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Short for stand-up paddle-board, a stable floating platform that combines the cool of surfing with the practicality of a spin workout. SUP has its roots in Hawaii, where native people have used paddleboards for centuries and modern versions began to appear in the 1940s. How it became a worldwide phenomena 60 years later depends on who you ask. Two competing narratives persist: The first has Laird Hamilton adopting SUP during Hawaii’s Buffalo Big Board contest in 2003; when the surf media picked up a photo of the moment, the sport had its fertile seed. The second, more Hollywood-friendly version stars a little-known Vietnam vet named Rick Thomas who brought an enormous 11-foot SUP from Hawaii to California in 2000. He then had a friend handcraft a paddle so he could surf waves “the old way.”
Whichever is true, the resulting interest from mainstream media (this magazine featured Hamilton on a SUP on its cover in 2002) and passionate practitioners made the sport a rare growth area during the recession. In just eight years, SUP went from being a fringe pursuit with effectively zero participants to a widely uttered acronym with 1.9 million devotees. In 2013, paddleboarding grew 29 percent, outpacing all other sports tracked by the Outdoor Industry Association, with oft ridiculed offshoots like SUP yoga continuing to thrive as well.