Paddle Boarding Almost Disappeared, But A Few Pioneers Gave It New Life

In the 1930s, Edward Blake all but single-handedly invented the modern sport of paddle boarding when he invented the hollow boards now used today. For a decade or two, the sport gained wide popularity in California and Hawaii, but the rise of modern surfing ended up slowing the growth of paddle boarding.

But thanks to a small group of pioneers in love with the sport, paddle boarding took hold again. Now LBI SUP rentals are commonplace, stand-up paddle board races are held all over, and the activity is on the rise for competitors and casual riders alike.

Paddle boarding faded to near obscurity after the 1950s, but began to surge back into popularity in the early 1980s thanks to Rabbi Norm Shifren’s “Waterman Race,” a 22-mile jaunt from Point Dume to Malibu. Shifren was a Lose Angeles lifeguard.

The Waterman Race caught the attention of journalist Craig Lockwood, who saw an opportunity in the (once again) growing sport. He quickly put a high quality stock paddle board into production, making the boards more readily available to the public. That’s why they are now so easy to find for people looking for Long Beach Island SUP rentals.

Lockwood’s much-imitated design remains the most popular design today, and has perhaps won more races than any other.
Paddle board production quickly skyrocketed soon thereafter, led by a trio of California shapers: Joe Bark (from Los Angeles), Mike Eaton (from San Diego), and Brian Szymanski (from North County). They became the three biggest paddle board makers in the U.S., producing hundreds of boards each year (by some estimates of half of all sold).

The revival of classic events also helped bring back the paddle board scene. In 1982, a pair of lifeguards from Los Angeles, Gibby Gibson and Buddy Bohn, brought back the Catalina Classic. Just 10 paddlers competed, but the event helped bring paddle boarding back to the attention of water sports enthusiasts.

A much bigger factor, however, was the annual Independence Day Paddle board Race in Hawaii. Crossing from Sunset to Waimea, the event drew hundreds of competitors and loads of attention to the sport.

The explosion of the Independence Day Paddle board Race helped propel the industry forward not just due to its popularity, but because the event was so big there were not enough boards to supply all the racers. In order to meet demand, Hawaii surfboard shaper Dennis Pang began to make paddle boards, too, so the boards would not have to be ordered from the mainland.

Dennis Pang is now one of the top producers of paddle boards in the world. It’s not unusual to come across his boards when looking for SUP rentals in LBI.

Whether you are a racer in California, a casual rider in Florida, or a weekend enthusiast looking for LBI SUP rentals, you have people like Norm Shifren, Joe Bark, Mike Eaton, Brian Szymanski and others to thank for all the fun the sport gives you.

Remember that the next time you’re on the water. You’re not just standing on a board, you’re standing on the shoulders of giants!