It’s 6:14 p.m. That last-minute afternoon meeting ran late, but it doesn’t overshadow your much-needed date with your Stand Up Paddle Board. You drive to the nearest body of water, cross the beach with your SUP board, and the sun moves closer to the horizon. By the time you return to shore it may be dusk or dark. Should you still paddle out?
Making a decision just got clearer. With the recent launch of Torch Paddles, paddlers can now hold the first-ever battery-powered LED paddle to illuminate their surroundings. Beaming 720 lumens, the innovative hand-held device shines 45 meters above water and up to 10 meters below. So, SUP-goers can use the light-up paddle to brighten their pathway—underwater and above the surface—and help avoid collisions.
“When I started getting into paddling I realized that a lot of people live near lakes or reservoirs and that water is most calm in the evening. While [paddlers] need to come back in when it gets dark, because of rules and regulations,” said Torch Paddles COO Johnny Quintana. “Now, we can prolong their experience, because they are able to see around themselves or around others.”
The possibilities go on. A glowing paddle can help SUP explorers study non-lit environments and creatures. And, as a handheld device, choosing or changing the direction of the light is more easily managed by the paddler, compared to a light that’s embedded or attached to a board. Plus, being outfit with a bright signal helps to identify a paddler’s location on the water for other traffic.
Two years ago, the concept lit up one night when three of the founders—CMO Creighton Baird, CFO Buck Bailey and Quintana—were lake SUPing and spying for aquatic life in Park City, UT. The trio borrowed SUP boards with LED lights from Marty’s Ski and Board Shop, where Buck was an employee. Albeit edgy and retro, the board-light design wasn’t quite bright enough for them, and controlling where the light shined was difficult, explained Quintana.
“There were lights under the boards, which was really cool and we were chasing fish around, but we couldn’t maneuver our whole vessel to see the fish. And, Creighton said, ‘Why doesn’t my paddle have a light on it? That would be more practical for me to use to get around the water,’” recalled Quintana.
The crew ran Google searches to track down light-up paddle options. Surprisingly, no relevant responses were rendered. They checked for any related registered patents and those were nonexistent, too—the closest idea was a red, removable reflector for a kayak paddle. Excited for the fresh concept, Buck tinkered around in his garage and created the first prototype. Using a retired canoe paddle, he took 3 LED strips, siliconed the lights to the blade, and duct taped the circuit wire along the shaft. A giant power button dangled at the end. “It looked like a Frankenstein experiment…we thought it was the coolest thing of all time,” said Quintana.
Fortunate for this startup, introducing a new paddle sports toy—especially a product with no direct competition—to the outdoor industry has promising profitability. In the last four years, paddle sports has experienced an increase of more than 3 million newcomers, according to the 2015 Special Report on Paddle Sports released annually by the Outdoor Foundation and Coleman Company. The report—which reviews kayaking, canoeing, rafting and stand up paddling—specifically points that 2.8 million paddlers went SUPing in 2014, which is up from 1.1 million in 2010.
Getting off the ground
Torch Paddles launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2013. The $35,000 allotted by more than 60 backers funded the creation of the paddle moldings. But, when Quintana tried calling retailers he realized that a phone conversation was a dead end.
“I was calling shops to tell them about our paddles, but as I was pitching and selling the idea, these shops thought it was a gimmick over the phone,” said Quintana. Then, after watching an interview with GoPro CEO Nick Woodman, he found a new inspiration. Woodman began his multi-billion dollar business in California by selling cameras out of his van. “I thought, for us to sell these paddles to shops we’re going to need to do something extreme,” he decided.
So they hit the road. The four founders, including CEO David Swanson, drove from Seattle to San Diego visiting retail shops along the coast and telling them about the paddles. On a second road trip, they motored cross-country from Salt Lake City to Niagara Falls to Boston and down to the Florida Keys. Following those meetings, retailers committed to orders at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2015. Business took off.
“Calling and saying, ‘We have a light on a paddle,’ to shops is not exciting. So, we use a different marketing strategy. We have to use awesome visuals through video and images to show and sell the idea. It was that effort and motivation that we had that sparked the business,” said Quintana.
To date, Torch Paddles is (already) available in 15 countries and continues to light the way. The paddle lineup includes the carbon fiber Torch SUP (MSRP $249) in two fixed lengths of 78- or 72-inches and the 58-inch Torch Canoe (MSRP $119). For 2016, Torch Paddles will launch the Torch Flare (MSRP $60), an attachable (and rechargeable) light-up blade, so that any paddle with a detachable blade can become a Torch-style paddle. Likewise rechargeable, the lightweight Torch Kayak (MSRP $250) will launch for kayakers. While they’re focused on producing those particular products, the never-changing mission of Torch Paddles is to inspire others to think outside of the box.
“Our message is Lead the Way, and that’s with anything—it doesn’t have to be with a paddle. We are innovators looking for the next best thing, and [a paddle design] is where we get to lead the way. We want people to think for themselves, and by using our paddles that’s the message we are trying to send,” Quintana said.