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Inflatable SUP paddle board for beginners

SUP noobs

Are you a SUP noob?

Standup paddleboarding (SUP) is a fun relaxing and rewarding way to play on water. Relatively gear free, you can get out on the water, playing in river, or lakes or coastal waters. Stand up paddle boards (SUP) offer a fun, relaxing way to play on the water. With a minimum of gear, you can paddle ocean surf or placid lakes and rivers. And the advent of good quality inflatable paddleboards (inflatable SUP) means that you no longer need a garage to store your own SUP.

It’s well known that SUP is great for both physical and mental health. It delivers a full-body workout and has become a popular cross-training activity. In fact, that’s how modern SUP evolved: The great Laird Hamilton was looking for more fun ways to cross train when there was no surf or wind, and modern SUP was born. And compared to other paddlesports, it works the core muscles more rigorously because of the standing position, and you have the benefit of the views that come with a standing position.

So, what do you need to get on the water?

SUP Gear

The good news is, you don’t actually need much gear to get on the water. You need just a few key pieces of equipment to enjoy SUP. It’s fair to say that although you don’t need much kit, the kit you do need costs several hundred pounds. Therefore, you might want to try hiring some kit from a local hire centre, or join one of the ever growing number of clubs before you buy. If you want to find a friendly SUP club or centre, to try a range of kit you’d do worse than looking at the new SUPhubUK maps to find your nearest school or club.

However, should you already know that SUP is your ideal sport and pastime, this is what you need.

SUP board

There’s a bewildering array of boards available, and the type of board you need depends on the type of environment you’ll be paddling in, and your shape, size and skill. Simply put, the heavier you are, and the less competent you are, the bigger the board you need. See our other blogs for advice on whether you should go for an inflatable SUP or a hard paddle board, things you should know before buying a SUP and for advice on what size SUP board you need.

Paddle

You can get a paddle for as little as £40 or even for free with some cheap SUP packages. But these are typically heavy, poor quality alloy paddles, which are hard work, tiring and in some cases simply plain dangerous. Make sure you buy fibre glass or carbon fibre paddles. You have a choice of adjustable or fixed length paddles. For beginners, we always recommend an adjustable paddle. It often takes several sessions to figure our how long you need your paddle (it’s quite a personal decision), and different paddling environments require different length paddles. A decent adjustable paddle will only weigh 100g more than a fixed paddle, and will give you much more flexibility as you develop.

PFD (Personal Flotation Device)

There is a very active debate as to whether you need a PFD in SUP. PFD are commonplace in paddlesports, and less commonplace in surfsports. We won’t get drawn further on this matter, but you should consider whether you need a PFD, and this will be driven by the environments you will be paddling in. Assume you do need a PFD, and not requiring a PFD is the exception!

Proper clothing

In the middle of UK winter, you might need a dry suit or a winter Wetsuit. In the summer, you might only need a pair of boardshorts and a rashie or t-shirt.  Be aware that it's often more exposed on the water than on shore, and windchill has a significant impact if you've had a dunking.  The general rule is you need clothing that is flexible and moves with you, but keeps hypothermia at bay.  

Leash 

All good boards with throw in a leash with the board, but not all of the leashes are good. This is an essential piece of safety kit, and the type of leash you need depends on the paddling you’ll be doing. For most general SUP, a coiled 10ft leash is spot on. If you’re going to be trying surfSUP, a straight leash is better, and if you’re getting into river WW SUP, then you need a specialist quick release leash. People have drowned in rivers because they’ve had the wrong kind of leash. But this is only important at the performance end of the spectrum. Most general paddlers will not need anything other than a coiled 10ft leash.

Sun protection

Wear sunscreen and sunglasses. And maybe a hat. Especially if you’re fair. The water really reflects the sun!

SUP Techniques on the Water

Getting on the SUP

When you’re new to the sport, it’s best to start out in flat, calm water that’s free of obstacles (like other watersports users, boats and buoys!) It make sense to progress to your knees before trying to stand up! But, if you want to stand up paddle board, this is how you do it:

  • Standing alongside the board in shallow water, place your paddle across the deck of the board and use it as an outrigger. The paddle grip is on the rail (edge) of the board; the blade rests on the water.
  • Hold the board by the rails. One hand will also be holding the paddle grip.
  • Climb onto the board in a kneeling position, just behind the center point of the board.
  • From that kneeling position, get a feel for the balance point of the board. The nose shouldn’t pop up out of the water and the tail shouldn’t dig in.
  • Keep your hands on either side of the board to stabilize it.
  • Once you’re ready, stand up on the board one foot at a time. Place your feet where your knees were. You might also bring a friend to help stabilize the board as you get the hang of standing on it.

Staying on the SUP

To maintain your balance as you stand upright on the board:

  • Your feet should be parallel, about hip-width distance apart, centered between the board rails (edges). Don’t stand on the rails.
  • Keep toes pointed forward, knees bent and your back straight.
  • Balance with your hips—not your upper body.
  • Keep your head and shoulders steady and upright, and shift your weight by moving your hips.
  • Your gaze should be level at the horizon. Avoid staring at your feet.
  • Much like bicycling, when your forward momentum increases, your stability increases as well.

SUP Stroke

Once you’re comfortable balancing on the board in flat water, it's time to take off on a longer excursion—where the real fun begins.

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Are you full of Coastal Spirit?

Coastal Spirit…

You know it when you feel it.  Whether it be the feeling that you get when you see the mist over the sea at sunrise, the adrenalin rush when you nail that session, or the inspiration you feel watching a watery blood red sunset.

It’s also the name of a great company in North Wales who McConks has been working with for some time now, and who you can’t fail to notice have been appearing in our social media feeds. So we thought you might like to know more about who Coastal Spirit are.  Roger Chandler is the founder of Coastal Spirit, and he took some time off the water to answer our questions.

Tell us about your watersports background?

From a small child I loved being in and around water. Apparently it was fairly common for me to create a lot of noise when my parents tried to remove me!  It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I took up kayaking and then mainly due to my brother, who was a couple of years younger than me, that I progressed.  While paddling just the two of us on Coniston Water, he capsized and as I frantically paddled to rescue him, he then rolled up!!  So I joined a club as I couldn’t have my younger brother doing something I had no idea about, and got into white water.  We shared some great adventures together.  I then got into the dark art of open canoeing and one bladed skills. I discovered I loved the journeying and exploration.  This eventually led me on to sea kayaking as the kayak could move faster and was far better suited for rough weather on the coast and open sea!

Talk us through your story: What made you decide to set up Coastal Spirit?

Interestingly I never wanted to run my own company. Three things happened that made me consider life and what was important.  1) a very good friend died of Cancer, he was only 40.  2) I had worked for Raleigh International running the sea kayaking in Chile, Patagonia – it had taken 2.5 years to sort out and get 4 months off.  1.5 years later they pulled out of Chile.  3)  I had a bad mountain bike accident in France and as I laid in the ditch, I thought I had broken my back. I had broken my sternum and had whiplash to my neck – 6 weeks off work and physio I was in a much better place!

These three created an understanding, that life can be short, it can change in a moment, that if something is put off it may not happen again. If I couldn’t paddle, that would be very sad.  Actions have consequences, good, bad and indifferent.

I was 39 and looking for less stress and a better lifestyle and this was about getting closer to the mountains and the sea. There were fewer job opportunities in North Wales to do that as part of a company, so starting a company and throwing myself into it had to work.

Have you always been in North Wales?

Since 1990 I have worked in the outdoors. I’ve lived in the Lake District, Shropshire, Lancashire and the Forest of Dean, before moving to North Wales.

2017 is 10 years for Coastal Spirit. Before that I spent many hours driving up and down the motor ways, having been white water paddling, rock climbing, hill walking or sea kayaking up here.

What keeps you off the water?

Ha, ha, good question. Not much, illness and my accounts!

When did you first come across SUP?

About 2 years ago down in South Sands, Salcombe. An area we tended to go down to with good friends, for the last 15 plus years.  I hired a paddleboard for a half day and to be honest had a nightmare.  There was a small swell running and I couldn’t stand up.  Really!!  As far as I was concerned that was it.   Until last April 2016 when Jack Hewlett, who I’ve grown up with being around and sharing adventures, was working with me on the British Canoeing  3* performance sea kayak award.  In his down time he took to a paddleboard.  I was inspired, borrowed his board and managed 50 minutes, BOOM!

Is SUP strictly personal, or do you think it will become part of your business?

In many ways it would make a lot of sense to create a new element in my business.   Yet if I come back to why I started Coastal Spirit, it was for a better balance and quality of life.  At the moment it is strictly personal and to be honest I’m keen for it to remain there.  I’m more than happy for friends and clients to paddle the McConks boards I now have.  I really believe more paddlers, sea kayakers will take it up.  Storing a sea kayak can be a challenge and there is far less kit with paddle boarding.  Although at the same time, never say never!

Where does paddleboarding fit for you?

Since buying a board last May, it’s given me another playful focus and paddleboarding fits really well for me, on those calmer days where I could get bored in a sea kayak after 10 days coaching sea kayaking.  I see paddleboarding as an exercise, rather than going to the gym.  It’s a new challenge. I only need 2-3 hours and if I take the board into the faster flows of The Swellies, then it can still feel mellow.  In the Winter I’m working on downwind runs and seeing what I can manage. It feels exciting to be learning a new skill again.  The reality is I’m on the water more now, than I was even 1 year ago!

Why do you think paddleboarding has become so popular?

It looks believable and easy. There is minimal amount of kit, so less faff and no real technical skill needed to begin with, other than balance! There is also more social media coverage of some amazing stuff on paddleboards now.

Coastal Spirit. What are your aspirations for the future?

Keep doing what I’m doing, listen to clients and hear what they want, keep pushing sea kayak mentoring – an area I love. Keep the balance between, work and play. Ensure more adventures happen and kindle my passion.

Any changes for 2017?

Focused & Specific is a new range of courses, that aims to address areas that clients have said they want, or have difficulties with. Surf & Tide-races is one of those courses and with a ratio of 1:4.  Last year I ran four weekends and they went down really well.  I tend to start off with a brief performance psychology input over coffee and then we look for the best location for the waves.  It’s been a very popular course and great fun.

In-Bedding the 10 items of plastic to collect on each course and I’m really pleased with the response.   I’ve probably been doing it for the last 2 years and now I’m really encouraging it.  Just keep a plastic bag or two in a hatch.

Who are your paddling heroes and why?

Not sure if I’ve got paddling heroes but my first hero probably was my action man. Yep, I played with a doll!  He did everything and spent a number of summers in the paddling pool, having super adventures.  On from there was the Operations Manager at Outward Bound Eskdale, Tony Shepard – he was an excellent climber leading E5, super white water paddler and was just getting into para gliding.  He could also speak confidently to a management group and demonstrated a whole set of rounded skills.

Thanks and shouts?

BIG thanks to P&H Custom sea kayaks for their sponsorship, Mitchelblade kayak paddles, Kokatat paddle wear and of course McConks for their great Paddleboards!

For more information on Coastal Spirit, or to book your adventure visit http://coastalspirit.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/sea.kayaking.northwales

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SUP weather issues – Mother Nature’s changing moods

Finally, you’ve got your brand new paddleboard in your hands.  The desperation to get it wet for the first time is almost too much.

Looking adoringly on, your prized machine and engine (paddle) blink lovingly back at you willing you to get to the beach and local put in.  The time is now.  You’re ready to make a beeline for the beach.

But wait, what’s this? Windy? Wet? Icy? 

Or worse. Your put in is out of bounds as Mother Nature unleashes her latest bout of summery chaos on the nation?

No probs, wait a few days for it to clear and all will be right.

Sure enough a small period of time elapses and you’re presented with a window. Quick! To the put in! How sweet that first session is.  This is awesome.  Time to get back to the coalface.  But that’s OK, because you promise yourself that every good wave forecast, you’ll be in the water on your trust steed. 

But then life gets in the way again. Thanks to life commitments your next window of opportunity falls (again) during a period of unhelpful conditions. But wait, it’s working over at xxxxxx? A few calls, a few webpages later, a few social feeds later and yes, it’s confirmed.  It’s working.

Jump in your motor, trundle off to said launch and…skunked! More condition driven obstacles. Rinse and repeat – sound familiar? Such is what we have to contend with in the UK when it comes SUP weather.

OK, we’ll admit the above doesn’t paint an overly positive picture. And while this is tongue in cheek, and somewhat over-exaggerated, every UK paddler will agree: we do battle the elements somewhat in this country when it comes to stand up.  And all watersports come to that. 

For sure those heady golden days of idyllic paddle sessions, often during summer, occur often. But we can get days, or even frustrating week long spells, of unhelpful weather conspiring against us.

Take the current run of chill happening right now for instance. For some it’s not so much of an issue but for those newly subscribed to SUP we can bet our bottom dollar there’s zero inclination for getting on/in the drink. So what to do?

Firstly, you just have to broaden your horizons in terms of where you paddle. Sometimes life means you may just have to take what you can. But at other times you’re free to investigate further afield which leaves you able to optimise your launch based on Mother Nature’s mood. Plus, the added bonuses of investigating alternative put ins will give a more varied knowledge of SUP in general– never a bad thing. After all variety is the spice of life, and experience the best teacher.

If winter’s getting you down right now, then you could consider an overseas holiday. Warmer climes can revitalise and refresh so worth considering if you’re not up to braving the cold. And they can be surprisingly low cost if you’re willing to fly at odd times and stay in budget accommodation. 

Or, invest in some new attire. Having specific condition led water wear is another way to make use of seasonal variances in weather. Most seasoned UK paddlers will have a number of SUP wardrobes ready to combat all the gods can fling at us. Drysuits, wetsuits, compression suits, boardies and amphibious tees.  But this all comes at a cost of course.  So combining different seasons wardrobes can give you additional protection in the winter. A summer wetsuit with rashie windproof outerwear might even be enough if you’re paddling somewhere sheltered and with no risk of being stranded.  It was for me in sub zero temperatures earlier this week!

A positive way to look at it,  is to think of our changeable weather as an ever changing watery canvas you can draw bold SUP strokes on (cheesy but true!). Change should be embraced,  with no one SUP session ever the same as the previous paddle, you never get bored.

Embrace the change and you’ll develop much faster, with your paddling progress being swift.  Paddle, glide, repeat!

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Inflatable SUP air pressure and tuning

How do you know when it's inflated properly?
How do you know when it’s inflated properly?

Having purchased your brand new inflatable stand up paddle board it’s now time to show up and blow up (at the beach that is!). Unfurling your spangly steed and connecting the pump you begin to inflate. There are a couple of digits printed on the valve telling you what the board’s max PSI should be. Now then. Should you follow instruction and pump to recommended or back off slightly with not as much air rammed inside. Questions, questions…

Rigidity

Not all iSUPs are the same – this fact has been proven time and again. Although mostly manufactured from Dropstitch (two layers of PVC coupled together with internal microfibers) some boards aren’t worth the materials they’re bound together with.  The lower quality of dropstitch and PVC used give a very different experience.

Even with the recommended air levels inside these cheaper SUPs will be nothing more than floating bananas.  Without wanting to point fingers, anything you can buy for less than £400 for a 10′ plus board is extremely likely to fall in this category.  As for performance? What’s that then? Standing on a sinking deck, with water flowing round your ankles, it’ll be any wonder if you make it back to shore afloat.

High quality SUPS (such as McConks) couldn’t be any more different. Even with the bare minimum PSI levels inside you’ll be able to float, paddle and manoeuvre atop the water. It’s all about rigidity. Generally the more air you push inside your ride (combined with good quality materials) the more efficient it becomes. Sometimes, however, there may be need to release the pressure (or increase it).

Performance

Generally your inflatable’s recommended PSI is for optimum paddling performance in recreational environments – flat water. But SUP is a versatile beast, able to take riders to all sorts of watery wonderlands.  And in different paddle environments, you may need to tweak the ‘feel’ of your air board.

If you fancy a dabble with a paddle in waves, for instance, you will require additional rigidity. And yes, you can easily surf mellow swells with good quality, well manufactured inflatable stand up paddle boards. OK, you may not be ripping huge turns but catching liquid walls, gliding along with the occasional off the lip is certainly doable.

For anyone contemplating the above an extra bit of air pressure is a good thing.  Even though recommended levels of PSI will be highlighted on the board a well manufactured iSUP will have been tested to much higher pressure than stated. In combination with top drawer materials it’s perfectly fine to shove another five (or so) PSI into the board. This will then give you a more responsive and livelier feeling sled, allowing your inflatable to cope when ‘dropping in’ and bottom turning.

River paddling is a different matter.  When facing off against rapids, wave trains and moving white water reducing your board’s air pressure (slightly) will give paddlers a softer machine that’s more forgiving when sliding over undulating H2O. Too stiff a SUP can rebound against the rider when hitting a bump, knocking paddlers into the drink. A softer ride will therefore absorb some of this flotsam and help deliver a drier run.

So, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; not all inflatables are the same.   The above tuning scenarios that can only be achieved with quality iSUPs. And even then paddlers need only tweak air pressure slightly.   Too much, even in top quality boards, is not needed.  Quality boards respond well to minor changes tuning.  Poor quality boards don’t respond as well, and it can be dangerous to push them too far.  Reduce the pressure even slightly in cheap boards, and you end up with a banana. Increase the pressure too much to stiffen it up, and it might go pop!

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Inspirational Canoe Wales superwomen sets off on epic adventure to Standup Paddleboard (SUP) around Malta

Sonja Jones, a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer and Board Member for Canoe Wales, sets off today on a mission to circumnavigate the three islands of Malta as part of a team of four. With winds reaching 30 knots right now, and waves currently several feet high, this isn’t just a quiet paddle in the warm waters of the Mediterranean.

If there’s a sport that captures this year’s zeitgeist, it’s standup paddle boarding (SUP). Everyone has been keen to get in on the act, with Orlando Bloom paddleboarding naked, Bill Bailey appearing in the Guardian discussing his love of SUP on the Thames, and even Countryfile and Waitrose magazine featuring SUP.   And there are a number of reasons why SUP is the fastest growing watersport in the UK and the world right now:

  1. It’s accessible. Anyone; young, old, able, less abled are able to get on a board and paddle.
  2. All you need is water. Unlike most other board sports, you can SUP 24/7.  Admittedly some conditions are better than others; sun drenched waters and light winds are particularly appealing.  But SUP is independent of waves or wind.  Although there are speciality boards for racing, or for expeditions, or for surfing, or for riding river rapids, a single all-purpose board can do all of this reasonably well.  And you can SUP anywhere; river, lake, sea or canal.  So there will always be somewhere to SUP within a few miles.

So to demonstrate just how accessible SUP is, four watersports enthusiasts have just set off on an epic expedition to circumnavigate the three islands of Malta. One of the four, Sonja Jones, has Multiple Sclerosis, and is using the expedition as a way of retraining her body in her daily battles with her condition.

Georgina Maxwell, Sonja Jones, Chris Brain and Matt Haydock
Georgina Maxwell, Sonja Jones, Chris Brain and Matt Haydock

The other expedition partners are Chris Brain, Georgina Maxwell and Matt Haydock, all of whom are outdoor activities and watersports instructors with many years of experience of training others to respect and enjoy the water environment safely. The other experience they share, or rather lack of experience, is that none of them have ever been on a SUP expedition.

 

McConksUK, one of the expeditions sponsors, will be sharing regular updates of the team’s progress on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram using #MalteseSUPProject.  Follow @McConksUK to make sure you get updates in your timeline.

Andy McConkey, Director of McConks said:

“Paddling the Mediterranean in November isn’t as easy as people might imagine, and is possibly more difficult than the team themselves realise. A full circumnavigation would be a challenge for experienced SUP riders.  If this team can achieve it, it really demonstrates how accessible SUP   Fingers crossed for a safe trip!”

 

Notes to Editor

The Team

Georgina Maxwell, is an experienced waterperson and outdoors instructor. She has been found on grade 4 and 5 whitewater all over Europe. But these days she prefers to concentrate on developing others in the moving water environment and the mountains, whether that be schoolage children or the military.

George is using a bespoke McConks inflatable paddleboard designed for the expedition. You can r

McConks 12'8 iSUP
McConsk Go Explore iSUP: made for adventure

You can read more about George’s training and to get live updates on progress on her blog https://georginamaxwell.wordpress.com/

Sonja Jones is a Board Member responsible for inclusiveness and safeguarding at Canoe Wales, the national governing body for paddle sport in Wales. Canoe Wales:

  • Represent the interests of our club and individual members
  • Advocate on behalf of the interests of the sport in Wales
  • Provide coaching and development programmes from local to international level
  • Stage national and international competitions.

Sonia took up kayaking, as you will see in this documentary, as a fun and exciting way to rehabilitate and work her way to freedom and strength.

From this seed of rehabilitation, has grown a life long passion for adventure kayaking and promoting the sport itself far and wide. In order to help spread the message of how awesomely inclusive and varied the sport is she’s now the Safeguarding and Inclusion Director for Canoe Wales, as well as a regular feature writer for The Paddler International Magazine.

Sonia believes paddle sport to be one of the most social, adventurous, exciting, inclusive, accessible, and exhilarating sports in this world and I intend to spend my life working towards inspiring others to get on the water, no matter their perceived abilities or backgrounds. https://paddlehigh5.wordpress.com/

Chris Brain has worked in the outdoors for over 10 years coaching and guiding and delivering professional development courses.  Chris specialises in paddlesport and is able to deliver a range of personal skills, leadership, safety and rescue courses.  As a provider of the Rescue and Emergency Care (REC) range of first aid courses, Chris seamlessly integrates his knowledge and experience of the outdoors into these courses, giving his clients fun, engaging and useful training.   Chris also has a vast experience in working with young people with challenging behaviour and is highly skilled in the area of youth development. With over 500 days spent away with clients on residential experiences Chris has a huge amount of knowledge and experience in this field. http://www.chrisbraincoaching.com/

Matt Haydock has been lucky enough to not only paddle in some amazing places; but also develop and inspire others through the amazing experiences paddlesports can provide.  Having spent the last few years working with schools which share a strong ethos for outdoor learning, he now works as a freelance instructor based in Aviemore, getting out on the water as much as possible, be that with friends or coaching others. http://www.glenmorelodge.org.uk/about-us/instructors/79/matt-haydock/

 

The team would like to thank the following sponsors:

McConksUK www.mcconks.com

Red Paddle Co www.redpaddleco.com/uk

Fatstick www.supdirect.co.uk

VE paddles http://vepaddles.com/

Palm http://palmequipmenteurope.com/

Immersion research https://www.immersionresearch.eu/

Alpkit https://www.alpkit.com/

Glenmore Lodge www.glenmorelodge.org.uk

Dewerstone https://dewerstone.com/

Go kayaking North West http://www.go-kayaking.com/

 

Contact

Andy McConkey on 07595 646603 or Andy@mcconks.com for further information

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One year on…

So, McConks has been a registered company for over 12 months, and we’ve been actively trading since May 2016. We thought now would be a good time to look back at what, if anything, we’ve achieved.

When we opened in June, we were definitely the new kid on the block.  Noses were looked down, snooty comments were made by established brands and shops.  “Another company importing cheap crap from China” was heard more than once.  Even when SUP experts reviewed our kit favourably (shout out to Tez Plavanieks and Stand Up Paddle Board Mag UK here), there were squeals that SUPM was not standing up for ‘the industry”.  There’s a huge amount of snobbery in watersports hardware, and because neither Jenny nor I were known professional performance paddlers, we were written off.goerge-training

Hopefully those days are behind us.  We’ve had some amazing reviews from expert SUPpers, beginners and everything in between.  Observations that keep being repeated by experts and beginners alike are:

  • Board shape.  We keep getting great reviews which comment on the stability and true tracking of our boards when stood midboard, but really welcome the additional responsiveness that the pintail shape bring when you step back.  Rider after rider report that step back/pivot turns are easier than on a big brand equivalent like for like size board
  • Fins:  It is a recurrent theme in reviews of our kit that real fins really set us apart in our price range, and really improve tracking and surf sup ride.
  • The carbon fibre paddles are really very, very good.  Just enough flex, just enough power, just enough drive, subtle dihedral, comfortable paddle without needing foam or padding to make the ride comfortable
  • Quality:  Manufacturing quality is the same as the best of the best, but comes with  a much affordable price tag.

We always intended 2016 to be a slow year with organic growth. We wanted to make sure that our supply chain could cope with demand, and that we could achieve the very highest quality consistently.  We’ve made no secret of the fact that our kit is made in China (although we’re hoping at some point to be able to manufacture at least some of our products in the UK), and getting supply chains set up over such a distance is time consuming and challenging.  And we had a few false starts, due to last minute changes in design and supply chain ability, and we have struggled at times to meet demand.14086433_10154429591588550_1930899112128684129_o

If we had got all our ducks in line earlier in the year, we could probably have sold more boards and got more people on the water on quality, affordable kit. However, our customers have been so engaging and interested, and have asked lots of questions that take time to answer well; Where can I go paddleboarding?   What should I wear when SUPing? Can I paddle on any river? What kit should I wear? Can I just paddle on any lake?  (answers to these questions plus all of the other every day questions we get asked coming up in our next blog).  It’s been a privilege answering these questions, and helping some slightly nervous beginners get on the water for the first time.  After all, getting people who otherwise wouldn’t get on the water is what McConks is all about.  Judging by the great feedback and reviews we’ve had from customers about our quick responses to queries, and our non-judgmental responses, two very important thoughts come to mind.

The first is that we need to make sure that our team is big enough to always answer those queries as well as just ship the products. We won’t be dismissive or judgmental when answering your questions. We never want you to be scared to ask a question.  If you have a question, rest assured there is someone else who wants to ask the same question, but is too worried to; there’s no such thing as a silly question, just silly answers.

12'8 inflatable paddleboard.
12’8 go explorer inflatable paddle board

Oh, and to this purpose, we’ve just overhauled our website to make it easier to use.

The second thought is about inclusiveness. We hear time and time and time again that the riders and reps for the big brands are only interested in you if you’re young, pretty or rich.  I don’t know how much this is intended, but the perception is real.  One of our customers recently travelled from Scotland to the Lake District to meet some SUP heros and some Brand Reps.

“After meeting with (big brand team rider, name removed to protect their identity)” he reported “and having met countless (big brand inflatable SUP) reps in the past, you’re only ever a name on a list, and they don’t have that personal connection to the customer. They’re only your mate for the 5 minutes before you buy a board.  I travelled all the way from Scotland to the Lake District yesterday for Sup, Run, Bike, and no-one even offered me a trial of their kit.  They’re not interested because I’m old, on the heavy side, and not a pretty young thing, and because I work with a charity with not much money.  McConks is punching its weight with the big guys.  You keep it real and continue to value your customers”14053709_10154429589188550_8923877087909018249_o

McConks aim is to get riders on to the water. Big, small, pretty, ugly, good, bad, indifferent.  We don’t care.  We don’t take strength from how cool or pretty or handsome our riders are, and therefore we’re not going to be damaged by someone with Downs Syndrome on our boards, or hapless beginners.  And in fact, nothing makes us happier than seeing people of different abilities or different background using our kit.  Two great charities for disadvantaged people, The Princes Trust, and Beyond Boundaries East Lothian are currently trialling some of our demo kit.  The managers and technical advisors have bought their own personal kit from us, and we’re now thrashing out a deal for the charities as a whole.  And because we’re small, and don’t spend fortunes on marketing or on team riders, and because our passion is to get people on the water, we are surprisingly affordable.

McConks 10'8 inflatable paddle board (iSUP) in the warm, azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea
McConks boards on tour #paddlemehappy

So, has the first year been successful? We think so.  Customer feedback has been great.  Expert feedback has been great (shout out to Tez Plavanieks and Stand Up Paddle Mag UK, and to the team at our demo centre at Cotswold Water Park Hire).  We’ve delivered to happy customers all over Europe; including Finland, Spain, France, Sweden, Ireland, Switzerland, Norway and Jersey.  And we’ve shipped to the USA. We’ve also donated some ex demo stock to some great charities, and we’re still going to make a small profit in our first year.  After we have deducted taxes and stuff, and the cost of new stock for next year, we will give 100% of the profit to our charity for 2016 Surfers Against Sewage.  Because we’re still growing and expanding our range, most of our income is ploughed straight back into more kit and more prototypes.  But we will make sure that SAS has a c14067753_10154429587633550_5441173745612791058_oheque for at least £200 by the end of 2016.

And what about 2017? Keep your ears to the ground.  I hear rumours of a McConks dedicated Surf SUP and a McConks White Water SUP in 2017, once we have got our new Go Explore board out there.

 

 

#paddlemehappy

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How to design a multi day touring SUP board

About 6 weeks ago, we got an intriguing email from someone we didn’t know that just said:  “Are you a UK SUP company? Where are you based? Where are your SUPs made?”

Being pleased that someone had even heard of McConks, we drafted a short reply, saying that we were UK based, and that we designed our boards in the UK but sadly, like all of the other iSUP brands, had to use overseas manufacturers to make them, simply because the supply chain isn’t available in the UK.

We then got an even more intriguing email that said: “I’ve got something that might interest you”.

The emails were from Georgina Maxwell, an outdoors professional and coach. She certainly knows how to generate suspense, because we couldn’t find out what was so interesting for a whole afternoon!  We didn’t know it then, but that’s when our involvement in the #malteseSUPproject began.

George explained why her and three of her close friends were going to be paddling around the three islands of Malta in November 2016. George’s enthusiasm was infectious, and we were sold on the concept almost immediately. There were two things that George said that made our decision to be involved really easy.

– The trip is all about how accessible SUP is. They want to show how easy SUP is, even for their friend Sonja and her battles with Malcolm.  Read Sonja’s blog for more information
– She wanted to work with us because she really valued our concept of providing good honest fantastic quality kit, at an affordable price that made SUP much more accessible and inclusive.

We had been beavering away over the summer designing our lineup for 2017, and an expedition board was already set to be part of the lineup. However a prototype hadn’t yet been ordered, let alone manufactured. We worked with George to refine and improve the design of the explorer board, although we refused point blank to make it in shocking pink as requested! It was then a case of working with our supplier to get the board made as quickly as possible.

So, what was behind the design of the George’s board?

Deckpads are a compromise between non slip and comfort. Some of the most ‘grippy’ deckpads, are fine to stand on for a few hours, but not for days on end. Some deckpads actually make McConks feet go numb after a few hours paddling. We therefore worked hard to find the best compromise between grip and comfort.

The Mediterranean can be quite choppy and stormy in November. The board needed to be easy to paddle, stable, and carry lots of kit. Using 3D modelling we settled on a 12’8 x 31″ x 6″ as being ideal for these conditions.

The expedition will be a multi day expedition which could involve carrying the board, plus the attached kit, a decent distance from the shore. Comfortable handles were therefore a must. We’ve worked hard to make sure there are plenty of handles in just the right place for portage. The added benefit is that they can also be used for additional items, such as the obligatory trombone or trumpet, to be lashed to the handles when short of space. These handles also allow George to haul herself out of the water when her expedition partners decide it’s time for her to swim!

Paddling upwind, upcurrrent in the Med in November can be a real challenge. The board has paddle gloves which allow a kayak paddle to be securely held in place, and attachment points for a SUP seat to allow George to sit when two blades are the only thing that will make headway against a 20 knot headwind and 10 knot current!

A standard US fin box with a 6″ fin designed to keep the board on the straight and narrow is supplied. Two additional Futures Fins boxes allow additional side bites to be plugged in in strong cross currents or cross winds. And allow for the board to be used to ride downwind runs, and to bite into what surf swell there may be.

12'8 board
McConks new explorer iSUP. Now with high pressure fusion enhanced drop stitch technology.

Secure storage was essential. A multi day, long distance trip means that George needs to carry all her kit with her, on the board. We therefore designed two separate storage areas, both fore and aft. We also put non slip strips on the deck under the storage to stop kit shifting about on the water and impacting on board trim.

Transportability was hugely important on an international trip, so a good quality bag was essential. Our new bag is sturdy but lightweight. With supersize wheels, the bag is easy to pull through most environments, whether it be a grassy field or airport concourses. For more difficult or uneven terrain, the stowable shoulder and waist straps are really comfortable for long hikes. The internal straps keep the board secure, and the external pockets allow all the accessories to be kept securely in one place. Chunky plastic zips will not be affected by corrosion, and fastenings inside the bag allow safe storage of George’s 3 piece carbon fibre and bamboo paddle.

The weight of the board was an important factor, and we are super pleased to introduce EDS technology to our boards for the first time. EDS technology stands for Enhanced Drop Stitch, and means a stiffer and lighter board than most other double layer boards. EDS means that the drop stitch is surrounded by an airtight and super-light polymer layer just before the outer PVC is fused to it under high pressure. This all happens at the raw material stage, and gives a much higher quality cosmetic finish with no air bubbles or creases. It also makes the boards a lot lighter than traditional two layer boards and much stiffer than normal two layer technology boards at the same pressure. Other brands call this technology MSL.

This board will be available in early 2017 in a package with our light and powerful carbon fibre paddle for less than £700.  Package price is still to be finalized.  Preorders will be delivered in time for Christmas, so if you’re seriously interested,  contact andy@mcconks.com to let us know.

To keep up to date with McConks developments,  keep an eye on our website , or follow us on @mcconksUK (twitter , instagram and facebook).

To find out more about the #MalteseSUPproject, follow George’s blog here.

 

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