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August/September 2011

Surf’s Up!

You can ride the wave too

Stand-up paddling (SUP) is fast growing in popularity as an alternative to traditional surfing. There are also opportunities for general retailers to benefit from this fastest growing water sport in the world, BEVAN FRANK found

The new kid on the surfing block is stand-up paddling (SUP), which attracts numbers of participants from all of the water sporting disciplines like surfing, kiting, paddling and windsurfing.

“It started out as an alternative to surfing a few years ago in SA, but it now commands its own space and time in the water,” explains Gary van Rooyen, a former SA windsurfing champion and team captain, WP surfing team captain and now avid stand-up paddler and SUP equipment supplier through Coreban Sports.

“The great appeal is that the barrier to entry from an ability perspective is very low. The diverse selection of boards offers individuals weighing in at 140kg as much opportunity as pre-school toddlers!”

The SUP scene is still in its early years, having only really taken off in the last three years. It appeals both as a lifestyle activity and as a sport for men and women with two disciplines: racing and wave-riding, explains Glen Thompson, vice-president of Stand-Up Paddling SA (SUPSA), which was formed in late 2010 and is in the process of aligning with the national surfing body, Surfing SA.

“As with any growing sport it is difficult to give numbers and I’ll probably err on the side of a conservative estimate of SUP riders when I estimate that there are 1,000 people nationally who own a board or who have participated in the sport — with many dedicated SUP riders owning both wave and race boards,” says Thompson.

“The Western Cape, in and around Cape Town, has the largest SUP community in the country, with a growing presence in Durban and a handful of SUP riders scattered in the Eastern Cape and Southern Cape.”

Gauteng, KZN, PE and EL regions are prime areas for growth in the sport, maintains Van Rooyen.

A fair number of local SUP riders come from a surfing background — either as longboard or shortboard wave-riders who have transitioned to SUP surfing — but there is also some cross-over between kiting and SUP as an alternative activity on windless days.

One of the roles of SUPSA is to sanction national and local SUP events. The first national SUP Surfing Championships was held in Cape Town on 30-31 July this year, and a national SUP race series was running at the time of writing this article, namely the Primi Naish Race Series.

Thompson points out that there are several local events that form part of the SUP sports calendar, and these events are structured to encourage novice and proficient riders to participate. Many of the SUP brands run promotional events around the country, including in Gauteng. There are also events that link up with the local canoeing and surf-ski clubs, where SUP riders join in for flatwater and downwind time-trials.

Retail opportunities

While other water boardsports are specialised and require the correct in-depth instruction, particularly kite surfing which to date has had more injuries and fatalities than all of the others, “SUP boards and accessories certainly have a place in conventional sports retail, as it holds less of an injury risk,” says Van Rooyen.

Especially entry level products, like soft-tops (a SUP board with a soft skin lining) which are really child and woman friendly, could be sold through general retailers, he says. Apart from boards, paddles and kites, SUP related stock would be leashes, wetsuits, wax, fins for the boards, personal floatation jackets or impact vests and flares (for racing).

Complimentary items would include waterproof cellphone pouches, GoPro cameras that can be mounted to a board or helmet or paddle to shoot stills or video images, helmets, sun cream, and the gambit of beachwear. Thompson says that there are also SUP specialist magazines which are all currently published overseas, as well as DVDs and books, which can be sold by retailers.

Thompson states that initially most sales were directly from the manufacturers or distributors of SUP boards, but there is a growing trend for retailers to keep stock as well.

“Retailers should promote the lifestyle of SUP’ing, with its appeal to overall fitness and fun,” he continues. “While the sport side is part of its growth, it appeals to people who have always dreamed of going into the ocean and seeing dolphins and other sea life beyond the backline, but have seen surfing or other watersports as too demanding.

“If someone can stand on one leg in the store without toppling over, you’ve got a potential SUP convert!”

In order to help grow the sports Thompson maintains that retailers should tie in purchases of entry level or performance boards with a SUP lesson with a respected SUP school and refer customers to local SUP online media (see recommended websites at end of article) for tips on riding and how to connect with the wider SUP community.

“Offering lessons and rentals, that’s a big thing,” says Van Rooyen. “Try before you buy, allows the consumer to gain confidence in their purchase.”

The ideal reseller would have salespeople who understand the sport and are passionate about it. Close proximity to waterways or the ocean is also important, maintains Thompson.

“The retailer would ideally need to be in the water sport business in some way — selling SUP gear to compliment diving, canoeing, kayaking, kiting, windsurfing or surfing. Outdoor retailers that promote the sport and outdoor lifestyles could also consider it due to the lifestyle appeal of SUP’ing.”

Thompson says that the best promoter of a product is someone who has used it. “For example, SUPs for sale in a surf store may sit for a while as the staff might have a bias toward surfboard riding and the actual needs of a potential SUP customer may not be fully met in selecting a first board. Where staff have experienced SUP riding, they are better able to guide those new to the sport, as well as those looking to purchase more specialised boards for racing or surfing.”

The cost factor

“A further consideration is who can afford a new SUP — it is a high value, aspirational item, similar to the purchase of a surf-ski or a full kite-surfing rig and board,” says Van Rooyen.

The high cost of carrying SUP stock as retail inventory may, therefore, be a barrier to retailers giving it shelf space. It is a fairly expensive sport — although considerably cheaper than windsurfing or kitesurfing with start-up costs of about R20 000.

“Start-up costs for SUP would be about R12 000 for a board, paddle and accessories and R6-7,000 for second hand equipment,” says Van Rooyen. “Not many accessories are required as the basics are covered by the board and paddle, leashes, bags, fins, wetsuits etc.

Thompson points out that SUP boards are evolving fast in terms of design and performance. This means that there is an emerging trend in the purchase of second or third boards by early adopters of the sport so that they keep up with the progression of the sport.

“Therefore, every year new stock of the latest models need to be on offer, as well as the tried and tested boards for newer entrants to the sport. If SUP is considered a non-core sport by the retailer, this will be seen as a burden and the retailer will either take on entry level boards or newer performance models.

Van Rooyen also warns retailers to be aware of cheap Chinese products that are available at reduced prices.

Future Waters

“SUP’ing is one of the fastest watersports in the world at the moment, and we are just beginning to see this in SA,” Thompson proclaims. “With more profiling of the sport through national events and linking up with international events down the line, brands are beginning to invest in the sport through sponsorship.”

Local consumer lifestyle media is starting to take note of the SUP scene and articles on the lifestyle are appearing more and more regularly. “If anything, SUP is a lifestyle that compliments the appeal of beach culture in general, and what stands in its favour is that people looking to expand their activities on the ocean or inland waters will find a lot of pleasure in taking up the sport,” says Thompson.

“The numbers are growing by the day,” proclaims Van Rooyen. “SUPing is the new mountain biking craze in the water! By 2012, there will not be a waterway in the world without some folk SUPing away!”

For a list of events for the remainder of 2011, see the SUPSA calendar. Useful websites:,,

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