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Surfing History by Chris Ahrens

Posted on October 22, 2014

A Short History of Surfing

Surf history is an expansive, cloudy subject that quickly fades from HD video, to dull black and white images into a hazy world of folklore with few definitive statements. The following words are distilled from numerous books and magazines, but mostly they are secondhand stories and firsthand observations from over half a century of surfing.

The oldest surf story known dates back around 500 years and concerns the Maui chiefess Kelea. I never even knew her name until recently, but it was another woman, born centuries later that would ignite my generation as Gidget led me and millions of other boomers to the waves in 1959.

Initially surfing for me was a counterpunch to the overwhelming stimulus of a new sport, a new sound, and a life I never even suspected existed. By the time I entered high school I was obsessed with riding every break in California, and soon expanded my dreams to include the world when Bruce Brown became my travel agent.   I must have been in the sun too long, because I was blind to a history far older and richer than any American sport. To my arrogant mind my peers and I had discovered real surfing, and all who preceded us were essentially kooks. The idea of learning surf history in my youth was about as appealing as learning ancient history from a schoolbook. My world revolved around all the fun I could squeeze from the newly invented foam surfboard.

The Beach Boys may not have all been surfers, and they often seemed to miss the biggest set waves of youth culture, but they were dead right when they sang, “Catch a wave and you’re sittin’ on top of the world.” If you’ve ever surfed, you realize they nailed it.
Still, neither they or even the great Dick Dale could point the way out of the barrel, and it would be decades before I realized that surfing was far older than what my father and his surf buddies did on wooden planks at Santa Monica in the 1930s. Even that seemed almost like a different sport to the turns, cutbacks and noserides my generation was practicing. 

When I finally did attempt tracing surfing’s origins everything evaporated into a world beyond film and even written language. Still, in time I came to believe that surfing was as natural as falling off a log and that the first humans probably paddled those logs out to sea and enjoyed the rush of being pushed back to shore by whitewater. If that is so, which it likely is, surfing is actually as old as humanity itself. While this is mere speculation on my part actual proof of surfing’s antiquity exists in 4,000-year-old carvings from Chan chan, Peru, where it is believed people from that country sailed to Tahiti to become the island’s first settlers. It I also fairly certain that the ancestors of these Tahitians found their way to Hawaii and were among the first to ride the perfect waves that would make Hawaiian surfing a natural and national pastime.  While the aforementioned story of Kelea is mythical, many historians believe that men and women surfed in equal numbers in ancient Hawaii. When surfing was revived in the early 1900s, however, it returned as a Western activity, compete with Western ideas of sexism in sports, something that essentially relegated woman to the shore until fairly recently.  Because of this modern surfing was raised by single parent Duke Kahanamoku with no idea of who its mother was. As an Olympic star the Duke was able to spread the word about surfing far beyond his Island home. Thankfully by Duke’s time we had good cameras and sharp pencils to record surfing.

When I finally grew up and became interested surf history I went back about century beyond my time, until I faced a few scant paragraphs penned by non-surfers, empty pages and contradictory facts. My frustration had about peeked until one evening in the early ‘90s. I rose from dinner at a restaurant in Waikiki to admire one of Duke’s wooden boards, wondering about that sturdy vehicle when I was jarred awake by a familiar voice. Turning around I was greeted by Duke’s star pupil, Rabbit Kekai. Rabbit motioned toward Diamond Head while offering a living history lesson that surpassed all the surf books I’d ever read. “This board used to be solid wood and weighed over a hundred pounds,” said Rabbit, rapping it with his knuckles, revealing a hollow sound. After it was hollowed out it only weighed about 75 pounds. That’s when I won the Diamond Head paddle race on it. I can still remember returning to shore with Duke standing right there in the sand, cheering me on.” With that, Kekai walked on to join his dinner companions, never realizing that his few words forever turned a tattered sketch from the past into a 3-D feature film as I visualized a robust and youthful Duke Kahanamoku sliding for over a mile on this very board as a child called Rabbit awaited his turn in the shore break.  It’s possible Rabbit was riding that very board in a 1930s newsreel of him surfing Waikiki, weaving through a pack of stationary riders, frozen on their “logs.” Rabbit, who has surfed for around 90 years, influenced everybody who ever saw him, including all of the kids who rode his wake at his home break, Queen’s. Premier among that ‘50s crew were Donald Takayama, Paul Strauch and Joey Cabell. They in turn influenced the next generation of Queen’s surfers, including noseriding king David Nuuhiwa, Pipe Master Gerry Lopez and power broker, Barry Kaniaupuni. 
Next up were Larry Bertlemann and Montgomery “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani, whose low rotational styles proved directly influential to today’s top surfers. Using shorter boards than most anyone in the mid ‘70s, Bert and Buttons pushed their boards deeper onto the rail and further up the face than ever before, launching into previously impossible moves like 360 degree turns.

It was around this time that surfers who had been bred in the relatively isolated outpost of Australia arrived on Oahu’s North Shore to begin a competitive dominance that has yet to wane. The Aussies may not have been superior surfers to the Hawaiians, but they were far more seasoned competitors to surfers who traditionally took a much more relaxed approach to wave riding. Where the surf media sold the mantra “Rip, tear, lacerate,” Hawaiians and to a lesser degree Californians were generally more concerned with the art of soulful flow. And while the newcomers did take away most of the hardware in the ‘70s, one still has to wonder if the results would have varied if the new Hawaiians had been raised in a more competitive environment.

One of the biggest inventions in the surfing world more resembled a toy than a surfboard. The Morey Boogie, which was developed solely by Tom Morey in the early ‘70s featured the first soft materials and zero learning curve. Because of this and it’s low price, the Boogie has probably brought introduced more people to waves than any single device in history. The Boogie also led to the development of the full-sized soft surfboard when Morey and legendary surfer Mike Doyle collaborated on a board that would eventually become the prototype of today’s department store, entry-level surfboard, which now speckles most lineups.

When pro surfing was launched in the mid 1970s California pearled on takeoff, and went from the top of the heap in the ‘60s, to a competitive joke, Except for the women’s divisions initially dominated by Margo Oberg, few U.S. males ranked anywhere near the top. Of course were numerous world-class surfers in the Golden State, but most of them were riding boards in the ‘7’6” range, while the average Australian surf star was riding something a full foot shorter. Also, U.S. surfers generally lacked contest experience in a time and place when competitive surfing was nearly considered counter revolutionary. It got so bad that by the time the Australian backed Stubbies contest was held at Black’s Beach in 1979, anti contest forces had torched the porta potties, and there was a sniper was stationed on the cliff with a 22 caliber rifle, apparently ready to fire some warning shots (I’m giving him he benefit of the doubt here) at contestants before Newport competitor Lenny Foster boldly disarmed him.

Undeterred by the naysayers, surfers came in droves from as far north as Santa Cruz where Richard Schmidt and Vince Collier represented the new wave, and a young Dave Parmenter proved there were hot surfers in the nearly unknown Central Coast town of Cayucos. Surfers from Santa Barbara, Orange, LA and San Diego Counties came together for the first time in ages, as California surfers again proved themselves worthy of center stage. But it would require Australian surfer stars Peter Townend and Ian Cairns to really rev up the competitive machine in the U.S. as they took charge of the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) and helped train a new crew of future pros, not the least of which was then future multiple World Champion, Santa Barbara’s Tom Curren. Internationally, mid eighties surfing was dominated by Curren in California, while fellow Californian Joey Buran managed to crack the top 16 a few times. Hawaiians Dane Kealoha and Johnny Boy Gomes ruled Backdoor Pipeline while Australia’s Tom Carroll demolished Pipe, until his countryman, Mark Occhilupo, upstaged him. South Africa’s Martin Potter ripped into a world title, and while not as famous as some on the list, his influence would prove profound in Southern California where Matt Archbold, Dino Andino and Christian Fletcher followed him into the sky. Meanwhile, the surfer who many consider the father of aerial surfing, Kevin Reed, was flying above the crowd in wilderness locations north of Santa Cruz.

The nineties were a parade for the ages as longboards returned in force, making smaller waves more accessible. Some of the longboarders from the ‘60s like Nat Young, David Nuuhiwa, Herbie Fletcher and Dale Dobson dusted off their acts while a pre-teen Joel Tudor took notes from ‘60s surf movies, and began a sort of Karaoke of Nuuhiwa at first, until Tudor had eventually polished his act and beaten the old masters at the game they had taught him. It all came down one day at an Oceanside Longboard Club Contest where 13-year-old Joel put his legendary audience on alert with his turns, cutbacks, precocious style and brilliant noseriding. There were others in the mix too, but most of them were riding long tri fins in a progressive fashion. And so it was Joel’s nearly solitary act that gave young surfers permission to sneak back in time and ride boards their parents had stashed in the rafters more than decade earlier.

Perhaps even more surprising than Tudor’s debut, was the East Coast invasion where a place not known for its waves, Florida, would eventually produce the top competitive surfers in the world. Amazingly world champions Frieda Zamba, Lisa Anderson, CJ Hobgood and history’s most dominant competitor and arguably greatest surfer, Kelly Slater, were among them.  But surfing’s family tree was splintering by the Slater era, with Kelly being the newest growth on the performance branch while the longboarding Tudor on a heavy longboard, and then Laird Hamilton on a board with a paddle, went the other way. Stand Up Paddling (SUP) fueled a debate in surfing as hot as the issue of gun control among the general population. There is not enough room here to discuss the conflict, but it could be summed up by saying that opponents see SUPs as offering their riders an unfair wave catching advantage, while proponents see them as an evolutionary inevitability and something offering the freedom to ride whatever they like in the lineup. While this conflict would normally work itself out as experienced SUP riders yielded way to those with an obvious paddle disadvantage, the SUP has proven a feeder pond to inland masses who arrive on the coast without the slightest idea of a millennia of surf etiquette. Now, the buzz of motorized surfboards can be heard as it is every decade or so, something that if they catch on could turn a spark of discontent into a forest fire.

All vehicles have their place in the ocean, but some might be best used beyond already crowded lineups where they can enjoy the vast resources of an ocean big enough to accommodate anyone on anything. Competitively speaking that brings us to the present where Slater remains in the hunt for his 12th World title. But there’s so much more going on than what brilliant Aussie goofyfoot Wayne Lynch once termed “Gaudy Metal and Ego Trips.” Surfing for the average rider has been radically altered by the consistent refinement of wetsuits, the introduction of shaping machines, molded boards and discount stores selling surfboards for a hundred bucks. What were once secrets are now blurted out around the world after being well documented by video cams and wave-hungry explorers. Surf brands appear in department store windows in Omaha. And yet even with all this pressure on a limited resource clued in surfers can still find a few waves alone from time to time.

"Don’t hog all those darned waves."
Duke Kahanamoku

Surfing has never been so popular or so diverse as it is now, with women claiming their rightful place in the lineup, SUPs making their stand, longboards filling in the gaps on small days, tow ins taking Everest sized drops, kids carving harder and blasting higher than ever, and alternative wave craft via the Alaia and the Paipo returning us to our roots while we race forward at the same time, on smaller, lighter surfboards.

These are exciting times in surfing, with great challenges and opportunities. My hope is that we all learn to share our precious, delicate and limited resource, and that artificial waves and artificial reefs open up endless gardens of delights for us, our children, and our children’s children. I further hope that we cease battling each other, and unite against our true enemies, the polluters. Surfing is a gift as old as humanity and as new as John John Florence’s future great, great grandchildren, who will someday discover surfing for themselves and feel like the first ones to be “sittin’ on top of the world.”

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Skateboarding History by Chris Ahrens

Posted on October 14, 2014

A Short History of Skateboarding

For years there had been “flexi flyers,” which were basically sleds mounted on four wheels. There were also four-wheeled boards with wooden handles attached to them. But there is no record of anyone riding an actual skateboard prior to 1950.

The first recollection I can find of anyone seeing a skateboard comes from La Jolla surf legends John Dahl and Carl Ekstrom in around 1950. The boards consisted of steel wheels on a wooden plank, made by then popular La Jolla surfboard builder Peter Parkin. As a kid Ekstrom recalls making his own version of Parkin’s board, and bombing hills throughout the city with his friends, before helping introduce the latest diversion from boredom to young surfers in Los Angeles. Dahl, meanwhile, formed a gang of skaters, whose symbol was a gold-capped seal tooth worn around the neck, striking four-wheeled fear into the local citizenry by risking their necks on the city streets.
Once the device hit the nation’s media center, Los Angeles, it didn’t take long for kids across the country to follow the leaders, rip apart their metal-wheeled roller skates and hammer them onto two by fours.

Skateboarding remained primarily an underground activity from then until 1962 when LA lifeguard Larry Stevenson introduced Makaha Skateboards to the general public. As often as not skateboarding was then called “sidewalk surfin’ ”. The new sport imitated surfing right down to its new anthem, from a melody lifted from the Beach Boy’s hit “Catch a Wave” and repackaged as “Sidewalk Surfin’ by surf music duet, Jan & Dean who in 1964 sang Grab your board and go sidewalk surfin’ with me…
Skateboarders soon ditched metal wheels, adapted clay roller skate wheels and began venturing into better tricks and steeper terrain. Leaders of the Makaha pack Bruce Logan, Woody Woodward, Danny Bearer, Torger Johnson and Greg Carroll quickly rolled to national fame.

While clay was fine for smoothly groomed roller rinks, it was too hard for the coming thrill of vertical riding, or rough streets, where a single pebble could mean a broken arm. As it would several times in subsequent decades, skateboarding went out of favor for a time, and died. Makaha folded, only to return when the sport did again, in 1969. That’s when Stevenson upped the game through the invention of the first kicktail on a skateboard.
Bruce Logan, who had yet to experience a growth spurt, had graduated high school at a height of 4’11” and was training to be a jockey. Stevenson easily lured Bruce away from horses and back to his first love, and hired him as his number-one test pilot. It was then Bruce put together the world’s top skate team for the time, which included younger brother, Brad, Ty “Mister Incredible” Page and Rusty Henderson. The team did various department store demonstrations around the country to stunned audiences who had never before seen tricks like Bruce’s “space walk,” or “headstand spinner,” and skateboarding made its biggest wave yet when the Makaha Team appeared on Johnny Carson.

Skateboarding again fell out of popularity, but came rocketing back in the early ‘70s, in part because of the addition of urethane wheels and press-in precision bearings. By 1973 the Logan family, then called “The First Family of Skateboarding” and including mother, Barbara (who ran the show with her eldest son, Brian), World Champions, Bruce and sister Robin, world-class skateboarders Brad and Brian founded the world’s most popular skateboarding company, Logan Earth Ski. Aside from the Logan family, Earth Ski riders would eventually include Hall of Famers Dogtowners Jay Adams, Tony Alva.  While there were far fewer girls skating in the ‘70s, they were well represented with Laura Thornhill, Ellen Berryman, Kim Cepedes, Ellen O’Neil and a smattering of others.

Logan and Page ruled the freestyle world, vertical skating, but that style of skating was about to be eclipsed by a more vertical style made possible by urethane wheels. It was then, in the mid to late ‘70s that skateboarders first began launching beyond empty swimming pools, into the air. The aerial proved significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it was eventually borrowed by surfing. This allowed skateboarding to repay its debt to its big brother and, for the first time, assume its own identity.
Aside from Logan other skate teams like Bain were quick off the line and ripped into the act with stellar teams. But when times got hard and Bain and the Z-boyz found themselves looking for a home, Logan took up much of the slack, leaving Stacy Peralta to Gordon & Smith, to join a powerful team that included the original surf/skaters, Skip Frye, Mike Hynson. A few years later Joe Roper joined the crew, along with Doug “Pineapple” Saladino, Steve Cathy, Chris Miller, Neil Blender, Dennis Martinez, Henry Hester and Laura Thornhill, among others. Like Bain before them, G&S employed fiberglass in their boards, but when they introduced Fiberflex to the street, downhill skating began to resemble skiing with a liveliness never before achieved.

Another major shift for skating occurred in 1978 when Florida’s Alan Gefland introduced the Ollie, a move that opened up the skate world to endless performance possibilities. Around that time one of the skate stars from the early ‘70s, Stacy Peralta joined forces with George Powell to form Powell/Peralta, which gave birth the Bones Brigade. Gelfand was Peralta’s first recruit, followed by Mike McGill, who would go on to invent the 540 aerial or "McTwist" in 1984. Other members of the team included future skate legends Lance Mountain, Tony Hawk, Steve Caballerro and freestyle genius, Rodney Mullen. While the number of great skaters during the 1980s is too numerous to mention here, it was Tony Hawk and Christian Hosoi who basically dominated the era. Where the relatively clean-cut Hawk could be compared to an Olympic athlete, Hosoi had all the swagger and vices of a major rock star. During their peak years, most fans were either for Hawk or Hosoi. The division could be seen right down to the trucks you use: Independent for Hosoi and his followers, and Tracker for Hawk and his crew. The differences also reflected in the skate mags, with TransWorld Skateboarding pouring more ink into Hawk, while Thrasher tended to side more with Hosoi. 

For years the battles raged as Hawk reaching deep to invent new tricks nearly weekly, while Hosoi continued to hammer out the soulful basics, flying higher and with more power and style than any skater previously had. The rift became complete when Hosoi missed the first X Games 1995, and Hawk went on to win the comp. Turns out Hosoi was hiding from the law in Japan at the time, after a decade’s long addiction to drugs finally got the better of him. It would be years on the run before Hosoi was finally arrested in 2000 for transporting crystal methamphetamine across state lines, and serving five years, during which time he did the most radical turn of his life, surprising the world by turning to faith in God, a change that would eventually lead to his becoming an associate pastor with another radical skater turned pastor, “Alabami” Jay Haizlip. 

Skateboarding is now a legitimate sport with some top pros making far more than the average bank president. Skateboards are used around the world by young and old, as many of the greats from the past forgot to quit riding and skaters like David Hackett, Rodney Mullen, Tony Magnusson, Eddie Elguera, Jay Adams (RIP), Steve Olson, Steve Caballero ,Tony Hawk, Christian Hosoi and Tony Alva continue to rip well into middle age. 

The styles they invented are still relevant, but new-school skaters are doing things they never dreamed of, like Danny Way with his super ramp that offers heights dwarfing even Hosoi’s greatest achievements. In 2005, Way’s comfort at great heights led to the most radical leap forward ever when he vaulted the Great Wall of China. Another red-letter day for skateboarding occurred when Tony Hawk landed the first 900-degree turn, after 10 attempts at the 1999 X-Games. Making the feat more impressive was his being over 30-years-old at the time. While 30 is no longer the outer limits of performance skating, back then most skaters had put their boards aside to pursue their fortunes, something that has proven ironic since Hawk’s fortune has been make through skateboarding and his net worth exceeds 100 million dollars. Other skateboarders to make the millionaire’s club include Tony Alva, Ryan Scheckler, Rob Dydrek, Rodney Mullen and Lance Mountain.

Even a short history of skateboarding would be incomplete without including the on-edge, gut wrenching subspecies called downhill. This blood sport first peaked in the mid ‘70s on the hills of La Costa and Long Beach’s Signal Hill where skaters like Henry Hester, Dennis Schufeldt, Chris Yandell, Bobby Piercy and John Hutson ranked high among those willing to trade skin for pavement. Taking things to the streets in the new millennium are G&S (again), Sector9, Gravity, Bamboo, Land Yachtz and Penny, among others. Look a more extensive story on downhill and longboard skateboarding in a future issue of Groundswell.

Skaters would eventually be ticketed for breaking speed limits on city streets. When that, the first Ollie, and the first 540 occurred…when Christian Hosoi boosted over ten feet, then skateboarders thought there was nothing more to be done. But, not everyone thinks that way, and then as now as some kid is quietly practicing to shatter all records against the Great Wall. When that happens a new world of possibilities will again open up.

Eventually all the records will fall, and the great rides will fade like a footnote in an old history book. The new kings will be heralded by their followers while most of them will never know what it’s like to have their own model or make a fortune from something so seemingly elementary as a skateboard. For each one that makes it big, there will be a million more satisfied to skate to school, do a kick flip, or carve a swimming pool. Most of them will never go beyond that point. But when they’re at the apex of their own peak they won’t care. They won’t be thinking the names Peter Parkins, Bruce Logan, or Tony Hawk when they’re up there, either. When space is before you and gravity begins to pull you back to earth, there’s no time for reflection on the past. This is a moment when all senses are on go, and everything is burned into the memory of a kid who will feel the wind in their face and the rush of landing four wheels on pavement. 

This article is dedicated to the memory of Jay Adams, 100 per cent skateboarder, Original Seed, and a skate pioneer who recently died in his sleep, just hours after surfing deep barrels in Mexico. The entire skateboard world wept at the news of his passing.

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Paddle Boarding History by Chris Ahrens

Posted on October 14, 2014

The Long Paddle Home

Morning, September 4, 2014, Cardiff by the Sea, CA.
There are no spaces left in the lot, so I walk the three blocks from my house to the scene of yet another petty crime as a two-to-three foot swell struggles toward a pack of swimmers, bodysurfers, bodyboarders, shortboarders and longboarders, all of who feel entitled to a share of whatever rolls in. The aforementioned sub groups have been locked and loaded in what could be described as a 20-year heat, a range war whose outcome is determined daily by wave possession. Sadly, that usually means the surfer with the most volume in their vehicle gets the most waves, regardless of ability.
While I’m contemplating the lineup, three stand up paddlers (SUPs) stroke quickly to the outside. One continues past the break, toward the kelp beds. One stands guard in the channel, waiting for whatever scraps swing wide. One attacks the peak like a shark in a tuna pen. As he devours every set wave, the grumbling in the lineup is nearly audible from shore. Before he gets another wave, three other SUPs have joined him. To my surprise, they hold their fire, and one of them apparently chastises the wave hog, who seems to take his scolding to heart and paddles down the beach. The other SUPs politely get into the rotation, sharing waves without incident until they paddle out a quarter mile, to explore the kelp forest.
This brings up a question of resource management. In this case the resources (waves) are limited. What is virtually unlimited is the greater portion of the ocean, a vast liquid world where nobody objects to whatever non-motorized vehicle someone brings to the party.
While an increasing number of SUPs are venturing beyond the surf zone, many of them still want to ride waves. They have the right, but few among them would disagree that it seems fair for someone with superior paddle power to give way to some with less.

Surf’s packed and not worth a go on my 7’0” anyway, so I spin on my heel and begin my march back home, mumbling beneath my breath as I retreat. One guy in particular attracts my venom as he walks by dumbly smiling, dragging two drugstore sponges by their leashes through the sand. I gaze downward as I pass and mutter something nasty, just beyond earshot. That’s when I notice his artificial leg. Right then and there I vow never to judge anyone by his or her choice of surf craft, again. Although it takes less than a week for me to break my vow, this encounter forces me to contemplate what vehicles should be allowed in the lineup. While the simple answer is all of them, safety and common sense eliminates vessels like powerboats and six-man outriggers in crowded conditions. SUPS? Maybe. Maybe not. Should they be regulated? Segregated? If so, what regulation of high-volume longboards?

It’s not the board, it’s the rider.
--Unwritten longboard proverb

Skip Frye often rides boards over 10-feet long and it’s never been a problem for anyone, to my knowledge. Well, maybe for one guy. Someone recently heard a beginner with a department store softboard and paddle gloves call Frye, whom many regard as the patron saint of style and grace a kook, rebuking the legendary Frye for catching what he deemed “too many waves.” Forever the gentleman, Frye, who never interferes with anyone, simply paddled in without a word. I can’t explain why this guy was wrong, but we all know he was.
There is a group of amputee kayakers who ride Cardiff regularly. Most everybody is stoked to see them enjoying a temporary reprieve from immobility and gladly share the lineup with them. It seems that regulating the break according to vehicle type is no easier than deciding who is a kook.
Hawaiian bodysurfing legend, Mark Cunningham, who jokingly calls himself “the lowest life form on the totem pole,” drives the nail home. “In Hawaii there seems to be a lot less prejudice about the type of craft you ride than there is in the Mainland. Nobody would call Brian Keaulana a kook because of the craft he’s riding.”

Searching for the original SUP

According to Wikipedia, “The popularity of the modern sport of SUPing has its origin in the Hawaiian Islands. In the early 1960s, the beach boys of Waikiki would stand on their long boards, and paddle out with outrigger paddles to take pictures of the tourists learning to surf. This is where the term ‘beach boy surfing,’ another name for Stand Up Paddle Surfing, originates.”
If SUPing was “beach boy surfing” in Hawaii in the ‘60s, there should be reels of film, stacks of photos and countless words from the not so distant past. But Wikipedia is partially correct, as some beach boys were among the first to ride SUPs. John “Pops” Achoy ranks with the most notable among them, and he passed on the sport to his sons Leroy, Ricky and Bobby, who was unique in the late ‘70s, using a longboard with a paddle to take photos of tourists.
Pipe master, SUP convert, Gerry Lopez, who grew up surfing Waikiki recalls seeing only one surfer riding the South Shore’s outside reefs with the assistance of a paddle in the ‘60s. Prior to that, he heard rumors of the legendary Scooter Boy using a paddle while riding Waikiki with his dog, Sandy, in the 1940s.
Doc Paskowitz recollects seeing Duke Kahanamoku pick up a canoe paddle in the early 1940s and take his board out to the lineup to catch a few waves. We’ll never know if this was spontaneous on Duke’s part, or something he had learned decades before any of those reading this were born. Turns out the search for the first SUPers is something of a Bigfoot hunt.
Still, using a paddle with a surfboard seems obvious, after the fact. In Hawaii and Tahiti surfing and paddling are so closely intertwined that it would seem likely some ancient riders used paddles to catch waves. Ancient art pieces prove that ocean-going canoe riders caught waves standing on their craft. Is it surfing? It surely looks like it. Still, there’s little doubt that surfing for most of its recent history has been up the proverbial creek with nothing but arm strength to propel it.

To my knowledge there is no evidence that SUPing was in common practice until around the year 2000, when Maui locals and dynamic watermen, Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama inadvertently changed the surfing world. Initially, they used SUPs on tiny summertime waves that would not normally warrant their attention. Eventually they scouted out increasingly remote and otherwise inaccessible spots on SUPs, where they rode alone for years. Blame Laird (does anyone do that to his face?) or thank him, but lineups from Cardiff Reef to Broken Head are increasingly being ridden on SUPs.
Hamilton, who credits the SUP for much of his outstanding fitness, also says that SUPing has helped him stay interested in wave riding when the waves are as small as six inches. As the James Bond of the surfing world, Laird could make line dancing in cowboy boots on a skimboard cool. While SUPs may have caught on without him, the super hero’s endorsement has greatly helped SUPers gain legitimacy.
The biggest worry about SUPs, however, is not from traditional surfers who have grown up with surfing’s unwritten rules, but from inland, where molded planks are stacked to the rafters in department stores and their riders are multiplying like an invasive feeder fish waiting to leap over the dam and into the big saltwater pond. Kids locked into the middle of the country are weaned on images of wave riders, and with no ocean in sight, they do the next best thingthey learn SUPing in the local rivers and lakes and eventually head for the nearest coast, fueled by “North Shore” (the movie) dreams, to attempt surfboard riding. Older adults are often attracted to SUPs as body parts fail, to stay fit, as a check on their bucket list, or just because it’s fun. They’re all coming, but nobody’s leaving.

Rules, unwritten and otherwise
At this point cities are free to enact bans on SUPs at their discretion. Cities like San Clemente have done just that, by relegating SUPs to their own zones.
The blessing and the curse of SUPs is that you don’t have to be particularly athletic to use one, as kids skimming over lakes and bays around the world are finding by learning to balance and paddle long before they ever touch the ocean. While many see in the SUP industry realize this as a benefit to business, others fear surf-ready tourists will soon geometrically explode into already crowded lineups.
While some push to regulate SUPs, others worry that the resulting restrictions could make our sport far less free than it has been. The main three options in play are State regulation, self-regulation, or the increasing tension brought on by accommodating the status quo.

If you take too many waves here (in Hawaii) people aren’t gonna call a cop; they’re gonna educate you directly.
--Legendary waterman, Brian Keaulana

There have always been unwritten rules governing surfing. These were common sense approaches that attempted to help divvy up waves somewhat equally. Legendary surfer Sam Reid made as good attempt as anyone ever has in writing them down, 50 years ago:
1) First surfer on a wave has the right-of-way.
2) Paddle around a wave, not through it.
3) Hang onto your board.
4) Help other surfers.

Perhaps it was modern surfing’s (and SUP’s?) father Duke Kahanamoku who summed up the rules best with his version of surfing’s golden rule, saying, “Don’t hog all those darned waves.”

But some surfers don’t seem able to help themselves from hogging every darn ripple in the ocean. Of course not everyone with a paddle is a wave hog, and many are among the most courteous in the lineup. By nature, however, wave hogs are attracted to bigger surf vehicles the way their culinary counterparts are to bigger forks, something that is no problem until there’s not enough to go around. When called out for their gluttony, wave hogs often site Reid’s rule number one.
While effective in it’s time, that first item actually became obsolete during the longboard resurgence of the mid 1980s when there were suddenly two drastically different sized boards at the same crowded break, something that offered those on longer boards an obvious wave catching edge. Twenty years later, SUPs upped the game again, which may be nothing more than Karmic justice. According to surfing’s poet laureate Derek Hynd, “I note a certain poetry in longboarders being usurped by SUPs after so many years of longboarders taking advantage of their lineup power.”
How about updating Reid’s initial rule to read: “The surfer first to their feet has the right of way, unless they have a superior paddling vessel to another surfer competing for the same wave. In such cases, the surfer with the paddling advantage should yield to the surfer with less wave catching potential.” I know it’s ridiculously wordy and won’t fit well on a sign in Ventura’s C Street parking lot. I also realize that most surfers don’t pay attention to written rules anyway. As Hynd says, “There can be no unwritten law when there's no possible lineup authority short of physical intimidation.”
Dave Daum of King’s Paddle Sports agrees. “I don’t see outside regulation being the answer, and SUPers are self-regulating more and more all the time. There are still those who don’t get it, but whenever one of the regulars sees someone on a SUP doing laps in the lineup, they will probably talk to them and that usually corrects the problem.”
The SUP controversy may soon become a moot point anyway. Reid Inouye of Stand Up Paddle Magazine believes, as an increasing number of other do, that “The future of SUPs are not in the lineup anyway, but in offshore exploration.” If, in fact, droves of SUPers abandon the surf zone in favor of paddling further out to sea, this could, ironically, increase the average surfer’s wave count.
Scott Bass is a master of a large range of surf vehicles. He has been SUPing for over ten years, but has basically quit, except in small conditions, or to accommodate his sometimes aching back. Bass feels that the SUP dilemma will eventually self regulate, but not without the possibility of exploding first. “If a major lawsuit goes down against someone using a paddle, SUPs will either not be allowed in the surf zone at all, be relegated to their own spots, or have to stay 500 yards away from surfers without paddles.”

Pretty much anywhere you surf, you’re better off on a stand-up board.
Gerry Lopez

With few exceptions like Laird and Dave and now young guns like Kai Lenny, not many surfers can or care to ride powerful reef breaks on SUPs. A minority of surfers can handle waves like Pipeline on any board, so smaller, easier breaks tend to attract the masses. While these waves accommodate all types of surfboards, some people consider the innate glide of the SUP perfect for average and below average days, especially in Southern California where the surf rarely tops five feet.

It’s another packed out Memorial Day, and Joel Tudor and his oldest son Tosh have been enjoying a few decent waves at Cardiff Reef, before melting into the warm sand. Joel was one of the original SUPers at Cardiff Reef, but eventually dropped the paddle in response to not wanting to be a part of overcrowding. At one point Joel even considered helping get SUPs banned from Cardiff, but quickly realized the down side of increased regulation in the lineup. He’s been around long enough to believe that if given enough time and no outside regulation, surfing will regulate itself, just as it always has. According to him, “Self regulation in the lineup is already starting to happen.”

Although I live within spitting distance Cardiff Reef, I hadn’t surfed there in nearly five years, not since SUPs became a dominant force. It’s late summer, the weather’s hot, the water’s warm, the surf is a fun looking two to three feet and it’s a good opportunity to test the self-regulatory theory. In spite of being severely outgunned by the six or seven SUPs in the break, I prone paddle a thin 7’6” out, and brace for the assault that never comes. I am surprised to find everyone getting along and politely taking turns, regardless of board size. Everyone, me included, get a decent amount of surf, and I for one, paddle in satisfied.
It then occurs to me that long before SUPs hit the lineup, the surfing world was banging rails, flattening tires and sometimes pounding on each other over wave possession. So, maybe it is the surfer and not the vehicle after all. Regardless of what we ride, the hope is that we will eventually learn from our turbulent past, work out our differences, and attack our true and common enemies, polluters.
For now it seems things have indeed worked themselves out at Cardiff Reef, and I am encouraged they will in other parts of the world also. Our sport may have once again survived those of us who participate in it. All is well in the surfing world. But wait; is that the sound of a motorized surfboard on the horizon?

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