The tradition of stand-up paddling began decades ago off Waikiki, with Hawaii’s beach boys using paddles to catch waves while riding longboards, most notably Duke Kahanamoku.
A combination of boredom, common sense and competition has created a fringe sport that has since taken off faster than Hawaii surf legend Gerry Lopez can catch it.
Stand-up paddling is the new wave of surfing, a sport that has come home with this weekend’s inaugural Hawaii Rainbow Sandals Lopez Battle of the Paddle.
Waikiki will host a two-day event that includes SUP clinics for families, visitors and underprivileged children.
The highlight of the event is Sunday’s 15-mile race from Maunalua Bay in Hawaii Kai to Duke Kahanamoku Beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Among the top competitors in the long-distance race is Australia’s Jamie Mitchell, who is undefeated in Hawaiian waters. He has won eight consecutive Molokai-to-Oahu paddleboard championships.
Also on board – no pun intended – is Danny Ching, who became the first non-Hawaii paddler in the 34-year history of the Ka’iwi Channel race to win the Molokai to Oahu last April.
In addition to tomorrow’s long championship race are open age-group, relay and children’s races.
"I’ll be in every race I can," said Lopez, who won the Pipeline Masters in 1972 and ’73, and is regarded as the best tuberider in the world. "I’m not a racer. I’m just a guy who goes in races and has fun.
"I’ve been surfing for four decades, and whatever way you surf, you want to make sure that you surf with aloha."
That’s the idea behind the Battle of the Paddle, which has been held in California for two years. Lopez said there was a push to bring the event to Hawaii, the acknowledged home of surfing.
"(SUP) has been big in California, with all the flat water," said Lopez, who splits his time between Hawaii and Oregon. "Sparky (co-founder Jay Longley) invited some Hawaii guys over for the other events and they brought their aloha.
"Then Sparky said, ‘Let’s go over there.’ And that’s why we’re in Hawaii."
Last October’s 2nd Battle of the Paddle off Doheny Beach, Calif., featured the largest SUP field ever assembled – 390 paddlers. That record is expected to be broken; more than 230 online entries had been received as of Tuesday, with walk-up registration available.
For those new to stand-up paddling, there is the free SUP Expo at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach Hotel. Boards and paddles will be available for trial and demonstration, free of charge.
Na Kama Kai will also present its ocean awareness program, children’s activities and kids SUP races throughout the weekend.