Stand Up Paddle Surfing or SUP

By Sarah Pacheco

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Stand up paddle boarding in Waikiki. Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson.

One of the best workouts in Hawaii requires you get into a bikini or surf-shorts ASAP. It’s called stand up paddle (SUP) surfing.

“I think so many people are getting into stand up because it’s infectious,” says Brian Keaulana, co-founder of C4 Waterman, a renowned company specializing in SUP surfing equipment.

Stand up surfing began on the shores of Waikiki during the 1950s as a hybrid novelty of outrigger canoe paddling and surfing. By using the canoe paddle, local “beachboys” found they were able to move with minimal effort, and so used SUP as a way to better teach tourists and take their photos by using the surfboard as a platform. They also found that the paddle could be used to help carve into turns, thus improving their maneuverability on the longboards.

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Stand up paddle boarding in Waikiki. Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson.

After the introduction of fiberglass surfboards, SUP experienced a fall from popularity. But after surfers such as Brian Keaulana, Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama, Bruce DeSoto and Mel Puu began using SUP to train their core and leg muscles for tow-in surfing, a renaissance of the sport stemmed out of pure fun.

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Stand up paddle boarding in Kihei, Maui. Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson.

As stellar as stand up paddle surfing sounds, like any workout program, there are risks involved.  Below is some advice Keaulana has picked up from years of SUP experience:

• Learn what you can do first; then, learn what you can’t. “It’s the details — how to control your equipment, how to stop, how to turn left and right — people sometimes overlook when they start out,” Keaulana says.

• Check the weather and surf conditions before deciding to go to the beach. When you stand up on a surfboard, you act as a human sail. Too-strong winds and currents or too-choppy waves spell trouble for even the most advanced surfers and swimmers out there.

• Go to an area that has relatively calm, flat water. You don’t need big waves to build up balance and stamina.

• Be respectful of your fellow surfer, swimmer or beach-goer. Keaulana’s personal rule of thumb is to allow 20 to 30 feet of distance between yourself and anyone else out on the water. If you fall, you’ll have plenty of room.

• Speaking of falling, it is inevitable that you will get thrown for a loop. But the key is falling correctly. By continually being aware of your surroundings — where you are in the ocean, how long your board and leash are, etc. — you can avoid causing serious injury to yourself or others.

• Never go out alone. Take along a buddy who is knowledgeable in water safety and CPR, and make sure your cell phone works beforehand.

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Stand up paddle boarding in Waimea River. Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson.