The History of Paddleboarding

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The History of Paddleboarding

The origins of stand up paddleboarding are not clearly defined. The sport bears a resemblance to a variety of activities throughout the history of the world. It has drawn a significant amount of interest in more recent times, gaining in popularity during the start of the 2000s.

Here at F-One, we are passionate about paddleboarding, and have pulled together its most defining moments in history! Take a look at our timeline to discover more about this ever-popular sport and the legends who made it recognisable today!

Original Origins

The initial creation of stand up paddleboarding is a grey area as it holds a resemblance to various sports and activities throughout the world over the course of history. 

Many forms of activity that are comparative to the stand up paddleboard were not necessarily used purely for leisure and exercise, but, in fact, had practical purposes for their innovation.

Take a look at a few examples found in different cultures across the globe:


It is known that in Africa, warriors would fashion ‘dugout canoes’ to enter the territory of their enemies when in water-logged areas. Spears would be used as a type of paddle to push the canoe along the water.

Peru: “Caballitos de Totora”

The “Caballitos de Totora” was a floating creation produced by fishermen in Peru, dating back to roughly 3,000 years ago. The device was made from reeds and was renowned for its unstable nature. Many users likened it to trying to ride a horse! An elongated bamboo shaft was used as a paddle, and when returning to shore, the fishermen would ride in their board and surf to land.

Some may argue that this is where the original sport of surfing itself was born!

Person with paddleboard stood near the shore, with trees in background.


It is definitely worth mentioning surfing when discussing stand up paddleboarding!

In general, the origins of surfing are supposedly connect to Polynesia. A man named Captain James Cook (you may have heard of him) first saw people off the coast of Hawaii surfing the waves back in 1778.

Surfboards, named “He’e nalu” in Hawaii, were crafted from the Koa tree or carved out of canoes.

The general rule was the chief of the village was privileged with the largest board. This was usually around five metres in length. Other budding surfers would use boards that were around two or three metres in length.

As you can imagine, these boards were inevitably large and heavy, so for bigger swells, a paddle would be used to assist the surfers into the stronger waves.

Beach in Hawaii.


This has been identified as the key time for stand up paddleboarding. During this year, paddleboarding was recognised as a sport thanks to a couple of guys also from Hawaii!

Duke Kahanamoku

Paddleboarding was essentially put on the map due to the skill and enthusiasm of the sporting legend Duke Kahanamoku.

First spotted at Waikiki Beach, Kahanamoku was seen and filmed using a wooden paddle to manoeuvre his board and is referred to as the first ‘documented’ recording of a surfer with a paddle.

Known to be experimental and pioneering in his own surfing, Kahanamoku was always trying to improve his experience in the sea.

Bobby AhChoy

A friend of Kahanamoku’s, Bobby AhChoy suffered a car accident which meant he could no longer swim and was advised to try the paddle and board technique by Kahanamoku himself.

SUP World Magazine has reported that AyChoy would regularly paddle out to the line-up with his camera to capture action shots of surfers as well as offering advice and tips to guide surfers onto waves!

An incredible photo by the British surfer James Davis from the 1980s captures AhChoy in action, wearing a builder’s hat as well as knee pads in the water. What a character he must have been.

John Zapotocky

Keeping the sport alive, AhChoy went on to share his enthusiasm for paddleboarding with John Zapotocky.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Zapotocky visited Hawaii in 1940 and never looked back after dedicating his life to ocean sports.

Many would call him Zap, and he became a famous icon in the area due to his passion for water sports. He was an athlete and was well experienced in not only paddleboarding but diving, swimming and canoeing. He passed in 2013, at the impressive age of 95 and was said to have paddled every day until his passing.

Today, he is referred to as ‘The Father of SUP’.

The Influence of Laird Hamilton

In more recent decades, paddleboarding has been associated with the experimental, big wave surfer, Laird Hamilton.

During the 1990s, Hamilton used paddleboarding to help him gain speed for riding into stronger and bigger waves. He was also responsible for the big-wave tow-pout surfing trend which is a technique which supports big wave surfers today!

It is understood that due to Hamilton’s well-known position in the surf world, recognition of the sport has grown from his enthusiasm in terms of global popularity and is pretty much the reason why more people know about it today.

A man stood at the end of a paddleboard with paddle in hand, surfing a wave.

The Heyday of Paddle Boarding

By 2009, paddle boarding was known to be the ‘fastest-growing paddle sport’. With an increase of interest, boards are developed with the aim of being stronger, more flexible and slimmer for enhanced speed each year. Covering all basis, with the idea of improving transportation, inflatable SUP boards are an example of more recent inventions to enhance practicality and accessibility to the sport!

Hopefully, our article has sparked a new interest in the sport, if it doesn’t exist already! Take a look at our Intro to SUP and Surf Foiling for further information!

Are there any other sports you feel relate to stand up paddleboarding? What can you share about the sport? We would love to hear from you on our social media channels!

Other articles which you may be interested in:

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