Even with a last-minute change of venue, the 2013 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Open Air Demo was a screaming success. Shop owners and product exhibitors from around the world turned out at the Pineview Reservoir in Ogden Valley, Utah to share the latest in outdoor recreation equipment, with a particular emphasis on paddle sports. Once again, the SUP category seemed to draw the most attention. With more manufacturers represented than ever before, SUP continues to grow as consumer enthusiasm escalates to match the ever-emerging national trend.
After a full day of clear skies and calm water, I had a chance to paddle the largest variety of boards at one time than ever before. With a broad range of products to choose from, here’s a sampling of what I found.
Master board-shaper Joe Bark was in the water to introduce his latest creation, an updated version of a 2013 model he now calls the Candice Pro Elite. With reduced volume and much cleaner lines this 12'6" x 27″ board is built for speed. Paddleboard Specialists retailer Gary Stone described the ride as "slippery," as it has noticeably less resistance than typical SUPs. "That slippery feeling is a good term," Bark said at the demo. "It feels like it will go as fast as you can paddle it with no governor on it." Originally designed as a woman's board- and named for paddling champion Candice Appleby– the 12'6" is best for paddlers under 170 pounds. Though fast, the Candice will get a bit squirrelly in rough water conditions, so bring your A-game.
I also tripped across the 12-foot Odyssey Paddle Craft designed by Tahoe SUP founder Nate Brouwer. Available in spring of 2014, Brouwer’s been working on this proprietary “Thermosup” material for three years. The Paddle Craft features a thermoformed ABS shell and waterproof honeycomb core. If water were ever to penetrate the ABS shell because of damage, it’s contained in the honeycomb and drains easily. The board can be repaired with a simple trip to the hardware store. With a displacement entry, it’s pretty darn fun to paddle too, and surprisingly light. Odyssey boards are definitely tough and this new material only adds to that reputation.
Another board to keep an eye on in the coming months is a new design from BIC. The Cross SUP is an even 10 feet, but at 33" wide it's built with incredible stability for everything from light surfing, to flat water cruising and SUP yoga. Pro paddler Nikki Gregg has been stringing me along for months with minute details on this new product, set to hit market next year. A keeled nose design with just a touch of forward rocker allows the board to track smoothly through rough water while keeping side-to-side pitch to an absolute minimum. The Platinum version offers a full-length deck pad for maximum use in yoga or other fitness endeavors.
The one product that piqued my curiosity prior to the show is the water propulsion system called Wavejet. Created as an alternative to Jet Ski tow-ins in big wave surfing, the Wavejet uses the same technology mounted to the underside of an SUP board. Providing 20 pounds of thrust, the twinjet moves quickly through the water. Controlled by a wrist unit, the board can be powered on or off wirelessly with the press of a button. With a proximity sensor the jets will power down automatically if ever the board and its rider are separated by more than 10 feet, about a regular leash length. Partnering with Pau Hana Surf Supply and Walden Surfboards, the Wave Jet system is built into SUP boards ranging from 10 to 11 feet. Though some purists might consider jet-powered paddling cheating, it would definitely come in handy on an otherwise upwind day.
Not to disregard human-powered paddle propulsion, there is one new blade in particular that demands recognition. The Team Sawyer Race (TSR) paddle has made some serious modifications to its version made out of wood. The carbon fiber shaft is shaped to an oval configuration that's not only comfortable to hold, but also provides a solid return of energy with every stroke as it snaps through the water. The Rip 90 blade surface is a laminated western red cedar that is as flexible as it is pretty to look at, and provides the added advantage of stability in the water. Perhaps the most significant upgrade is a new Ergo Grip handle that allows for an easy yet strong hold. Constructed with CNC technology, the computer-aided cutting of each wooden product delivers a much higher degree of consistency and little to no variation from one paddle to the next.
And finally, the one product no paddler should be without: MTI has introduced a sleek new version of its inflatable belt pack PFD, the Race 1. A much slimmer, less bulky version of the original Fluid pack, this latest model is designed specifically for flat water SUP racing. A USCG Type III personal floatation device the Race 1 features a padded 3D mesh comfort panel and a snug-fitting waist belt that has a multi-loop attachment point system designed to carry items like clip-on water bottles and navigation aids. Especially useful in areas where a PFD is required by law or race regulation, this latest MTI model is so light you'll forget you're even wearing it. —James Edward Mills