As the popularity of SUP spreads across the planet, John McNeil of the Wet Mitten Surf Shop is growing right along with it. No longer confined to sunny ocean shores, new businesses are taking advantage of this unprecedented growth. With their first shop opening up in Grand Haven, Michigan in Spring 2010 and their second in Traverse City, Michigan, Wet Mitten is a leading force in taming the Great Lakes.
SUP mag: SUP is a fast growing movement- when did the bug bite you?
McNeil: I’ve grown up on the water- surfing, sailing- anything I could do- so when I heard about a standup paddleboard I realized that this was something that people were looking for- an accessible way to get involved with all the water around us. In late spring of 2012 my brother and I opened up our first Wet Mitten in Grand Haven, Michigan. Our first year was a great success- people loved it- so much that it warranted opening up another shop up here in Traverse City.
SUP mag: So you wouldn’t sell a product you don’t believe in- what about SUP makes you fill the shop with boards?
McNeil: It’s because so many people can use it. I love surfing and kite boarding- but they aren’t for everyone. I can honestly say that, if you can ride a bike, you can paddleboard. There is fun stuff that’s more like surfing or racing, but for every person who wants to do that, there is family who wants to rent a board for a week and explore the lake and that’s where we come in.
SUP mag: What do you mean?
McNeil: Well we understand that a lot of people in this area don’t have the money to buy a board or are just visiting- but that doesn’t men we can’t do rentals. We actually rent out more boards than we sold last year, and in a seasonal mecca like Traverse City, we expect that we will definitely be more serviced based. First and foremost, we want to make sure that people have a way to get on the water. Maybe that’s buying board or maybe it’s just renting it, either way, we want to be able to help.
SUP mag: Where do you see the industry going?
McNeil: It can only go up- this is just the tip of the iceberg
SUP mag: It’s funny you say that- that’s the exact same phrase Ryan Gerard of Third Cost Surf Shop used to describe it.
McNeil: Oh yeah- down in New Buffalo, right? That’s a good place. He’s right though- it might sound cliché, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s like Lake Michigan was made for paddleboarding.
SUP mag: Definitely. In order to take advantage of the lake, what do you think is the most important accessory you sell?
McNeil: That’s tough- since we do a lot of rentals and because the people coming here aren’t exactly sure what they want it’s hard to say what the most important accessory is- a paddle maybe? (laughs) I guess that’s a bit of cop out. Oh! I know- the GoPro Camera. I know it’s not specifically a paddleboard accessory, but for people whom are just up here visiting for a week from Detroit or Indianapolis it’s really important to document their vacation and the GoPro camera is awesome for doing that. You can just attach it to the front of your board and go.
¬–As told to Blake Knoblock
Follow Blake on twitter at @BigBadBlake
Shop Talk is a recurring SUPthemag.com feature.