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Let’s settle this in court: What, exactly, is stand-up paddleboarding?

Updated: 
June 17, 2017 - 12:05am

The age-old questions. Is light a particle or a wave? Is Certs a breath mint or a candy mint? Is bridge a sport or a game?

And now add this one: Is stand-up paddleboarding more like canoeing or more like surfing?

This question, at least, is headed to mediation with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

In stand-up paddle, athletes stand on a long, flat board. (Hey, that sounds like surfing!) They race one another, propelling their craft with a paddle. (Wait a minute, that sounds like canoeing!)

The races can be held on flat water, like standard canoeing races, or in the waves, like surfing.

Now both the International Surfing Association and the International Canoe Federation want to control the sport. It’s not just an academic exercise. Stand-up paddle is a candidate to be added to the Olympics, which has recently been bingeing on adding new sports and events.

Both sides have held stand-up paddle events, and both believe they are the rightful stewards of the sport going forward.

“Especially on flat water, propulsion using a paddle is basically canoeing,” said Simon Toulson, the secretary-general of the canoeing federation. “Standing up or sitting down is irrelevant.”

“We are mainly flat water,” he said. “Surfing at the beach is not our area.” That would seem to open the door for a compromise: Perhaps canoeing could supervise the flat-water version of stand-up paddle, and surfing could rule over the ocean version.

But, Toulson said: “So far the compromises have not been accepted. They don’t want to concede it in the flat-water areas. That’s where the dispute will start to get heated.”

Still, he emphasized that the disagreement had been friendly so far. Both sides agreed to the mediation, and “both parties are working quite cooperatively.”

The surfing association has been active in running stand-up paddle events for a decade. Its president, Fernando Aguerre, said in a statement, “The ISA welcomes the opportunity to put forward our position as the historical rightful custodian of SUP that can continue to best ensure the development of the sport and work in the interest of all SUP athletes worldwide.”

“Under the guidance of the ISA for many years, both SUP surfing and racing disciplines have grown in popularity and professionalism,” he added.

Canoeing is the more venerable of the two sports at the Olympics, dating to 1936. Traditional surfing has been added to the Games for 2020, although not necessarily beyond.

Should the court find a happy compromise between the federations, perhaps it can move on to some of the other thorny issues of our time. Ladies and gentlemen, could you please weigh in on whether a tomato is a vegetable or a fruit?

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