Cadel Walton demos a Bic Sup paddle board at the Outdoor Retailer Show on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, in Salt Lake City. In the last few years there has been significant growth in the popularity of paddle boarding. (AP Photo/Kim Raff)
Paddle boarding now bigger than ever
August 13, 2015
Colorful paddleboards filled the exhibit halls. Pictures of people practicing the sport in beautiful settings also filled the hall. This was at the world's largest outdoor retail trade show. It was held in Salt Lake City. And it was the latest showing of the sport's exploding popularity. The show was the week of Aug. 2.
They make long, skinny boards for racers. They make wide, sturdy ones for more casual users. Some of those riders do yoga. Some of them fish off the boards. They even make inflatable boards. Those are for people who want ones easy to use. The inflatable boards can be rolled up and placed in a bag.
Paddle boarding once was viewed as an extreme activity or fad. Now it is carving out a growing place in the outdoor sports world. A growing number of companies are doing a quick business. They sell boards. They sell paddles. And they sell accessories.
People are increasingly drawn to the sport. That includes on oceans. It includes on lakes. And it includes on rivers. It can be done for active exercise and racing. People can use them for casual paddling. They can also use them for yoga with friends. Even dogs can come aboard.
Participation in stand-up paddling in the United States has grown nearly three times from 2010 to 2014. That's according to a study from the Outdoor Foundation. The foundation said that makes it one of the fastest-growing outdoor sports.
An estimated 2.7 million people participated in the sport last year. The numbers went up from 2010. That year about 1 million took part in paddle boarding. It was the first year the foundation began including the sport in its yearly survey. The participation numbers put it on par with surfing and BMX bicycling.
The sport is easy to learn. Jimmy Blakeney said it can be practiced all around the world. He is the marketing manager at Bic SUP. It's one of the leading companies making boards.
And there's what Blakeney calls the "cool factor." That also draws people.
"You're standing up. You're in your bikini. You're being seen," Blakeney said. "Boards are cool. A lot of young people really like being on a board versus a boat."
The roots of modern paddle boarding are traced to Hawaii. Surfers used paddles to get out further. They used them to do exercise when there were no waves. The sport slowly spread from Hawaii. Blakeney said it has been around in the United States for about 10 years.
Growth really sped up about five years ago. Companies sell to outdoor shops. They also sell to rental companies. They rent the boards for those who want to try them for the first time.
The Stand Up Paddle Industry Association formed in 2012. It brings unity and support for companies and retailers. And also people who teach, train and organize races.
Kristin Thomas is the industry association's executive director. She said the ability to do a lot with the boards is a huge draw.
"It's very easy to use on one level. And yet it can be as extreme as you want it to be. People are surfing huge waves. They are doing whitewater," Thomas said.
It is an up-and-coming sport. The industry is trying to create best safety practices. It is trying to manage different rules being formed. There is still debate taking place. One debate is about safety. Should paddle boarders wear life jackets? Or should they have the boards harnessed to their ankles? That would be like surfers.
The U.S. Coast Guard recently said paddleboards are a vessel. That is like a canoe or kayak. It means users must have on a life jacket. They also must have a sound-making device aboard. That is unless they are within a swimming, surfing or bathing area.
A 21-year-old Utah man recently died while paddle boarding. He was on a mountain lake. Winds came up and he went missing. That was what authorities said. They said he wasn't wearing a life jacket.
Prices for boards range from $400 to more than $2,000. Paddles cost from $75 to $100. You pay more for lighter, higher-performing boards. Bic SUP's top seller is one that costs about $1,000, Blakeney said.
"We always say light, durable, affordable. Pick two," Blakeney said.
The biggest group of people are recreational users. He said They use the boards about t10 times a year. A smaller group of people use the boards for active exercise. These people are often the types who are drawn to running and triathlons. Blakeney said some compete in a growing racing circuit.
The World Paddle Association formed in 2010 to oversee the sport.
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why do manufacturers build different kinds of paddle boards? Why can’t one kind work for everyone?
Write your answers in the comments section below