The first stand up paddle surfers emerged in Waikiki in the early 1950s, when the post-war tourism boom saw Matson cruise liners deposit thousands of thrill-hungry Americans on the beach under the shadow of Diamond Head. Naturally, they wanted to try their hand at the new sport of surfing, and there were plenty of beachboys up for the job. Duke Kahanamoku and his brothers were a bit long in the tooth by this stage, but in their wake had come a whole new generation of beachboys who lurked under the banyan trees flirting with pretty heiresses until their bosses, the concierges of the luxury hotels on the beachfront, waved them into action for the benefit of another troop of newly-arrived thrill-seekers.
There being no point in risking life and limb in the pounding breakers unless you had a photo to prove it, the beachboys were called upon not only to teach the sport but to photograph it, and the box brownie cameras of the day made that rather difficult. No one can now remember who the first was – maybe it was one of the Ah Choy brothers, Leroy or Bobby – but one of the beachboys came up with an ingenious idea. He borrowed a paddle from an outrigger captain, hung a Kodak around his neck and paddled into the break standing on his redwood hot curl board.
Inadvertently, the beachboys had invented a new style of surfing which, naturally enough, became known as “beachboy surfing”.
This went on at Waikiki right through the ‘60s and ‘70s, until even longboards got smaller and cameras became waterproof, yet no one really picked up on the fact that, with a few basic refinements of equipment, beachboy surfing could be big fun. Well, no one that is except a few beachboys like the incredible John Zabatocky, who started to surf with a paddle to take photos and soon adopted paddle surfing as his only surfing discipline. Still going strong in his 80s, John is a true pioneer of SUP, along with Bobby Ah Choy, who made the final of a SUP event in 2007, just weeks before his passing.
Early days, Hawaii.
The renaissance of SUP can probably be tracked to a long summer flat spell in 2000, when serious watermen like Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama on Maui and Brian Keaulana, Mel Pu’u and Bruce De Soto at Makaha, seized on the idea of paddling their tandem boards as fitness workouts. It didn’t take them long to realize how much fun this aspect of surfing could be. In 2004 Brian Keaulana introduced SUP as a division at his father’s famous surf event and party, Buffalo’s Big Board Classic at Makaha. It was hugely popular, got major media coverage and the seal was broken. SUP was up and running.