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This older man may know the modern history of solid paddle boards

A Brief History Of Paddle Boards – From Ancient Times To Now

Paddleboarding has been around for many, many decades. It has a long history. People used to mount on floating planks to cross water bodies. The art of paddleboarding itself hasn’t evolved as much over the years, but the mounting equipment has changed quite a bit.

From early primitive wooden boards to new and advanced boards, paddleboards have unquestionably come a long way. 

Paddleboarding may have been used for everyday commute in years gone by, but now has become more of a relaxing holiday sports activity. 

So let’s take a look at the extensive history of paddleboards and how they evolved over decades. 

Table of Contents

Romans And Egyptians, And Their Idea Of A Paddle Boards 

The main idea behind paddle boards is their buoyancy. In many different cultures, empty clay pots were used to cross rivers and lakes as they helped them stay afloat. 

An example of this can be seen in ancient paintings and engravings. Going back to around 3000 B.C., there is evidence of floating boards carrying people across the water. These boards are thought to have been made from bundles of reed wood or bamboo sticks tied together. The hollowness of these sticks helped to induce buoyancy for the constructed paddle board to remain afloat. 

Materials Used For Making Paddle Boards In The Past

Reeds 

As mentioned above, paddle boards were used to carry people and produce across the water thousands of years ago. Reed stems were used to build a canoe that could transport a single person. 

A bunch of reed stems were gathered together and tightly tied around both of the edges and held together in the middle. The reeds in the middle were able to stay dryer, aiding the reed paddleboard’s buoyancy. This paddle board, however, was not sturdy and long-term as the boats had to be discarded after a few uses.  

Bark

A single peel of tree bark, big enough to fit a human, was also made into a paddling device. It can be seen in history that any device that could float and help propel humans across the water could be used aboard. A bark peel is another one of those things that had the natural buoyancy and shape of a boat. 

Wood 

Wood is a common material used to make boats or boards. Like bark, a plank of wood also has natural buoyancy that keeps it afloat. While the idea of using a big, flat plank of wood was already in use, shaping the wood into boats or using hollow sticks to make paddleboards were later introduced. 

Shreds of evidence can be seen as early as the 1400s, when bamboo sticks were tied together in the form of a flat wooden board. Bamboo sticks are hollow, buoyant, and long. Perfect for a board floor.

Polynesia, The First-Ever Pictorial Proof Of A SUP 

Everyone knows Captain James Cook. Hawaii has a whole monument dedicated to James Cook on the island where he died. In 1778, Captain Cook’s trusted ship artist John Webber engraved a view of Karakakooa, depicting paddle boarding and kayaking individuals.

This is the first-ever depiction of paddle boarding that we could find.

In the engraved photo, you can see an individual on a wooden plank, using his hands to paddle. The image is proof that paddling across the water on floating boards was a common practice across the islands in the 1700s

The Term “SUP” Came From Hawaii

As we have discussed earlier, paddle boarding has been occurring across the globe in diffrent forms for thousands of years.

But Hawaii is thought to be the motherland of modern stand-up paddleboarding. Where surfboard designs were adapted to SUP designs.

Hawaii where wooden surfboards eveloved to wooden SUPs

Hawaii has several water bodies, streams, and oceans, dividing these islands. Floating boards were used here to commute between the islands. 

The stand-up paddleboarding term was coined in the 1940s by surfing instructors in Waikiki who would stand on their boards to get a better look at the students in the water. From those origins and to this day Stand Up Paddleboarding continues to be a big attraction on all Hawaiian islands.

Thomas Edward Blake, Pioneer Of The Modern Paddle Board Design 

While it is unclear who and where the idea of using paddleboards came from, Thomas Edward Blake is deemed the pioneer of the modern surfboard and paddleboard construction due to his improvements on the traditional wood surfboards used in the 1920s. 

Blake worked to redesign the ancient wood boards, examples of which are kept in the Bernice Bishop Museum. Blake improved the model and design with the inspiration of making it lighter by drilling small holes in the wood and covering them up with an outer layer making the wood base hollow. This made the board significantly lighter and helped induce buoyancy.

He then went on to patent hollow board construction with transverse bracing. This concept is present in all the modern SUP boards that you see in the market today. 

In addition, he is also credited with designing the fin, which until then was not present on surf or paddleboards.

Branding And Marketing Of Paddleboarding As A Sport For All

The first-ever popularized paddleboard brand in the U.S. was the “waterman” board, named after the waterman race conducted in the 80s. Waterman boards were some of the finest boards at that time, chosen by many winning paddlers, and still remain one of the first choices of many paddlers. 

After the success of waterman, several other paddleboard brands emerged, feeding into the sport’s popularity. 

Modern 2 person solid SUP

Though the sport itself was gaining momentum slowly, its popularity accelerated in the 1990s. It started booming in the 2000s after its inclusion in some major competitions and the creation of dedicated editorial magazines. The arrival of iSUPs made the sport more accessible to many

Blow Up paddle boards are easy to transport for these young people

Since the 2020 pandemic and lockdowns, the need and desire to get out in the fresh air, relax and enjoy a fun outing regardless of skill level has skyrocketed the popularity of this sport worldwide.

Conclusion 

Paddleboards have come a long way from barks, peels, and reed bundles used to transport people and produce. SUPs are now intricately designed and molded for competitive water racing, general touring, exercise, yoga meditation, and of course, floating child entertainment devices.

The world reach of Paddleboarding is growing each year. It’s becoming so popular that people no longer confine their experience to summer but use their SUP in winter. 

We hope you, too, will get involved and share your passion for paddleboarding with the whole family.

Steve Frankland

Steve Frankland

Steve Frankland loves the outdoor life and getting out in nature. He loves writing and sharing knowledge. He's part of the team at thesupguru.com
He’ll find any excuse he can to get out on the water and can often be seen on a SUP with his kids and dogs.