Stand Up Paddleboarding: A Brief History
When you see today’s sleek, highly engineered stand up paddleboards, it is easy to think of the sport as a modern addition to our means of exploring the ocean. But people have been standing up to paddle in boats and on boards for thousands of years, for a variety of reasons.
Nobody knows for sure, but researchers believe that Peruvian fishermen were probably first to stand up on their bundled-reed vessels (called caballitos de totora) more than 2,000 years ago, catching waves on their way in from fishing. There is also evidence of people in Polynesia, Africa, and China riding their traditional boats in a similar way around that time.
Then came Venice, Italy’s gondoliers (perhaps the best-known stand up paddlers), and Israel’s hasake paddlers – first fishermen, then lifeguards who used boats designed for paddling in a standing position.
The earliest photograph of modern stand up paddleboarding, as we know the sport today, is of the Hawaiian Olympic swimmer, Duke Kahanamoku, taken around 1940. He was paddling an Australian surf ski standing up. Soon after, surf instructors known as “Beach Boys” started to stand on their surfboards with paddles while giving surf lessons, making it easier for them to guide and take pictures of their clients.
The practice caught on as a way for surfers to catch waves even on days when the swell was small, and “Beach Boy Surfing” was added to a major Hawaiian surfing competition in 2004. During the early 2000s, pro-surfer Laird Hamilton was photographed paddling a tandem surfboard in Malibu, California. The photos went public and the sport quickly caught on in the United States.
Some studies have identified stand up paddleboarding as the fastest growing sport in our country, and new ways to enjoy it are being invented all the time. The rise of SUP yoga, SUP racing, SUP fishing, and more has led to new board shapes, materials, and innovations over the past decade, and it doesn’t look like things will be slowing down in the near future.
Ocean Tribe Paddlers is a club hosted by Sanibel Sea School that helps the SWFL paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit oceantribepaddlers.org or follow us on Facebook to learn more.