Gimmick or Game Changer: Examining Innovations in SUP
The intent behind Gimmick or Game Changer is to examine some of the innovations in SUP to evaluate whether or not their claims will stand the test of time or quietly pass into the dustbin of history. Once a month, three SUP innovations will be presented along with the opportunity for readers to vote on whether they feel the innovation is either a Gimmick or a Game Changer. Voting will be open for two weeks, after which the voting tallies will be presented along with my take, as well as a summary of comments received through the voting process.
Contemporary stand up paddling is roughly a decade old and there have been a number of innovations since the sport’s early days when everyone was essentially paddling an oversized longboard and seeking creative solutions for their paddle in the absence of purpose built equipment. Numerous critics of stand up paddling laid blame on Laird Hamilton for propagating the “new” sport and the progenitor of modern-day watermen responded by launching an apparel line, aptly named “Blame”. I’ve been reliably informed that if the tales of Laird being the first modern man to stand up paddle are true, then Malibu’s Jeff Sweet has a solid claim to being the second, but I digress to tales from a sandy beach along the iconic Southern California shore…
To kick off the inaugural edition of the column I’ve selected three items each representing a different aspect of board design. Two of the innovations are brand specific, while a third has been replicated by at least two major brands.
The SUP Hydrofoil – Gimmick or Game Changer?
The SUP community looked on in amazement earlier this year when Naish released a video of Kai Lenny riding a SUP outfitted with a hydrofoil down Maui’s famed Maliko run. The video from Naish was followed shortly thereafter by a promotional video from Starboard showing Connor Baxter performing a similar feat on their own version of a SUP hydrofoil.
Kai stated his belief to SUP the Mag that hydrofoils will forever change the way downwind paddling is performed on a SUP and claimed, “In a year, all the top guys will be downwinding on hydrofoils.”
Hydrofoil technology in and of itself is not new and has been incorporated into other board sports on the water in the past. Will hydrofoils truly change the way we downwind paddle as Kai claimed?
SIC Maui’s F.A.S.T. Steering System – Gimmick or Game Changer?
Steering technology has since been replicated by other brands, but it remains a niche aspect of the sport and has been primarily limited to open ocean downwind boards. SIC’s new F.A.S.T. system states it improves upon their current steering system and makes the claim that “steering assisted paddling will change the way we tour on lakes, float down river and tour the coast”.
The new technology features a swappable tiller arm that can quickly and easily be swapped for goofy or regular footed paddlers. The cables from the previous system have been converted to push rods and multiple, yet undefined, fail safe mechanisms have reportedly been installed. According to SIC’s Brand Manager, the F.A.S.T. system will “change the way we paddle forever” and impact the sport beyond just downwinding.
But will it?
The Stomp Box from Hala – Gimmick or Game Changer?
Whitewater stand up paddling requires a unique set of skills and equipment unlike those found in their coastal and flatwater counterparts. The swift moving water is challenging and submersed obstacles present a real and present danger to paddlers and boards. Fins are easily broken, something I witnessed while visiting the Payette River Games in Idaho last summer.
Hala’s stomp box mitigates the likelihood your board’s center fin will snap off upon impact or worse, rip out the entire fin box thereby destroying your board. The relatively simple, yet innovative, technology enables the center fin on a board outfitted with the stomp box to retract inside the fin box on impact and quickly redeploy once the obstacle has been cleared. The innovation is best viewed in the video created by Oregon’s Paul Clark in which he demonstrates the ease of installing a stomp box in one of Hala’s whitewater specific inflatable SUPs.