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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.

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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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Tier two fun – how stand up paddle boarding can be an ‘after event’ reward

Stand up paddle boarding’s easy right?  Simply jump aboard, begin stroking, and after a few initial stumbles you’ll be propelled forwards with smiles all round. Fast forward a few sessions and by this time you’ll have (hopefully) developed a bit of technique, not be stumbling quite as much and generally enjoying your fun in the sun. But what next?

Look at any high performance SUP athlete and their accomplishments will seem a million miles away from the type of paddling you do. Battling ocean swells to gain serious downwind glides, taking a few heavy waves on the head to eventually snag that one awesome barrel or toughing it out across ultra-distance courses for a shot at the podium. All this just looks hard work at the start of your stand up paddle boarding journey, and in fact, never gets any easier. But it’s the reward post-paddling that counts, not how easy the activity was.

Back to your everyday recreational paddling and this is what can be referred to as ‘tier one fun’. Fulfilment comes quickly, with minimal input on your part. That’s not to say there isn’t any effort, quite the opposite in fact. (We’ve all heard about the health benefits of being atop a SUP so we won’t get into this again). By and large, recreational SUP errs towards the easier end of the spectrum. And there’s no real need to change this unless you’re searching for more…

SUP’s popularity is tangible but after a brief spell paddlers may begin seeking their next challenge – this is typical human nature. In its simplest form, as Robby Naish is quoted, ‘SUP is just standing on a board with a paddle’. The rest is down to us as riders and the environments/situations we choose to put ourselves in. Enter ‘tier two fun’ stand up style.

Picture the scene. The wind’s come up, you’re quite a distance from that original launch point, there’s no get out within your immediate vicinity so the only course of action is to hammer down and fight back upwind. As anyone who’s paddled into gusty conditions will tell you, this isn’t the most idyllic kind of SUP you can do, and is actually pretty relentless hard work. Yet with determination, grunt and a positive mental attitude (combined with a degree of technique) there’s no reason why you can’t cover ground and arrive back at point A.  Sweaty,  tired, and a few pounds lighter.

Hitting the beach in a sweaty dishevelled mess you’ll initially be thankful of touching down upon Terra Firma. But soon enough those positive endorphins will make their way to your brain and in no time you’ll be stoked off your noggin – and an achievement it is. This is ‘tier two fun’: not particularly pleasant during the act but upon reflection super rewarding and addictive. It’s why endurance paddlers keep going back for more, surfers refuse to let a big set get in their way and conquering the elements – if only for a brief period – makes you feel truly alive. Retrospective bliss if you will.

There are plenty of ways to up the ante with your SUP activities and feel the benefits of ‘tier two fun’. Enter a race, step it up in surf, tackle a more challenging route you’ve never before paddled, head out in breezy conditions or whatever you fancy having a stab at.

Self-belief, confidence, experience and skill will play their part in your success – we’re not suggesting you head for the gnarliest conditions you can find with limited paddling ability. A ‘slowly, slowly’ approach is optimum, otherwise you’re heading into ‘tier three fun’ realms which usually results in the emergency services being called!

 

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Why paddleboarding is so popular

orlando
Naked SUP with Orlando Bloom

If there’s a sport that captures this year’s zeitgeist, it’s standup paddle boarding or SUP. Standup paddleboarding has been around for a decade or see, but it is the evolution of inflatable paddleboards that has really supercharged the appeal and development of SUP.  It seems that everyone has been keen to get in on the act this year, 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 in 2017.   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, as long as the board is the right size for the rider and conditions.
  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 esurfing, 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.
  3. It’s easy. With the correct board for your size and weight, you will  be up and paddling within minutes.  Even the most balance challengd beginners are stand up paddling within 15 minutes.
  4. It’s a great workout. It’s widely reported that SUP is good for the core muscles, and it’s also great for improving all round fitness; an hour paddleboarding will burn around 700 calories.  And because you’re in control of how hard you work and how far you go, it doesn’t matter what shape you start in.
  5. Once you have made the initial outlay in kit, there are very few ongoing costs. And although the initial outlay can seem significant, buying second hand, or buying smartly can reduce the initial outlay.
  6. Getting close to nature. Stand up paddleboarding puts you right out there to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of nature.  With the water under your feet you’ll find that you have the perfect viewpoint to observe
    SUP with dolphins
    SUP with dolphins

    amazing creatures swimming and moving about below you.  You’ll be able to see birds in action, witness a serene sunrise, paddle through mist, or marvel at a breathtaking sunset. Whether you are on a solo, family, or social paddle stand up paddleboarding connects you with your natural surroundings.

  7. Quality time together. Whether river paddling to lunch in a riverside pub, or paddling down river with your children on the boards, SUP can be very sociable.  You can even bring your dog along for the ride.
  8. Stress reduction. Fed up of busy crowded beaches?  Paddle to that secluded island or inaccessible beach around the headland.  Skinny dipping. Paddle far from the madding crowd, strip, and dive in the water.  SUP is a great way to unwind and relax.  Beautiful sunsets, inspirational sunrises, paddling in amazing places reduces stress and recharges your batteries.
  9. Free dinner. Tie a crayfish or lobster pot net behind the board, add bacon and paddle.  Or take a fishing rod with you.  Easy to find your own perfect spot.  And then grill them up on the beach when you get back.  Probably with a cold beer!
  10. Deflate the board, roll up, and pack away in the convenient wheeled rucksack that comes with the best inflatable paddleboards. No worrying about tired dogsarms strapping the boards to the roof or trying to squash everything into the car.  You can be on the road in a few short minutes after getting off the water.

If these reasons don’t make you want to rush out and get your hands on an inflatable paddle board, then nothing will!

Visit our webshop to find out how easy it is to get hold of great quality, affordable paddleboard kit!

 

 

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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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