Standup paddling is an enjoyable individual activity, but sometimes participating in a group can make things even better. Lynn Lyon, owner of Kansas City Paddler, and Jill Reitz, owner of Piddle Paddle, have found that to be true in their SUP partnership.
One initial detail about Kansas City Paddler is ironically reminiscent of a line from a well-known movie, because… it's not in Kansas anymore. Lynn opened his first store in downtown Kansas City 18 years ago, before moving 15 miles south to his current location in the town of Peculiar, Missouri.
Carrying an inventory of about 300 boats and boards from 20 manufacturers, Lynn's shop has equipment for all. He carries standup boards by Boga, Pau Hana, Riviera, Admunson Aquatic, Jackson, Legacy and Liquid Logic/Native Watercraft. Lynn particularly likes interacting with his customers, helping them find the right vessel through his "Meet your Dreamboat" program.
Jill Reitz first met Lynn when she and her husband bought their first whitewater canoe at his shop 15 years ago. She crossed over to standup about five years ago. "I had always canoed and kayaked, but when I tried a paddleboard on a Florida vacation, I was hooked. When we got back to Kansas I sold my kayak and ordered an SUP," Jill said.
After realizing that other locals were similarly intrigued, Jill decided to get into the SUP market. "Each time I took my paddleboard out people would stop me to talk about it. Very few people here had seen one, and everyone was interested," Jill said. "My husband suggested I start something because we would have preferred getting to check out a variety of SUPs in person rather than taking a risk online, but we had nothing here," she added.
Jill is "the heart and soul of standup in Kansas City," said Lynn. As he put it, "She is the person who is nutso about SUP." But being enthusiastic about a product, however, doesn't necessarily equate to a desire to be involved in sales: "Jill started selling boards retail, and hated it," Lynn said.
Jill and Lynn re-connected last year at a Kansas City boat show, where they each had booths and were both selling paddleboards. Jill decided she wanted to devote her time to on-water programs for the 2013 season, so they worked out a plan in which Lynn handles the retail side, and Jill provides lessons and yoga classes. "We are a small market and without me having a shop to show boards and without him having the skills to do lessons, so it worked out for the both of us," Jill said. Anybody who buys a board from Lynn gets a free class with Jill, and if someone does a class with Jill and wants a board, she sends them to Lynn.
"It's different here in the Midwest, but it's growing. The people who are interested in SUP are different than our canoers and kayakers," Lynn said. His SUP customers include many people "who tried standup paddling on a vacation and now have to have it," Lynn said. "About half of the people are novices who have a lake home, and standup provides them a way to be on the water."
Another significant portion of Lynn's customers are "women who want something fun they can do independently." About 80% of his customers are women with children, so he sells many family-friendly boards, but said fishermen are good customers as well. "Guys come in also. Fishing has gotten to be big. A lot of the kayaks they fish from are stable enough to stand up in, so fishing from the board is an easy evolution. Some of the guys are into paddling for fitness too," he said. Lynn, who is 72 and a practicing neurosurgeon (he first opened his shop as "a hobby"), values standup paddling as "a wonderful way to exercise the core."
Jill offers weekday evening and weekend morning SUP yoga classes, plus beginner paddling instruction at Shawnee Mission Lake in Shawnee, and Lone Star Lake in Lawrence, Kansas. She also travels to other local lakes for private classes and provides private board demos, where customers can schedule an appointment to try a variety of boards at once. Jill rents Pau Hana and Boga Boards, with most of her customers favoring 10'6" or 11' all-around recreational boards, "so that they can keep it at a lake house and anyone can ride it," but, she adds, "a few people are getting into displacement hulls and racing boards, which I suspect will be big this season."
Kansas City Paddler is a long-standing sponsor of the Missouri American Water MR340 Race, a 340-mile paddlers-only course on the Missouri River. The brutal race that takes competitors across the state of Missouri draws international competition, and ultra marathon standup paddler Shane Perrin of St. Louis. Piddle Paddle has sponsored Perrin, who Jill refers to as "our Midwest mascot of SUP."
Perrin raced in 2011 as the first and only standup paddler, and was the only standup paddler of three entries to finish in 2012. This year, in the annual race's eighth year, two other racers have entered the SUP division, including Minnesota's Alex Linnell, who paddled the entire Mississippi River via SUP in 2012. Shane said he is "excited to have some really good competition," and expects the trend to continue: "I fully expect to see a dozen other crazies like myself in the MR340 SUP division soon."
Perrin "has been a driving force for people to try SUP as a racing vessel in events that are dominated by canoes and kayaks," Jill said. She recently began offering guided trips on the Kaw River to show people how accessible the local rivers can be. "Lots of customers really like the option of getting out to a lake for the afternoon, just renting and exploring solo without the hassle or expense of owning the board," she said. "Yet, it is only a matter of time before they take the plunge and buy their own."
She just happens to know a guy who can help them. —Tom Fucigna