The SUP industry (exposed)

As I write this the Pacific Paddle Games are currently wrapping up out at Doheny Beach in San Clemente California. To be honest the whole event was really lack luster. It was very plain and the turn out was just really depressing. I can remember going to BOP 4 years ago and just being in awe of the crowds, competition and overall atmosphere. Each year since  has just become less and less interesting.

PHOTO by Aaron Black Schmidt/SUPtheMAG

The SUP industry as a whole is in bad shape. Everyone and their moms are making boards and gear. Ask multiple brands and they will tell you “our boards are basically the same as (insert big brand design ) they are made in the same factory”. All of the integrity and purity seems to be stripped away. All of these brands are gobbling up kids and trying to find the next Kai Lenny by having them pay for race training while slapping stickers all over the kids to promote their board brand. I am not against team riders or starting them young but it seems so forced and the natural progression that once surrounded SUP also SUP racing has seem to come to a stand still.

With all of the racing events its the same people doing the same thing and its just really getting boring. The contests seem scripted and just overall played out. this is coming from a big big fan of the sport. I am not a hater I am not throwing shade.

On the flip side the “amateurs” that compete in races and are genarlly stoked are the ones keeping hope alive. When new people do races its for health- social interaction- and general stoke on SUP. For a long time SUP has had a big growth but it really seems to be bottoming out. People new to SUP will always have a positive out look and dont really see alot of the things that are wrong. I feel like I have been around enough events and companies to make a pretty clear evaluation.

Hopefully we see a more modest approach from the SUP brands. We need to weed out the fly by night brands. The SUP events will slowly need to be scaled back as well. If we take a SOUL SURFER approach and have a more grass roots out look we can restore SUP to its former glory.

MAYBE i am wrong, maybe I am just seeing it differently. If I am way off LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS


Author: Kalikookamalu

Waterman - Hawaiian- basketball junkie

51 thoughts on “The SUP industry (exposed)”

  1. I think you nailed it….. The 2014 PPG at Salt Creek was probably the pinnacle event and epitomized all that you recount here as ebbing…….. too many board makers, yes, all trying to use brand marketing to sell next years’ model as the missing link or the final piece of the puzzle that will make the average Joe or Jane faster…. and yet at this point in the evolution of SUP only dedication, technique development, and better conditioning from the amateur will produce the results that the marketers promise and the willing buyer yearn for now….. trouble ahead, yes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Need to look past racing and remember why people get outdoors and on the water in the first place. Sports like SUP won’t last forever because of racing. SUP won’t get famous because of racing. SUP is going to keep growing because there are people who are searching for ways to experience the outdoors and if brands realize that and have a commitment to people and the outdoors not just $$ or pro athletes then they will. E the ones that last. I have been telling this to brands for years… if they think SUP is dying then they have failed to pay attention to where the opportunity is and how to reach the right audience. There are so many people just looking to fall in love with the outdoors and it all depends on what their first positive experience will be. I encourage brands to get involved with as many local river/water advocacy groups as they can. These groups do group intro paddling events 3-5 times a year and can bring upwards on 100 new people in to experience paddling… and yet I don’t see brands supporting them… why not? News flash SUP brands your sucking at recognizing where your market is and if you don’t start paying attention you will loose and someone else will see it and take your place.

    On the other hand… I totally agree with your article 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree so much ! That’s why the fly by night brands aren’t in it to be innovative and connect people with their passion they are just making money on a “booming” product .. mahalo for the comment

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To it’s a brand that has no prior knowledge or interest in the water world and literally just pick from a catalog of China boards and put their logos on it . … there is no in house design team or real paddlers associated with the brand


  3. The market is for sure saturated with below par products. I run SUP KENTUCKY, a guided sup adventure service, our business has been amazing but I see so many who buy cheap boards and get instantly frustrated trying to balance. The fly by nights need to go away so the quality boards remain and the sport will continue to grow. Stoke will grow if that learning curve is less steep. People aren’t willing to put in the days or weeks of practice it takes to get good at a sport. They want turn key, instant gratification. It’ll be a rough couple of years coming up but SUP will survive and hopefully thrive too!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I have been working in the SUP Industry since 2009 when Surftech brought me on board, since then I have seen plenty of board companies come and go. At the SUP Shack we have good years and bad years, 2015 being the best, curiously 2017 has bounced back we have been strong this year. People love to get into the outdoors, as a SUP business it is our responsibility to have a great location, fantastic gear and make it inviting for families. I learned long ago that racing was not the market I wanted to pursue it is the general public – people who love a spirit of adventure, people who want to get out on water. When the temp is above 72 and the waters are calm we are slammed. SUP is very weather dependent. As a small business in Santa Cruz my goal is to make SUP available to everyone.


  5. Racing and board size limits continues to surface on many threads. The average American male is 190 but the 14’s top out at that weight, leaving a huge gap in potential growth for the sport. Imagine if you had a Surf SUP contest and said everyone must be on a board no longer than 7 feet long. It would be filled with people up to a certain weight, as other average and heavier riders would be too heavy for that size board, unless it was 6 inches thick but the rails wouldn’t work as good and the board would not perform.

    Board classes should go away- they are limiting the growth of the sport. However, a lighter rider of equal fitness level would still have a significant advantage on a longer board to a certain point. Should there be weight classes? Maybe too complicated, but I wouldn’t take anything off the table yet as attendance is down across the board, and if we keep doing things the same way and expect different results, we will be doomed to fail.

    Just my two pesos. Rock what you got- and maybe have some creative solutions for the weight issue.

    There is an Op-Ed with the math to prove the heavier weight makes a deeper hole and requires more effort to push the water than a lighter rider of the same fitness level. Good read.


  6. Jon, 2014 Salt Creek was NOT the PPG, it was the last BOP. The pro thing has more or less run its course. It will sputter around a bit more since money is still committed, but what company is making money from this? If you can’t answer that question (I can’t) then it gets pretty easy to see the writing on the wall. I’m not sure what anyone means by “fly-by-night” vs. Major Brand. Find me a major brand made anywhere but Asia. Kings? SUPSports. Not exactly majors.


      1. We have a phrase – ‘big hat, no cattle’ – what you see (marketing/team riders/etc.) isn’t necessarily what the reality is of the business side and which brands are actually selling the most boards and turning a profit – which by the way is the only way to stay in business for, say 40 years 😉

        An interesting poll would be to ask paddlers which SUP brands they think are selling the most boards – I almost guarantee you it would be driven by perception due to marketing presence – and would be wrong.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. I competed this weekend as I have on those dates for the last 9 years since the first BOP. And I know what the differences were and have an idea of whats going on in the industry. First, it was Salt Life’s 3rd and final year on their contract, which they tried to get out of due to the fact that they are struggling as a company in CA and as Sparky did all of those years, was losing money on PPG. The decision to not have Andrew as the organizer hurt the event because there was no replacement for his passion for the sport. Huge fail to have Dave and Chris call the first day of action simultaneously with the webcast. I have a lot of respect for those guys in their own right but they are not professional announcers the way Dru is and basically mumbled through day one barely audible unless you pressed an ear against one of the few speakers on the beach. Big mistake not having Dru up there as he is so good at keeping the crowd into and calling the action on the water.
    SUP racing is dying out because most people are priced out of it and the airlines are getting worse and more expensive to travel the boards. For the price of one race board a family of four can all have boards paddles and everything else from Costco. That’s killing the business of SUP. Some really really good brands are shutting their doors this year as a result.
    I think we have seen the last of PPG or anything in it’s place for a while or until a major brand willing to lose money on it steps in. Unfortunately that’s not realistic. I feel bad for the youth as they are just getting started and have the pure stoke. The rest of us had a great time while it lasted.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What Jessie Heib said above. Most of the brands suck at finding their market. Why do they spend so much time and money advertising within the industry to a smaller and smaller segment who have become used to free gear anyways.

    Hint 1: advertise outside the industry. Triathlon groups, fishing, cancers, kayakers, corporate team builders, and first timers are all out there waiting for the Sup companies to notice and woo them.

    Hint 2: stop giving stuff away for free to every person who did 1 race or even never did a race. Bro deals suck for business. I’d Steele for 1 sale before I’d settle for a couple dozen social media postings.

    We get more people showing up for paddle and pour than we do for a race. Those people actually purchase boards

    This whole silly annual “upgrade”cycle is also unsustainable. Dumping boards at the end of every year just isn’t smart. Shops like me are waiting for the price drops so we can make a decent markup. Our customers don’t care that last year was blue with red stripe and this year is blue with green. They just want a Paddleboard.


  9. I have said this for years, the Board Companies need to pay attention to the average Joe as they are the one’s that purchase the boards. I love to race because it’s fun and it gives me something to look forward to. Icing on the cake. However, there is a large discrimination factor in regards to the attention males/females get in the open division as well as pro women. I hope the powers that be get their act together and understand who pays for the boards they make and the reasons behind it.


  10. Just like the surfing industry, SUP is fragmented. The bigger name brands really don’t have a ton of market share like in other Industries. It is dominated by Mom and Pop shops except now Mom and Pop shops all produce in Asia. Everyone is trying to get their little piece of the pie and serve their local market. There’s nothing wrong with working in an industry that you love and Sharing your passion with others. Who cares who won a race and who has the latest and greatest, just get out on the water and enjoy yourself. ” the best surfer out there is the one having the most fun”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Especially frustrating being right smack in the middle of the USA-Missouri. Have reached out to several board brands with no interest in “helping” me out. It would seem BIC SUP Atx, Tahoe, to name a few would be interested in getting their product out there. I can’t afford a fleet of regular priced boards at $1000 a pop, when people are going to Costco and getting them for $250. And if someone were interested in buying from me I’d have to resell them for more than $1000 if I’m to make any profit. Stuck in the middle.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Most of the BOP/PPG spectators in the past were open racers, their families and friends. Last year open technical race, having 150 people running in multiple raws in a small circle for 15 minutes was showing complete disrespect by the organizers for the open class. Many people decided already at that time not to come in 2017. PPG is becoming pretty much a “pro” race event that will never attract bigger crowd to the shore. Watching the webcast is just more convenient (thanks to Chris Parker who is doing amazing job imho, especially if he is doing it solo).


  13. as sup pasionate instructor surfer all my life and sup surfer this last 10 years , that loves to make possible other people dreams, I agree 100 % WITH ALL YOU SAY, the beginning of sup glory its been dying and to me is sad to see all this aver night enthusiastic making it a big comercial thing for their own purpose of connivance whether is to get clients to sell their new little brands or even painting themselves as a soar of kai lenny material when they are just a commercial figure that learn about sup for commercial purposes…… and the BOP had a totally different feeling …thay do need to implement some fun stuff with a touch of rootsy lopez touch!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Let me put a flip side on the fly by nighters. I am a retailer in Australia going into our 8th year of business. The fly by nighters come and go and their product fails to impress anyone who purchases in terms of quality but the price is what gets the mums and dads into the sport. When said fly by nighters product falls apart these people are hooked on SUP and then go looking for a quality name brand. Now that they are hooked they are happy to spend $1500+ on a good quality product that is going to last however they would never have spent this sort of money getting into the sport. I’m not an advocate for the fly by nighters as my job would be a lot easier if we didn’t have to compete against them, but I guess looking for the silver lining.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I agree as someone who started 10 years ago roughly and SUP to me was never about racing it was being on the water and having fun, I have stepped away from this into Whitewater SUP and recreational paddling on the East Coast of Australia now and loving this but see the push for racing across here and hate seeing non racers being pushed at club levels just to make numbers to win. SUP comps are great when done right but we have lost that feeling here in Aus in regard to the fun aspect, its all about winning now and i feel this has turned many away from the enjoyment aspect of SUP.


  16. Great comments everyone. I speak as someone who was first introduced to sup as an escape from the concrete jungle of the city I lived in and from the sometimes jungle of the overstimulated mind. I’ve since transitioned into racing and have found a community of other amateur racers to love, grow, and train with. I’m sure many of you are in similar boats (no pun intended). I fell into racing probably in the way many fall into marathon running: the thrill of movement and finding balance with the mind body immediate environment. I fell in love with the solitude on the water. I fell in love with the training, the structure and the discipline needed to be faster stronger and smarter. Simply, I fell in love with the water and the way it feels to move on it.

    Again, I’m sure many of you have similar experiences. This is the aesthetic of the sport we all love. Everything else build around it: community, comraderie, and the competitive spirit. Wonderful. But you know what I also love? The R and D. The science. The innovation of board design. That makes visiting the water fun. That is enough for me to spend money. In my opinion, and I respect you all, we need glam and glitz, pros and magazines, if the sport is to maintain its allure and legitimacy as an endurance sport (which is why many of you paddle).

    There will always be cheapo brands out there, good luck to them. That’s just a reality of competitive market ebb and flow. Is it ethical? Well that’s not the conversation. Did I learn to play guitar on a stratocaster? No, I had some shit Korean brand look alike. But I learned about the value of higher quality and crowd tested gear and upgraded. But only after I felt like I had the skills to rep! I think the same applies here. Unless our favorite brands reach for the stars and project an image of celebrity, the allure to grow in skill as paddlers will wane. Could prices be lower? Maybe, I don’t manufacture. But WE could all do a lot more to generate community events that stimulate the stoke we all feel or first felt when we pulled our first load of water.

    The sky isn’t falling friends, we aren’t having an identity crisis. Racing has its place, surfing sup has its place, cruising has its place. Paddling isn’t just this or that. Why can’t it be a sport and also a spirituality? And why are a couple of low attended events sounding all alarms. The elite board companies don’t have the money to market to everyone and carry the weight for everything we want. Racing shouldnt be ridiculed, it provides so much for so many.

    And let’s be real, everyone I paddle with would be happy dying unbathed with a paddle in one hand, a burrito in the other and living in a van. We don’t consume a whole lot (other than beer after races and those burritos I mentioned). If our events don’t have a live band I’m to blame and I own it.

    “Good” events cost money. Nostalgia is partly to blame as nothing is as good as it was . But so many events struggled this last year because of lack of solid sponsorship. How to we raise appeal for investing in our sport? How do we prove to other brands and companies (sports drinks, outdoor apparel, etc.) that we are a valuable investment? Boards don’t fly off racks at races. What other commodities do we value as a race community? Are these representatives invited to the table of our sport? I’m not saying sell out to big corporate companies. But if you want something shiny you have to pay for it.

    But if you want an event that brings community together without the price tag , organize it and don’t bum that only 20 people came. May you find happiness just being on the water.

    Want the “sport” to survive, interpret sport as you will, find a friend and take them to the water. Everything starts and ends there.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Being familiar with many sports that have come and gone ( & lurked for decades) , If its true what everyone is saying above look for the following to occur in the next few months with the top end A, B and C manufacturers, consolidation, close outs forcing a market correction of $$$ and fewer skus produced.

    All it takes is a bean counter inside of many companies to realize that “hey we are not making money and we are selling fewer” and there goes production and discontinuation of the C level name brand companies. A and Bs will stay, but will produce more generic, family fun at the lake boards- rather than dedicated boards for one individual. Simply put for every weekend amateur racer there are 25 women venturing out for some exercise/yoga/quiet time etc, another 10-15 men looking for exploration and low impact exercise/freedom ( and yes trying to socially track down those 25 women) and 5 kids/teenagers looking to try something.

    Look for consolidation of vendors within retail, retailers will look at what they sold, versus what were forced to bring in to “compliment a line” by the manufacturers. same goes for paddles and accessories. Why carry 3 brand name carbon paddle manufactures and one SUP branded carbon paddle if one brand accounted for 70% of sales?

    Retailers will also ask themselves what is sweet spot price point for a board, I can guarantee you its lower this year as more and more manufacturers attempt to sustain market share and /or sales volume.

    The shine is wearing off for SUP….so whats the next thing? activity?

    Liked by 1 person

  18. The Aloha and True Ohana of Sparky’s original Rainbow Sandals Battle of the Paddle will never be replicated. Unfortunately you cannot turn back the clocks of time but what Sparky, Gerry Lopez and Ron House introduced at the onset of the sport was a fantastic voyage that genuinely involved all paddlers in a wonderful Southern California weekend of Total Stoke & Aloha. The Super Bowl of SUP! I’m so grateful to be one of the OG’s from it’s inception competing in every BOP but like many I moved onto new adventures in life when that incredible weekend became over priced under delivered event
    totally void of the original Stoke & Aloha… If you want to find true happiness get back to the roots of why you started paddling in the first place and just go out and enjoy time on the water with family and friends…I guarantee you’ll find your Stoke & Aloha…

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I would love to continue to race but I have pretty much quit because the race boards cost $3,000 and you have to upgrade each year to be competitive.

    If we had a one design race class where everyone competes on the same board for around $1,000 I would be back in a heartbeat…… and I suspect many others would too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have been reading every comments of this post and I must admit I agree with every of them….except yours. You don’t have to upgrade every year to stay competitive.In fact you can keep a board 2 or 3 years and stay competitive. You would be surprised to realize how many pros do it.
      So please come back and race, you can get so many good boards second hand for cheap it is just incredible.
      The fact that you thought like this shows that the marketing tricks of the brands are working…but it is far from the everyday paddling reality.
      I hope you can look at it again, pick a cheap good board and get back into training


      1. Look at a raceboard from 2 – 3 years ago more than likely it’s heavier and not as agile as a newer board … me myself have seen boards really make a difference in a competitive racing environment


      2. Ok, so let me give you a bit of insight

        Travis Grant came with a new board to compete in 2013
        He did all 2013 with that board with countless victories
        He did all 2014 with that board with an interesting 3rd place at Carolina
        He did half 2015 with that exact same board with 1st place at Carolina!! 1 year later…same board better result.
        Titouan Puyo used that board for the Air France Paddle festival in Tahiti in 2016 and got 3rd.
        Was the board outdated?
        Yoann Cronsteadt used that exact same board for the Air France Paddle festival in Tahiti in 2017 and got 1st.
        This board has been for sale in any shop from Mid 2013 until end of 2015 and could still win a race like the Air France paddle festival in 2017. That is a 4 years span of life at the highest level

        Then mid 2015 Travis went to Europe with a new board for the Euro tour.
        He won plenty of races on it in 2015.
        In 2016 Travis and Titouan used that board all season long and got 1st and 2nd at Carolina
        In 2017 Titouan got 1st again and the same board. (Travis 2nd on a modified version)
        This board (available in any shop) is finishing the 2017 season and I can assure that anyone on a starting line with that board in 2018 would have no handicap.

        So do the maths, 5 years 2 boards.
        I am just telling things that I can justify but I could give other examples very easily.
        I understand that the brands want you to change boards every year… but you don’t have to.
        What you really need is a board you feel comfortable on. If you start with a good board, you’ll be able to keep it at the end of the year.


  20. Enjoyed the read. I agree with what the points that you brought up and anticipate that there will be some (needed) shakeout and regrouping before the sport continues the next leg up in growth.


  21. The best events always had a place for innovation and spectator interaction. Race the Lake of the Sky and Tahoe Nalu are two that come to mind along with Jay wilds Jam From The Dam, Bluerush’s Battle of the Bay and the Tahoe Cup. Race the lake of the Sky had Snowboard style X game, one design, 250 meterish, Short course buoy turn racing. They even had pneumatic start gates! That is by far the most fun I have had on a Sup board. Also we are leaning and catering only to the serious SUP athlete and have left families with kids and Surfboards behind. Not everyone can ride a 24×14 $2800+ board. We need Sprint races, relay races, short course races. We need to push a Surf SUP class. I have become a bit bored with SUP racing. Only the people are keeping my toe in the water. I NEVER thought I would say that but there is a reason I am Dragonboat, OC6, and Whale Boat rowing/racing and doing very few Sup events these days. But every time I get on a board I know this is my first love. But the other type of racingI am doing still have high Levels of that”magic” that has drawn so many of us to SUP. It almost seems like we have to recreate ourselves at the grassroots level. Local races are by far the most fun these days. And please, if you throw a race, buy plenty of cheap medals so a bunch of people can walk away with something. I dont want to make it meaningless but if only two women show up on 14ft boards give them something. They will be back… MM

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thanks for all of the insights of the SUP industry. I am part of a very small SUP community up here in Alaska. In addition to all of the barriers to entry and continued growth already mentioned, we also have short seasons and cold, often silty water that is fast moving with extreme tidal influences. Simply put, though amazingly beautiful, our waters can turn moody and deadly with little notice. Yet, every summer we strive to introduce and grow the sport. And we watch. We watch how the SUP industry is doing in southern realms. It is still growing and will it ever take off for us? I figure we are about 5-10 years behind the SoCal SUP industry.

    I do agree that the industry grew too fast with reckless abandonment and unfortunate messaging. Rather than carefully selecting sponsored athletes and featured models to make the sport relatable to the many, they selected the fastest racers and the most perfectly sculpted yogis to sell their boards to the few. As a result the message was SUPing is only for the athletic, fast, and light.

    I recently spoke at the Alaska’s Sportman’s Show to promote SUP in Alaska and afterwards a women asked me if I was sponsored. Apparently her daughter lives and SUPs in New York and is sponsored by a SUP board company. When I responded no, it was as if I was no longer valid in her mind. What?! Many Alaskans own canoes and sea kayaks, yet no one asks if they are a racers or sponsored paddlers. The SUP industry as created a monster.

    I can’t tell you how many women here have confided in me that they’d love to try SUPing and that they think they’d like it, but they’re just not sure if they can do it. This is the result of poor messaging and missing the market. I fell into SUPing initially after a SUP Yoga class and have never looked back. I am in my forties and physically nowhere near those featured SUPing on the covers of women’s active wear catalogs. But, SUPing is my thing, it’s the perfect sport for my needs of endurance training, stress-reduction, outdoor time, wilderness exploration, and quality family fun time. And, I dare say that women in their 40s are a much bigger market than the one the SUP industry has been spending its marketing dollars on. So, yes I agree let the C’s go, and encourage the A’s and B’s to focus on real people who have tried SUPing on cheap Costco boards and now are ready to buy boards for the whole family. And for god sakes, stop advertising boards with women in bikinis with no leash and no life jacket or solo SUPers in the middle of the big blue. Not only is this marketing that excludes, but it is irresponsible.

    If the SUP industry wants to stay around for the longhaul, I believe its time to rethink their marketing efforts. Most people know what SUPing is now and have maybe even tried it. Now its time to capture those interested in the feel good, fun, safe, and wellness aspects of the sport. Advertise to families and groups of friends on boards appropriately attired to the conditions and donning safety gear. SUP is a great all-in-one outdoor sport that is low-impact, core-strengthening, endurance building, stress-reducing, meditative, social, and incredibly empowering. It’s a great tool for those seeking adventure, respite, or wellness. And with a redirection in marketing from the SUP industry, SUPing can be a lifelong sport that can be enjoyed by the masses from their youth well into their mature years and with floor space held year after year for SUP boards in between the kayaks and canoes at any given outdoor retailer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alaska is in a very different place and I think it’s got a lot of potential. I have native friends up there and are some of the best water people I know and I think sup could really help the communities up there !


      1. Absolutely! That’s our goal. Boating accidents leading to drownings are the big problem up here. SUPing is new, fun way that we can teach safety, awareness, skills and comfort on the water. Thanks for the thought-provoking, navel-gazing posts.

        Liked by 1 person

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