What's SUP, Dude?

Story and photo by Lois Carol Wheatley

Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is the biggest thing to hit the surf since the Beach Boys, and you don't have to catch a wave to be sitting—or standing—on top of the world. Enthusiasts act like this is a brand new thing someone just invented, possibly the greatest thing since the iPad, when in fact it dates back more than half a century to the Polynesian islands. Circa 1960 the natives were known to paddle their surfboards out into the breakers to take photos of tourists learning to surf, and they could get a way better camera angle (and far less spray on the lens) shooting from a standing position.

The Hawaiian term for it is Ku Hoe He'e Nalu—to stand, paddle, surf a wave—which doesn't make for a pronounceable acronym (KHHN).

The beauty of this kind of surfing is that it doesn't require surf. SUPer athletes paddle on lakes, rivers, streams and channels, and with the height advantage of, in effect, walking on water, they can see deeper into the water and farther out to the horizon. For that reason it's great for exploring Southeastern North Carolina's many inlets and coves, and a couple of outfitters in the area offer lessons and tours to show you how to do that.

If you're still bent on catching a wave you can learn this SUP technique to catch multiple waves—because, as any surfer can tell you, the good ones tend to come in batches, and if you let a big one get by you're still in a prime position for the next. Also, anyone teaching traditional surfing can well appreciate this elevated vantage point that allows better oversight of students as well as a much-improved view of the breakers moving in.

If you saw the 1966 movie "Endless Summer," then you know that Honolulu is the capital of surfing, not California, Australia or East Africa as others would have you believe. Look to Waikiki not only for the perfect wave but also for the origins of all things surfing related.

The Big Kahuna

They called him Duke because, for one thing, that was his name, and for another thing that was way easier than his full name which was Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku. People tended to believe "Duke" was a title, but if that were the case they'd have called him King. He was a five-time Olympic medallist in swimming, a prominent businessman, the sheriff of Honolulu, a star of movies and television, and is generally credited with promoting and spreading the popularity of surfing throughout the world.

Those who trace SUP back to Waikiki point to Duke and some of his buddies for new and innovative uses of surfboards. In one well-publicized episode, Duke rescued eight fishermen from a capsized vessel, one at a time, using a surfboard. Now a surfboard is standard equipment for many lifeguard stands that line the continental American coasts.

He preferred a traditional board, a "papa nui" made in the tradition of the ancient "olo" boards, from the wood of the koa tree. No fiberglass went into his board of choice and it also had no fin(s), which had not yet been invented.

Duke often said you should never turn your back on the ocean. Today a larger-than-life bronze statue of the Duke stands in the heart of Waikiki, his arms outstretched to receive leis and other gifts from tourists and admirers. But somehow he's out there with his back to the ocean, a great source of amusement for the tour guide books. He died of a heart attack in 1968, at age 77.

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Terms: Paddleboarding


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