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StandUp Paddle: The World’s Fastest Growing Water Sport

StandUp Paddle: The World’s Fastest Growing Water Sport

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Between oceans, rivers, lakes, flat water, or waves, StandUp Paddle (SUP) is an accessible discipline of Surfing that is taking the sport to new corners of the globe. Once limited to the coastline’s of the world, the joy of Surfing is now spreading to new participants across all types of bodies of water on the planet.

Born from surfers looking for a new way to enjoy the ocean, StandUp Paddle has grown into so much more. It has exploded as a global phenomenon that has developed both racing and surfing disciplines, reaching the highest levels of sport with inclusion in Olympic Movement events. The sport’s rapid rise has fostered a global community of athletes, ranging from grassroots to elite.


History and tradition

As the International Federation recognized by the IOC as the governing body of SUP at the Olympic level, the ISA has a longstanding history of developing and promoting the sport.

Since 2010, the ISA and its stakeholders have invested resources, time and energy in the development of SUP both in terms of events and education.

Following a lengthy investigation and hearing process, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – the sole body responsible for deciding disputes in the Olympic Movement – confirmed that the “ISA shall be the IF responsible for governing and administering of SUP at the Olympic Level.”

For the full text of the CAS Award, click here.

Zane Schweitzer surfing at the world-renowned ‘Cloudbreak’ during the 2016 ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship.

In 2012, the ISA organized the inaugural World StandUp Paddle and Paddleboard Championship to give SUP athletes a platform to represent their nations and compete for Gold. Since then, the event has been held annually around the world in countries such as Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, Fiji, Denmark, China, and El Salvador.

The 2017 edition in Denmark broke participation records by uniting 286 athletes from 42 countries across all continents, nearly tripling the athlete participation from 2012.

ISA President Fernando Aguerre inaugurates the 2017 ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In additional to promoting the competition side of the sport, the ISA also develops the grassroots level.

For years, the ISA has run a worldwide coaching Program for certifying SUP coaches, instructors, and judges / event officials for both ocean and flat-water racing in all bodies of water.  The ISA has certified over 5,000 Coaches world-wide from over 35 countries, 700 of which are specialized in SUP.

Additionally, the ISA awards yearly scholarships to U-18 surfers, including young SUP athletes. In total, nearly $350,000 has been awarded to more than 300 youth since the program’s inception in 2007.

ISA Scholarship ambassador Tanvi Jagadish of India has competed in two editions of the ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship.

Partnering with the APP

The ISA officially sanctions and maintains a minority ownership stake in the Association of Paddlesurf Professionals (APP) World Tour, the exclusive global professional tour of SUP Racing & SUP Surfing that features all the world’s top SUP athletes.

Through the partnership, the ISA and APP are working to harmonize and promote the sport, athlete development, format innovation, commercial enhancement and media distribution.

Olympic Ambitions 

In 2015, the ISA presented SUP to be included as a discipline on the Sports Program for the Tokyo 2020 Games. While shortboard surfing was accepted and SUP was not, the dream of SUP’s Olympic inclusion lives on in the ISA’s ambitions for future editions of the Games.

Following the CAS decision in August 2020, the ISA immediately presented the opportunity for SUP to be included in the Paris 2024 Games. While it was too late to make changes to the Paris sports program, the ISA will continue to promote and present this opportunity for the LA 2028 and Brisbane 2032 Olympic Games.

Colombia's Izzi Gomez on her way to Gold at the 2019 Pan Ams.

In 2019 SUP made its most important appearance in an Olympic Movement multisport event at the Lima 2019 Pan Am Games. A huge milestone for the sport, SUP Racing and SUP Surfing were included on the Program to debut at the world renowned surfing venue of Punta Rocas. USA’s Conner Baxter and Brazil’s Lena Ribeiro were crowned the Gold Medalists of Men’s and Women’s SUP Technical Race, respectively, while Colombia’s sibling duo of Izzi and Giorgio Gomez earned the Women’s and Men’s SUP Surfing Gold Medals.

SUP has also gained inclusion in other Olympic Movement events under ISA leadership such as the 2017 Central American Games and 2013 Bolivarian Games.

USA’s Conner Baxter raises his flag after earning Pan Am Gold.

What’s next?

As World Champion SUP Racer Candice Appleby said, “the sky is the limit” for the growth of StandUp Paddle.

Where there is a ocean, lake, river, or any type of waterway, there can be SUP. The ISA is committed to the continued development of the sport to spread the culture and joy to new participants and audiences.

The ISA is optimistic that the youthful energy and high performance values that brought Surfing onto the Olympic Program, can also lead to SUP’s inclusion in the Games.

SUP is for everyone, whether old or young, rich or poor, competitive or recreational. There is a place for all within the global SUP community.

The future is looking bright for this young sport, and the leaps and bounds of growth that it has experienced over the past decade+ are just the tip of the iceberg.

The crown cheers the hometown hero Casper Steinfath as he represents his home nation of Denmark at the 2017 ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship.
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