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SUP rules Hawaii. Photo: Ryan Foley

Field Notes: Why SUP Rules Hawaii

Standup paddling is one of the oldest activities on water, and its roots in Hawaiian culture date back as far as the history books will take you. There's good reason for that.

The standup is the most versatile tool in the waterman's arsenal, and Hawaii is a waterman's ultimate arena. It boils down to this: If you were stranded on an island, susceptible to heavy doses of open-ocean wind, swell and flatwater and you could only bring one toy, what toy would you bring?

The locals know the realities of living in the middle of the Pacific well, and for mainlanders who venture across the ocean with visions of perfect waves in pristine conditions, it's a reality check. Hawaii is not always what photos make it out to be. Sure, it's home to world-class waves and the seven-mile miracle when conditions are on, but it's equally home to world-class winds, often onshore and sometimes down days with little swell or wind at all. We’ve been witnessing it all week as we’ve sat tight waiting for the start of the Sunset Beach Pro.

Legendary figures like Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama, Kainoa McGee and other unsung paddlers have proven time and time again: SUP is as optimal a craft as any to match the massive swells that clobber the Hawaiian shoreline. Some argue it's the best. But how about when the wind's coming strong out of the North and the “Seven-Mile Miracle” is blown out from V-land to Haleiwa? Are you going to make the hour-long trek to the east side to check for waves? And what if there aren't any? Break out the paddle, harness that wind and ride it into the sunset like the dark horse that your sport represents.

In line with downwinding, Hawaii also offers distance paddling between islands, an athletic endeavor most don’t attempt prone, or at all. Maui is a breeding ground for distance racers, from older guys like Jeremy Riggs to young champions like Connor Baxter and Kai Lenny. What better way to earn your waterman stripes than to paddle from Maui to Molokai or Molokai to Oahu?

And then there’s the fishing, the small-wave riding or even just cruising. Whatever ocean condition—and Hawaii has them all—a standup is a great tool for each.

We're not necessarily "stranded" on an island, but we know which toy we'd choose if we were.

Check back with for onsite contest coverage, and stay posted for more insight from the North Shore.