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‘Tis the season to be merry

small business saturday mcconksIf you're struggling to think of Christmas presents for the paddleboarder in your life, don't panic!  We're here to make your life a little more simple, and take some of the stress of Christmas shopping away. 

Study after study, and personal experience have shown that the best types of Xmas present are experiences rather than things: you remember and talk about experiences for years, but things lose their value quickly as the next best thing becomes available.  And if you don't to buy an experience (maybe you're worried about that useless loved one forgetting about the voucher, and it expiring - been there, done that!), the next best thing you can do is to buy thing that helps them get out there and make their own experiences! So that's mostly what we've focussed on here.

And we're not just about hawking our own stuff here at McConks.  We've pulled together the best SUP gifts from around the UK and the web. And don't forget, after the idiocy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Saturday 2nd December is small business Saturday.  Small UK companies are the lifeblood of our economy.  They actually pay tax (unlike some of the bigger retailers), support local communities, and support local charities!  Obviously as a small UK business, we're all about supporting small business Saturday. So where you can, buy small and local!  And most of our selections support small UK companies.

We've sorted our Christmas pressie ideas by price, so whether you're looking for inexpensive stocking fillers, or mega expensive supergift, we've got them all covered aeasy to browse.

And if we've missed an obvious and great present, let us know, as  we will be adding more ideas over the coming days.

 

Stocking fillers - less than £20

Looking for something small, or for stocking fillers for the paddleboarder in your life?

Have a look at these ideas.  A must for every SUP enthusiast.

Keep your keys dry

Keeping keys and mobiles dry on the water isn't an issue.  Even if you spend most of your time swimming.  But with numerous offers available, how do you know what to choose?

This type – with roll around Ziploc style fastening, more reliable that the type with plastic clasps on the top. We’ve found the attachment to the clamp type can cause microtears, which then propogate down the bag.  Which only becomes noticeable when you’ve take a dunk, and your phone gets a rinsing!

Shop keybags now

paddletime mens tshirt brown
Organic ethical tees- from £12

McConks very own guilt free t-shirts. Lots of designs and colours. Available for Men, laddies and kids.  If you want your own message printed, just let us know and we can sort out.

See our large range of tees

Flexi race fin
Upgraded fins from £15

For less than £20, would you believe you can improved your loved ones performance no end?

On the board that is, of course! 

The fin pictured is our 9" river race fin.  Designed for endurance flatwater races like the #Trent100 or Great Glen paddle. 

And the good news is our fins fit most rigid and inflatable SUP boards. And if you buy the wrong one, you can get a refund or replacement until the end of January..

Shop for iSUP fins

3 piece paddlebag
SUP paddle bag

Do they still throw the paddle around in the back of the car? Are they aware how dangerous this can be, especially if they use a carbon SUP paddle?  Give yourselves piece of mind by getting a protective SUP paddlebag that protects the SUP paddle against knocks, heat, cold and all sorts of paddle abuse!

Mcconks SUP paddlebags fit paddles of all brands, whether they be carbon paddles, fibreglass paddles or alloy/alu paddles. One size for all adjustable 3 piece paddles, and one size for all two or or one piece paddles.

Much cheaper than buying a new paddle!

Check out our paddlebags

20 litre dry bag, with handle and shoulder straps
McConks drybag

McConks dry bags come with rucksack and across the shoulder straps to allow paddlers to easily carry the bag to the water over their shoulder. The 10l and 20l bags fit under the deckstraps of almost most paddleboards.

available in 10l and 20l

More than a stocking filler £20 - 50

Looking for a bigger present?  Check these out.

 

ion gloves
Warm hands

Gloves are an essential piece of kit for this time of year.   And the ION claw seem to be many paddlers glove of choice for paddleboarders, windsurfers and kite surfers. Check out the deal from the awesome new retailer MCS watersports

Buy these gloves

waterproof light
SUNIX waterproof LED board light £26

This superbright 20 LED 700 lumens light connects with a standard go pro mount, so can be attached to any board with a RAM mounts fitting.  It uses gopro hero batteries, so perfect for those riders who already have waterproof cameras with gopro type batteries.

Find out more

Blue chip roof rack strap
Lockable roofrack straps £49.50

Keeping boards safe on a roofrack is a concern of any surfer, paddleboarder or windsurfer. These lockable, reinforced straps are great for making sure the boards remain securely strapped to the roof.

Check out the other stuff on the Blue Chip Store. Lots of other ideas for keen paddlers.  And they're also great for board repairs.

Keep kit safe with these straps

GUL SUP shoes
GUL multi activity shoes - £27

These GUL shoes are shoes designed for sports and getting wet. More stylish than a simple pair of wetboots, they also drain freely, yet provide some support and look like a trainer.  Ideal if you want one pair of shoes for a range of water and land based activities.

Check out Coast Watersports other kit as well.

Get a grip!

Gopro mount
RAM mounts camera mount
Gopro camera mount £37.50

If your loved one is constantly worrying about whether or not they’re about to lose their gopro or expensive waterproof camera, and they have a Red Paddle Ride, McConks or Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co board with integral RAM mount fitting, why not get them one of these fittings. Fits all waterproof cameras, and all boards with an M8 screw.

Available here for £37.50 with free delivery

Capture that moment

maifang action camera
Maifang action cam £42

We’ve tried lots of waterproof action cams in our time, and think this one is an awesome piece of kit at this price. 4k at 25fps, 2.7k at 45fps, or 1.8k at 60fps, and 20 mega pixels, means that you get totally stunning footage from this camera.  The low light footage is great, and it comes with a carry case, remote control and loads of fittings that means you can attach it to almost anything.   It takes a 64gb SD card, which is easily filled if you use both batteries with their 90 minutes of recording time!

Capture that moment

£50 - £100 - perfect for a bigger present

pal glide
Palm glide PFD £76

At the time of writing, there’s a great deal on the acclaimed palm glide personal flotation device at the SUP company. Keep your paddlers safe and unrestricted by bulky bouyancy aids with one of these.

Buy from theSUPco

paddlelit light belt
Paddlelit light belt £90. Be Safe, Be Seen, Be Smart

http://www.paddlelit.com/  This highly versatile light weight LED belt fits waists from 28″ to 45″ comes with one rechargeable battery pack that fits on the side of the belt. The battery lasts for up to 6 hours and can be easily recharged with the charger (supplied) in about 2 hours. There are 10 LED lights in front of the belt giving out two meters of Direct light spanning to 5 meters. There are 10 LED lights on the back, giving out 2 meters of direct light spanning to 5 meters off lights. Also features a special pocket to accommodate your phone, keys, and your money or credit cards.

Contact Jon Archer at Bath Paddleboard Centre

echeat SUP Pump
eCHEAT electric / car SUP Pump £100

Despite what the board manufacturers claim, pumping up a board isn’t a dream, and it’s certainly not as easy as the videos make it look. Unless your superman or superwoman, pumping up the board to the right pressure is a fair old workout.  If you want to really impress your paddler, then get them an electric car pump to take all the effort out of pumping up the board.  This is our version, which is good value for a high pressure, high speed pump with a number of different washers and attachments to ensure that it fits all boards. 

Buy here

Over £100 - flash with the cash

Carbon bamboo paddle
Quality SUP paddles from £75

Carbon SUP paddles £150, Fibre glass paddles £75, including next day delivery and free protective paddlebag.

Available as two or three piece adjustable available for next day delivery.  One piece Carbon SUP paddle by special order only.

 

 

Buy here

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Love something, change something

“The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions”...

...as an America Author wrote in the early part of the 20th century. 

And whilst we’re keen not to get stuck in a rut at McConks, we've not got one foot in the grave yet!  

We’re not about making change for change sake, with new colours or minor cosmetic changes every year,  but we do like to mix things up. We make improvements if needed, and add to our lineup if we think we can bring something different to the mix.

So earlier in the year we asked our customers and supporters what new stuff they would like to see from McConks. Some of the answers we got back were ridiculous, and have been shelved until someone invents a genie in a bottle that actually works:

  • -   ‘A paddleboard that’s as easy to paddle upwind as it is to paddle downwind’
  • -   'An all-round inflatable board that’s as fast as a carbon race board’
  • -   ‘An inflatable surf-sup that makes me paddlesurf like Kai’

Although if you read some of the marketing guff out here, you might be forgiven for thinking that these things were possible!

But some of the ideas were worth a second thought:

  • -   A stable but exciting whitewater board designed for UK waters
  • -   An inflatable windsurf board that actually planes
  • -   A high quality surfSUP that doubles as a kids board
  • -   A more affordable 14 foot carbon allwater race board
  • -   A more affordable Team SUP
  • -   An interchangeable paddle system

More on these later.

We also asked our existing customers what could be improved on our current boards. It’s always dangerous asking customers for their views on what’s not so good. It’s a particularly bad idea when some of your customers are trained SUP instructors with many years of experience, and a penchant for sharing their opinions! And even though all of the improvements were minor, we’ve still spent many hours chatting, discussing, and agreeing the finer details.  Some might say we’ll never get those hours back again – but getting feedback and making improvements is always time well spent!

New neoprene comfy handlesCarry that weight

One of the absolute delights of a decent iSUP is how easy they are to transport and move around - perfect for roadtrippin'.

And our customers loved the fact that our boards have more handles than most, making them super easy to get to the put in.  Some even thing we've gone overboard with the handles on our whitewater board, sport a total of 9 handles!

But some of the handles on our 2017 boards were just made of webbing. Which was fine if you’re carrying the board for short distances, in light winds and with clean hands.  But mix this up with winds trying to blow the board out of your hand, grit and sand, and longer distance portages, and things can get very uncomfortable.  As tempting as it was to tell people to get over it and toughen up, we’ve relented and replaced all of our webbing handles with neoprene handles.  There is no real weight or environmental penalty to this, and only a minor cost penalty that we’ve just absorbed.

Also, some of the handles weren’t balanced as well as they could have been. This caused a few issues for our shorter customers who didn’t benefit from as much ground clearance as others. So we’ve repositioned the central handles to improve the balance. 

Getting to the off couldn’t be any easier now!

Get a grip

Everyone loved the fact that our deckpads are so much more comfortable than the thin diamond cut pads that are

new deckpad
new deckpad on our freeride board

common.

But a very small number of customers noted that the deckpad wasn’t quite as grippy as the very best in class! It's not that they were slip slidin' away, but they weren't quite as good as the very best under the most extreme performance conditions.  We’d deliberately moved away from diamond cut deckpads in 2017 because diamond cut can be uncomfortable under the feet for long paddles.  We’ve now moved to a crocodile skin finish as minimum grip, and our performance boards benefit from additional cutouts to improve grip without impacting on comfort.

Some riders who liked to race our 12’8 Go Explore boards found that the lack of deckpad at the rear of the board caused them some issues (unwelcome dunkings when trying to pivot around marks), so we’ve now extended it all the way to the back of the board. But we’ve retained the paracord and D Rings behind the paddling position, just positioned them around the deckpad. So now you’ve got a choice – use this area for additional luggage, or remove the paracord and use that area for performance positioning.

Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag

Everyone loved our bags. So it was important that any changes didn’t take away any of the features that were so successful.

Most of the changes are minor, and if we didn’t mention them, most people probably wouldn’t even notice! We’ve added compression straps so that the bags can be shrunk.

Printing the board model on the side of each bag will remove one of life’s little frustrations for our instructor friends: having to unroll a board just to see what model it was gets a little annoying!

And the bags now stand up without support – another source of much irritation to a small number of people!

But to all intents and purposes, the boards and the bags are very similar to 2017. And it will take a trained eye to spot the differences. The volume, weight, rocker, shape, branding and colours all remain the same.  And if you’ve read our blog on ethical and environmental marketing and production, you’ll understand the reasons why.

Making a splash in whitewater SUP

Matt Stephenson, a team GB freestyle boater, and SAS Hurley Classic champion for two years on the bounce, has been working with McConks for a couple of years. Being well connected with the fledgling UK whitewater SUP community, he had a bag full of frustrations that he’d picked up from the WWSUP community, alongside his own opinions from having paddled most decent boards on the market. So we set out to produce a board quite different to anything else out there. 

We’ve been testing this board for a few months now, and Anthony Ing (StandUp Paddleboard UK) and Justin Douglas (Water, Rock & Dirt) have optimised the final design, which will be available in January 2018. We’re so pleased with this board that it deserved a blog in its own right!

Namaste

As we were prototyping different rockers on the whitewater board, we realized that the shape made it an absolutely perfect specialist yoga board if we took the rocker away entirely. And so we’ve done that!  Our Namaste yoga board will also be available in January 2018.

Catch a wave

Ever since we made our first board, people have been asking about when we’re finally going to make a shorter surf iSUP. Our answer, until now, had always been that there were enough medium performance surf iSUPs out there (i.e. any of them from a decent brand), and that we didn’t think we could bring anything new, either by way of price, or quality, to the beach.  But then our eldest lad started to ask about getting his own smaller board at about the same time that defined rail technology came available to us.   Having defined rails really ups the game in surf SUP terms, but yet very few iSUP brands have thought it’s worth the extra cost.

The rocker, defined rails, triple stringer and 30PS pressure guarantee will do you well in anything up to head high. But with the shape, rocker and 2+1 fin setup being based on a laid back, drawn out log, you’ll probably have more fun in the waist to shoulder high range.

And just for fun, it’s got a mast foot screw, so it doubles as a development platform for budding windsurfers. But if you want real windsurf performance, you’ll want to get your hands on our new Freeride iSUP.

Blowin' in the wind

Having been disappointed with WindSUP offerings for years, the technology just hadn’t been good enough to tempt us to make a WindSUP. After all, if you can’t get a board planing, what’s the point?

But finally, the stars have aligned to make the perfect freeride windSUP a possibility.

So working with a number of development riders, we’ve been prototyping and perfecting the perfect shape for an inflatable freeride board. The 9’8 x 31 x 6” board has a strong nose rocker and a delicate tail rocker to get you over those bumps with ease.   With the same defined rail edge technology as our SurfSUPs, this board planes easily and quickly, and with the extra rigidity from the triple dyneema stringer the board feels very rigid and stable under foot, no matter how fast you’re going or how bumpy the water. The board comes with a 2+1 setup, allowing you to switch between freeride and freewave fin setup, and you can set the footstraps to match your riding style using a velcro fastening system.  This really is a revolution in windSUP design.

And it turns out that this board is a remarkably adept river surf board!

Paddle with friends

We thought mega boards or giant boards were a gimmick, and just a toy for hen and stag parties. But having seen them in use by school groups, and put to great effect by instructors in team building exercises, but previous opinions are just like water under the bridge, and we’re happy to stand corrected.  And it was these same schools and instructors who’ve  persuaded us to make a team board. This isn’t just some generic Chinese board rebadged with the McConks logo.  Every single component of this board has been designed by McConks.  From the location of the valves, the shape of the rocker, the positioning of the handles, to the shape and design of the deckpad, this comes with the attention to detail you’ve come to expect from us.  18 foot long, 60 inches wide, 8 inches thick, double skin, full length deckpad and four valves is unremarkable in the world of Giant SUPs.  But a price of £1000 is very remarkable. In a parallel universe you might a brand who will give it away for less, but not in this one!!

Bat out of hell

We admit it. We said we weren’t going to be a hard board company, and that we’re going to stick to inflatable SUP. We still generally mean that. But we may have flirted with the dark side and be testing some carbon race boards.  We got a little carried away when some of our friends started asking for them, and we only got tempted because our paddles are made by one of the best carbon SUP board shaping factories in China, and we knew what quality we could expect.  And we knew we could get our friends premium quality race boards at a fraction of the price.

14ft long, 27.5 inches wide, with a bulbous yet piercing nose and a recessed deck pad, the board looks the business. Finished in lacquered carbon, she is a stealth machine just waiting to take on those allwater races.  But these boards are strictly limited edition.  There are only three in the world at the moment, and they’re all accounted for.  And once we’ve satisfied ourselves that these birds are as fast as they look stunning, we will be making them to order.   And the price is as stunning as the style – less than £1,500.

Switch paddles…

…for different days? Smaller blade for surf?  Bigger blade for racing?  Indestructible polyprop blade for whitewater and river surf?  It gets pretty expensive, pretty quickly.  Well why not keep the shaft and handle and just switch the blade?  That’s the idea behind our new Switch paddle system.  More on this to come in 2018

A bright new 2018
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7 things you need to know before Black Friday

Black friday

Are you looking forward to Black Friday , in anticipation of the massive savings you’re going to make buying new gear?  Hoping to get the last of 2017 kit at 30% off?  Maybe even 50% off?

Before you do, make sure you read these 7 techniques that all of the big brands and retailers use to influence how you buy.

Priming 

Have you ever played the game where one person says a word, and the other immediately responds with the first thing that comes to mind?   That’s kind of how priming works. You’re exposed to one stimulus, and it affects how you respond to another stimulus.

So how does this work in watersports sales?

Notice when you go to an expensive brands website, price isn’t the first thing you see? You might see a stunningly well presented video that shows lots of young, happy paddlers having the time of their lives. Or it might show a stunning carousel of the kit being used in high octane adventurous activities. These things are designed to prime you to something other than the high price point of the expensive luxury goods.

And at the other end, the really cheap budget brands what’s the first thing you see? The price in big red lettering, normally with some sort of discount already built in. So you’re primed to the higher price which makes the discounted price even better. And surely everyone now knows that you never purchase the item on day 1. The trick that every savvy buyer knows now is to register, login, put the desired item in your basket, and then go away again. Invariably with budget brands you will get an email overnight asking why you’ve left the item in your basked and offering you a further discount. And this price then seems even more attractive because you had been primed to a higher price. Just make sure you unsubscribe quickly after the purchase otherwise you will not doubt be spammed every day with their best offers once you’ve succumbed to one marketing trick!

So watch out for these subtle priming techniques. You might not even know it, but the shop or search engine might already have details on your purchasing habits and spending power, your age and location, and be serving up a primed advert or website that is specifically tailored to you.

The giveaway

This is also known as reciprocity and the concept is simple — if someone does something for you, you naturally will want to do something for them.  So this might be a free lesson, a free pizza and prosecco evening, or a free board bag. According to the theory, if you’ve ever gotten a mint with your bill at a restaurant, you’ve been the victim of reciprocity.  The strength of reciprocity has been tested in numerous experiments, and where the restaurant only met the norm – providing one mint – the tip jumps 3.3%. When the exceed expectations by providing two expense mints per customer, the tip jumps by 20%.

So when you see a freebie – don’t get overexcited. It’s probably not free but actually loaded into the price point, and it’s only there to make you buy.

Get social

I’m sure that everyone is aware of the power of social media marketing these days. But brands rely heavily on the power of ‘social proof’. That is the theory that people will adopt the believes and actions of others. You’ve probably noticed this if you’ve holidayed in a location with lots of restaurants / tavernas. One night, ‘restaurant A’ might be really busy and ‘restaurant B’ is totally dead. Despite you knowing full well that the food on offer is equally good, and the menu and prices similar. And yet later in the week, ‘restaurant B’ is full to the which restaurant got the first customers that night. Once a restaurant has customers, then it is more likely to attract customers. And have you noticed that you no longer get offered window seats in restaurants, and you used to be offered them regularly? These are prime marketing material for restaurants, and they try to fill them with hip and attractive 20 something couples.

In the watersports branding world, shares, likes, reposts are all important demonstrations of social proof. So make sure you’re really only giving your social proofing to brands that you’re actually to recommend to your friends!

Oh, and if you do like a brand page and / or share their content just to enter their competition (and who hasn’t), but you’d rather not give that brand your props in the future, you can always go back after the comp to unlike the page or post!

Decoy pricing.

This is the art of generating artificial price points to make the most expensive (or the highest margin to the retailer) seem most attractive. The example below shows how this works.dummy pricing

 

The lesson here is that those savings aren’t ‘real’, and if you ever did want to buy a board only package, you might that if you talk to the retailer, as the decoy price of £750 is a starting point for a negotiation!

 

Scarcity

Ever gone back to a product that you looked at yesterday, and which now suddenly says ‘Only 3 left at this onky 2 leftprice’?

Did you know that some only stores can record your visits and change the message they give you to generate the of scarcity?  Admittedly, that’s a whole level of coding and design that most watersports sellers do not stoop to, but it is theoretically possible. But many do employ the scarcity tactic generally “make sure you buy now because this discounted price will only last for the three we have in stock”.  And the aim is to make you buy there and then.  Beafore you find out that there are better deals out there elsewhere, or alternatively, before they discount the price even more in the week before Christmas because they really need to shift that stock!

Anchoring

Ever wondered why it’s so hard to resist a sale at your favourite SUP retailer?

Often, it has to do with anchoring – people base decisions on the first piece of information they receive.  So if your favourite store typically retails this year’s boards for £900, but you find them on sale on Black Friday or at the end of the season for £650, you’ll be over the moon.  And using the power of social proof, you will also tell of your friends what a great deal you got. But if your friend has already got as good a board for £600, they won’t be nearly as impressed.  That original price has two purposes.  Firstly taking money from the early adopters and fashionistas who just can’t wait for the right price, and just have to have the new kit (even if it’s no different to what they already ride).  And secondly, it’s a decoy – to act as an anchor to make the discount price seem so attractive.

And going back to a point made earlier, this is why retailers will state the initial price of the product (this is “setting” the anchor), and then display the sale price right next to it, even with a % reduction just to make it totally option.

Some brands contract their retailers to only sell at the RRP until a certain date in the year, at which point they can sell at a discounted price. This is all to do with ‘anchoring’ that price point, and getting that price point widely understood, and making sure that the ‘price means quality’ principle is firmly established.

They’re everywhere these days

Ever first noticed a new brand, and then start seeing it everywhere you look? You can thank the The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. It starts happening after you encounter something for the first time, and then you start noticing it cropping up in everyday life. Suddenly you see friends using the kit that you hadn’t spotted before, and then it appears all over your facebook feed, and in your google search products, and on insta.

It’s weird right?

This phenomenon (also called “the frequency illusion”) is caused by two processes. The first, selective attention, kicks in when you first notice something. You subconsciously look for it in the future, and as a result find it surprisingly often. Secondly, confirmation bias reassures you that each sighting is further proof of your impression that the thing has gained overnight omnipresence.

And this effect is really important to brands. Many adopt something called retargeting, which involves their ads being served up to you tie and time again if you have clicked on their website. And if you have liked something on facebook or insta for example, the algorithms will make sure you see more of the content from that brand in the future. The conbinatin of this effect, plus targeted emails from those brands you signed up to, reconfirms the bias in your mind that they must be reliable companies if they are so ubiquitous!

Verbatim Effect

According to a study by Poppenk, Joanisse, Danckert, and Köhler, people are more likely to remember the gist of what someone said, not the specific details. And in these days of information overload, this is especially true. Brand marketers know this and structure their content in such a way that allows future recall of headlines or throwaway items.

So the content that gets shared the most on social media is short, snappy, and has a snappy headline. Unlike this article. Long reads are definitely out of fashion.

So content these days is designed to search and sharing friendly, and headlines will describe what’s in the article by using a snappy or catchy phrase. This way, when people are looking for more information on a given topic, they’ll think of that one helpful article they read a while ago and Google the topic to find it again.

Hopefully now you’ll be a little bit better equipped to withstand the many ways that retailers try to extract your money from you over the next 4 weeks.

If you’re still wondering whether that 2017 kit being sold at a bargain price is worth it, check out our blog ‘the grass isn’t always greener’.

 

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Talking story – McConks’ Q&A

Every brand has a ‘face’ behind the scenes. In the case of McConks SUP that’d be Andy and wife Jen. To get more of an insight into the inner workings of this new kid on the SUP company block Andy was recently put on the Q&A grill to find out what makes him tick, what it takes to get new SUP products to market and where this fledgling company’s heading.

Tell us about your watersports background and when you first discovered SUP?

Jen and I have long been “outdoor adventure and recreation’’ devotees. I grew up in South Wales and spent many long hours in and on the South Wales coast, with my parents, with Scouts and with the South Wales Mountaineering Club. And with the valleys and Brecon Beacons close to hand there was rarely a weekend I wasn’t out in the Welsh countryside or at the coast.

Both Jen and I separately chose universities at the end of civilised world, close to wilderness and on the coast. Me at St Andrews in Scotland and Jen at Aberystwyth. We both studied courses that continued our passion for preserving the natural world and the environment, whilst still taking time to play in the amazing environs we had chosen.

As outdoor adventure activities generalists, it’s fair to say that neither Jen nor I are leaders or instructor level in any particular activity. Depending on the pastime, we’re either competent, or enthusiastic, rather than advanced. But between us we have many years of experience surfing, windsurfing, canoeing, sailing, outdoor swimming, mountain biking, climbing and exploring.

We first saw SUP when it was just breaking in the UK. As keen surfers then I remember looking out back at Rest Bay and seeing my first stand up paddle boarder. I was both jealous and enraged simultaneously. He was getting the best waves, he was getting back out back quickly, and he was able to get to new breaks even quicker. Jen, generally being less quick to jump to opinions and believe what you read in surf magazines (she’s the sensible one), saw the long term appeal. A single board that you can use to explore the coast, to catch some waves and to take you to the best waves; what’s not to like?

However, like many at the time, paddle boarding was just not something we could afford to do. We didn’t have a van, we lived in a small house in the middle of the country miles away from the sea, and we didn’t have much money. In fact, for many years we paddled using ‘old skool’ Mistral or BIC windsurf boards, and split kayak paddles at our sailing club in the Cotswold Water Park (Bowmoor Sailing Club).

[image of paddling an old windsurf board]

What appealed about stand up and what does it offer you personally?

Neither of who like beaches with hundreds of people, competitive localism or elitism. Therefore, a board that can get you away from other people, which you can use to explore the coast, find new beaches and discover new waves was attractive from the moment we first saw a SUP. It’s only in recent years, with our young family, that we’ve discovered how great SUP is for all. Whilst it might be fun for a toddler for a few minutes, watching mummy or daddy rip it up out back, what they really want to do is be part of it. And with very young kids this is only really possible with SUP or canoe. But what really sealed it for me is that the one board you use to take your little ones out on can also give you some serious fun without the kids. Whether that be SUP surfing, river surfing or long distance touring. No other board sport comes close to having that crossover appeal.

Why do you think the masses are attracted to the sport?

It really doesn’t take long to master simple balance and paddling. Compare that to windsurfing or surfing. There is an awful lot to learn before you first catch your first wave or first start planning, let alone before you learn to carve, or to gybe. Many people give up in frustration before they get that far. I know some see this tail off as a benefit because it makes sure that only ‘the right kind of people end up on our waves’. It also creates an endless supply of second hand equipment from people with more money than ability. Whilst I sympathise with these views, and if honest, may even have shared them in the past, I think SUP brings something quite unique. Easy entry as a beginner and then a gradual progression through to advanced rider. No big steps or barriers to development. As I’ve said before one board that can be used in so many different environments.

Another thing that appealed to us was that it’s an all-weather sport. We took up mountain biking after many years of travelling long distances for breaks and holidays to the coast, with cars heavily laden with boards and sails to find no wind or waves. I think we’re probably unique in having had several Easter camping holidays at Newgale and Gwithian without seeing a wave bigger than a foot, and no wind stronger than a little puff. I hate to image how much money we’ve spent on fuel transporting our kit for it not to be used!

And let’s be honest there are large numbers of people who are really attracted to the image of ‘extreme sports’ or the image of the surf lifestyle without really wanting to put themselves in harms way from the off. SUP is a non-threatening way into this lifestyle and image.

Talk us through the McConks story. When did you decide to set up stand up paddle boarding brand? What was the catalyst?

We’re newcomers to the show. Our first thoughts of setting up McConks only emerged in October 2015 after a camping holiday in Dorset. At this stage we were still paddling on old windsurf boards stored at the lake because we couldn’t afford hard boards and had no space at home. We’d heard about iSUPs of course by now, and we knew some people who had boards by the market leader, but their experience of them wasn’t great – they thought they were heavy, and didn’t perform anywhere near as well as rigid boards. But then we saw a mum in her late 20s take her toddler out for a paddle round Portland Harbour on a Naish One, we got thinking. When we looked at the inflatable paddle boards that were available, we were just plain confused. We didn’t feel that big brands ‘spoke’ to us. Even before kids we had become disillusioned with the upselling tactics used by the big windsurf brands and the traditional retailers. They weren’t talking in our target price range (except during the annual discount circus), and we clearly weren’t their target market.

And we realised after talking to the people we met on beaches and breaks, it became clear we weren’t the only ones who no longer felt a connection with these companies. We realised that the traditional methods of manufacturer to distributor to retailer to end-user puts distance between the brand and their customers, and increases prices. That was why we no longer felt affinity and warmth towards bigger brands. So we came up with a new business model that would break down the old-school way of doing things. We wanted to work with our customers, understand what they need and make those products. And this is important to us for lots of reasons, but probably the most important is for environmental reasons: By only selling stuff that ‘normal’ people need, rather than spending lots of money to persuade people that they need stuff, we’re also doing our bit to reduce the impact on the environment.

And why inflatables?

Because that was the board we were in the market for. If there’s a need and the brand/product doesn’t exist, then you create it, right? The obvious advantages of inflatables to our lifestyle meant they were the only choice. Something that is easy to chuck in the back of the car, that’s easy to get up and paddling, that’s indestructible for young kids and that’s easy to store.

And the other key reason is because we didn’t think that the existing iSUP offering was actually very good. There were some good boards by the big brands, with an eye watering price, and with some unacceptable compromises given the price; poor quality fixed fins and cheap aluminium/alloy paddles bundled in the package. If you’re spending the best part of £1k on a board surely you get at least a carbon paddle with it, and the ability to use different fins so you can use you board in different environments?

At the other end of the market there was a good variety of budget boards, but they weren’t particularly good quality. The SUP clubs and facebook groups are awash with real life stories of members being seduced by the latest ‘affordable’ brand that offers the very best quality at the lowest price. You know the ones. “Made in one of the top four factories in China, yet only £400 delivered.” It’s really not possible to manufacture and import a top quality iSUP board and paddle package for £400 unless you’re buying in quantities of thousands. So there’s only a couple of ways these smaller startup companies can do it. Either by compromising on quality, or by buying an off the shelf design and sticking their own brand label and colours on it. Have you ever noticed how many iSUP are the same shape? Brands try to pass this off as being due to plagiarism or because trial and error has ended up with coincident evolution of the same design. Which is a good marketing answer, but not necessarily a true one!

Any chance we might see McConks hard SUPs at some point?

We’ve considered it and have even got as far as knocking up a few designs. I know there’s still a lot of snobbery about hard boards vs inflatables. And this makes sense for those brands that focus on elite surf, downwind or race SUP. But with that elitism, those brands turn off most day to day to day recreational paddlers, both by failing to be inclusive, and with their price point.

It’s also true that there are many excellent quality, UK shaped/designed hard SUPs made in Chinese factories, made by great UK brands at the same price point we would be able to sell at. This just isn’t true with iSUP – no one else sells iSUP with the same attention to detail and design. And the UK has a really vibrant custom shaped scene, and that’s just not a market we want to play in.

So you might see us playing around with a few hard board prototypes in the future if we think we can truly innovate on price or design, or if friends as us to design a board for them, but rigid SUP aren’t a core part of our business for the time being.

When designing a board, paddle and/or accessories where do you start? Are you trying to answer specific ‘questions’ so to speak or just going with your instinct?

New products normally start with a frustration, a lightbulb moment or an idea from a friend or customer. Typically they start with an idea for a shape of a blade or board. And they always start with a sketch.

We then take these sketches to our small network of suppliers to see if our ideas are even possible. Although there are more than 30 iSUP manufacturers in South East Asia (and hundreds of paddle manufacturers) there are only a very small number who meet our exacting QA, environment and worker welfare requirements, who share our passion in innovation and improvement and who have the patience to work with us to constantly modify, tinker with and improve our products. Sometimes our sketch is impossible with current materials and techniques. It’s then back to the drawing board for tweaks and tinkering with the original sketch to make something that works.
Then it’s time for some computer work; 3D design and computer testing of that design with fin placement for example. At the same time we start to think about other parts of the package. Do we need to re-invent the wheel by re-designing a pump, or are off the shelf ones fit for purpose? Fin box type, fin placement and shape? What about the bag?

Once the blueprint is finalised we agree it with our suppliers, and have an agonising and frustrating wait for the prototype to arrive. Sometimes the design has to change during the proto manufacturing phase if it becomes apparent that something doesn’t quite work. We’ll work with our supplier to revise the final prototype design.
If we’ve done our homework right, then the next stage is just a few small changes with accessories or styling. But if we need to go back to drawing board again we will do so. Then it’s full production and another agonising wait whilst the kit is manufactured and shipped to our UK store. The whole process for a new design takes around four months and can take up to eight to finalise.

Any innovations coming from McConks in the near future? If so, are you able to tell us what they are?

iSUP technology hasn’t moved on significantly since 2016/17. Most quality manufacturers have now settled on a variant of enhanced drop stitch for double layer boards. There have been no significant innovations in valve type, deckpad or fin boxes (although we’re still working on the nirvana of low profile iSUP fin boxes flush to the bottom of the board, and a flexible hydrophobic coating that reduces the ‘suckiness’ of iSUP).
And really any brand that is hailing a massive step change between their 2017 and 2018 boards is either only just catching up with the rest of the industry, or using clever marketing!

Our innovations are more to do with our product range. We’ve been prototyping a surfSUP, a freeride windsurf board, and a white water board. None of these are necessarily innovative in terms of the materials used. But they each offer something very different to what’s already on the market. For example:

Freeride board

Surf SUP

Whitewater board

We’re also really pleased to be launching our clothing range in time for 2018. Ethical, sustainable, fair. No other watersports company clothing is organic, fairwear, environmentally friendly, and fun. Or as affordable as ours!

We’re still continuing discussions with some manufacturers about bringing the shaping of our paddles to the UK, and hopefully bringing the entire paddle manufacturing process to Europe within 12 months. But we need to know we can do this and it still be affordable for our customers!

 

How do you see the industry overall? What are your opinions on stand up paddling in general?

SUP is the fastest growing watersport in the world right? So you would expect a lot of positivity, camaraderie and a sense of team. We’ve built our reputation on being open, transparent and fair, but have taken some criticism for this. Apparently, sharing information and opinions, leading by example and suggesting other companies should be open and transparent and actually explain what lies behind the marketing spiel is ‘breaking the code’. We’ve even been banned from some facebook groups for being so unreasonable as to question what others have said in public.

The sport runs the risk of eating itself, and alienating all of those happy go lucky paddlers who just want to have fun. And that’s partly the reason why we’ve worked with some other SUP aficionados to set up SUPHUBUK. To provide an online home for SUP that’s independent of brands, governing bodies and training organisations. Admittedly McConks sponsors SUPHUB right now, but that’s because no-one else has stepped up to the plate. The intention is for SUPHUBUK to become self funded in the future, not needing sponsorship from McConks. And SUPHUBUK is managed by a team of 4 people, and we’re always looking for new team members, so if you think McConks funding is a conflict of interest, come and join the team to make sure it isn’t!

But in general, it is a really happy SUP world out there. Most paddlers just want to paddle and don’t get too involved in the discussions about whether SUP is a paddlesport or a surf sport, or care about inter brand shenanigans, or battles between training organisations and National Governing Bodies. And those of us involved in the industry would do well to remember that!

Where do you see the sport going?

I’m going to resist saying too much about foils, because foils and inflatable boards aren’t overly compatible, or desirable, but foils are here to stay for the time being. But probably not for most of McConks customers!

SUP will continue to grow unless the governing bodies and brands manage to price out or alienate the growing SUP community. Hopefully the governing bodies, training organisations and clubs that organise races will work together and start to act in the interests of the whole SUP community once the international courts have decided if SUP is a paddlesport or a surf sport. And even if they don’t, with such an accessible activity, I suspect it will continue to grow as both a sport (racing, technical competitions, endurance challenges), and as a recreational pastime. Much of the growth McConks has seen has been from ‘recreational paddlers’ who don’t see SUP as a competitive sport at all, but a way of life, or a recreational activity alongside the sports they already do.

This is a really brave, and possibly foolish thing to say, but we think the days of the all-round blunt nose iSUP are coming to end. All round boards may be a marketing success, but most paddlers, most of the time, would be better off with either a surf SUP or a touring SUP. We’re now selling more of our Go Explore board to real people than our all round boards. In fact, if it wasn’t for the demand for all round boards from instructors, rentals and schools, we probably wouldn’t be making them in 2018!
And I suspect that discipline specific iSUP boards will become more popular; whitewater boards, river surf boards, surfSUP, longer (15’ +) downwind boards, 14’ race boards, freeride windSUP, freestyle windSUP. And I could go on.

More and more paddlers are arranging themselves into clubs, which is great to see, and it’s a great way to develop the social side of SUP, and to develop SUP skills. And the very best groups are arranging all sorts of SUP trial events for their members – whitewater SUP, SUP yoga, SUP polo, surfSUP lessons, for example – and are entering club teams into race events – all very positive.

And McConks; what’s the overall aim here? Tell us your brand goals moving forwards.

We started the brand after an idea or two, some cash scraped from what limited savings two watersports and travel fans with two children can amass, and some lovely messages of good luck and goodwill from those with similar passions and frustrations as ours. Just over a year later our products have won plaudits from instructors, magazines, experts and customers alike for their design, function, quality and value. We’ll keep increasing our range if people keep asking, and we’ll keep improving what’s currently offer, if it can be improved. But we don’t do that whole annual update cycle in October November just to persuade customers to spend more money. There’s many years of experience that people disregard as clichés, and the one that springs to mind is ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
Of course, we want to grow and we want to be bigger and better than we are. But we want to always keep the little guy feel and principles. Only by doing so can we keep close to our customers.
How often do you manage to get out for a float?
If we get out twice a week we’re ecstatic. Once a week we’re happy. But we have a business to run and young boys to look after. If they don’t want to go for a paddle, then we’re not going to push them. Our family is still our priority and spending quality time with the smallest McConks members is all important.

Your local put in, tell us about that. Why is it good for SUPers?

We’re based in the Cotswolds, in the middle of the country, so we spend quite a fair bit of time driving to the south coast or to South Wales. However, we do have some great inland water options right on our doorstep, being on the very outskirts of the Cotswold Water Park. The park has over 70 lakes across an area of 40 hectares, and many paddleable rivers, including the River Thames. And when we say River Thames we’re not talking shopping trolleys and pollution. Our local stretch is a beautiful rural idyll with the added benefit of a lovely waterfront pub with campsite! It’s all flat water unless you can find the few river waves that exist, so perfect for beginners and for families. And with so much wetland and open water around it’s a nature lover’s paradise. Hop on your board and you may see water voles, otters, kingfishers and a whole menagerie of fowl.

Do your family paddle? Is it a group affair when you head for a float or do you end up solo?

Flat water paddling is typically a family affair. Our boys love coming paddling with us. Sat or lying on the front of the board, watching the ripples and colours on the water, pretend fishing and spotting wildlife, they have a whale of a time. And although our eldest is only 6 he’s already having a go at paddling, and is always keen to do things himself. And our new 9’ SurfSUP has been designed for two reasons – first and foremost it’s a highly manoeuvrable and fun surfstick. But secondly, it’s a great little kids board. And Toby has already staked his claim on the prototype for him to paddle in 2018!

If we’re ever testing boards in surf or in anything other than flat water we’ll normally lose the boys, or go solo. We’ve had fun in small waves with the boys, but it’s fair to say that they’re not budding surfers yet; recent cries from around our feet have been “too fast daddy” “no, no, no, that waves tooooo big” .

Who are your paddling heroes and why?

We don’t really do hero worship at McConks. Anyone who gets in the water to train at 6am on a winter’s morning; a mum who defeats her nerves and takes her little one on the water for the first time; the 55 year old who’s always had a passion for the ocean, but just missed the opportunities to do something about it, who gets on a SUP board for the first time.

What about life in general? Anyone inspire you to push on.

Anyone who measures their life success in terms of experiences lived rather than property or money acquired. And that’s a lot of the water sports community!
And Jen is my conscience and sanity checker. If ever McConks makes a mistake I’ll be to blame, not her.

Any final thoughts on SUP in general?

I think it was Laird Hamilton who said that SUP would become the bicycle of watersports. The analogy works well. It’s as easy to get on a SUP and paddle, as it is to get on a bike and ride, possibly even easier. But just because you can ride a bike doesn’t mean that you can throw yourself down a black single track in Morzine any more than you’re going to paddle SUP Serpents on the Dee. So just like cycling SUP has something for everyone, from the most gentle to the most extreme, and is a year round sport. And that’s probably why both SUP and cycling are still growing and show no signs of slowing down.