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SUP culture and lifestyle – does it exist?

Featured image: Mark Hughes/Brighton Images

Surfing, as an example, does a good line in culture and lifestyle. Ever since those original beach boys and girls of the early days learnt to slide sideways on liquid walls the associated lifestyle and culture is something everyone (whether he/she surfs wants a piece of.

Putting this into context the surfing industry, as of March 2019, was valued at $10 billion (source: Google). This includes sales of hardware (boards, fins, leashes and such) but it’s the apparel side (tees and shorts) that makes up that figure’s bulk. On any given day you could be out and about in a landlocked town/city, far from the ocean, and come across individuals wearing surf clothing and adopting ‘the look’. Surf shops are also widespread away from coastal towns these days, where you’ll find zero wave riding craft, instead shelves and rails taken up with surf clothing only.

Check out modern marketing methods and there’ve been many brands happy to use surfing’s image to sell their ware (granted, some have used SUP as well, but nowhere near to the same extent). It doesn’t matter what the retailer in question’s peddling – beauty products, cars, holidays or food – the list goes on – surf sells. It’s especially the culture and lifestyle aspects of surfing these companies are banking on you buying into and wanting to be associated. ‘Hey, look at me, I’m using ‘Surf Hair’ styling wax so I must be a surfer…’ You get the idea.

So what of stand up paddle boarding? As a discipline not reliant on open ocean pulses of energy, instead being practicable (in theory) atop any stretch of water anywhere, does SUP have a similar culture and lifestyle badge attached? Unfortunately not…

Paddling craft has been around for thousands of years – much longer than surfing. In days gone by paddling from point A to B was a necessary undertaking to get from place to place. If it weren’t for those early paddling pioneers then some continents wouldn’t have been discovered as early. Yet lifestyle and culture, except for a minority few, doesn’t exist within paddle sports. This is definitely the case in the UK.

In theory, because of SUP‘s accessibility and ‘all comers’ perception, there should be loads of stand ups buying gear, including the tee-shirt, and wanting to be associated. Yet it hasn’t happened yet.

It could be argued that stand up paddle boarding isn’t as cool as surfing. Mainly because riders are holding a ‘stick’ and for most there isn’t an extreme element to be found. Meandering on placid water, simply taking in the view, isn’t what marketers deem to ‘saleable’, often. It’s ironic then that there’s been such an uptake of SUP during the last year…

Another issue with standing and paddling is it hasn’t actually been around for that long with its current label. As with paddling craft in general standing and dipping a blade isn’t new. But it’s only of late the moniker ‘SUP‘ has been attributed. Perhaps we need a few more years under our belts before we establish a true stand up paddle boarding culture and lifestyle path?

What do you think?

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