SUP execs comment on growth of Stand Up Paddle


Statistics show that even though surf hardgoods are down, there's a bright spot that keeps popping up: stand up paddleboards appear to be booming. Regardless of what you think of SUP, business implications for this sport are promising. At the Outdoor Retailer Show a few weeks ago in Utah, the SUP booths of C4 Waterman, Surftech and Hobie (three of the largest SUP brands) were constantly busy. I talked to each of their top executives and spoke with Global Surf Industries to find out why the SUP business is up.

The sport is new
Since the sport is embryonic, the numbers reported are coming off a fairly lower base especially when compared to surfboards, which people have been selling for years. "We're somewhat filling the pipeline," said Jeff Alter, right, of Hobie Surfboards. "There's not much of a used market so we are still loaning boards all the time out of our factory to people who just want to try it."

The sport is popular
There's definitely a bit of celebrity action on it," said Global Surf Industries' Mark Kelly. "We've had photos with Cameron Diaz and Pierce Brosnan with our boards. Everyone who wants to be ripped with abs wants to get into it." C4 Waterman recently took out Lance Armstrong and Surftech and Hobie also have been getting a lot of celebrity play in magazines. "It's new it's exciting, it's intriguing to outdoor enthusiasts, it's cosmopolitan, and it's different," added C4 Waterman Co-Founder Todd Bradley.

The sport is accessible
Unlike riding a surfboard, you can take out a stand up paddleboard on any body of water. People are using them on lakes, ponds, and even rivers. "With SUP Boards, you don't have to rely on waves, weather or trends," said Surftech's Head of Marketing and Product Development Duke Brouwer. Because of the easy accessibility of the sport and the fact that non-surfers can learn to SUP fairly quickly, many of the SUP brands have made a conscious effort to educate consumers about etiquette and board responsibility. C4, which is the first company dedicated to stand up paddling has put out many videos and a comprehensive website to educate consumers about SUP safety and proper etiquette along with how to do the sport correctly. "We are built on the waterman philosophy," said founder Todd Bradley, above right. "Safety, education and risk management is a huge part of what we do." There is also an instructional video with an etiquette chapter on the Surftech website.

The equipment can be used for more than one application
National Sales Manager of Boardworks (C4 Waterman's parent company) Robby Ellingson said, "The various disciplines for SUP are flatwater racing, downwind racing, downriver racing, waveriding, river rapid riding, river surfing, and rodeo paddling where people do flat water freestyle moves. There's also casual touring where people paddle with camping gear, as well as just casual cruising."

The outdoor market has opened many new doors for SUP brands
Surftech, C4 Waterman and Hobie all had a big presence at the Outdoor Retailer Show. "This (OR) show has been one of the most successful shows we have ever done," said Surftech's Duke Brouwer. "The enthusiasm after four years of being here at the show is just amazing," he added. The inland market for SUP is still fairly new so brands like C4 and Surftech have been developing marketing tools and equipment to target the inland and outdoor consumers. Targeting the outdoor market allows SUP brands to sell to large sporting goods and outdoor chain retailers like REI, which currently carries both Surftech and C4 Waterman products. Hobie, C4 Waterman, Surftech and GSI will not show their Stand Up Boards at next September's ASR show.

There are still unexplored applications for the sport
"It's like the wild west," said C4's Robby Ellingson noting the excitement of potential growth and usage for SUP boards. "People's minds are going to be blown away by what kayak athletes are going to do with SUP boards," noted Surftech's Duke Brower, adding that people have just started getting barreled correctly on SUP boards in the last few years.

Besides river Stand Up Paddling, there's a large fitness side of the sport that is currently being explored. Surftech currently sponsors triathletes as part of their fitness program, and C4 Waterman has been exploring the fitness market since they started, especially since co-founder Brian Keaulana discovered that the sport gives him the same workout in one hour as eight hours surfing. Since the fitness industry is a multibillion-dollar industry, much bigger than the surf industry, this could be a very lucrative market for SUP companies.

Not all brands are jumping into fitness right away, though. Global Surf Industries is sticking to surf right now and trying to build brand authenticity in the surf market first before expanding into fitness or outdoor.

SUP is mostly an at-once business
Because SUP boards are big and heavy (most start at ten foot), retailers only carry a few boards at a time. It's more of an at-once business, which can be tough when predicting inventory, but good for retailers when stock is available. Surftech and C4 Waterman both said they aren't able to keep boards on the shelves at this time, not a bad problem to have during an economy where sitting on excess inventory could be detrimental to any business.

Core retailers are getting an influx of new customers because of SUP boards
Stand Up Paddling is bringing in new consumers to core surf shops. GSI's Mark Kelly told a story about a shop called No Flat Earth in New Jersey that was a traditional core shop. The owner was reluctant about SUP boards at first, tried one, and fell in love with it, bringing in multiple boards to his shop and promoting them heavily. "Bringing SUP boards changed the whole vibe of his shop and brought in so many different customers," said Kelly adding that more families with more spending power stared coming and helped increase his business greatly.

The equipment is expensive, but durable
Many people get gun-shy about the price of SUP boards, which start at over $1,000 for the board, and a few hundred dollars for the paddle. "It may seem expensive, but when you look at what you have to pay after you get the equipment, the cost is almost nothing," said Surftech's Duke Brouwer. "When you ski or snowboard, you have to buy a lift ticket. If you ride a bike, you have to pay to repair it. And with SUP, you don't have to go anywhere. You can go explore a pond, race and get your (butt) kicked for two hours, you can go surf, you can go run a river, you can take your dog out or your wife or kid. That's the beauty of it. There's stuff right now going on with SUP that we haven't even seen."