Back in its heyday surfing was the unruly child of the sport’s world. Counter culture and going against the grain were par for the course at surfing’s inception. This attitude took a stronger hold towards the end of the 70s and into the 80s. Tune in, drop out, smoke dope, go surfing, care less – you know how it goes. These were the days when getting ink was really counter culture not pop culture.
Colourful tales from those heady days abound involving many forms of taboo, and stories of how surfers would actively indulge in said taboos. It’s no surprise surfers (even some of the day’s superstars/icons/pioneers) have tales of drug runs across Federal borders, run ins with Mafioso gangs, fights and scrapes with underworld types and all manner of other colourful goings on. If you want the ultimate slice of this type of shenanigan then check out Da Cat’s (Miki Dora) story – All For a Few Perfect Waves – who personified the anarchic, punk rock surfer attitude before it was even a thing. Both likeable and loathed Da Cat took things to the extreme and created a legend. And the likes of sk8er boys Peralta and Adams amplified the bad boy punk image in the 70s, bringing down and dirty punk attitude to surf culture.
These days surfing’s a much more corporate affair with professional attributes that inevitably come with a maturing sport – the mavericks have been tamed, even if Mavericks hasn’t. There are a few characters still knocking about but they’re fewer and further between. Riders these days are less concerned with kicking up stink and more about being athletes and performing.
Which brings us to SUP.
Compared to surfing stand up is still in nappies, and there are huge numbers of people that couldn’t tell you one end of a paddle from the other.
“SUP? Never heard of it…”
Head to certain surf spots and stink eye is rife. In parts of the world this has been known to escalate to vocal threats and the odd bout of biff. Calls of kooks can be common place – especially at headline surf breaks. And those who like to scoff have been known to look on with amusement at so called race/touring SUPs as glorified canoes. Although stand up is increasingly popular it’s still fledgling for the moment and many don’t get it – especially the flat water side.
By its very nature – the fact that not everyone’s doing it (yet) – lends SUP to a punk rock attitude. ‘Do something different’, ‘don’t be the norm’, ‘be original’ and so on.
In times where individuality is seen as a good thing (even if it’s not referred to as punk) then stand up paddle boarding offers that very thing, with having to let go of daily routines and a more conservative approach to life off the water.
OK, we appreciate there are more paddlers in the world than ever. Heading to your local put in just three years ago would’ve have resulted in a probable lone session. These days you’re more likely to bump into a fellow blade swinger. But unlike surfing SUP isn’t the majority. Kayaking still attracts more dabblers each season than stand up with river/white water stand up (in the UK) by no means a thing.
The surface is only being scratched right now. At some point, however, we’ll probably turn round and realise how big stand up paddling actually is, and realise that we’re back in a mainstream sport again. For now, if you want a slice of your own punk rock watersports attitude (without needing to resort to bondage trousers, safety pins and one finger in the air), SUP will give you that, and more. Time to join the kook masses if you haven’t done so already…