Smart Businesses Are Targeting the SUP Aftermarket
As the sport gains mainstream momentum, brands, retailers and consumers will be looking for the little extras that make paddling more comfortable and more fun.
If you’re one of the nearly 3 million Americans who has tried—and likely become addicted to—stand-up paddleboarding since it burst onto the outdoor scene 10 years ago, this scenario might sound familiar: You’re several miles from shore after an enthusiastic morning start when you feel the tip of your nose beginning to burn. Your sunscreen—and other things like a water bottle and even your hat—are at least an hour’s paddle away on the shoreline. You left them there because there’s nowhere to safely store and no way to comfortably carry cargo on your board without compromising your balance—not to mention the freedom that defines this minimalistic, self-propelled sport. You can’t figure out a way to steer your board and shade your face at the same time, so you paddle into the blazing sun and grudgingly accept the inevitable sunburn.
Sound familiar? Bob Allen knows it all too well. A former bike racer and cross-country skier who discovered stand-up paddleboarding after moving from Idaho to San Diego, Allen loved being out on the water but was frustrated that he couldn’t easily carry anything with him.
“I hated carrying stuff on my back when I was paddleboarding, but I’d get out there and really need water, suntan lotion and a hat, and there was nowhere to put it on my board,” he says.
So he invented something to meet his needs. The 12-by-15-inch supPOCKET, with its nylon backing and stretchy zip-up mesh, was just big enough to fit Allen’s essentials for an extended day on the water. It’s also big enough for river SUPers to stow a pair of flip-flops on one-way journeys, and it sticks firmly to the board using either suction cups or a stick-on loop and S-biner system for inflatable boards. Problem solved.
According to Outdoor Foundation’s 2015 Special Report on Paddlesports, stand up paddling continues to increase in popularity. Americans averaged five annual outings each, making a total of 13.7 million outings per year. In the past three years, SUP had the third-largest increase in participation of any sport at 31 percent, yet Allen’s is one of only a few companies producing accessories designed to enhance the experience. In some ways, it’s hardly surprising. One of the joys of paddleboarding is its simplicity.
But simplicity can have drawbacks and discomforts. What happens when you want a sip of water? Want to snap a photo of the scenery. Or maybe just want to rest your tired feet and legs.
Shanon Gray, who got a paddleboard for his 40th birthday four years ago, was among those seeking a comfort upgrade.
“I really loved being out there, but it bothered me that if you wanted to catch a quick break from standing, you had to either kneel on a hard surface, or drop off the board and into the water,” he says. “I wanted something that would make it easier to take a quick break, and provide my feet a little relief from constantly clenching and balancing on my paddleboard.”
His first idea, an accessory he called the SUP Seat, took a backseat when he realized it would cost $50,000 to bring to market. So Gray went for a slightly lower-key solution: a half-inch-thick pad made of closed-cell foam rubber that attaches to the board via strong, waterproof adhesive backing and provides comfort and added traction. The Fatty Pad might seem an unusual—even unflattering—name, until you learn that the cushy spot on the bottom of your heel is actually called the fat pad and that it’s susceptible to Fat Pad Syndrome if you stand for long periods on a hard surface in unsupportive—or no—footwear.
Since launching last January, Gray has expanded his product line to include four versions of the pad, from a small 20-by-15-inch paddle-out pad, to a full-board pad that’s been popular with SUP yoga devotees and teachers. Gray sells Fatty Pads as an after-market accessory direct to consumers from his website and hopes to expand soon to specialty retail shops. He is working to partner with or license the product to paddleboard manufacturers.
“I’d love to make it a standard accessory that comes with every board or work directly with manufacturers so the Fatty Pad could be made flush with the board, and not sitting on top.”
Wisely, Gray, who is a criminal defense attorney by day, secured a patent to protect his IP. “The patent covers everything from neoprene on up,” he says, so anyone or any brands looking for cushion and traction will find it in a Fatty Pad.
Gray may be one of the first to introduce an aftermarket comfort solution to the SUP market, but, he won’t be alone for long. SUP board exhibitors were elbow-to-elbow at Outdoor Retailer this year, giving testament to the popularity of the sport—and also hinting at the depth of a mostly untapped accessory market. And, as with other sport categories that evolved to satisfy disparate segments—such as downhill and alpine touring skiing—market saturation often breeds innovation. It also breeds just plain fun for fun’s sake. And that’s where Torch Paddles come in.
Founded in April 2014 by four then-single guys in their early- to mid-20s, the Torch Paddle, with its trident of 720-lumen LED lights on the blade, offers nothing more than an illuminated, cool-looking paddle experience. Designed to light up the water for added visibility and the pure joy of seeing what’s underneath you, the Torch Paddle “ups the ante on night paddling,” says co-founder Johnny Quintana.
“As soon as you dip your paddle into the water, you can see a whole different world under you. And since fish are attracted to the light, you get this whole new interactive experience with the water,” he says. “A lot of people already go night paddling, but this really lights up the water and makes it even cooler.”
According to Quintana, people are “digging it.” And since the Torch has been out less than a year and has already landed in more than 70 stores nationwide, that’s proof enough that the accessories market is open to anyone willing to ante-up.