Shop Talk: Strongwater Kayak, Missoula

Rooted in the river city of Missoula, Mont., a block away from the town whitewater park and Brennan’s Wave is Strongwater Kayak. Watermen and owners “KB” (Kevin Benhart Brown) and “Big” (Luke Rieker) make it a point to carry everything for the modern Rocky Mountain surfer. This is the third interview in our Shop Talk series where we go directly to the front lines of the standup industry to find out how, and where, the sport is growing.

SUP mag: When did you get into the SUP phenomenon? And why?
Big: Two years ago right before we started Strongwater Kayak. KB and I actually saw SUP at OR (Outdoor Retailer Show) three years ago and thought it was sweet. We saw the potential.

SUP mag: Where do you see the sport right now?
Big: Exploding. It will never replace a kayak in Class V whitewater. It just isn’t doable. But I will never run the Alberton Gorge (on the Clarks Fork) in a kayak again. When its high water in Montana we become surfers who follow the river levels like tide charts. It starts at 14,000cfs in downtown (surfing the wave) a block from the shop and snowballs to Pipeline on the Lochsa and to any wave we used to surf in our long (kayaks, waves that were too glassy for short high-performance freestyle kayaks). We took a trip out to the coast last year and I was impressed how surfing the rivers (on a standup board) translated to the ocean. With SUP my surfing improved dramatically.

SUP mag: In your area have you seen growth and interest in SUP?
Big: Tons of growth in Missoula. I remember one session last year at Brennan’s Wave there were eight paddlers on SUP and three kayakers. We also see SUP racing becoming more popular.

SUP mag: How many boards/paddles are you selling? Have you seen an increase in your SUP sales and/or rentals?
Big: Yes. In the last two years I think we have sold 40 set ups. With the prices coming down on bomber packages more people are buying them.

SUP mag: What kinds of boards/paddles are people buying?
Big: We carry C4, NSP, and Surf Tech boards. For paddles we are selling GSI adjustable and cut to length. Next year our SUP rental fleet is going to consist of Surf Tech’s Black Tip boards.

SUP mag: What is the biggest accessory right now?
Big: Shin coil leashes by Surf Tech. They are crucial. You do not want your board hooked to your life vest when swimming off Pipeline (wave on the Lochsa) or any large rapid. River booties and Dakine straps and pads are also huge.

Chad Randol

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Photos: Carberry