Shop Talk: Downunder
For Kim Beaumont, owner of Downunder Kayak, SUP and Surf Shop, "standup paddling means views of the beautiful homes, islands and wildlife on Connecticut's incomparable Gold Coast shoreline" from their two locations in Westport and Rowayton, Connecticut. —Tom Fucigna Jr.
SUP mag: What's your background?
Beaumont: I'm from New Zealand, but I've been here for over 30 years. I'm a PADI Scuba Divemaster, ACA Level 2 Kayak Instructor, SUP Instructor and PaddleFit Level 3 Instructor, and I used to teach infant-through-teen yoga, and empowerment programs for all ages. I've had a watersports business here in Connecticut for nine years, and three years ago I opened my second shop, right when SUP was taking off in this area.
SUP mag: Why did you decide to get into the SUP market?
Beaumont: While kayaking, we'd get the paddlers to stand up, to show them that they could, and because it increased their confidence, balance, and coordination. So, when we saw a standup paddler back in 2008, we knew there was something to it. We gradually introduced standup boards over 2009, but by 2010 I needed a larger store where we could demo and retail SUPs, get into the fitness and racing elements, and incorporate them into our kids camps.
SUP mag: What features of your location make it appealing for standup paddling?
Beaumont: We're right on the commuter train line, just an hour from New York City, and close to major motorways. Both locations are right on the water, with flat water rivers that lead out to Long Island Sound, providing easy and safe paddling.
We have the Norwalk Islands off Westport. Of the 28 islands in the archipelago, there are at least three you can camp on, and they're all beautiful to paddle around. The uninhabited ones full of wildlife are really attractive, especially early in the morning or during the evening. In Rowayton, about a 45-minute paddle down the Five Mile River, there are the Fish Islands, which are a very popular destination. We see all kinds of birds year-round, and seals in the winter and spring.
SUP mag: Do you have some favorite spots to paddle?
Beaumont: Upriver in Westport there's a fish ladder at a dam. It's very peaceful and secluded. Even though it's in the middle of suburbia, you wouldn't know it. Bermuda Lagoon, downriver just outside the mouth of the Saugatuck River, is accessible during any tide, protected from the elements, and gives you a bird's eye view of some gorgeous homes.
SUP mag: What SUP activities do your customers like?
Beaumont: Yoga, PaddleFit and racing for kids from six years through seniors. We love to do special events like clambakes on the islands, or fitness challenges that mix land and water activities, plus birthday parties, and our kids camp. We offer board demos in season, guided moonlight tours and sunset paddles. Racing is popular and the fishing market is increasing. There's nothing like trolling from a SUP.
SUP mag: What brands of gear do you carry?
Beaumont: I like to give up-and-coming brands a go, but primarily carry tried and true. Big names include Starboard, Surftech and Boardworks, Kings, MHL, Bark and Rogue. Suplove and YOLO have also been solid for us, and Lakeshore is doing well. We also carry a few surfboards from Surftech and Global Surf. Surfers live local and paddle about an hour away.
The recreational planing hulls are most popular, but displacement hulls are coming along. I prefer them, as they're faster and require less effort. People are pretty keen on looks, and love boards with wooden inlays like bamboo and teak.
SUP mag: Do you sponsor any events?
Beaumont: We host the annual Soundsurfer Waterman's Challenge to benefit kids with autism, plus some environmental causes. That's been great, as we get some big hitters to come, like Dave Kalama, who does a Kalama clinic that sells out here every year. We've also held Brody Welte's PaddleFit for three years. Annabel Anderson, a fellow countrywoman from New Zealand, has led clinics here, as well as Candice Appleby, Anthony Vela and Kristin Thomas. We're very honored to have such well known, yet humble, SUP celebs spend time at Downunder.
SUP racing been huge for us. When I opened the second store, my emphasis was on SUP. I said that I would put the east coast on the map and bring racing here. I envisioned getting celebs like Laird Hamilton or Dave Kalama—who really engineered the sport as we know it—to come, and sure enough, Dave is now a regular at Downunder.
SUP mag: Where do you think the SUP market is headed?
Beaumont: SUP rentals and sales show a steady increase annually. Rentals are close to surpassing kayaking, but both will continue to be popular. They cross over markets, but each have their own dedicated crowd.
Big box stores and online selling are having a big impact, which hurts us little fellas, but you can't beat the experience of going to a local business, learning from professionals in the industry, demoing the boards right there and, of course, great Kiwi service! I think people do recognize that if you don't support the small local businesses, we won't be here.
SUP mag: What else would you like our readers to know?
Beaumont: Like the Kiwis (New Zealanders), we’re innovative, and our latest endeavor is Paddle Board Polo, launching this spring. For something totally different, and to experience the Downunder way of life, I encourage anyone to ‘give it a go’ and come check us out. You'll feel like you're in the Antipodes¹—laid back, easy going, loads of fun, nice people, effortless.
1. Points that are antipodal to one another are connected by a straight line running through the center of the Earth. “The Antipodes” commonly refers to Australia and New Zealand, the antipodes of Great Britain.