Here’s how it works in a nutshell: The paddler enters a body of water and works his way up from his knees to standing, spreading his feet and pulling a single-blade paddle beneath the surface in broad strokes. In a lot of ways, it’s like kayaking without all that sitting around. Measuring around 32 inches wide and 10 feet long or more, stand-up paddleboards—SUPs for short—are usually bulkier than their surfboard relatives.
While the sport has the same Polynesian roots that bred traditional surfing across the Pacific, the modern incarnation of stand-up paddleboarding began with the Waikiki Beach Boys in the 1950s and 1960s. These Hawaiian watermen gave surf lessons to tourists, and in order to snap photos of their students without soaking their Brownie cameras, they stood atop longboards and paddled with canoe oars. After a long absence, the SUP reappeared as a plaything for big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton and his contemporaries in the early 2000s.
As photos of SUP-riding celebrities on Hawaiian sojourns were splashed across the pages of US Weekly, outdoor equipment retailers added paddleboards to their inventories and the sport exploded. A 2011 report from the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association measured SUP sales for the first time, tallying $14.5 million, or nine percent of total surfboard sales in domestic surf shops. “Over a decade, [stand-up paddleboarding] literally turned into a huge mass market, and I honestly don’t see any bit of it slowing down,” says Shawn Vecchione, a surfboard shaper based in Orleans. “I have hundreds of orders for paddleboards right now.”
Laird Hamilton actually had a hand in introducing stand-up paddleboarding to the region. Del Rosario recalls watching Hamilton and Surfer magazine editor Sam George, who came to Nantucket for a film premiere in summer 2004, paddle into glassy, thigh-high waves off of Cisco Beach with a crowd of a 100-plus onlookers. In a retail sense, Vecchione helped bring stand-up paddleboards to New England. A Cape native, he spent the better part of a decade in Hawaii learning his craft from Bill Hamilton—Laird’s stepfather—and experimented alongside fellow surfboard shapers like Terry Chung to get the dimensions of those early commercial paddleboards just right. When Vecchione returned to Cape Cod in 2005, he brought one paddleboard to tide himself over during the flat summers and another 40 to sell. Surf shops rejected his sales pitch, yet he sold that first batch on his own within a week. “Within two years, I probably sold 250 paddleboards in New England,” Vecchione says. Now SUPs are a surf-shop staple.