With participation growth over 120 percent in recent years, it is exciting times for standup paddleboarding.
WRITTEN BY Margaret Littman
Since exploding in popularity a decade ago, paddleboarding continues to be the wunderkind of the paddlesports world. More than three million Americans paddleboarded last year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, contributing to a 120-percent growth in the sport over the year prior.
Early adopters purchasing expensive, high-performance gear are slowly giving way to the popular consumer at a lower price-point, says Andre Niemeyer, publisher of industry mag SUPConnect. “As is usually the case with new technology adoption cycles, highly educated, 35 to 55-year-olds with incomes north of $100,000 per year dominated the early years of standup paddling, generating lots of demand for high-end, expensive, specialty product constructions,” he says. “As the industry matures, college educated paddlers with incomes around $50,000 per year are coming in droves and represent the majority market,” adds Niemeyer. “There are far more of them, so we'll likely continue to see downward pressure on price points but steady participation growth, at least in the short-term.”
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From that pool of new users, board manufacturers expect a percentage will become hooked on the sport and become enthusiasts of a specific discipline, while most will remain occasional recreational users. “The majority of participants will continue to simply want to go out and enjoy being on the water with friends and family. All of us that are heavily involved in the sport need to remember these folks,” says Jimmy Blakeney, marketing manager at BIC SUP. At Outdoor Retailer’s 2016 Open Air Demo there were many rec-focused designs directed at this audience, prioritizing fun and fitness on the water rather than speed or surf performance. Hobie’s new Mirage Eclipse is one such design. The pedal-powered 54-pound board gives riders an elliptical-style fitness experience, but can easily be converted into a traditional paddleboard thanks to removable fins and removable handlebar.
Another hit at the Open Air Demo was Hammocraft’s mounted hammock system, which can support five hammocks stretched across two boards for the ultimate relaxing day on the water with friends. “The growth in paddleboarding will level off eventually,” predicts Sea Eagle’s president Cecil Hodge. “[Manufacturers] need to look at new ways to use paddleboards or people will give up on them.”
With an eye on this area of growth, Sea Eagle debuted the QuikRow. The QuikRow is an aftermarket add-on that transforms a paddleboard into an on-water rowing machine in minutes. This solution is designed to be a quick and inexpensive way to multi-purpose a paddleboard into a rowing skiff for those who love to both paddle and row. While these innovative designs and alternate propulsion methods represent areas of potential future growth, it’s the fishing market where the industry expects to see immediate growth.
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“There are lots of demands in that area but very few companies making a deliberate and concerted effort to serve [them],” Niemeyer says. He also predicts that “surf, race and river—which command most of the SUP media landscape—will probably continue to command five- to 10-percent market share each.” As the sport matures, paddleboard safety has also become a growing concern. Though PFD-less beach bodies remain the norm in ads and some media, paddler education around safety gear is thankfully growing.
“Safety is big now after 24 deaths last summer and Andres Pombo’s high- profile accident at Hood River in 2015,” says veteran instructor Rob Casey. An experienced racer, 29-year-old Pombo drowned while training for the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge and reportedly was not wearing a PFD or leash. Over the last year, Casey says he’s heard more paddleboarders discussing PFDs and leashes, and is “luckily seeing more of them on the water as well.”