Origins of a Species: Building the First Downwind Standup Paddleboards
Hawaii's Todd Bradley, one of the world's most accomplished all-craft paddlers and co-founder of C4 Waterman, knows a little something about the history of downwind boards—he helped make some of the very first ones, circa 2004. Here, he tells us the creation story. – Sam George
"After years of doing the Hawaii Kai run [Oahu's premiere downwind stretch] in canoes, OC1 and on [prone] paddleboards, it just seemed natural to try to do it standup paddling. The first time Brian [Keaulana] and I did it we used these big tandem boards on a super windy day and even though we were able to catch a few swells and ride them, it was a long paddle. So I tried it again on an old racing sailboard, a 12-footer, and that was a lot better. That's when I decided to make a standup board just for downwind runs. I got a big blank and along with shaper Mark Jackola, built the very first one, sort of a hybrid paddleboard/canoe thing. It didn't look very pretty but I took it on a Hawaii Kai run and it was frickin' amazing—so much fun! I got home and called Brian and Dave [Parmenter] and said 'This is the future of standup paddling!' It wasn't about racing—no one had even thought about racing yet—it was all about surfing then. And you could surf for ten miles! So Dave got involved in shaping the first series, working off some of my ideas, talking about the lines I was looking for. He made three—one for each of us. At 14 feet and 27 inches wide, they were pretty narrow and had a lot of entry rocker but remember, we weren't thinking about different conditions or flatwater racing; we just wanted to go fast and catch bumps and actually surf the waves. And man, after the first Hawaii Kai run on those boards the light just went on. Even the OC1 guys were going, 'Wow, this thing has really evolved. You guys are going pretty quick.' And it did evolve from there, just making them faster and faster. If you look at the boards today, downwind boards especially, they haven't changed all that much from those first three. I've still got mine in my garage, and a friend in Malibu ended up with one of them. And you know, he could probably take that thing out on a windy day and just fly."
This article was originally published in our 2016 Summer Issue.
Check out our reviews on some modern downwind shapes in our Gear section.