Booming East Coast sales provide hope that standup paddleboards may be more than just a fickle, trend-driven boost to retailers. And while SUP sales may not rival the S&P 500 as an economic indicator, as a non-essential purchase, their sales movements are still telling, and more often, baffling. In a slow, recovering economy, the SUP market somehow continues expanding. To gauge this sustained phenomenon, we went outside the sport's original strongholds of Hawaii and the West Coast. Here's what East Coast retailers have to say about this powerful sales performer in their region. — Tom Fucigna Jr.
Bari Denney, of Florida's Jupiter Paddleboarding (above) saw a 50-percent board sales increase in 2010. Their customer base was a 50/50 mix of first-timers and crossovers from surfing or kayaking."They either know what they want and we either have it or get it for them," Denney said, "or are clueless about what they want but they know paddling is cool, so we interview them about where they will be paddling, and fit them with the right board and paddle package based on budget, size and experience." The shop is the number one dealer of YOLO and Jimmy Lewis boards, and it also carries NSP, Surftech, C4, Starboard, Naish, Riviera, Tahoe and Amundson, with SOS, Fanatic, Aipa, KM, Quickblade, Werner, Kialoa and C4 paddles. Multi-use board designs were most popular, with more paddlers "getting into racing and surfing." Denney commented that "many customers shop the Web for the best price, and we have to match it or lose the sale. This can be a real bummer because margins are narrow." She remains positive, however, in her belief that interest in SUPs is growing and feels that "Florida is a couple of years away from California and Hawaii in popularity, so we are poised for more growth."
Ben Butterwei of Stand Up Paddle Annapolis says the Maryland retailer's "sales volume more than tripled in 2010." Butterwei carries YOLO and Amundson boards, with 10- to 12-foot all-arounders as bestsellers for touring the nearby Chesapeake Bay, with racing and fishing use increasing. in the wake of recent local and regional races. SUP-based fishing is also growing. Approximately 60 percent of their customers were new to the sport, with about 30 percent crossing over from surfing and the remaining 10 percent from outrigger canoes. He says paddlers in the "close-knit" Annapolis community "want to buy local and help out the smaller guys," and that price and quality factor most into which boards sell through, while letting customers "try their boards before they buy them is huge." Overall, Butterwei says, "It's been a great year. I think the SUP scene is still growing rapidly. The possibilities are endless."
East coast surf legend Peter "Pan" Panagiotis of Narragansett Surf and Skate reported that "sales and rentals increased by 15 to 20 percent." The Rhode Island shop carries Bic Sport, Oxbow, Hobie and local shaper Dave Levy SUPs. Two Bic Sport Peter Pan models were most popular, with the "almost indestructible" Bic Pan ACS 11’4″ multi-use as the top seller, as well as "a lot of Oxbow Cruiser models." with the 12-footer as the most popular. About half of new customers entered with no boat or board background, while a third crossed over from paddling and about 20 percent from surfing. Panagiotis thinks "SUP sales are growing and will continue to do so," but predicts that "legitimate manufacturers" will suffer within the next two years as "the market will get flooded from cheap mass-production model assaults via Southeast Asia … too much will be produced and then dumped on the public at ridiculous prices."
Mike Oberton of Outside Hilton Head (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) reported "great growth" in sales, with "a lot more growth in programs," especially in fitness/yoga. Rentals, lessons and touring excursions that introduce new paddlers to the product and sport boosted sales. The shop stocks Jimmy Lewis and YOLO, but Surftech and C4 boards were most popular, which Oberton attributes to a combination of price, design and name recognition.. Twelve-foot all-around boards for flatwater paddling and occasional surfing were the best sellers and most common purchases, with some customers moving toward the 10'5" range. Oberton, who has been in business for 30 years, foresees great growth down the road in the SUP market.
Jeoffrey Nathan of Coastal Urge in Wilmington, and on Bald Head Island, N.C., says 2010 SUP sales were "phenomenal." Lessons, rentals and tours were "booked the whole summer." The shop carries Naish and Surftech, with 11'6" to 12' multi-use boards as the most popular for flatwater paddling, with a growing number of standup surfers and racers pushing demand. Accessories including fishing rigs, bungee systems, kites and even sails (in the Naish system) made SUP use more attractive and promoted new customers. Nathan credits reduced prices with bringing more paddlers into the sport, and believes that the availability of durable, weather-resistant, roto-molded boards also eases storage and even portability issues, allowing customers to leave boards outside or on their vehicles for extended periods. Nathan cited the expansion of local races and events and believes the number of paddlers and retailers will only increase, as the SUP scene has "just begun, and is going to continue to evolve."
On North Carolina's Outer Banks, Wes Gutekunst of Kitty Hawk Sports reported its sales volume rose 18-20 percent, and rentals doubled. The shop carries Hobie, Laird, Jimmy Lewis, Cabrinha, and YOLO boards. Multi-use boards for "surfing, flatwater, racing, and some fishing" sold best. With only a few locals interested in finding boards made by local shapers, most customers were tourists simply looking for a deal, who "did not want to pay regular retail." Gutekunst "saw a big increase in interest and awareness" and feels interest in SUPs is "definitely growing. There seems to be at least double interest and awareness as opposed to last year."
On the supply side, only two dealers reported any problems obtaining the boards or paddles they wanted or "experienced delays in availability, due to manufacturing and shipping times." Based on this cross section of shops, East Coast SUP sales rose substantially in 2010, and the trend seems poised to continue. Activities and events that introduce new paddlers to the sport proved crucial in fostering sales, and accessories or specialty products can encourage crossover entries from other paddle- or board-sports markets. Maybe the Standard & Poor's should be replaced by the "Standup & Paddle" Index, as the feedback from these dealers is a bright spot in the past year's otherwise dreary economic landscape, and we can always use a little sunshine.