Courtesy of Drew Dixon, FL Times Union, Tue, Dec 31, 2013 @ 6:37 pm
Skip Smith has been a firefighter for most of his adult life but he’s in the process of blazing a trail in one of the hottest coastal trends these days – standup paddle boards, or SUP.
Smith, a lieutenant with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, has been steeped in the surf culture at his home in Jacksonville Beach since about 1975. But in the past few years, Smith has converted his love for the water into a fledgling business.
S3 SUP is Smith’s retirement business in waiting. He’s already made about 250 SUP boards in the past few years and more First Coast water enthusiasts are turning to him to make their boards. Smith started experimenting with manufacturing traditional surfboards in 1979. But when the 55-year-old Smith caught the SUP bug, he started making them himself.
In the past decade, SUP boards have become increasingly popular ever since famed big wave extraordinaire Laird Hamilton showed how to ride them in the surf documentary film Riding Giants. The SUP boards are more versatile than a regular surfboard because they’re propelled by a rider standing up while using a paddle, similar to a canoe paddle, and riders can use them when there are no waves and in standing bodies of water such as lakes or in rivers.
Smith sells his SUPs that range in length from 7 feet, 4 inches to 10 feet long for about $1,200 to $1,400 each. Customers can begin the process of customizing a SUP board from Smith by visiting the website skipsmsithsup.com.
You’ve been in the surf culture for a long time, but what made you decide to get into this business of making standup paddle boards?
I started to make the boards perform really well. If you look at the sport now, you see there are no limits being set on standup paddle boards. It’s not just point-and-go. … The sport is accelerating faster than the surfing sport did.
Why do you think that is? You were in traditional surfing, what is leading to this phenom of standup paddle boarding?
I think it’s because it hits a greater number of people. When you look at the [traditional] surfing industry, everybody is into the lifestyle. The problem is surfing is not an easy sport. … With standup paddle boarding, the learning curve, at first just standing up is relatively straight up. It’s hard, but after a week or two, you can stand on the board. From there you can be on the river, the lakes and on the ocean.
Where do you see your business going? You’ve had a startup operation and you’ve been experimenting around with it. Do you see yourself leaving your firefighting profession to do this full time?
Definitely when I retire I see myself doing this. I would like to be in the industry. I don’t know if I can ever compete with the overseas market. We are inundated with China boards. But as in being an ambassador of the sport. … I do know quite a bit about it.
What about standup paddle boarding itself, what’s the sustainability there? How do we know this isn’t another grass-roots trend like windsurfing where hardly anybody is doing it anymore?
As it becomes accepted in the sport of surfing, once the youth and the younger generation sees there are no limits to it and there’s not a taboo to it… it won’t go away. But it’s not an easy sport. With surfing, you have to have good waves. With a paddle board, it can be anything. It’s going to be around for a while especially here in Northeast Florida.
Once the versatility of SUPs is fully realized, do you think that will open the market?
I think that’s exactly what’s going to put more people on them. The smaller they get, the more use you can find for them. But for the typical individual who wants to go enjoy a day on the water, whether in the ocean or in the rivers, that’s what’s driving the sport. You can’t do that with a surfboard.
Thanks for stopping by. If you would like more information on how you can get into the sport of SUP or if you would like to consult with Skip Smith to create a custom SUP for you, contact us today, we look forward to talking to you!