SUP Brands: Culture Beyond the Product

Why do we choose the brands we do?
Why do we choose the brands we do?

The three year-old begs for Barbie, Tonka, HotWheels – and even the iPad. By the teen years the collection of brands we love and must have explode into the hundreds.  As SUP gets more and more popular and mainstream, “brands” and manufacturers for boards, paddles and gear are popping up constantly. What is it about the brands we buy – and what brands should we buy?

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The slogan for the Olukai Ho’olaule’a

We don’t have any paid advertising on the Elder SUP blog, instead we think hard about the brands we use. We write about the expertise, passion, commitment – and the people – behind the brands.  The brands we choose affect us on functional, emotional and social levels. A good example of this is when I put on my yellow Olukai race jersey. With it on I feel the vibe from the culture of the Olukai  Ho’olaulea even on a day like today when I wore it to yoga. It’s a mind-set, a community – and a brand that resonates what it is: OluKai was conceived from a desire to create a better class of products for the life we live in and around the water. That resonates with me.

When we propel ourselves powerfully, gracefully and with friends across the water we appreciate the “story” behind our paddle. Not long ago I wrote about the KIALOA Paddles’ new Hulu race paddle.  At the time, I had heard something about a Gerry Lopez collaboration with Dave Chun on the design of a GL Surf paddle.

Dave and Gerry had many, many conversations about the need for a surf specific paddle. With the very specific design that makes the Hulu  series (Light, Ultra Light and GL Ultralight) a great downwind and race paddle, those same specific attributes leave it vulnerable as a surf paddle.  The Hulu has fine, sharp edges – ideal for racing – but when it is used for surfing some customers mentioned that their boards were being hit and bruised. Surfers dig, brace and fall on their paddles – a surf SUP paddle has to be designed in its own way. The KIALOA Paddles design of a surf paddle would require beefing it up in the areas where needed and modifying the edges specific to the mechanics of surfing.

Here’s where the excellence in a brand and its story come alive! A quick search can lead you to dozens of SUP paddle manufacturers, some of these manufacturers are also designers. Few have the breadth of experience and commitment to excellence, as well as a deep relationship with legends in the sport the way KIALOA Paddles does.  Throughout the design of the Hulu race paddle, Dave Chun and Gerry Lopez had conversations and collaborated. Throughout that process, the plan to eventually create a GL Surf paddle series stayed constant.  The design was born of many ideas coming together.

Dave Chun and Gerry Lopez collaborate and noodle around designs and ideas regularly.
Dave Chun and Gerry Lopez collaborate and noodle around designs and ideas regularly.

I’m not sure if Tom Carroll is aware of his influence on the design of the GL Surf Series but the collaboration with Gerry was constant. Both Dave and Gerry recognized that what Gerry needed in a surf paddle, “everyman, the regular surfer” might not need the same thing.  I thought it was really fascinating to hear (in the video below) about the symmetric profile on the top and bottom of the paddle. If you cut across the paddle’s width you would get a profile in a squished diamond shape.  The reason it is the same on both sides is because SUP surfers brace both on the front side and on the back side of the paddle according to stance, style and the wave.

The paddle has the same hook found on the Hulu Series  design because Tom Carroll and Gerry both wanted that element in a surf paddle.  Even though Dave has had a lifetime of shaping paddles with economy of function and beautiful aesthetic form, he listened to the customers and their experience during the design process of a new sort of edge for the GL Surf series paddle – it is more rounded and wider than the Hulu race paddle. The fatter edge was tough for Dave to design at first, but testing proved that the rounder, soft, “fat” edges would protect the board without jeopardizing performance.

The KIALOA Paddles Hulu race series of paddles will soon be joined by the Hulu surf series.
The KIALOA Paddles Hulu race series of paddles will soon be joined by the Hulu surf series.

There will be a soft release of the 8″ blade (similar to the KIALOA Methane) in the GL Surf series in 2013 – I know, I am drooling for it too.  Over the 2014 year a number of other widths, from 8.5″ to 7.5″, and shafts are scheduled.  KIALOA Paddles is determined to provide excellence at each price point, from the CST to the fiberglass shaft option. If the KIALOA name will be on the paddle, slow and careful design and testing by elite and regular paddlers must come first.  It’s one brand in our SUP life. It’s also a great example of how and why we select the brands we do.
Treat yourself to the video story here:

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