Paddle better – why quality matters.
When we set up McConks back in 2015, we made a commitment to ourselves, and to the environment, to only ever use the best quality materials available to us. This is important for many reasons, but mostly because we make our boards to be as indestructible as possible and last at least as long as their five year warranty. And because we make them as repairable and maintainable as possible, and we use classic rather than fashionable designs, our boards really do stand the test of time. We love nothing more than going to a school or centre and seeing that they’re still using the boards they bought in 2016, and other than a few marks and scrapes, they look as solid as the day they were first pumped up. That, friends, is what sustainability really comes down to.
Keeping up with quality improvements
We’ve been on quite a journey since we started back in 2015. In 2016 we were one of the first brands to start making boards from the new fusion same drop stitch technology that the industry leader was using. We couldn’t call it the three letter drop stitch acronym that the colourful company used (TLDS for the rest of this article [note 1]. But switching to the same laminated monococque structural laminated dropstitch material that the industry leader used, meant that our boards were typically 2- 3kg lighter than most boards on the market, even most of the other premium brands.
It wasn’t just the drop stitch either. Every bit of the board, paddle and package has always been made from the very best we can get – marine grade stainless steel, the very best heat pressed deckpads (that don’t soak up water like a sponge or lift off the board in the first year), triple reinforced handles and d-rings and lots more. Much is often made of the fact that all inflatable boards are the same by companies that make cheap paddleboards. But speak to any true industry professional for the reality. We all know just how much difference there is between different brands. And the difference is huge and often hidden out of sight.
Gradually most quality brands caught up with us and the colourful industry leader, with most boards from brands in the £500+ bracket using the same or similar technology as the TLDS – a good outcome for consumers.
What’s less good for consumers, is that pretty much all brands are now able to use fusion tech which gives them a much better quality cosmetic finish from the outside. The issue is that lots of boards use very low quality drop stitch inside the board – either low density double skin, or worse, poor quality single skin, which affects their performance by increasing drag or bounce, reducing glide and making them much less stable. Also, because of cost pressures at the lower prices points, the workers who make the boards are paid per board they produce, rather than paid a salary. This can really affect the care and quality used when making a board. Despite what you might think, the production of an inflatable is still very much a manual process and a craft. Like all crafts, the more time taken, and the more more experience the maker has, the better the final product. Good quality craftsmen charge more – even in China. And so making a good quality board, with the best materials, and with the best makes, takes time, and costs money.
And yet, despite this, did you know that we could, should we choose to, buy inflatable paddleboard packages from some factories in China for as little as $60? That’s the whole package! The cost price of our accessories alone (Wheeled rucksack, pump, leash, Quick Release waistbelt, fins) costs more than $60. And our boards cost us significantly more.
Our boards have been tested in some pretty extreme environments from 45 degree plus heat, to Iceland in the middle of winter. In some rental locations our boards get real abuse, living outside all summer, or even all year, and still looking great after a few years.
When the best get better
We keep innovating and developing. TLDS is no longer the best tech in town. Machine cross woven (or X weave) drop stitch material, rather than Knitted drop stitch like the previous industry leaders’ TLDS, are much better for the environment, stiffer, more robust and lighter. If this seems like alchemy, it kind of is. But it’s to do with the way that the drop stitch fibres in the X weave have less ability to move, and the X or wave pattern also increases rigidity. Therefore you need less fibres to get more rigidity, and less fibres is less weight. So we’ve been gradually moving our entire line up to Machine X Woven drop stitch since 2019 starting with our race boards and whitewater boards. This year, for the first time ever, all of our boards (from kids to niche race boards) are made from the absolute best x woven drop stitch. So if you buy a board from McConks in 2022, you can guarantee that its made from the absolute best raw materials, and the accessories are the best you can get for the money.
The factory that we work with (and we have been using the same factory since the end of 2016) knows the value of good quality employees, and recognises that value by looking after them with holidays, with air quality testing in the factory, and by paying them a good salary. This factory also hasn’t tried to grow unsustainably to meet the 500% increase in demand for inflatable paddleboards over the last two years. They knew that to do so would mean to many new staff, too little control over quality, and a significant drop in quality (2). That’s why we’ve stayed with them, and why we have’t tried to shop around for cheaper factories. Because to do so would go against our entire sustainability ethos.
We never claim to invent the technology – as that would be untrue. We do design all of our boards, and use computer modelling and CAD software to do so. But the internal gubbins have been invented elsewhere, and we just adopt the best technology we have access to. The good news is that because we use a factory that makes boards for the very best brands out there, they have access to the very best technology. This isn’t normally available to brands as small as we are (why we have access to it is because we were in the game before SUP became popular) we have access to the very best technology, and we just work with the factory to decide when to adopt it. Often we do so without fanfare, because, well, frankly, we often a bit crap at marketing!
So, that’s our quality and technology story – never compromise as they say! Please fire away with any questions in the comments below.
(1) The then undisputed industry leader copyrighted the three letter acronym for the drop stitch material that they started using in 2016. They didn’t invent the technology, nor did they have the patent on the technology as they claimed at the time. We referred to our boards as “using the same technology as ‘leading brands’ s XXX, which we still think was reasonable. But after a ‘Cease and Desist’ letter from said colourful paddle company (3), we decided we couldn’t afford the potential legal costs. Nonetheless – we were using the same technology.
(2) Despite this, we still had more quality problems in (in percentage terms) 2020 and early 2021 than we’d ever had before. Lots of this was due to quality issues with with the raw materials supplied, but ultimately, all of the issues were directly or indirectly caused by a combination of COVID and the massive increase in demand. And in percentage terms, from our contacts across the industry, we believe our rate of return is one of the lowest in the industry. Which is disappointing for the charitable causes we support, because they get first dibs on seconds or repaired boards!
(3) That was our second cease and desist threat. The first came from the famous change robe company about 5 years ago who tried to tell us that they had IP on waterproof changing robes with a fleece lining. We knew legally they didn’t have a leg to stand on, however, we couldn’t afford to see them through court. So we accepted their ‘Cease and Desist letter’. Incidentally, if you wonder why there are so many companies now making changing robes, one can only presume that a major multi national company that sells changing robes did actually have deep enough pockets to see it through court! We wonder who that could be?