After the blistering heat of a long summer day, the cool water of Jordanelle Reservoir offered tremendous relief and an excellent day of paddling at the Open Air Demo during the 2012 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. In anticipation of four days indoors doing business at the convention center in Salt Lake City, the organizers put together this annual event to offer action shop owners and buyers the chance to play outside and try the latest in recreation equipment. Just outside of Park City, Utah incredible weather and an excited crowd combined to make a terrific venue to test the new standup paddleboards that will make the scene next year.

“They had a beach longer for SUP than the one they had for kayaks,” said Scott Hamstra, a buyer at Rutabaga, a paddling shop in Madison, Wisconsin. “There’s so much here it’s hard to know where to start.”

Board-makers from all over the world lined the lakeshore to show off their latest products. The popularity of SUP keeps growing. And to meet this demand, the supply of new constructions, shapes and styles is on the rise as well. Hamstra said he’s most impressed by the new displacement hull design on the Wing series boards from BIC. Made for touring, it features deck tie-downs for gear and paddles well over most open water conditions. At 12’6″ it’s designed to be durable with an impact resistant Acrylic-Styrene-Acrylonitrile polymer shell.

Despite a wide array of composite boards ready to ride the Open Air Demo offered a surprising number of new inflatable models. Naish pro paddler Chuck Patterson said he’s excited about his company’s new blow-up race models, crafted after its Glide series in boards built like the Javelin called the Naish One. “We’re pretty psyched on it because it’s a great introductory board with a lot of options,” Patterson said. “A new paddler can use it for recreation or touring or maybe even as a first-time race board.”

With more pounds per square inch in many inflatable boards there is a growing number of new styles with rigid platforms that are every bit as stable as those made from hard materials. The Starboard Astro Touring board features a PVC outer shell that is strong enough to take the punishment of regular use as a rental board but still so light and fast it’s a competitive board for open water racing.

Also worth mentioning from Starboard is a new fitness board built with design assistance from professional SUP rider Nikki Gregg. Her NRG series weighs in at 19.5 pounds and is the perfect training board for anyone looking for a workout. “For women especially,” Gregg said, “if it’s too heavy to lift on the car and into the water they’re not going to paddle it.” With tie-downs built-in to hold a paddle in place, the NRG is great for SUP yoga.

One the best finds this year is a new company with solid roots in SUP. Sandwich Island Composites, or SIC, rolled out a series of boards from the design vision of Maui shaper Mark Raaphorst. The Bullet is a sleek race model that rides well under a variety of conditions. “It’s well suited for open-ocean,” Raaphorst said. “It’s really great for the bumps and glides.”

Made with a double carbon epoxy sandwich composite the board is crafted for maneuverability and also features a rudder control. Patent pending the Active Steering System allows the board to track left or right with a small kick switch built directly into its deck. The ability to steer, unlike most boards, means it’s possible to favor paddling on one side over another.

Just when you think SUP has run its course innovation of design continually moves the sport forward. As paddlers look for features that suit their particular needs for racing, touring or fitness, the selection will just keep getting bigger. And as Outdoor Retailer opens this week with more new SUP exhibitors than ever in a very competitive marketplace, there seems to be no end in sight. – James Mills

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