By Heidi G. Evans
COSTA MESA, CALIF. — Exploding in popularity, stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, offers people of all abilities a chance to be on the water in a variety of ways. The paddleboards are often custom designed to meet the needs of this varied and popular sport, but this presents a problem for aficionados who want to protect their boards, which begin around $800 to $1,000 apiece, can weigh up to 50 pounds and measure 12 feet or more in length. Rising to the challenge are the craftspeople at Vitamin Blue (VTMB), who custom manufacture bags to protect those boards from the garage to the water for this swelling segment of the watersport industry.
SUP has exploded in growth for many reasons, primarily because it offers fun, low-impact exercise in a wide variety of water conditions.
“SUP can be done on any body of water, an ocean, a lake or a river,” said Frank D. Ornelas, president of Vitamin Blue (VTMB). “Non-surfers can learn to stand-up paddle very quickly, usually in the matter of a few minutes. I expect to see this growth continue for the next few years.”
And unlike surfers who crowd – sometimes dangerously – onto limited breaks during prime weather and wave conditions, SUP paddlers can enjoy their sport on all kinds of water from inland lakes and calm bays, to the ocean beyond the surf break. Weather conditions are far less persnickety for SUP. Plus, it’s a great sport for those seeking fun, low-impact exercise.
All this is fueling exponential growth in SUP, making it the fastest growing watersport market.
“The board sport market is expected to reach $19.6 billion as reported by global industry analysts,” said Ornelas.
But the sport is still young and there are no standard SUP board sizes, much less boardbag sizes, to meet all categories of the sport. Unlike the surfboard industry, SUP boards also have no standard shapes because there are so many varied uses. Some riders are racing, while others contort in yoga. Some riders are catching fish, while others just want a relaxing paddle observing fish in the water. Some riders are navigating waves, while others are cruising on calm lakes. So boards are built in a wide variety of shapes and widths. For example, the aft part of the board can be pointed, rounded or square.
Vitamin Blue (VTMB) is a rare company that tailors a product specifically to a customer’s needs, creating the boardbag in the United States. Vitamin Blue strives to be a pioneer in the industry, not unlike wetsuit creator Jack O’Neill, by constructing key equipment to improve the enjoyment of the sport. After all, if you can’t get your bulky board to the water in one piece, it’s difficult to paddle.
Surfers have used boardbags for years to protect boards from the elements and make it easier to carry the board, especially for women who may struggle to get an arm around. SUP boards are often heavier and larger than their surfboard cousins, make a carrier more critical. Bags also protect the fiberglass from heat and light, and prevent dings in transport. Hot sun and gravel can kill a board on the roof of a car on the way to the beach. Often, a board’s most dangerous moments are when it nearly pings off the asphalt as it’s transferred from a van roof.
A custom bag may not be cheap, but for riders, the cost is well justified. Like surfers, stand up paddleboarders are passionate about the tools of their sport. They get to know the sweet spot where their body and the board work best together. Even beyond the tremendous cost of a board, once in synch, no boarder wants to see a SUP carelessly damaged, or ruined from heat or sun. And those riders turn to Vitamin Blue (VTMB) for a carefully constructed, locally made boardbag.
“We make the product here in California,” said Frank D. Ornelas, president of Vitamin Blue. “We design it ourselves and make it ourselves. There are people that appreciate that. We take pride in that.”