Stand-up paddle surfing, SUP, is one of the world’s fastest-growing water sports, which is not surprising, since it can be done anywhere there is water — rivers, lakes, oceans and even canals. Celebrities like Pierce Brosnan, Kate Hudson, Jennifer Aniston and Sting are jumping in, and crossover athletes are training hard with SUP.
The sport involves standing with one’s feet parallel on a large, buoyant surfboard, and propelling oneself along with a single-ended paddle, according to Hiroaki Sowa of Focus Surfboards, a Japanese manufactures of SUP boards.
“It’s gaining popularity in Japan, not only among surfers,” he says. “It’s about fitness and core strength, but most of all, it’s fun.”
Additionally, there are no age barriers, and no previous experience is necessary — you just need to be able to swim and be in good health.
Paddle Surfing was born in Hawaii and is a variation of surfing; indeed, SUP is also known as “beach boy” surfing. In the early 1960s, Hawaiian beach boys would stand on their long boards in Waikiki, and paddle out with outrigger paddles to take pictures of the tourists learning to surf.
The first surfer to take stand-up paddle surfing out of Hawaii and onto the mainland United States was Vietnam veteran Rick Thomas. In 2000, Thomas, improvising with an 11 ft Munoz surfboard and a modified Leleo Kinimaka outrigger paddle, introduced California to the sport.
Custom SUP boards range in price from $600 to $1,500, and are longer and thicker than the average long board from 9 feet (3 m) in length to 12 feet (4 m) or more.
“SUP boards are wider and thicker than regular surfboards, and the length helps you balance better,” Sowa says. “It really helps you to glide across the water.”
Some board designs are made for stability, which sacrifices speed, and some are made for fast maneuvering to catch big waves. At the tail of the boards, a single-twin thruster and quad fin can be made based on whether one will be training on flat water, racing or holding a line charging through a big wave.
One enthusiast quipped on a SUP blog that one could “never be too addicted” to the sport.
“I’m in Holland at the moment, and every canal I walk past, the first thing that pop’s into my head is ‘wouldn’t it be nice to SUP here’ or ‘I’d definitely need a weed fin to get through that area.’ Wouldn’t call myself too addicted at all.”
SUP, with its appealing combination of pure fun and a core body workout, is uniting the worldwide surfing and fitness communities to form one of most exciting movements in surf history.