If you followed the inaugural 2015 Pacific Paddle Games you may have noticed everything about it was bigger than life, from the oversized waves to the above-average temperatures. The best was the creme de la creme athletic talent that showed up from every corner of the world to compete for the biggest number of all: a record-setting $55,000 prize purse. With all the photos and live coverage of the event, one other thing that literally stood out – was the bright Sweet Waterwear jerseys worn by the athletes – from the world’s top Pro paddlers to the XXS groms.
With many more top athletes enjoying the performance of Sweet Waterwear jerseys throughout 2015, it seemed like a good time for Elder SUP (ES) to go behind the scenes of this unique specialty Hawaiian brand based out of Honolulu. We were fortunate to have this chat with Sean Sweet, founder and visionary behind the brand.
ElderSUP: Sweet Waterwear was the official PPG race jersey on the estimated 450+ Open & Elite racers at the 2015 Pacific Paddle Games, the successor to the Battle of the Paddle. What a format and what an event for the inaugural year! How did this all come about?
SweetWaterwear: As soon as news broke about the PPG I approached Andrew Mencinsky (Marketing director at SUP the Mag & race organizer for PPG ) early on. Andrew has known about Sweet Waterwear & the high quality of our gear for quite some time. He knew many of the top SUP racers already use and swear by our gear. He’d also seen our Men’s Nirvana Race jersey at other prominent races and from team jerseys that we’ve done for many of SUP’s top board brands. Andrew and the team at SUP the Mag & TEN (The Enthusiast Network) really wanted to step things up at PPG. They were quite determined they were not going to just follow in the footsteps of the Battle of the Paddle. They wanted every aspect of PPG to be “Bigger & Better.” One of the most obvious “on-screen” ways to do that was to upgrade and outfit ALL of the athletes in beautiful custom PPG jerseys. (video teaser here)
Andrew wanted different colors by gender and group. We are one of the few companies that was large enough to do that and still be flexible enough to produce within a somewhat tight time constraint. For all these reasons, Sweet Waterwear was an obvious and easy, quality choice that met all their objectives.
ES: The vibrant colors on all the Sweet Waterwear jerseys we saw at PPG were exceptionally bright and highly visible in varied ocean conditions, at a distance & on the webcast.
SW: Stepping out of the box and pushing the bright colors was key essential goal for PPG. I’ve had these colors available – but no Race Director had ever ventured out of the color norm with us, before PPG. Fortunately Andrew knew well the live and telecast value of adding bright colors to the mix was far more than just a safety consideration – he recognized that the bright colors would really “pop” on the webcast providing a much richer and vibrant visual experience.
ES: We noticed right away that the Women’s jerseys at PPG were trimmer and a different cut. What brought about your developing a women’s specific race jersey?
SW: With the huge success of our Men’s Nirvana jersey, it was a logical extension for us to make a (literally) “more fitting” Women’s paddlesport tanktop. Women are far more fashion, fit and style conscious. We realized that wearing a downsized boxy men’s jersey just wasn’t really cutting it. The difference is more than just color. It fits better due to details like binding versus wide trim along with subtle, but noticeable, hourglass shaping. Now, the ladies look more flattering and feel better about how they look in our Sweet Waterwear jerseys while enjoying the same ultralight breathing performance of the Mens jersey, but in a more feminine, fashionable tanktop.
ES: Everyone performed to the max at the 2015 PPG but looking for the true stars of the day, they were also some of the smallest. The future of the sport is growing up on waves around the world, and we got to witness it during the Grom and Junior Pro races.
SW: Absolutely, as the PPG event showcased so very well, the future of our sport is a powerful field of youth. And for the first time ever, we made sure they had race jerseys designed specifically with the smaller sizes in mind.
The kids were not an afterthought (as they often are at most other races). We offered size XXS jerseys for the first time ever to accommodate the keiki (children). With the kids we made the Boys Red and Black while the Girls had Red and White. It was subtle, but still made a perceivable distinction. The kids were super stoked to have their “very own” special kids jerseys. We were equally stoked to provide the kids with something “just for them” to enhance their performance and the PPG race experience.
These custom PPG jerseys have become a proud keepsake and talking point long after the race has been over. The kids are especially proud to wear their PPG race jersey at other races and while training no matter where they may live and paddle. We often refer to the robust “Retention Value” of our high quality race jerseys that get “great mileage” of exposure long after the event is over.
ES: What is your background and how did you develop the Sweet Waterwear brand from your past expertise?
SW: I have 30 + years in the apparel industry, most of it in casual and active sportswear. Shortly after moving to Hawaii it was quickly evident to me (as a new paddler) that the SUP market was very much under-served, especially on the Women’s side. I had just come off an 11 year stint at well-known Women’s sportswear company. So I knew how to bring a lot of technical fabric and sourcing expertise to the table. Being based in Hawaii helps enormously. We can test year round. I have access to all types of wind and watersports, as well as, all levels of paddlers including several of the world’s elite racers. Many of these elite water athletes have become ambassadors for our line after testing out our gear.
Since Day 1 – when we launched at the one (and only) Battle of the Paddle Hawaii (in 2010) we have offered a more highly evolved line and more technical detail that both athletes and everyday paddlers can really appreciate – so it stands out in the marketplace. Our race jerseys are well received by so many elite and fitness paddlers. Pro racers have the opportunity to wear and try many different styles and brands, but the feedback we get and then incorporate into our designs demonstrates how we are meeting the trifecta or “Sweet Spot” of paddler’s needs in style, function and performance.
ES: How is Standup Paddling gear different than, say, Surf gear?
SW: Stand-up paddleboarding is not like surfing in that it is largely an “on-the-water” activity versus often “in-the-water” like surfing. Tight rashguards don’t work as well. They are skin-tight, which by design will help keep you a little warmer. In stand-up paddleboarding, you are burning calories, and most paddlers want & need to dissipate that heat. Furthermore, you are also fully exposed to extremely high levels of sun when you are standing on the water. The combination of direct sun and indirect sun reflected off the water surface really intensifies your exposure. We are a core SUP brand and have pioneered crafting far more fashionable, superior quality, sun-protective gear specifically made for stand-up paddleboarding and other similar paddle sports like outrigger canoe paddling, kayaking, canoeing, dragon boat, etc. We are also very proud to be cut and sewn in the US using high quality European spec fabrics. There are hardly any Surf brands that can say that – most all are produced offshore in Asia with cheap labor and heavy “cost consideration” given to margin – which inevitably compromises on garment quality.
We already have what is perhaps the most popular men’s stand-up paddleboard racing jersey on the market. We offer custom printing and even co-branding opportunities. It’s market that we got into early and one where we have established a high profile & strong presence. If you happened to catch all the ISA World Standup Paddle and Paddleboard Championship action last May you saw Sweet Waterwear jerseys on Team Hawaii. Zane & Matty Schweitzer have both declared them “Best jerseys EVER!!” Looking at the Sweet Waterwear ‘ohana I guess that is the opinion of many of the best in the world.
ES: I have noticed a lot of detail and innovation in your latest styles. like in my Sweet Waterwear Ka’iulani Zip long sleeve performance top with the neck zipper, thumb holes & big zippered back pockets, especially as the days turn cooler here in the Pacific NW. How did you come upon the name you chose for that style?
SW: Ka’iulani loosely means, or implies, ‘rich in health, spirituality and prosperity.’ The meaning resonated with me because, in my opinion, so many standup paddlers seem to reflect these qualities and values. Further Princess Ka’iulani was/is an important historic figure in Hawaiian history & culture. The Kaiulani is our our top-of-the-line full featured long sleeve so you could also say it’s fit for royalty.
ES: What can we expect next from Sweet Waterwear?
SW: We are driven to excellence, so we will continue to combine high quality performance fabrics with thoughtful superior design & our special “Handcrafted in USA” manufacturing. We are getting deeper into prints as accents & adding more styles like dresses & hoodies. Further we are very excited to announce that this summer we will be rolling out a complimentary special collaboration – a new line called “SWT KSS”. It’s sort of a double entendre & acronym for a limited collection designed by Kimberly S. Schamber and made by Sweet Waterwear. Look for the SWT KSS collection to launch in Spring / Summer of 2016.