Rob Casey is the owner of SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle, co-founder for the PSUPA and is the author of two paddling guides.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Standing Out in the SUP Business

How to Stand Out in a Crowded Marketplace

In the SUP and Kayak business, most shops or businesses do the exact same thing which is usually having a brick and mortar location, rentals, retail sales and lessons. That model works but is very expensive, time consuming and can be stressful managing employees, buying and selling gear and dealing with the usual woes of weather which affects business considerably. Some love that type of work and others do it as they don't what else to do. In the Pacific NW where I am, outdoor businesses then need to figure out how to survive in the 'off season.' Our usual peak season is only 2-3 months long in summer, depending on the weather. Some offer skiing and kite surfing retail during that time, others shut down and leave to warmer regions.

When I went into business as a SUP instructor few were doing it here. That was 2010. Now Seattle now has 10 businesses focusing on SUP or offering it in addition to kayaking or rowing. In addition to the 10 there are another 5-10 retail locations that sell SUPs, not including online businesses.

That's a lot of saturation mostly operating mostly during summer only. When I got into business, I didn't have deep pockets so I didn't have the ability to secure an expensive lake side shop, or even as many do, go buy 10-20 boards, a trailer then operate full service tent all summer. Plus that sounds stressful (to me), maybe profitable but no guarantees. With a kayaking background I've learned a lot of efficient paddling techniques that really help out my customers, so wanted to find a method to share those.

Being Unique & Following Your Path

I decided to folllow the path of a successful kayaking business here that offers small classes originally without a lakeside presence, shop or staff. Being an introvert this model also allows me to have more 1-1 time with students vs being overwhelmed by big volume. Several years later, i'm relieved that this model has worked for me as I'm not only operating in a way that fits my personality but we're doing well and loving it.

Our business is based upon offering small individualized classes and tours with a big focus on safety and using common sense for SUP and kayaking. Many don't take safety in SUP very seriously, but we do and it's paying off for us. Not everyone who wants to paddle is keen on the minimalist t-shirt and shorts, no leash or PFD only point of view. Here the water is cold most of the year, and we've taught our students that wearing appropriate water temp clothing allows them to relax on their boards vs feeling stiff because they don't want to fall in. As a result they'll push themselves more becoming better paddlers and many are now interested in paddling all year, thus providing us income in November and January when most shops are closed.

A guy who works in a local Surf/SUP shop was quoted as saying 'Rob is too safe'. The benefit of the safe guy is that I get the folks who had bad experiences with the volume shops, or are concerned with their balance, think they may look bad in public, are overweight thus can't fit on most rental boards, are over 70, or have various water based phobias. Being dyslexic, learning wasn't easy for me, so I've learned to be very patient, which has payed off with regular business, great referrals and reviews. Many of my customers may simply prefer a small group or 1-1 and as a result appreciate the ttime we spend with them. Offering smaller classes means we charge more but it all works out as the above folks appreciate what they're getting and come back for more training.

Here's 4 tips on standing out in the crowd:

- Got 5 shops in your town all doing the same thing? What are they not doing that you could do better? Not every customer wants the same experience. Some want small classes, advanced training, or unique classes.

- In a seasonal SUP/Kayak region? Become a mobile business to keep your overhead down. We're mobile. I use my Subaru Forester with 66" rack bars which can carry 8 boards. Aside from corporate groups, 99% of my classes are 1-7 people so we rarely need a lot of gear. This also means buying and maintaining less gear. For corporate gigs we outsource for more gear adding that to the budget. This year we're adding inflatables which can fit in my car.

- Offer unique classes no one else if providing. We teach how to paddle river SUP in tidal rapids, SUP surfing on the coast, Freighter Wave & Tug surfing, advanced skill training, race training and downwinding. No one else here is doing anything close here. We thought about Yoga but didn't follow through, too much additional overhead and programming.

- Become known for a specific specialization. I'm the safe guy and the small class guy. Because I'm patient I get a lot of folks who need more attention and/or an instructor paying attention.

Unique classes that few offer: SUP fishing, paddling with your pet, SUP yoga for seniors, planning trips, SUP travel, marine navigation, rock gardening/rock hopping, boat wake surfing, racing in bumps, etc.

Check out our SUP classes in Seattle - Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Review - 12'-6" 360 Go Anywhere Cruiser - Inflatable SUP

There's a ton of inflatable SUPs out there now as many have realized the various benefits of them such as being super lightweight to carry or car top, easy storage for those living in apartments or without car racks and a great travel option - nothing better than having your own board on vacation.

I'll be reviewing several inflatlables in coming months but of those I've tried, the 360 brand, while lesser known, has made great choices in building their boards.  Here's my 2 cents..

Board: 12'-6" x 6" x 30"

Rider: 6'-5" x 230lbs, Experienced rider.

Test Conditions: 15kt winds, light river current, about 3kts resulting in waist high bumps. Plus a few boat wakes to surf.

360 Go Anywhere website

Benefits of this board:
- Pointed nose made it easy to paddle upwind and cut through chop.
- Tie-down ring located under the nose provides easier towing if needed.
- 4 Tie-down rings on the deck in front of the deck pad for tying down gear or a deckbag.
- Inflates to 28 psi - so deck is super stiff!  Felt like an epoxy board.  No flexing in waves.
- Doesn't lose air pressure. Owner says his boards have held air pressure since November.
- With double action pump, blows up in 5 minutes.  Air compressor time, less than a minute.

- For my 6-5 230lb frame, I felt 100% stable on flat water and in bumps.  The 6" thickness displaced my weight well and the rails provided secondary stability in bumps.
- For light downwinding and boat wakes the board stayed stiff and didn't flex.

A single fin board, the Cruiser takes any fin in a longboard style box.  A nice feature if you want to paddle in different conditions.

Directional Control:
The board was easy to turn using sweeps, crossbow and pivots. For more extreme pivots for fun trying to get the nose vertical, the bouyancy of the 6" tail took some effort to get underwater but I was easily spinning on standard pivot angles.

The board caught downwind bumps easily and I had a few fun glides despite knee to waist high bumps. I feel inflatable exterior material is slippier than epoxy.  The board stayed stable and glided with ease on boat wakes (one guy gassed it for me giving a great ride).

Getting Back On:
Like any inflatable 6" thick, I had no problem getting back on but a smaller person may struggle. Ready my post on Inflatable safety tips for more info:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review - Imagine Recruit / Icon 11' SUP

Review - Imagine Recruit / Icon 11' SUP 

Rider Specs: 6'-5", 230lbs, Experienced paddler.

Board Specs: 11' x 34" x 4.5" / 206 LTR

A friend of mine loaned me his 2014 Imagine Recruit (now Icon) for a few months to try out.  For a big guy like me, I found the board to be super fun for surfing, river paddling and general paddling.

Surfing - The pointed nose helped slice through incoming waves and wind. The 34" width was great in dealing with rough water, chop and drops yet still was nimble enough to rip, as best as I can.  Students enjoyed the stable ride as well and felt it was still light enough to carry aways to the beach.  The ledge handle is super comfortable even with neoprene gloves on.  One of my carries in (on shoulders) is about 10 min down a gravel and beach path, no problem with this board.  While many are going for smaller surf boards, I prefer stability underfoot in between waves yet the looseness I need to play as well.

2014 Recruit/Icon
Fins - The board comes with a 3 fin set-up. I tried both and preferred the thrusters for surfing and rivers.  In teaching students or on flat water, a 9" single fin worked well.

River Surfing - I surfed the board for two days on the Spokane River last winter with a few locals who had Badfish boards.  They were surprised how I was able to keep it in the pocket and even ride some funky bumps behind the hole without being too unstable.  Unlike the Badfish boards, the extra length allowed me to paddle upstream in eddies and light current to drop back in, whereas they had to eddy out and go around to get back in.  Note Badfish are great boards but don't have more universal abilities as a longer all arounder like the Recruit/Icon.

Flat Water - I do a lot of flat water teaching and personal paddling, often in search of a wave or some sort whether it be freighter or a boat wake.  The board has great glide on flat water and was fun in tiny downwind bumps as well.  Students found the board stable with good tracking.

You can really feel the solid design underfoot and while carrying. I'm not known to treat my gear well so in those occasional drops to the ground or on the beach, the board holds up well to light impact.

The 2015 Icon has jazzier deck colors but is the same design and build.

2015 Product Link

2015 11' Icon
2015 Icon Construction

Monday, March 16, 2015

13 Things I Learned in My First Year as a SUP Business - by Shanon Dell

What I learned in my first year as a SUP Business – 13 Tips / Shanon Dell / Given to Glide, Sequim, WA

I started a SUP/kayak/canoe rental tent in Sequim, WA last summer and it turned out to be an interesting challenge and great learning experience. I just wanted to share a couple of things I learned that may help anyone considering opening a rental business this summer. Some of these are no-brainers but good reminders.

1. Research the climate of the area where you plan to operate including not only the average temperature but also try to get a sense of how much the wind blows each day. It may be sunny and 72 but if a North wind blows 5-10 mph each day as well it will be much cooler and the local perception that it’s too cold to be on the water will be hard to overcome. I found 75 degrees to be the magic number. Above 75 would get lots of people out but below 75 and I wouldn’t see a soul. 

2. Get started now. Nail down your location and get contracts signed and insurance lined up as soon as possible because you need to get out and meet people, get rack cards out and get your advertising rolling long before the season starts.

3. An hour rental is really an hour fifteen to an hour and a half because the mini-lesson for beginners, getting people to and from the water and just general chit-chat with the customers takes more time than you think. This is essential to remember when you are making financial projections or deciding if you should hire some help. You also need time to clean up the gear to get it ready for the next customers.

4. Think about the demographics of your area. Do you have a lot of adventurous 20 some things in your area or is it primarily families and older folks?

5. Ask people’s ages on your liability form. Not everybody will fill it out but you may get some very interesting information about the demographics of the people who are renting from you. You can use this info to target your advertising dollars for the next season. 

6. Think about having a large board or two for families who want to take their small children out on the board with them. Having an extremely large board is also a good option for people who aren’t feeling confident about being out on a SUP. My Amundsen Source 11’10” (34” wide) was a great asset for me although heavy to carry around. 

7. Try to pick a location with access to a hose. You’ll be spending a lot of time cleaning boards and PFDs and getting them ready for the next customer.  

8. Boards with white deck pads are hard to keep clean and looking good in a rental situation. 

9. If you plan on getting soft-top boards, make sure ahead of time you have someone who is willing to repair them or be willing to dig into the repair yourself. I struggled to find someone to fix mine when it developed problems. Most shops only wanted to deal with composite/glass boards. 

10. Put a lot of thought into how you will be transporting your gear in all aspects of the business, even if you are only covering short distances to the water or to your storage area. It’s all heavy and all takes time. 

11. Put as much effort and money into advertising as you put into the rest of the business. No matter how much potential walk up traffic you think you’ll have, don’t assume they know about you or your prices or what options you have available. Make sure they have a good impression of you before they ever walk-up.

The most important things I learned
Give yourself time away from your rental location, for two reasons:
12. Renting the gear is only one part of the job. There is a ton of work that needs to be done beyond just renting equipment or doing lessons. I thought working hard at this meant being at my rental tent every day. The truth is, my time would have been far better used working on advertising, working on my website/social media, meeting people and staying caught up on my bookkeeping. 

13. You also need time away to take care of yourself. It’s just good for your mental and physical well-being. This is a very physical job. I ended up with both knee and shoulder problems by the end of the summer. I also ended up with very little time to paddle for myself. 

Visit Shanon at his Given to Glide on Sequim Bay on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.  PSUPA certified.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

SUP Safety with Inflatable Boards by Chris Koerner

SUP Safety with Inflatable boards / by Chris Koerner / PSUPA

This past summer SUP pioneer Dave Kalama wrote an article about using inflatable boards as a solution to the issues surrounding different board classes in SUP racing and the logistics of travelling to events around the world.  He made some very valid points about the improvement in materials and design and the efficiency of the latest inflatables.   One thing Dave didn’t mention was the safety factor with an inflatable SUP.  I’ve been involved with the development of inflatables since 2008, and use them in all of my SUP lessons & tours.  Around that time I raced one a few times just for fun, but after using better designs, materials, and manufacturing techniques the performance has improved to the point where I’ve been using them exclusively for surfing and racing for the past couple years. 

There’s no question the blunt force from this type of board is much easier on the body in just about any situation compared to a fiberglass/carbon/epoxy board.  Think about it – would you rather be hit by a volleyball or by a bowling ball?  Also, many injuries are fin-related and most inflatable SUPs come standard with pliable urethane fins permanently mounted.  Some companies offer fin boxes, giving you the option of using a soft rubber-edged fin (SurfCo Hawaii make Pro Teck fins in three different flex patterns).  Just last month I was surfing at my local spot and saw a rider on the wave in front of me bury the nose and his board shot up and came down right next to him.  When he came up he had a nice slash across his hip, but was able to make it to the beach on his own and fortunately a couple retired lifeguards were on hand with a full first aid kit.  I went home and made a list of friends & acquaintances I know personally who have suffered similar SUP-impact injuries from hard boards and in no time I had 25 names - from beginner/intermediate paddlers to world class competitors.  The interesting thing was the injuries were all self-inflicted; boards to the face; body while punching through a wave, fin cuts from being hit by the board.  Not all of these were surf related – some were flat-water injuries sustained while falling on the board or falling in the water and surfacing under a rail or fin.  

The inflatable SUP market has seen a huge growth since 2010, and today almost every company has one in their lineup.   You can buy one at Costco for a few hundred dollars, and today just about every major brand has a couple inflatables in their lineup – from all-around boards to race and whitewater-specific models.  On the high end you have companies like ULI Boards, 360 Go Anywhere (PSUPA member), Shaboomee (PSUPA member) who build inflatables and offers custom shapes & designs made in the USA.  Like anything I would suggest trying one before you buy, and if you’re using one for travel, I would recommend attaching the pump to the board at full inflation to see how easy it is to get a pump stroke in.  If a board isn’t inflated to at least 14 psi it’s probably going to have too much flex for an average adult, and the boards that can be inflated to 18-20 psi are going to feel closest to a hard board.

Chris Koerner is a PSUPA Advisor and has been a SUP paddler since 2003 and was the first SUP racer on the mainland US.  His background includes over 15 years as a lifeguard in the US and Australia, and provided ocean rescue training in the Caribbean.  

More Reading on Inflatable Safety from Stoke Magazine:

Safety Lasso for Inflatable SUPs

Inflatable SUPs – All the Rage but Sometimes Difficult to Get Back On

Any questions give me a holler: / 206.465.7167
Check out our SUP classes in Seattle - beginning to advanced instruction and PSUPA Certification.


Friday, March 13, 2015

DIY Tow Ropes & Lines for SUPs

Whether you're an open water paddler, instructor or downwind warrior, carrying a tow line is a smart idea if playing in rough seas, off shore or with paddlers of of questionable skills

Over the years, I've towed kite surfers in trouble, capsized kayakers, fatigued swimmers, and my
NorthWater Micro Tow Line for SUPs
students who simply were tired.  In one case, a student did a cross fit session before our class - not recommended.  SUP is considered so easy by the public, many over do the length of their first paddles or not knowing to check the weather, end up in a wind or heavy surf situation.

No matter how ended up needing a tow, it's great practice for the real thing when you come across a person needing a real world rescue.  If in a group class, if you want to avoid embarrasing the fatigued person, just say "hey I got this new tow line, mine if I give you a free ride back to our beach?" Most are stoked!

I use tow lines by NorthWater in Vancouver BC. I prefer the open bag designs that close with velcro. After a tow, I like to throw all the line back in the bag quickly vs feeding the line into a small hole,
common in whitewater throw bags.  Salamander and NRS also have good products.

Throw bags and towlines aren't cheap and if you're the DIY type, here's a few innovative methods for making your own.  Idea that isn't below is a self retracting line, though saltwater and sand may jam the smooth flowing concept of this.

Probably the simplest version of them all – scroll to bottom of this blog:

Got other tips, leave a comment below!

Check out our SUP classes in Seattle - Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.