Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has taken the country, and much of the world, by storm. It’s become an immensely popular water activity that seems to have cropped up overnight. Suddenly, people are scouring review sites like iSUPReviews.com to find the perfect equipment for their new paddleboarding passion. But, where did this sport come from? What’s behind its surge in popularity? The truth is, it’s not a new sport at all; however, it is rapidly becoming a favorite way to spend a few hours on the water. Here’s the background on SUP madness.
Historians believe that SUP has its roots in Hawaiian culture when in the 18th century, Native Hawaiians would use a paddleboard and paddle to travel along the Pacific Ocean from island to island. Of course, the paddleboards used in the 1700s bear little resemblance to those of today. Sport-specific paddle boards came into existence in the mid-20th century when they caught on with Hawaiian surfers in the 1960s. Even those boards, though, were fairly primitive. The earliest models were made of wood, but now, they’re made of various high-quality materials such as rubber (inflatables), fiberglass, and PVC plastic, among others. Also, check out the best onboard marine battery charger.
In 2000, a Native Hawaiian and avid surfer, Rick Thomas, introduced standup paddleboarding to mainland America and the rest, as we say, is history. SUP took off from there, starting on the coast of California and rapidly spreading eastward. When pro surfers such as Dave Kalama and Laird Hamilton promoted the sport, even more people took up the paddle.
The sport has grown rapidly in the U.S., increasing from an estimated 1.15 million participants in 2011 to approximately 3.68 million in 2020. On any given weekend in the summer (and often in the spring and fall as well), you’re sure to see local lakes and ponds saturated with standup paddleboarders. It’s also popular in ocean waters, particularly where the waves are smaller and the water calmer. There are even boards specifically made for ocean paddleboarding.
Reasons Behind the Rise of SUP Popularity
Whenever a relatively unknown sport rises to the mainstream consciousness, it’s fascinating to look at what prompted the sudden obsession with it, particularly when the sport has been practiced by a certain segment of the population for hundreds of years. In this case, with SUP, it appears three factors are underlying its meteoric trajectory from an isolated cultural mode of transportation to an established water sport.
It’s Easy to Learn
People tend to have short attention spans and if they don’t catch on to a sport or activity quickly, they’ll move on to something else. SUP’s cousin, surfing, can take days and weeks to learn just how to stand up on the board. It might be years before you’re any good at it. SUP can be learned in an hour, and while there is a learning curve, you’ll master it fairly soon after your first lesson. You don’t even need a lesson to get started with SUP. Begin by kneeling on the board and only stand up when you feel your balance is right.
Kids and adults of all ages can participate in the sport from day one, which means it’s an excellent activity for families to participate in together. Even moms and dads who aren’t sure about trying a “kid’s” sport like surfing will usually end up loving SUP, mostly because they get the hang of it fast.
You Don’t Have to Be an Athlete
With many sports, surfing included, you have to have at least some athletic ability and be in fairly good physical shape to enjoy your participation. For example, if you are out of shape, running up and down the basketball court isn’t going to be much fun. With SUP, though, you don’t have to be in shape at all to begin participating in the sport. It can be tailored to meet your current fitness level and altered as you improve.
Paddleboarding is an excellent exercise, so it won’t be long before you’re ready to take it to another level. It will strengthen your core, which automatically improves your balance, something everyone can use as they get older. By the time you’ve regularly practiced SUP for a year or so, you might be ready to try other sports as well.
No Need to Wait for Big Waves
SUP can be done on the water of any time, from lakes and ponds to rivers and oceans. This means you don’t have to wait for specific conditions to get your paddleboard on the water. With surfing, you have to schedule your sessions around high and low tides so that you can take advantage of the waves. Also, you have to be located near the ocean to become a surfer, but with SUP, you can paddleboard on any body of water.
It’s a good idea to try SUP for the first time in calm waters before attempting to paddle down a river or negotiate waves. It won’t take long before you’re raring to try some more challenging water conditions, but the nice thing is, you don’t have to progress to river or ocean SUP if you don’t want to. Recreational SUP participants are happy just paddling in calm lakes and ponds, and in fact, they prefer the peace and solitude they get while floating along the surface.
People have been participating in some form of SUP for over two hundred years, but now it’s taking on a life of its own. If you haven’t tried it yet, check out some articles that offer advice for beginners before heading out, but you don’t need to prepare a whole lot for your first time out. You’ll find SUP rentals at or nearby most commercial lakes so that you don’t have to invest in equipment until you’re sure you’re going to enjoy the activity. But, if you’re anything like the 3.6 million people who spent time paddle boarding in 2020, you’ll be looking at those SUP reviews for your gear before you know it!