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PL Exclusive: EJ and Corran on the State of the Paddling and SUP Industry

How's the paddlesports and SUP industries faring? For a take from the trenches, we went straight to two of the most prominent - and opinionated -- paddlers around: none other than Eric Jackson of Jackson Kayak and Corran Addison of Corran SUP, two paddlers well familiar with both each other and making the cash registers ring. Here's what they had to say...

EJ, who arguably paddles more than any other company president

 


Corran riding the wave of SUP sales....

"This pie is bigger than all of us can handle." --EJ

EJ On Paddlesports

On Whitewater:
2013 has started off with a bang. With the World Freestyle Championships about to take place in the USA for the first time in 20 years, we're seeing renewed enthusiasm from Confluence and Pryanha, who are putting out new and really good products. Dagger came out with the Jitzu and it is a great boat. They need somebody to paddle it, but Snowy did a great job on this boat. It was also awesome to see that Confluence updated the aging Agent.

The Demshitz crew gets my vote for the most improved team in the kayaking industry, rallying around each other all winter and becoming amazing freestyle boaters, but most importantly becoming a real "team". They're encouraging, inclusive, and really good. Dave Fusilli gets two thumbs up for making that happen. Having Robert Pearson as their designer of the Jed freestyle kayak didn't hurt any either. Great boat, great team. You'll see more Pryanha playboats out there this year than in a long time. Wavesport has the new "Mobius" which is only in carbon so far, but it also looks impressive. Bryan Kirk is rocking that boat as their team manager and that would make two playboats by Confluence in one year. Should I mention that Confluence is also the lead sponsor for the 2013 World Freestyle Championships? Yes, I will. I think this will be a good push forward for freestyle kayaking and playboat sales in the USA. In 1993, the last time the worlds were in the USA, it started a revolution of kayak design. I'm seeing some sparks of the same thing again. I do recommend that Dagger doesn't give out a Wavesport Recon as a prize at an event in the future like it did at GoPro Games as it makes the customer a little confused...

Creekboats and river runners are also seeing some good action as Wavesport has the new Recon and Ethos and both look great. I am not mentioning Jackson Kayak models, because you know that we have something in every category- which defines who we are- we invest in new product every year, much to the chagrin of our competition.

So what's happening in whitewater? "If you think you can, or you think you can't, you are right!" That is the motto I think the industry professionals need to remember when confronted by the question, "Is whitewater a good investment?" I see more than one company having banner year in 2013.

On Fishing:
This is a whole different beast. Fishing is the biggest sport in the USA in both dollars and participation. Hmm...Kayaking is not that big. Get people fishing out of kayaks and "voila!" you make kayaking a big industry. Well, that's certainly how Jackson looks at fishing. We love to fish and there is not better way than out of a Jackson Kayak. While we blasted our way into the market-share position in two seasons, we watched the market grow to match our growth. This pie is bigger than all of us can handle. We need some new players to capture some of the sales and help us reach the masses. Bob McDonough going over to Johnson and just recently launching the "Predator" line is perfect. Good job! Bob did a great job at Confluence, but sometimes a move like this can produce a lot of new stuff fast.

Legacy's new Slayer is a big hit and also well played. Hobie has been leading the industry for a long time and continues to show all of us a great path forward. The bottom line is that, "you ain't seen nothin' yet!" when it comes to fish'n. 2013 will be a record year for fishing kayak sales and the dealers are seeing a wonderful new cash cow. Those who were paddlesports only dealers and haven't embraced fishing yet, are missing out. Those who understand that the people buying fishing boats are fishermen, not kayakers, are doing great. Jackson fishing? Nobody would have paid us two cents to hear our opinion on it two years ago. Now we're a market leader.That should motivate any manufacturer to give fishing a go.

On SUP:
What can you say but "What'SUP?" Fad, craze, what are you crazy? Of course not. SUP is sexy paddling, it is easy, it is rewarding, and it is here to stay. The numbers suggest that, as it doubles almost every year. The media suggests it, as they love showing it. The paddle makers are saying that they are selling more SUP paddles than whitewater now... hmm... Any questions? Jackson SUP? We have a rotomolding factory. Not a composites factory, not yet anyhow. What can you do in rotomolded boards? That is what we asked ourselves. I won this year's GoPro Mountain Games SUPcross event in my SUPercharger designed by Tony Lee and Ken Hovie. It is plastic, only $799 and still pretty bad ass. It is a whitewater downriver board. Market? Small. We also did the SUPerFishal fishing board. Hmm...Market? Unlimited.

Badfish is the prominent board I am seeing inland -- the brainchild of Mike Harvey out of Salida. They have a team and the support of Boardworks and are really making a difference in between the oceans. What about on the coast? Surfing shops who were on the brink of going out of business are back in the heyday with SUP taking them there. Old ladies, young guys, celebrities, you name it. SUP- that is what'SUP. I say, be there or be square."

On Recreational Kayaks
China - that is what's up. A commodity industry is what it is becoming. High volume, low margin business. Want to compete? Learn to play that game. Jackson Kayak can't break into that game and stay in business any time soon. This is the business of the big guys. If you can stomach the margins, and can get into the box stores, and learn to play their games, there is money to be made for sure. Watch out, for every one USA company making rec boats there are 10 companies in China heading your way. Until we can pay people $1 day for labor, it will be a risky game.

On Touring
Jackson Kayak still hasn't made a dent in this industry. What does that mean for the industry? Only that it seems to be a culture and habit-based sales trend. Want to lead the industry? I guess you need to either go back in time and make boats that become popular before now, or come up with something really innovative that nobody else ever thought of. Do we concede this market? No, we have a great boat that does reasonably well in the market, but this isn't as much of a moving target as some of the other markets. I would predict similar volumes in 2013 as 2012. If that turns you on, then you should be going for it. I am turned on in a flat whitewater market, but then again, has anyone ever witnessed flat whitewater? No, I didn't think so, that is impossible.

Corran Addison on SUP

There is a definite trend now in paddleboards inland from the coastal areas. While the two main selling areas are still well over 50% of sales in the first 100 miles inland from the coast, it's still a massive change to the other 50% being between the two coasts. This also means that we're seeing boards finally move away from surf shapes, and what companies have been pawning off as "All Around" shapes (AKA "last years surf shape") to displacement hulls that are more effective on flatwater. Women, from 35-50 continue to be the fastest growing demographic in the sport, making up over 50% of total participants, with this split almost evenly between general recreational paddling and yoga/fitness.

While there was a race to the bottom to get cheap product out into the market over the last few years, resulting in a massive surge in the number of cheap (but heavy) Chinese made product, we're seeing a general trend away from these once more given the demographic of the average paddler -- middle age women with household incomes of $100k and over -- buying from specialty retailers. The result is a rekindling of sales of lightweight easy to use boards in the $1,400-$1,600 range where weight, aesthetics and comfort (things like deck pads that don't chafe) are trumping price.

That said, this leaves the other half of the market which is dominated by general recreational paddling/family use (surfing, racing and whitewater are already almost insignificant in the grand scheme of things) where sales are divided up amongst a range of products, from inexpensive plastic for families and fishing, to inexpensive epoxy, soft tops and inflatables. These are sold mostly through specialty retailers, but the big box stores have jumped on the band wagon and an increasing number of the low end boards are being sold through these channels to first time spur-of-the-moment buyers. This segment is important and will continue to grow, ultimately surpassing once more the more affluent female demographic as the sport goes more mainstream, products get cheaper, and smaller (transport/storage).

The sport image remains driven by the surfing/beach lifestyle, despite actual sales in this category being very low compared to just three years ago. It's the draw of the beach bum/surfing image that has helped SUP jump forward and dramatically draw sales from canoeing/kayaking, combined with lighter weight, and overall simplicity (less gear, though its ultimately more expensive at the low end than kayaks).

Many paddlesports dealers still remain unsure of the category, and wary of entering the market. However as the "me too" attitude continues and dealers see competitors making money from it, they're diving in, even if they see it as a short term cash cow. However it's safe to say that paddleboarding is here to stay, and the savvy ski, kayak and fishing stores are certainly benefiting from the incredible growth of the sport in such a short time. I think we're going to see a massive shakedown in the next year or two, like snowboarding went through in the 1990s where it grew from about 10 companies to over 400 and back down to under 100 in less than a decade. Brands with nothing unique or unusual to offer, or without a brand name will all but go by the wayside in the specialty store, and only the companies with the financial means and ability to produce large scale (plastic) will ultimately make it in the Big Box.
 
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