SUP’s future in the outdoor industry up for debate

SNEWS was onsite at Jordanelle State Park outside Salt Lake City Aug. 1, covering the products and trends being tested first-hand at the Open Air Demo. Stand-up paddleboarding, again, stole the show. Our reporters took a couple of story angles on the hot trend boosting sales for specialty outdoor shops.

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:

SNEWS was onsite at Jordanelle State Park outside Salt Lake City Aug. 1, covering the products and trends being tested first-hand at the Open Air Demo. Stand-up paddleboarding, again, stole the show. Our reporters took a couple of story angles on the hot trend boosting sales for specialty outdoor shops.

Is SUP here to stay?

Fads are driven by marketing or a particular moment in time. Trends last longer and morph due to grassroots participation. So is stand-up paddleboarding a fad or a trend?

You might expect the sport to sputter over the next few years if you’re unfamiliar with the stable ride of a thick, oversized surfboard on flat water, surf or rivers. But those in the know say the likelihood of SUP being the last great thing is a long way off. “Trends are based on participation,” said Surftech President Huntley Dornan. “We’ve been coming to the OR show for five or six years. [SUP] is not a revolution; it’s an evolution. Sales are still growing like wildfire because we’re here listening to our customers and constantly improving the brand.”

Some speculate that SUP could follow the snowboarding arc, in which everyone and their brother seemed to be making boards until those small companies were swallowed up or killed off by the bigger manufacturers. “Of course, it will be a question of who’s standing when the music stops, but we’re a long way off from that,” said Starboard SUP’s Kristian Pearson. When the boom tapers off, some of the smaller brands may well disappear, like they did in windsurfing and whitewater kayaking. “They’re just going to have to adapt and keep up with the market if they want to survive,” Pearson said.

Already, boards are evolving. Designs and materials have improved, and there are more accessories, clothes, paddles and interest. Though the sport has been ablaze in the West, it’s just now sparking in the Midwest and among women.

“We keep seeing more and more new people enter the sport,” said BICSport Marketing Manager Jimmy Blakeney. “The sport is still in its infancy.” Kim Bilancio, owner of SUP apparel maker Maliko, concurred: “I see more and more boards on Hood River and people asking about it. Our retailers tell us sales are still growing.” Perhaps the reason for the sport’s meteoric rise stems from its universality. Outings can range from a competition to a simple cruise around the Jordanelle Reservoir. “It appeals to everyone from regular Joes to extreme athletes, and you can do it on any water surface anywhere,” said Sirena Sol Owner Amy Hackbart.

Manufacturers are seeing fans who helped get the sport rolling now requesting more technical products. For example, customers may want to swap their old planing boards for touring ones. “They’re swapping up,” Pearson said. BIC, Surftech, Starboard and others adapted to the demand, adding the more efficient touring models to their lines.

Companies also are accommodating the upswing in female participation with women’s-specific apparel and accessories, as well as boards that are lighter and easier to carry. “There’s less chance of women paddling if they don’t like getting [their boat] from the car to the water,” said pro athlete Nikki Gregg. The new Starboard NRG, for example, weighs in at just under 20 pounds.

Instead of trying SUP once, customers are looking for durable, easy-to-paddle boards they can grow with. “The flat-water recreational market is blowing up,” said Blakeney as he showed design improvements from BIC like a recessed hand-carry hole, deck tie-downs and the women’s 23-pound Wahine board. “[SUP] is bringing people to the water who don’t want to just sit on their ass,“ he said. “It’s not going to be a fad. SUP will continue to grow and become a standard part of the paddle world.” So just like people still windsurf and surf, it seems they will now forever SUP.

–Jill Adler

Following SUP’s fringe footsteps

SUP went from fringe sport, getting weird looks and wide-eyed stares three years ago to being a powerhouse of sales growth and an alternative to traditional watersports like canoeing and kayaking.

At Outdoor Retailer Summer Market’s Open Air Demo on Aug. 1, new, alternative outdoor products hit the water running, literally.

If you ever watched ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games, which ended after its last showing in 2005, you probably remember seeing Lizzie Hoeschler Horvitz, two-time world champion and director of sport development for Key Log. From a family of competitive log rollers that includes her eight-time world champion mom and three competitive siblings, Lizzie’s goals have come to include not only competing, but also growing her sport.

“We are pretty fringe now. Log rolling is rooted in history, but it used to be that you needed to have lakefront property in order to partake because there is really no way to move a 400 lb. cedar log.”

Her family, with the help of engineers came up with a solution to the accessibility problem: the Key Log (MSRP $1,799). “The Key Log is a means to an end as far as growing the sport of log rolling. It weighs only 58 pounds empty, so people can just throw it on their roof racks.” The Key Log’s greatest innovation, is an insert that when filled with water, gives the synthetic log the feel and weight of a 400-pound cedar log. They hope to get log rolling popular at summer camps and universities and are even working on developing a P.E. credit. “With minimal impact and no pivoting, it is a really friendly sport.”

While Key Log focuses on older kids and teens, Zing Toys has set its sights on an even younger group. Scott Wall, specialty sales director, stopped collecting foam arrows from behind a giant target to share the Oregon Company’s story with SNEWS “We are all about a fun way to get kids off the couch and playing again. Nowadays, kids push a button and the toy does all the work for them. Zing toys are fun shooter toys that don’t have batteries and are all hand powered. It is all made of safe, soft foam and is great for kids of all ages.” Watching the kids fling foam around looked like so much fun, many parents joined in to take a shot. Zing Toys have a large range of foam shooters including the Zoom Zooka (MSRP $20), a water and foam blaster.

If extreme is more your style, but impact isn’t, listen to the story of one of Eliptigo’s founders, Bryan Pate. An injured marine and Ironman triathlete, he wanted to do what he did on his bike again, but without the same impact on his body. As Steve Burton, the national sales manager, described, “It is cutting-edge fringe.” Literally an elliptical on wheels, the company has shown the Eliptigo’s climbing legitimacy by sending through treacherous terrain like the Death Ride in California and Mount Washington in New England. “A 71-year-old Marine rode across country on one in 100 days, raising money for Wounded Warriors. It is great exercise for everyone and offers real performance at the same time.”

With people going from sport climbing on Monday to whitewater kayaking on Friday and everything in between, the line between alternative and mainstream is being blurred and what we may stare at this year might be the biggest part of the demo day in a few years.

–Lorin Paley