“Go on. Tour” – Thorfinn Interview With Tahoe SUP

Stand Up Paddleboarding has come a long way over the last few years. Not to long ago SUPers were on the fringe, oddities among surfers and kayakers alike. Now, stand up paddling is the fastest growing watersport in the world – where pods of kayakers once ruled the coast, we’re seeing SUP take over the waterways.

The sport’s meteoric rise in popularity all over the world has pushed designers and manufacturers to supply boards and paddles that transcend any one demographic, style or region. What works for a surfer in SoCal may not suit a lake paddler in the Midwest

Tahoe SUP is a company based on this evolution of the sport – they embody a philosophy that has taken their designs completely out of the surf zone, adopting the cruising specific slogan: “Go on. Tour.” With well thought out designs and outfitting, Tahoe has settled in perfectly to SUP and kayak/canoe shops worldwide.

Ernie Brassard of Tahoe SUP took the time to talk some more with us about how the company was formed, what guides their business, and what the future holds.

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Q & A with Tahoe SUP

Thorfinn: In many ways, Tahoe SUP represents the evolution of stand up paddling as a true paddlesport, not just on off-shoot of surfing. In fact, you have no interest in producing boards for the surf zone. When did you first start to see that there was a strong market for touring specific stand up boards?

Tahoe: Here’s our story…. In 2007, I, Ernie, started paddling my Arrow surf SUP on Lake Tahoe. I had been playing around with SUP surfing at that time for about 3 years. It was more of a novelty at that time. I started padding in the spring of 2007 and some of my friends and locals got interested and got some boards. All boards at that time were surf SUP’s. One retailer in Kings Beach, Tahoe Paddle & Oar, started carrying a few boards that were very hard to get. August 8th I put on the 1st flat-water race ever to get some of my friends from SoCal & Santa Cruz that were getting into SUP to bring their boards to Tahoe and play. We had 32 folks paddle that year.

In 2008 I met Nate Brouwer, founder of Tahoe SUP. He had spent some time in SoCal, saw SUP surfing there, and got the idea of doing something flat water specific. He came back to Tahoe and was trying to start a local SUP business and wanted to be the 1st company devoted to building touring boards for flat water. We became friends; SUP was starting to take off here on Tahoe. I got Quiksilver interested in my event. The 2nd event we had 108 paddlers. Joe Bark came up with the 1st displacement hull race board that year. I joined Nate to help him with TAHOE SUP. Together we worked to design the 1st Zephyr, Nate’s first real step at designing.

I saw the canoe & kayak stores as the focus of bringing this sport to the non-surfing world. We were the 1st company to exclusively design and build displacement hull touring boards and go after that market. Still, most of the boards sold in that market are surf style boards for 2 reasons. 1st is that the surf industry sells surfboards and has a hard time thinking outside the box. 2nd they’re cheaper to build and most people don’t understand the difference. Slowly, and good for us, its taking the industry a long time to respond to the touring market. Progressive surf dealers and the canoe & kayak watersports market are maturing and so is the consumer.

Thorfinn: Response to your business philosophy and board designs has been phenomenal, customers walk in and seem to “get it” right away when looking at the Tahoe racks. The boards have an aesthetic appeal and offer attractive amenities, such as very comfortable handles, footpads and molded-in bungee tie downs. What is your most common feedback from Tahoe SUP paddlers? How do you incorporate this feedback into your products?

Tahoe: We listen to our dealers and customers. The best part of marketing our designs have been on the water demos. People need choices and the opportunity to try the different product that’s out there. We win the taste test every time. We have branded our company and products to fit the environment that they will be used in. As folks get into this sport they do a lot of research online and we continue to stand out as the leader in SUP touring. As a surf/paddle enthusiast myself, this is just another board in the quiver. We design our boards with performance, stability, durability and usability in mind. Lightweight fast, stable boards that can carry paddler gear, pets, and kids that are easy to use. Also Nate has a great design eye for the aesthetic.

Thorfinn: Most of the focus on your board design, up to this point, has centered on flat-water paddling, even though the boards crossover well into open water conditions. Do you envision more ocean specific designs in Tahoe’s future?

Tahoe: You can never build one board that is perfect for all conditions. We believe that we have one, if not the best all around boards in the industry. They work well in calm water and rough water. They handle the ocean swells and with some practice are a fair down wind board. These boards are easy for the beginner and as they progress will appreciate the wide performance attributes of these boards. These are great open ocean boards. That said, we are always working on and testing new designs for the future. We will always be a leader in design and construction to build better, stronger performance boards. We love testing the limits. You can see some of the future in our new race board, the Thunderbird.

Thorfinn: Racing has been a major factor in the growth of SUP as a sport. For 2012 Tahoe has released the Thunderbird, both in 12ft and 14ft, which is your first real foray into this market. What were your design goals for the Thunderbird, and has it met your expectations?

Tahoe: We are not a race-oriented company. We look for new ideas, materials and designs to build better touring boards. The Thunderbird is our latest design, and we will continue to progress, to constantly bring the latest technological ideas to our touring boards. Most companies are satisfied selling the same thing year after year. We are always working to bring to our customers the latest and most innovative product in the sport!

Thorfinn: From talking to paddlers, dealers and other professionals in the industry, where do you think stand up paddling is in its arc of growth? Have we seen the most rapid phase of the sport’s growth, or have we only seen the beginning?

Tahoe: There are a lot of people who think they understand SUP. Most people thought it was just a fad. They have all been proven wrong. We haven’t begun to see the real impact of this sport in my humble opinion. If you just look at the US where SUP has grown, you will find it’s just a very small part of the landscape. We have grown this sport at 200% to 300% per year over the last 4 years in the worst economy since the Great Depression. I believe we have 10 years before we see the crest. The appeal is so wide because it doesn’t take any talent to do it! You get good at it with time on the water. Parents do it, grandparents do it and in this age of technology were kids can’t communicate unless they’re texting in the same room, its cool to do. It’s become this eco healthy family sport, and the appeal reaches out to all levels of athletes for the core fitness and cross training benefits. Plain and simple: it’s just fun to do!

Thorfinn: How does Tahoe continue to position itself as the premier brand for the touring and cruising market in the years ahead? How far will you take the touring model – will we see any grand expeditions on Tahoe boards?

Tahoe: Tahoe has just begun to really get the touring word out. To show people that they can truly have adventures on these big boards; much more than just paddling in circles on a pond. To take trips and explore the landscape of endless waterways. Last year Tahoe SUP started the Explore Project, to produce adventure travel video’s and show what you can experience in your own backyard. Our 1st one we circumnavigated Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles. We just finished our 2nd one on the confluence of the Trinity, Salmon and Klamath River to the Pacific Ocean last fall, with 30lb salmon running, bears and snow. These videos will be on the market for retail, and have local premiers to show and encourage people to go on tour and explore. We are working with Quiksilver in Florida on the Florida 500 anniversary, where we will be exploring the many miles of coast, inland waterways and the Everglades.

Thorfinn: Where is Tahoe looking for inspiration as the next crop of boards is conceptualized?

Tahoe: Nate Brouwer has infinite capacity to embrace design ideas from all aspects of the watersports world that could possibly enhance the next generation of SUP’s. We are always looking at new construction, materials and manufacturing ideas to make a better, lighter and stronger performance product. Keep your eye on Tahoe, we always plan to bring you something new and innovating. The possibilities are endless. We have just begun. See you on the water!

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More about Thorfinn Expeditions:

Thorfinn Expeditions is an outdoor adventure/education business based in Lincolnville Beach and Bar Harbor, Maine that specializes in water-based activities (sailing, stand up paddle boarding, high-performance kayaking/surfskis). Thorfinn SUP programs range from beginner lessons to fitness/race training, and custom guided ocean tours/downwinders for experienced paddlers. In addition to outdoor programs, they are a paddle sports retailer, selling the product lines used in their programs and expeditions.

Thorfinn Philosophy

People need to adventure. Thorfinn Expeditions facilitates challenging and inspiring programs that foster technical skill aquisition, physical fitness, and environmental appreciation. With our exceptional staff and equipment, we have the adaptability and experience to run adventure-based programs for any individual or group. From our retail shop to our outdoor programs, we embody fun, teamwork, learning, and perspiration.