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Stand up paddle board demos/events – have we missed them in 2020?

Pre-COVID days there were a plethora of stand up paddle board events across the country, continent and globe with everything from high level SUP races/surf SUP comps to much smaller grassroots gatherings. At many of these get-togethers you’d find a whole host of SUP brands airing their wares and giving the punter an opportunity to try the various bits of kit. From paddles to boards, wetsuits to accessories there was plenty available for having a bash with. The hope being (from the brand’s side of the fence) that you’d fall in love with a product and then make a purchase.

Demos for potential customers were a way to sift through the seemingly endless marketing bumph – that many couldn’t make head nor tail of – and see exactly how a board or paddle translated to water environments. Was the gear in question likely to fit a paddler‘s wants and needs? Whilst ‘conditions’ (as it were) at many events were never exact replicas of a rider’s local some idea and basic understanding of kit could be garnered. And this goes for inflatables as well as hard boards.

Wit 2020 being the year of COVID, with all but a smattering of comps cancelled, there’s been no real way for punters to test kit. Add the fact retailers have been operating with social distancing in place, with demo/test equipment hard to come by, and you potentially have a nightmare situation for any peddler of SUP gear. After all, if you can’t face to face with your audience, get them using your kit (and promote the benefits of) how you can you expect to sell anything?

But as well know 2020 has seen an unprecedented rise in popularity with SUP. Up until this year, many brands were in a state of consolidation stripping back ranges and focusing on what they were best at rather try and fulfil every pipeline. For some, this was the performance end of stand up whereas others had traction with inflatable markets. 2019 wasn’t the best year for sales of stand up paddle boarding gear the majority of SUP businesses questioning the sport’s longevity. It had already been described as the fastest growing watersport back pre-2010. But then the economic crash of 2008 bit and it wasn’t quite the same after. Proof of that came with a few media publications, such as SUP the Mag, shuttering and once high profile events such as Battle of the Paddle (subsequently rebranded to the Pacific Paddle Games) also ceasing to exist.

With 2020 starting off as a seemingly innocuous year quickly shifted tack with a global pandemic hitting us all. Doom and gloom prevailed at the tail end of winter, seemingly endless rain mirroring the nation’s overall mood. Lockdown was still a few weeks off and the population hadn’t quite gotten its head around what that might look like. And then, bang, we were all confined to barracks…And the sun put his hat on!

A perfect cocktail of events then ensued. Restrictions were lifted and everyone was allowed back out into the world, albeit with a few caveats. Staying on home soil, without having to work (furlough) for a large % of the population which gave a bit of disposable income, plus good weather and the desire to make the most of things led to SUP being one of the headline activities the nation were choosing to do. Suddenly stand up paddle boards, paddles and accessory sales were through the roof. This escalated further as summer rolled in with many brands, including McConks, selling out of stock.

The situation continued as school holidays landed – even though most kids hadn’t seen a classroom for weeks. Everywhere you looked stand up paddle boards were strapped to the roofs of cars, hiding in the backs of vans, or being towed to the river/lake by cycle power. Then there were the actual numbers of SUPers you encountered once afloat! You couldn’t have predicted it. It became self perpetuating…

In the absence of demos, and the ability to try before you buy, questions about various types of kit were being asked online – particularly social media. Brands were being hit up for their info and mates were being quizzed about the gear they’d just purchased. In the end though most paddlers simply took a punt, based on the budget they had, and by and large have been content with their choice. There’ve been a few horror stories but not too many.

So, do demos matter any more? The answer seems to be: obviously not. With SUP being so popular again newbies appear to be happy to own the kit that allows them to get wet. This being the biggest demographic nobody’s really looking for ultimate performance. Stand up is simply a way to enjoy the outdoors and time on the water; with family, with friends or solo. If this is the precedent that chunk of extra cash most brands need for demos and events can be put to other uses. That’s great for any stand up paddle boarding business in the short term. Whether it remains the Status Quo is open for debate, however. Only time will tell…