Paddle boarding is ubiquitous nowadays.
No matter what beach you’re at, you can always seem to find these stand up surfers cruising the smooth ocean surface.
It’s probably because the boards themselves are so diverse in their use.
They can be used for fishing, surfing, or just getting in a good workout.
So, where did these paddle boards come from and how old are they? With such a basic tool, you’d think that paddle boards would have a straightforward history.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The history of stand up paddle boarding is an elusive topic.
Historians can’t agree where exactly is the origin of this oceanic sport.
The problem is, even to call it a “sport” is to put a modern spin on the topic.
Using it for sport is something that has only been around for the last 100 years or so.
Prior to this, they had a much different look and function.
In order to give you a full scope of the history of stand up paddle boarding we have to go back in time… Way back in time.
B.C. to A.D.
Going all the way back as far 3,000 B.C., stand up paddle boards (at the time it was known as a “tup”) in Peru were used by fisherman to catch fish and conduct trade. These boards were about twelve feet long and made of reeds and were considered so unstable to ride they considered them the little horses of the sea.
Other parts of the world were also using similar technologies. Arab and Israeli people of the Mediterranean Sea were known to have been using paddling boards since 800 A.D. Other places such as Newbury, England and France were also known throughout history to use long paddle board type watercraft.
There’s also another famous watercraft that’s very similar to today’s stand up paddle board found in Italy. The gondola. With a long, skinny wooden shape, it is controlled by a standing person who has a paddle for moving and steering. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? While the modern day gondola doesn’t quite look like a surfboard, just imagine what it looked like iterations before. Evolution allowed these two watercrafts to go in two separate directions.
These predecessors wouldn’t stand up to the more modern design of the stand up paddle board, but it really does show that a good idea will be replicated throughout history.
Interested in reading about some of our favorite modern paddle boards on the market? Click to read more!
Start of the modern era
In the early twentieth century, boards in Hawaii were being developed that we would more similarly associate with the modern surfboard. It wasn’t until around the 1940’s when Duke Kahanamoku, Leroy and Bobby Ah Choy, the popular surf instructors of Hawaii, would really change the way we look at surfboards.
It’s said that as they were instructing their students and giving them tips, they would stand on their surfboards and paddle around. Every now and again they would even surf a wave while using the paddle as a way of maneuvering the board. In that moment, they didn’t know it, but they had just been the originators of one of the most defining moments in surf history. (Although it wouldn’t be for another fifty to sixty years before the sport hit the mainland and found a welcoming home in California.)
Around the same time (the early twentieth century) Tel Aviv had invented a board known as the Hassakeh. It was modeled after a board used by fisherman hundreds of years before and was wide enough (about 5 feet) to haul a stranded swimmer on board so they could be safely swam back to shore. Again this shows how this oceanic technology was as widespread as people themselves.
The modern stand up paddlers
Starting in the early 2000’s, stand up paddle boarding became all the rage along the California coast. There were four hubs which were known as the epicenters of modern paddle boarding. Santa Cruz, Malibu, San Diego, and Dana Point. Each area was led by a figurehead who led the charge in this new era. There was Bob Pearson, Laird Hamilton, Rick Thomas, and Ron House (ordered respectively). Each of these four surfers were the first to bring this experimental form to life and to give it that Cali-touch.
In as little as five years, the sport exploded into a wide array of activities. Suddenly people weren’t just surfing on these boards. They were out there fishing, racing, touring rivers and lakes. Previously unexplored areas were being rethought of as stand up paddle boarding spots. It was an incredibly attractive sport that attracted a diverse population to the ocean. Having such a huge board under your feet, it was thought of as the any-man’s board, because by the end of one day anybody could be a balancing pro and ready to take on the waves.
Today we have stand up paddle board yoga
Now the year is 2019 and stand up paddle boarding feels like it’s just always been a part of our surf culture. The options for what a paddle board can be used for seem limitless.
There are even yoga classes you can attend that take place out on calm waters on a paddle board.
It’s an incredibly meditative experience, balancing on the water and it just goes to show how tools advance in our civilization.
While there is no definitive history to the stand up paddle board, you can see that it has a rich and diverse history. Sometimes the stand up paddle board could be considered a boat, sometimes a gondola, it’s really up to the observer of history. But it’s important to note that the act of paddle boarding has been used all around the world throughout the history of time. Whether it was used for transportation, fishing, or trade between islands, the paddle board was clearly a useful tool to humanity. And still today, touring, surfing, and fishing are all common activities associated with the paddle board.
For some reason (and maybe it’s because this writer is a surfer at heart) even in those early days before the “sport” was invented, I can’t help but imagine the rush of riding in a good sized wave was the same then as it is now. There’s just something magical to being part of the ocean’s current… Aloha and arrivederci!