What SUP?

By Gerry Lopez

Indeed, what’s up with this new craze invading the surf scene? Standup paddleboarding has landed like a typhoon. Depending on who’s asking, we can blame or applaud Laird Hamilton and Brian Keaulana for bringing the storm. Though they did introduce the longer shaft, these two outstanding watermen are far from the first people to use a paddle to propel a surfboard. Surfboards and paddles have been around a long time.

I remember a guy at Tongg’s with a canoe paddle that he used very effectively, and this was in the early 1960s. He was an older haole man who paddled on his knees until he caught the wave then stood up and used the paddle for steering. Leroy and Bobby Achoy were both very short guys, so using an outrigger canoe paddle from the standing position was not uncomfortable (and outrigger paddles in those days were big). Both were Waikiki beach boys, very skilled at canoe and tandem surfing aside from just regular surfing. Leroy would regular surf on his tandem board often and he was very good riding the huge board. On occasion, he and his brother would take a break from their beach-service business and use the canoe paddles with the tandem boards. I think they did it like this so they could wear their hats and sunglasses to paddle out for a few waves. From Popular’s, they could ride a wave all the way through Canoe Surf and back to shore, getting only their feet wet.

A few years ago, once I had been thoroughly hooked by SUP surfing, I asked the guys that had been around a lot longer than me if they remembered seeing it before. George Downing and Jimmy Pflueger both stated immediately that Scooter-Boy was the first they saw. According to them, Joseph ‘Scooter-Boy’ Kaopuiki was a masterful waterman who always was coming up with antics no one had seen before. His dog, Sandy, was the first surfing dog, and the two of them were a regular part of the Waikiki surf lineup. George said Scooter-Boy would carry his big, heavy ‘kook-box’ surfboard on his shoulder, beach-boy style, down to the water’s edge, toss it in, jump aboard and paddle out from a standing position using his feet, one foot at a time. With an outrigger canoe paddle, it was even easier. Maybe Scooter-Boy had seen it done before that, but in the 1940s and ‘50s, he was the only one doing standup paddle surfing. I wonder what he would think if he saw his beloved Waikiki breaks today?

Gerry Lopez, a Banzai Pipeline legend, grew up in East Honolulu, where he witnessed the early experimentation with standup surfing. This piece originally ran in the debut issue of SUP magazine. His book, Surf is Where You Find It, was published by Patagonia in 2008.

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