SUP evangelist Gary Stone has been in business since 1984. His shop Paddleboard Specialists is a fascinating study in the course of evolution surf sports has taken to transform itself into a popular activity with broad appeal. Originally at a retail location called Isthmus Sailboards in Madison, Wisconsin, Stone started off selling boards for windsurfing. By 1996, Stone opened shop in a new spot where he could service a growing national audience by way of mail order, and today, Isthmus Sailboards is a remote showroom.
Stone does a steady business online delivering windsurfing gear all over the world, but in a moment of clarity, after paddling his first SUP, he made a dramatic shift to the nature of his business and began selling a wide variety of standup paddleboards and gear. Now as a parallel business, Paddleboard Specialists has come into its own as a unique destination for both newcomers and avid enthusiasts looking for the latest products the industry has to offer. —James Mills

SUP mag: After doing a lot of business in windsurfing, how did you make the transition to bring in more standup paddleboards?
Stone: It’s really simple. I got my first board from Naish in 2005 or 2006. I started using it and I think my third day out I just had this epiphany: "Oh my god! This is amazing!" I taught my wife and kids, and I starting teaching my friends one at a time, and everybody had the same reaction. First, they could all do it immediately, and they all loved it. I just came to the realization; this is going to be huge! So, at that point, I decided to build that portion of the business and shortly thereafter, created a totally new brand identity for the paddle side of the business, Paddleboard Specialists.

SUP mag: Is the short learning curve what makes it so simple? Why do you think so many people gravitated to it so readily?
Stone: That’s certainly one of the reasons. I think that people love an association with surfing. People love being on the water. There’s some very peaceful element to being on the water that even those that haven’t experienced much water time before really get it when they do.

SUP mag: Is time on the water more accessible for a standup paddler than for a windsurfer?
Stone: I can take a person that has never been on an SUP and have them paddling in literally three or four minutes. It’s not quite that fast on a windsurfer these days. It takes maybe about an hour with exactly the right conditions.

SUP mag: Is there something about the Midwest that makes it more amenable to spending time on an SUP?
Stone: Well, I think the biggest thing is that we have a ton of water here. It’s very accessible. Here on the Madison lakes any public park you can put in. There’s no limitation to access to the water. And I think that there are a lot of people in the Midwest that really connect with the water and who are already using the water in other ways. Once they became aware of standup paddling, they decided to try it. They became standup paddlers and they’re continuing to be standup paddlers.

SUP mag: You're also acting as an evangelist and doing a lot of consumer events?
Stone: More than ever. We'll do the charity event, Paddle for the Polar Bears, again, which has three dates already set this year. We will also do the Midwest Standup Paddle Festival again, which doubled in size last year, and we expect it to double in size again this year. Also, for the first time, we're doing a whole demo day on Saturday, June 15th. There will be a series of clinics available that day and on May 18th, we're bringing one of the top open ocean paddlers, Jeremy Riggs, to Madison for an all-day clinic.

SUP mag: With regard to your business, where is the most energy?
Stone: I would say that it’s all categories except whitewater. We’re not seeing a lot of interest in whitewater. I think that’s a relatively small segment and it’s more focused in areas where there’s a lot of that type of water available and it’s for a relatively small cross-section of people who are into that kind of thing. I’d like to see more of it, but so far we haven’t seen a lot of it.

SUP mag: But you do have the capacity for it?
Stone: Absolutely! We stock the Badfish boards, the new Werner Stinger paddle- these are products specifically designed for river running.

SUP mag: Is there anything about your business that you think people should know?
Stone: I think the most important thing is that this isn’t a sideline for us. This is what we do 24-7 and we’ve been doing it for a long time. Even through the winter. I was paddling yesterday and the day before and I’m going today at 5 o’clock. Because we live it and breathe it, we just have a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge that we’re able to share to help guide people in a suitable direction for their particular set of circumstances.

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