The Future Of SUP | Adventure Kayak Magazine | Rapid Media
A person paddling a standup paddleboard as the sun goes down Photo by Chris Christie

Industry leaders talk back on revolution, innovation and armageddon

Is the Hydrofoil Revolution real?

It’s highly technical, so it may be here to stay but only among a small crowd of expert athletes. As to its appeal to the mass market, that’s tough to see. Even though the thought of higher gliding speeds and no chop resonate with nearly every paddler, the fine-tuning of equipment and the hours required to become competent will likely halt growth. —Andre Niemeyer, Publisher, Supconnect

The addition of the hydrofoil is the SUP innovation I’m most excited about. It opens up conditions that weren’t previously possible or that weren’t as fun. It adds another dimension to an already multidimensional sport. —Kai Lenny, Athlete

Most people will say they are most excited about foils at the moment. I am more skeptical. Of course it is cool, but it is also unwise to encourage such an accessible sport to become less so. —Bart de Zwart, Ultra-distance athlete

What will be the next big innovation?

Internal storage—finally—for camping and expeditions. Paddlers are already doing extensive trips with gear strapped on top. Internal storage means less wind drag, a lower center of gravity for stability and less shifting gear. It’s also easier to right the board and keeps gear dry. —Rob Casey, Owner, Salmon Bay Paddle

Offering packages for purchasing a board, PFD and leash together. It’s something that retailers can do working with manufacturers of paddleboards and lifejackets to provide incentive to buyers and make sure people get the necessary safety equipment. It’s one less person who may end up dead. —Trey Knight, ACA Instructor Trainer

It seems the inflatable market holds the most promise, not just in the United States, but worldwide. It takes almost no space. It’s more affordable; and it’s always improving in performance. Given how technology is quickly revolutionizing board construction, we may see unthinkable markets embracing the sport and rounding the world with inflatables in backpacks. —Andre Niemeyer, Publisher, Supconnect

What are you most excited about?

Athletes are pushing the sport to new levels of performance. It’s really incredible to watch as a spectator and fascinating as an athletic pursuit. I think it might have the potential to be an Olympic sport down the road, and it will add another dimension to Olympic paddling. I think this decade will be looked at as the pioneer years. —Lili Colby, PFDiva at MTI Adventurewear

Standup racers train as hard as Olympians. To compete for bigger prize purses not only helps the athletes massively, it justifies how hard everyone works. I hope to see more events like Red Bull HeavyWater. Twenty thousand dollars was by far the biggest prize purse I have ever competed for in standup paddling—Kai Lenny, Athlete

The quality of teaching. The instructional curriculum has only been around five or six years at a national level. People had words on paper before, but since 2011 we’ve really refined our teaching approach. We started by taking concepts from kayaking, surfing and canoeing, and asked what does this look like when applied to paddleboarding. We understand the physics of paddle and paddler, board design and rail control, and stances from surfing. It’s been combined to create unique techniques and methods and this is how we are teaching SUP now. —Trey Knight, ACA Instructor Trainer

Has SUP peaked?

Not according to some of the data out there. The Outdoor Industry Association and the Standup Paddle Industry Association (SUPIA) both continue to show rising numbers in participation for 2016 and 2017. Google Trends seem to track that trend as well. The SUPIA data indicates the industry could still have 50 percent of its participants yet to enter the market, though coming from a lower income-bracket, driving further pressure on price point and margins. —Andre Niemeyer, Publisher, Supconnect

What’s the biggest challenge facing SUP?

Too many brands and not enough profit margins have created a stagnant industry. Major leading brands with great quality and designs are flush with inventory because of all the flyby- night, quick-start discount brands. The bulk of the consumers are recreational and looking for the best deal and not interested in quality or design. When a sport or industry’s products are seen in Costco, it is a sign the market has hit its peak and saturated. This is unfortunate as the pioneers leading the industry brands and supporting the marketing and growth of the industry with quality designs and product now suffer. This leads to less profits to support events, ambassadors, trade shows, magazines and industry marketing. It also means dealers must discount and don’t have the margins they need to support stocking products. —Todd Bradley, Co-Founder of C4 Watermen

Right now the industry is facing Armageddon. Every new industry quickly attracts hundreds or thousands of entrepreneurs, all hoping to ride on the explosive growth. Over time, the number of brands reduce to about five main players, with lots of casualties along the way. The casualties are taking place right now. What’s worse, many snake oil salesmen have entered the space, selling terrible products that deliver awful experiences. Some examples: Cheap boards with intermediate or advanced board designs, so it targets the beginner on price point but beginners will struggle paddling on those boards. New retailers with no commitment to the sport sending people out without leashes and without life jackets, with little concern for safety and good experiences. Brands setting up fake websites to rank their products as #1, even though their products are sub-par and have no retail or community support system. —Andre Niemeyer, Publisher, Supconnect

Is SUP getting safer?

Finally, yes. It took Andre Pumbo’s death to wake up the industry. We’re seeing and hearing of more experienced paddlers using leashes and PFDs, especially vest PFDs. Yet, we still see many new and summer recreational users paddling in open water without skills and any safety equipment. They tend to be the ones in the news. —Rob Casey, Owner, Salmon Bay Paddle

The Paddle Responsibly project launched last year brought industry manufacturers together to work to try to educate the consumer about SUP and Paddlesports safety before they make a purchase through point-of-sale material and online videos. (Learn more HERE.) —Lili Colby, PFDiva at MTI Adventurewear

While quality educational opportunities are at their highest, unfortunately many have not taken steps to get basic education to improve their experience on the water. From 2015 to 2016 the mortality rate nearly doubled. As the sport is perceived to be fairly simple and accessible, people are often finding themselves outside of their comfort zone and in conditions and situations beyond their abilities. — Josh Hall, ACA Instructor Trainer

It’s getting safer, but not as fast as it should be. There is a long way ahead. We need more safety instruction and fewer topless pictures in the magazines. —Raphael Kuner, Instructor Trainer

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