Shop Talk: SUP Oklahoma
Eric Lair has a lot on his plate. He’s a lawyer, an athlete, and the owner of an SUP shop in the Midwest. And, he couldn’t be happier. Lair’s SUP story starts two years ago, when he first discovered SUP on a family vacation. After questioning why the sport had yet to make its way to Oklahoma, he hopped in the car, drove to Texas, and bought his first board. A few months later, he opened SUP Oklahoma, and the rest is history. We caught up with Lair to find out all the glories of running an SUP shop in a landlocked state. —Rebecca Parsons
SUP mag: Tell us about your background.
Lair: I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast, so I grew up going to the beach. I surfed as a kid and through high school. After high school, I left and came to Oklahoma on a tennis scholarship. I met an Oklahoma girl, got married, and then went to law school and became a lawyer.
SUP mag: How did you decide to get into the SUP industry?
Lair: I became aware of standup paddling at our family lake house down in Galveston. I thought, ‘wow, it would be cool to have one at our lake house in Oklahoma.’ So, I started looking around, couldn’t find one, and ended up having to go to Dallas, Texas to buy one.
So, I’m driving back from Dallas with a standup paddleboard on my car and I’m thinking to myself, ‘this is ridiculous.’ As fate would have it, I had a connection with one of the sales reps of Riviera Paddlesurf. I called him up one day and said, ‘What’s the deal? How come there are no standup paddleboards in Oklahoma?’ And he said, ‘Well, you should sell them.’ Next thing I know, I’ve got an order of Riviera standup paddleboards on their way to Oklahoma. Boom. SUP Oklahoma was born.
SUP mag: Do you mainly paddle on rivers or lakes?
Lair: We do both. We have a navigational channel here in Oklahoma. So we have, believe it or not, U.S. Coastguard water here in Oklahoma. We have one of the furthest inland ports that’s open year-round in the country, called the Port of Catoosa. It’s part of the McClellan-Kerr navigational channel and it hooks up into the Arkansas River, which hooks up into the Mississippi. So you can actually put a sailboat in our ports here in Tulsa and about three months later, you’re out in the Gulf of Mexico.
SUP mag: What’s it like running an SUP shop in an inland state?
Lair: I love it. We have beautiful lakes, amazing water, and we have a lot of it. Most people think of Oklahoma as being a landlocked, red dirt state, but the reality is, we have the most shoreline miles for an inland state. We have great opportunities to get out and standup paddle, we just need to educate people on these opportunities.
SUP mag: Tell us about the lessons and tours that you offer.
Lair: Last year we did a lot of intro SUP classes. I kept those as small classes with low student to teacher ratios. We taught people the basics: how to hold the paddle, how to get on the board, and the basic techniques of how to paddle safely. We also did private and smaller lessons. We also did
SUP mag: Tell us about your event, Stand Up for the River.
Lair: I’ve kind of grown to love endurance paddles, so I’ve had the desire to do this long paddle here in Oklahoma, along the navigational channel. People don’t know about the paddling opportunities here in Oklahoma and we have an amazing river that runs right through our city, here in Tulsa. But it has some maintenance issues with some of the low water dams, so it doesn’t always have enough water to paddle in.
There’s a growing movement to try and do something about it. I wanted to raise awareness and money for some of these maintenance-related issues, so we’re sponsoring this event that I’m calling Stand Up for Tulsa’s River. It’s me and three other guys, and we’re going to paddle down the navigational channel from the Port of Catoosa all the way to the Arkansas state line. It’s going to be about 140 miles and we’re going to do it in one shot. We’re giving ourselves 48 hours to complete. It’s going be an adventure and it’s going be tough, but hopefully, with favorable weather conditions, we’ll be able to do it.
SUP mag: Is there anything else you’d like to share about SUP Oklahoma?
Lair: It’s been fun and I’ve had a blast running this shop. It’s grown more then I ever anticipated. I’m walking around my shop right now and I’ve got over 30 boards floating around here. If you would’ve asked me back in summer of 2012 what I would be doing with SUP as a business, I would’ve never anticipated that I’d have a shop with 30-plus boards; it blows my mind. I’ve been able to meet so many people here in my own community that I would’ve never had the chance to meet if it weren’t for standup paddling. SUP has introduced me to so many people that are now great friends of mine that, had I not started this, I would have never met them. For me, that’s priceless.