wide grip instead of keeping the hands close together. The correct way to hold the paddle is with the tip of the blade furthest away from the body.[clarification needed] This propels the paddler through the water more efficiently.[clarification needed] 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.[19]


  1. ^ "Research - Outdoor Participation - Outdoor Recreation Participation Report 2013 - Outdoor Industry Association". Archived from the original on 19 December 2014. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  2. ^ "Tracing the Colorful History of Stand-Up Paddling". The Inertia. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  3. ^ "Standup Journal: About Us". Standup Journal. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  4. ^ Lo, Janice (2 July 2018). "Cal Major completes Land's End to John o'Groats paddleboarding expedition". Gone Paddling. Palm Equipment. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  5. ^ "2018: Lands End to John O'Groats". Paddle Against Plastic. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  6. ^ 2015 Special Report into Paddlesports downloaded from American Canoe on 12 September 2016
  7. ^ "Barefoot Boards - Handcrafted Wooden Boards". Retrieved 29 January 2011.
  8. ^ "AZTRON – Technology". Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  9. ^ "Construction of an Inflatable SUP board - Nootica Webzine". Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  10. ^ Co, Red Paddle. "MSL FUSION - the future is fusion!". Red Paddle Co. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  11. ^ a b "Guide to stand up paddle boards". Retrieved 1 February 2019.>
  12. ^ "Code of Federal Regulations Title 33 Part 2(A)". e-Code of Federal Regulations. U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  13. ^ Casey, Robert (2011). Stand Up Paddling: Flatwater to Surf and Rivers. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers Books. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-59485-253-4.
  14. ^ "Myrtle Beach Laws -". City of Myrtle Beach. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  15. ^ "Local Ordinances of the City of Virginia Beach" (PDF). City of Virginia Beach. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  16. ^ "6 Essential SUP Safety Items that You Should Never Be Without". SUPconnect. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  17. ^ "A leash is a necessity not an accessory!". SUPboarder Mag. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  18. ^ "The ABC's of SUP boards with advice on choosing equipment". Archived from the original on 3 June 2013.
  19. ^ "How To Hold A SUP Paddle The Right Way • Just Paddleboard". Just Paddleboard. 30 September 2015. Retrieved 7 June 2016.

External linksEdit