In it's early days just a few years ago, SUP had grown rapidly mostly along warm coastal areas of the US such as California, Hawaii and Florida. In recent years, the sport has grown rapidly mostly in cities where water sports are prominent such as my town of Seattle. Despite the popularity of SUP here, many suburban and rural areas not far away have little or no SUP rentals, shops, or anyone actually paddling even in the warmer summer months.
Many from these areas have asked me how to grow the SUP stoke in their communities. Here's a few tips:
- Organize weekly SUP races. In Seattle, two shops, Urban Surf and Alki Kayaks began weekly summer SUP races 2 years ago. Each had only a handful of participants in the first year. By the second year each race was attended by at least a dozen or more participants. In the summer of 2011 both had up to 40 racers per event. These races do a number of things. Paddlers get to network with others with a similar interest. In the case of the Alki races, Alki Beach has a popular bike/run trail skirting the edge of the race course. During each race on lookers see the race and a few have even signed up! Urban Surf has connected with Naish which offers a prize for the racer with the best times for all 6 races. Offering the races has brought attention to each shop and a lot of new customers.
- If you're a shop or rep, offer weekly SUP demo and skill building events. In the tip above, Alki Kayaks offers a free SUP demo prior to each race. On Monday nights, they offer a Women's Night with free gear rentals and demos. Kayak clubs for years have offered skill building evenings which is great for learning new skills, networking with other paddlers, and for instructors a chance to find new students. In winter with shorter days, organize a surf movie night at a local community hall or pub. A friend does a weekly paddle with friends who all meet aferwords for a beer and surf flick.
- Sign up to become a Meetup.com host for your area. This group is nation wide and is a great method of finding folks to come out for paddles ranging from tours, lessons, to just casual paddles. There's no cost for anyone, is easy to set-up, and will build over time. Here's a friend's Meetup.com site, http://www.meetup.com/washington-standup-paddlers/members/14343668/
- Start a Facebook page and begin to build interest. Become the local source for listing paddling events and related news. Before telling folks about your page, upload a few local paddling photos; fill out everything that answers, who, what, where, and how with contact info, a little about you and what you're hoping to create - in this case a paddling community. Ask people to 'Like' your page. The more Likes you get, the more successful your page will become.
- If business is slow when you first start out, sign up for a Groupon on Living Social type discount to advertise your business and get 20 or 30 sign-ups for lessons or tours to get things rolling. Beware though that some businesses have let their sign-ups get out of control by accepting hundreds of people for lessons which in turns overwhelms the shop and pushes away regular customers.