This just in: standup paddling is huge. In fact, it’s better than ever. Roughly a decade after big-wave surfing icon Laird Hamilton was spotted riding an SUP board outside of Malibu, California, the discipline has taken over the world, sparking a handful of fitness crazes, a new bunch of racing series, a couple of magazines, and pockets of converts living everywhere from China and Russia to Alaska and Australia. The boom in popularity has spawned an entirely new cottage industry.
SUP magazine held its third annual SUP readers poll last weekend, and took the opportunity to acknowledge Laird’s role in creating the sport by honoring him with their Lifetime Achievement Award. Yes, there were others who stood and paddled on boards before him. But there’s no denying that Laird’s commitment to it inspired others to follow.
Laird was presented the award by one of his all-time heroes, Gerry Lopez, the perennial King of Pipeline, and one of the most influential surfers of all time. Lopez watched Laird grow up in the sand in Hawaii. He warmed up the crowd with the story of a day when Laird was the only one on the beach at Pipeline—just a little kid digging a hole. When surfers lost their boards Laird would quickly bury them, then snicker while they searched in vain. Lopez, who babysat Laird when he was an infant, joined him one day. Rory Russell was their victim.
Laird quickly thanked Gerry for the stories he that he didn’t tell, then quickly pleaded with the community of standup paddlers to take up arms to help save the world’s oceans and waterways. “This is a discipline of surfing,” Laird noted. “But it’s one that anybody can do.” While he noted that surfers have been inherently selfish in their thirst for waves, he stressed the most important lesson of standup paddling: “The ocean is for everybody.”