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Working in the SUP industry: what are the options?

  • Post category:Opinion
  • Reading time:10 mins read

COVID has been a challenging time for many with employment opportunities being uncertain and, sometimes scarce. One industry that has been booming, however, is the outdoor recreational sector. Bringing it closer to home and stand up paddle boarding has seen an unprecedented amount of growth. This is down to people being at home more, not having to commute, overseas travel halting and everyone holidaying around the UK and this all knocking on to savings of money. Wanting ‘something’ to enhance your time at home stand up paddle boarding has been one of those activities. And many have been taking note.

One silver lining of COVID has been revaluating life and prioritising things that may have fallen by the wayside. So, family time, R&R, getting outdoors – and in the case of SUP – heading afloat and enjoying some exercise. This has caused a large number of the population to have another look at what makes them happy. Some have decided against their previous 9-5 situation and are placing more emphasis on happiness, wellbeing and fulfillment rather than just taking home a large pay packet. Watersports – particularly stand up paddle boarding – has therefore come under the spotlight as a potential route to employment. Turning a hobby into a means of making ends meet as it were. So what are the options if you fancy working in the SUP industry?

Become a stand up paddle board retailer.

This is probably the obvious one. With plenty of stand up paddle boarding brands out there getting on board (no pun intended) with your chosen few, and selling them, is one potential course of working in the SUP industry.

It’s never been easier to set up and run a website with tools such as WordPress and Woo Commerce being readily available. The trick with websites, however, is knowing how they work, how to wider web works (Google and so on) and understanding how to tweak your site so potential customers find it and purchase from you. This is a job in its own right and takes a lot of effort – be under no illusion. Simply setting up a Facebook page and hoping for the best won’t pay the mortgage.

The daddyboard crew.

You then need to find, and become known to the brands you want to retail. This is also pretty tricky as many may not want/need to work with a third party. Or, your chosen brand(s) may be on the small scale side and not have enough brand awareness for customers to trust and buy into. Having all the companies in the world on your books is all well and good but if nobody’s interested in parting cash for your wares then it’s a hiding to nowhere.

Start a SUP brand.

With it being super easy to hit up a Far Eastern SUP manufacturer the perception that starting your own SUP brand is easy perhaps may sound tangible. For sure, there are thousands of manufacturers producing well priced, white label (OEM) stand up paddle boarding equipment. Some of it is also good quality. Some of it isn’t though… And that’s the first thing. Knowing what’s quality and what isn’t – and this all takes time.

Once you’ve decided on the gear you’re going to sell, nailed your brand image and message and set up your website the real test begins. Promoting your brand is an ongoing exercise and one that can seem a mammoth task. You’ll be lucky to start making a living of selling SUPs straight away but everyone has to start somewhere. With tenacity, drive and commitment who know where you’ll end up…

Get into SUP coaching.

There are a number of SUP coaching qualifications you can do in the UK, BSUPA, WAS, British Canoeing and ASI all offer accreditation schemes here. With enough prior skill any paddler can head along to a coaching course and as long as they’re paddling’s up to scratch and the course is completed accurately you’ll have your very own SUP teaching cert. BUT. To truly make it as a stand up paddle boarding coach additional (higher level) qualifications need to ticked off and this takes time and additional skills.

If you stick with just a basic ticket then you’ll not stand out and struggle to attract custom. Of course, you’ll still be able to teach (most likely through a SUP school) but advanced qualifications give a greater scope for starting your own center and gaining a reputation for being a quality stand up paddle boarding instructor with a wealth of experience. If you’re lucky you could end up coaching a budding pro or ‘SUP athlete’.

Steve Nelson coaching a group of SUP students.

Get sponsored to stand up paddle.

This is perhaps the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A few years back SUP brands were in the habit of ‘sponsoring’ paddlers to help promote their gear and services. Monetary compensation wasn’t really the format, instead, long term loan of gear more the go. To make an actual living out of being a sponsored SUP paddler is rarer than rocking horse poo with only one or two global athletes in this unique position.

Sponsorship is all about having an image and/or following with which to push your supporters’ message. You may be in this position and able to negotiate some form of affiliation with a SUP company or companies. And if you can talk your way into a pay check then happy days. But we wouldn’t rely on this for income!

Work in the SUP media.

Every sport has a media arm to some degree – stand up paddle barding being no different. Whilst nowhere near as big as say Formula 1 there are websites, magazines, social media feeds and video streams dedicated to standing and paddling. And somebody has to create the content to fill these spaces.

The McConks blog, you’re looking at here, is (to some extent) part of the SUP media. And with applicable skills you may get picked up and end up in a position where communicating about stand up become your bread and butter. Just like everything within a small industry, however, opportunities aren’t as abundant as you’d imagine.

SUP Mag UK – one of the UK’s printed SUP magazines.

Start a SUP travel business.

Travel is one of the industries hit hard by COVID. With restrictions imposed overseas travel has been scarce since the pandemic started. And whilst borders are starting to open up it’s certainly not as easy to hop on a plane as it was. That said there’s definitely a thirst for getting gone and with your trusty SUP in tow exploring and experienced the big wide world from atop a floating platform is one of the best.

If you know anything about the travel industry, have the contacts (or know how to form them) you may be in a position to start a SUP travel business. As with everything in this article it’s no guarantee of success with a small, niche market being your bread and butter. With enough grit and determination, it could work though.

Hit upon a successful SUP accessory idea (and sell it).

SUP isn’t just SUP. As and keen stand up paddle boarder will know once you start you suddenly find there are a whole heap of accessories you need to enhance your stand up paddle boarding life. Lots of companies exist which sell these additional products but there is no doubt other ‘bits’ that are yet to be designed and launched upon the paddling fraternity.

You may have one of these ideas in mind and are thinking about setting up a business off the back of this idea. Whilst the goods you’re planning and selling may be sound in principle the whole marketing and promo element will rear its head once you’ve gotten the business up and running. So, as with everything, not quite as simple as things may seem in the beginning. But keep on keeping on and you may get there.

Working in the SUP industry isn’t easy – but it is fun! We know plenty of people who do have stand up paddle boarding related jobs but they compliment this with fingers in other pies (some of those pies being related watersports areas). It’s certainly possible to make a living from stand up paddling but it may take time to get there. With enough determination, however, who knows what’s possible.

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