With the SUP Awards upon us once again, we recently found ourselves reflecting back upon the years gone by. Seven years of recognizing the best and brightest in the standup paddling industry — from the legendary names that shaped our sport’s origins, to those ordinary paddlers who accomplished extraordinary expeditions. And while there are countless SUP Awards moments etched into our brains for years to come, we figured we’d revisit a few of our favorites. After joining us on our trip down memory lane, don’t forget to help write the latest chapter of SUP Awards history by voting for your favorite paddlers for the 2018. VOTE NOW!

17-Year-Old Grom (Connor Baxter) Steals the Show at Inaugural Party

A young Baxter receives his first Male Paddler of the Year Award at the Inaugural SUP Awards in 2011. Photo: Rob Zaleski

Nearly eight years ago, the SUP Awards were born inside of the historic San Clemente casino in Southern California. The goal was simple: gather the world’s best standup paddlers together for a night to both celebration and pay homage to their incredible achievements. The guest list was filled with legendary names like Gerry Lopez, Jamie Mitchell, Chuck Patterson and many others. However, the buzz from this raucous night came not just from the libations, but from the kid who wouldn’t be old enough to enjoy them for another four years. 17-year-old Connor Baxter took home the very first SUP Award for Top Male Paddler of the Year and while he didn’t know it then, he would go on to win the award four more times, including taking the honor last year.

"My legs are shaking," Baxter nervously uttered while accepting the award. "I'm stoked to see everyone here; it's a real honor. But it's weird to see everyone so dressed up."

Mother Accepts Her Late Daughter’s SUP Award for Expedition of the Year 

Michele Baldwin’s mother, Ruth, accepting her late daughter’s SUP Award for Expedition of the Year.

While most moments at the SUP Awards are lighthearted and filled with lots of laughs and smiles. Others were more powerful and pulled at our heart strings. But perhaps no moment in SUP Awards history compares to what unfolded in 2012. Earlier that year, Michele Baldwin had completed a 700-mile SUP pilgrimage down the holy Ganges River. While this would be an impressive accomplishment by itself, Baldwin completed the entire journey while battling stage 4 terminal cervical cancer. While she passed away shortly after returning home, she won a posthumous SUP Award for Top Expedition of the Year. The award was accepted on her behalf by Michele’s mother, Ruth, who made an emotional speech about the power of standup paddling.

"Michele's goal was not just to be a person doing this, but to raise awareness," said Ruth Frazier. "It was a sacred pilgrimage. Your sport allowed her to prepare to die.”

Legendary Waterman Laird Hamilton Wins Lifetime Achievement Award 

The myth, the man, the legend: Laird.

One of our favorite parts about SUP Awards is that it provides an opportunity for paddlers of all different backgrounds to mingle. Ordinary paddlers, aspiring groms and paddling royalty all rub shoulders for one special night dedicated to our favorite sport. But arguably no paddler has been as instrumental for the growth of standup paddling as legendary waterman, Laird Hamilton. In 2013, the SUP Awards honored its most famous athlete by presenting Hamilton with a Lifetime Achievement award for his pivotal role in the pioneering and promotion of the sport.

"The energy in this room is what drives the sport," Hamilton told the packed house.

Transatlantic Paddler Chris Bertish’s Rousing Speech Last Year

The man who crossed an ocean via SUP shares some words of wisdom with the SUP Awards audience. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

While standup paddling is still a fairly new sport, the incredible feats that paddlers have accomplished during its brief history are incredible. Legendary expeditionaries like Bart de Zwart — who is nominated for a SUP Award this year — paved the way with unthinkable feats of paddling endurance and bravery. But there has never been anything comparable to what Chris Bertish accomplished in 2017. The South African completed a 93-day, 4050-mile crossing of the Atlantic Ocean via standup paddleboard. Needless to say, the journey earned Bertish national news coverage and a SUP Award for Expedition of the Year. Bertish was on-hand to receive the award and gave a rousing speech about overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges.

“It's not what I did that was important, it was why I did it that was important,” said Bertish. "For 93 days I paddled across the Atlantic. We all have our own oceans to cross and they feel too big and insurmountable. How do we achieve them? One stroke at a time. Just focus on what's in front of you and stay focused. If you never give up, you can overcome any challenge, even the seemingly impossible."

Vote for your favorite paddler in the 2018 SUP Awards!