Stand-up paddling riding a wave of enthusiasm…will it last? - SNEWS

Stand-up paddling riding a wave of enthusiasm…will it last?

Stand-up paddleboarding has emerged as the new, hot thing, and plenty of people in the outdoor industry seem willing to support it -- or at least give it a go. Retailers, manufacturers and other members of the paddleboard community say the sport is riding a wave of enthusiasm.
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People in the paddling community have long voiced the need, as they call it, to get "butts in boats" as the secret to industry growth. However, there is a growing faction of the paddlesports business that now refuses to sit down; instead, they believe the way to drive sales and participation growth is in fact by standing up.

Stand-up paddleboarding has emerged as the new, hot thing, and plenty of people in the outdoor industry seem willing to support it -- or at least give it a go. At this year's Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Open Air Demo, the number of people pushing paddleboards across Pineview Reservoir matched, and sometimes exceeded, the number of people in kayaks. In just the past year, numerous outdoor specialty shops have brought in boards to see how well they'll sell.

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"Our sales have exceeded our expectations," said Nathan Grothe, REI's product manager for watersports. "I'm feeling bullish about it."

Retailers, manufacturers and other members of the paddleboard community say the sport is riding a wave of enthusiasm. Still, this is an emerging activity, and a lack of hard sales data makes it difficult to determine the size of the market or examine how well products are selling. The best anyone can do at this point is gather anecdotal evidence concerning sales, participation trends and media coverage. Put these together and you get a picture of a sport that holds plenty of promise.

By the numbers

While Leisure Trends compiles sales data for most product categories in the outdoor industry, it has not done so for stand-up paddleboards. However, Scott Jaeger, senior retail analyst for Leisure Trends, told SNEWS® that paddleboard sales will be tracked for the first time in the spring of 2010. In addition, SportScanInfo, which will be working with OIA on POS reporting data for the outdoor industry beginning in 2010 (click here to read the SNEWS story), has told us stand-up paddleboarding will be tracked as well. These will likely be some of the most helpful numbers available for outdoor retailers, because AA Data Company (www.aadatacompany.com), which currently tracks paddleboard sales for the action sports market, does not have numbers for paddle shops or outdoor specialty stores.

Though the size of the stand-up paddleboard market isn't clear, as many as 10,000 boards are sold each year, said Todd Bradley, co-founder of C4 Waterman (www.c4waterman.com), a stand-up paddleboard manufacturer. Duke Brouwer, marketing director for Surftech, the sport's leading manufacturer (www.surftech.com), said 10,000 would be a conservative number.

In the summer -- the high season for the sport -- sales at outdoor specialty stores vary widely. Bill Jackson's (www.billjacksons.com), a large outdoor and sporting goods store in Pinellas Park, Fla., moves four to five boards a month, we were told.

Coastal Urge (www.coastalurge.com), a hybrid outdoor specialty/coastal lifestyle store in Wilmington, N.C., does even better. "At first, we got deliveries of two boards, but sometimes in the summer we got 10 boards a week to supply the demand," said Jeoffrey Nathan, co-owner of Coastal Urge, which opened a year and a half ago.

"Clearly, it's an emerging category," said Grothe of REI, noting that stand-up paddleboards represent 3 percent of all REI watercraft sales.

Grothe and other retailers we spoke with project that the sport will continue to grow gradually, and they're eager to help increase participation.

REI started out selling stand-up paddleboards in just six stores (two in Southern California, two in the San Francisco Bay Area, plus stores in Portland, Ore., and Seattle). "We'll at least double the store count and possibly get up to 20," said Grothe. He noted that interest in the sport has spread beyond coastal areas and reached places such as the Midwest. 

"Most sales are through traditional surf shops, but there's a growing trend toward outdoor stores and inland shops," said Bradley of C4 Waterman.

Aloha!

While stand-up paddling was born in Hawaii and traditionally involved ocean surf, manufacturers have worked to grow the flatwater side of the market. Four years ago, Surftech attended Outdoor Retailer Summer Market for the first time, and two years later established an outdoor division dedicated to producing flatwater boards. Such efforts have moved the sport inland to areas with lakes and rivers.

"Trends have a way of moving inward from the coast," said Grothe. "I think it will hit the East Coast next year and the Midwest in the next two years." There has already been some activity in the Midwest, specifically Minneapolis where you can rent a stand-up paddleboard at Lake Calhoun for $15 an hour.

The sport is even catching on at high mountain lakes, such as Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake in the Sierra. "We see people in their twenties and thirties on paddleboards, older people, and kids sitting on a paddleboard with dad and mom," said Max Rodatz, manager of Truckee Sports Exchange in Truckee, Calif. (www.truckeesportsexchange.com) "People are finding out it's accessible, and you don't need super human strength or balance. Everybody in the family can have fun with it."

Rodatz said that the stand-up paddle trend is especially welcome because it has helped to offset slumping kayaks sales.

"That's really cool for us, because we're traditionally a big kayak shop, and it's helping us supplement where kayaks dropped off," said Rodatz. He expects sales to increase, and next year he will go from carrying one brand to three.

Nathan of Coastal Urge also expects sales to continue increasing. "People are learning how good (boards) are for fitness, and we're having more races and getting people into the sport," he said.

A higher profile

One thing that might propel sales is the growing number of stand-up paddle demos and races. The sport's most high-profile event, the Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard Race (for stand-up and prone paddleboarders), has seen participation grow exponentially and included 150 racers this July.

On the U.S. mainland, the number of events increased this year and included races such as the Southeast SUP Championship, hosted by Coastal Urge on Sept. 26 in North Carolina, and the 22-mile Tahoe Fall Classic race held Sept. 27 at South Lake Tahoe.

"This year we saw the explosion of paddle races," said Reid Inouye, publisher of Standup Paddle Magazine. "Last year there were less than 25 known events; this year there were over a 100 of them. I expect that number to grow to 300 to 500 in the 2010 season, and stand-up paddling will be on its way to a pro race tour in the next two to three years."

When we spoke to Brouwer of Surftech, he was putting together his event calendar for 2010 and he rattled off a long list of destinations that will hold stand-up paddle events -- Reno, Austin, Chicago, Lake Placid.

Brouwer said that paddleboard racing is not that big a deal with the traditional surf side of the paddleboard community, but he said it's surprisingly popular with the flatwater folks. "I'm not sure if it's because you get so many competitive kayakers, but it's huge," he said.

Noting that the sport has great potential because it can appeal to a wide variety of groups, Brouwer added, "Now we're reaching out to the endurance sports people." Plus, the company is working with a team of former competitive whitewater kayakers to develop boards designed for surfing waves in rivers.

As people begin to surf river holes on paddleboards, there's a good chance a photographer will be there to capture the moment. Stand-up paddling is getting more attention due to the emergence of magazines dedicated to the sport.

In March, Inouye launched Standup Paddle Magazine (www.standuppaddlesurf.net), and the Action Sports Group of Interlink Media announced on July 30 that it would launch Standup Paddler magazine, which will be produced by the staff of Canoe & Kayak magazine and hit newsstands Dec. 15, 2009. These two are joining the sport's veteran publication, Stand Up Paddle Surfing Magazine (www.supsurfmag.com).

Jim Marsh, publisher of Canoe & Kayak, said that stand-up paddleboarding is definitely not a fad and will continue to mature as a sport. "It's here to stay and we're really excited about it," he said.

Inouye said that since March, Standup Paddle Magazine has tripled its print circulation and distribution. "We are now hovering at around 18,000 in circulation," he said. "About 80 percent of our readers are flatwater paddlers."

Inouye said that the sport is still in its infancy, and its main obstacle will be the bad economy, which could slow its growth. However, the sport is poised to reach its full potential, especially now that manufacturers are catering more to flatwater paddlers, which will make it available to people beyond the surf zones.

And retailers such as Rodatz at the Truckee Sports Exchange are more than happy to support something new.

"Paddleboarding has brought that freshness and excitement," he said. "It's nice to break out of the box, sell something fresh and build something from the ground up. It's exciting for retailers and keeps the motivation up."

--Marcus Woolf

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