This week we hear from Kevin O'Brien from Kalavida Surf Shop up in Vernon BC.
How long has your company been in business, and how did you get your start?
Kalavida opened up in May of 2010 as a SUP-specific shop for the Okanagan region and beyond. It took 3 months and countless loads reclaimed wood, tin roof and supplies to get the shop ready for action. It was modeled after those quaint n' quirky surf shops you find in Hawaii and was built using as much recycled materials as possible.
We just kinda fell in love with the sport during the summer of '09 and a series of coincidences and good fortune helped us make the ultimate decision to turn our passion into a business. After spending the last decade marketing BMX in the US and Canada, I was finally able to put those skills to work for our own project – and Kalavida was born! Kala is one the Hawaiian Huna principles that means go with the flow or hang loose so that was a perfect fit given that the First Nations have a Hawaiian connection in the Okanagan. We really wanted a connection to our region so the name was perfect.
When and how did you first find out about Stand Up Paddleboarding?
I had seen the sport for the last couple of years through guys like Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama and others but never really thought much about what it would be like on the lakes. I saw it in Mexico in the winter and showed it to a few friends as well. We picked up boards early last year and it just kind felt right from the first time we stepped up so to speak. It truly is one of the most versatile sports I have ever been involved with. Shortly after our first paddle on Kalamalka Lake, we took the summer off and drove around BC to paddle in all kinds of lakes and rivers. BC is one amazing place for SUP and we are blessed to be on the shores of Kalamalka Lake
When did you start carrying SUP related products in your store?
May 1st. We took a fairly big gamble that the sport would have a break-out year and even before we had opened our doors, we could tell that there was some interest out there. We started off with Surftech, C4 Waterman and Rogue and I can remember looking at our shop in early May and wondering whether if the timing was right – luckily it was and we continued to add brands like Kialoa, Werner, Sitka and Ocean & Earth.
What sort of growth have you seen you started selling SUP related products?
We beat our forecasts!
What are your top selling board brands and models?
The Rogue All-Rounders did very well but we ran out of boards in early July and so did the company. Surftech 'Laird' Tuflites and softops did very well along with C4's Holoholo and their inflatable iSUPs.
What are your top selling paddle brands and models?
It was interesting….. Werner came out strong in the first part of the season and then Kialoa ruled the second half. We had a good response from the people at the Vernon Paddling centre and they love their Kialoa.
What are your most popular SUP related accessories?
The basics like rail tape, rack pads and leashes were popular. The Ocean & Earth board bags did very well along with Rap Rax (Soft roof racks) the Dry Case for iPhones and such. Later in the season, EZ Plugs and attachments came on strong as people progressed through the sport (and because of Transport Canada). We expect booties to come into season very shortly
If there was one accessory you'd suggest that all stand up paddle boarders should purchase, it would be...
A board bag for travel. I held off for a year but swear by it now. Keeps your ride bug free, ding free and surrounds your board in mystery.
Do you offer additional value added services?
Information and advice – Since flatwater is still 'new' on the SUP radar, we made sure that we educated everyone about the boards, their features and which ones worked best for flatwater. One of our main focus points was to let people know how versitile the boards really are. A common question was "so all you do is paddle"?, so we had to find creative ways to paint a picture for people and many of them were pretty stoked to hear that you can take them on the rivers – The Shuswap river near our shop is amazing and this will become a big category next year.
Try before you buy. Rather than outfit our rental fleet with safe boards, we had a mix of all types of boards so that potential buyers could try out a number of them before making their purchase. The Surftech 'Laird' and C4 Holoholo and ATB sold well because of this.
We worked with customers to provide rail tape applications at no charge and we were pretty diligent about making sure paddle lengths were right for each customer.
We offer 'Intro to SUP' classes throughout the spring and summer for those who want to get more out of their first experience and we started doing River SUP tours in the late Summer.
Most of all, we live the sport so you'll find us out paddling with customers-turned-friends whenever we get the chance.
How do most of your customers use their stand up paddle boards?
Our clientele was primarily from the Okanagan so the boards were primarily used on the lakes and rivers. We did a couple of River tours so we expect this to expand next year.
Where do you and your customers get out on the water?
We are footsteps from Kalamalka Beach and held a weekly race series so this spot was the most popular. Our pals from Kelowna and Penticton spent most of their time on Okanagan lake but I think most of us agree that Kalamalka Lake is the premier SUP spot in the region. It's mostly calm but when the wind whips up, it makes for one amazing downwinder.
For Rivers, we spent the first part of the summer on the Shuswap near Mabel Lake but after hitting the Similkameen near Keremeos, we have much to explore.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, Transport Canada called our shop after responding to a call about 'safety' from a local business. They held a 'town hall' type of meeting with us and explained their interpretation of the laws and how they apply to SUP.
What time of day brings the best conditions?
Best condition depends on what you want to do. Early mornings for Kal Lake and Okanagan Lake are calm and glassy. Downwinders are best in the afternoon's. Kal beach gets on-shore winds so it's pretty safe out there most of the time.
Where do you see stand up paddle boarding going in the next few years?
Its versitility will lend itself to a mainstream audience but it will also become more specialized as the sport evolves in the mind of the consumer and as the products continue to refine. Many of the boards offered today are not flat-water specific so I can see this side developing greatly. Once you get on a displacement style board, the speed might keep you from going back to the surfboard style of design….
What's your favorite part about being involved with stand up paddleboarding?
Freedom and folk. The people and the freedom to go anywhere with your board and go on an adventure on any body of water. More surf would be nice….
Any tips for the newcomers?
There is a lot of information out there about boards and paddles so try to find the stuff that pertains to your application. If you're in the flatwater region, try to find info about boards that work best for lakes and rivers. Don't get fooled by the cheaper brands who claim they are the same. We've seen it first hand that, like in other sports, you get what you pay for. We had many of our for-sale boards in the rental fleet so we have the luxury of seeing how they hold up under use and abuse.
And always buy the board that will suit 85% of where you will paddle. If you'll be primarily on flatwater, try to pick a board that is suited for the lakes. If you end up going surfing, you can just rent a board for the weekend. Ask lots of questions like 'how does it track', 'why does this board have thin rails but this one has thick rails?', 'what if I want to race it?' and so on. In a new sport like SUP, no question is a dumb question. We're all still learning and growing together.
And some closing thoughts?
It truly has been a thrilling ride so far. We jumped into the sport full-stop and have been able to share that stoke with so many good people this year already. The SUP community has come alive and we've become friends with many of our customers and that is what it's all about for us. We support our local scene and also ship anywhere in BC and across the country. We were the first shop to stock race boards this season and always have something more than the ordinary in stock.
Kalavida also partnered with SPrKL (Society for the Protection of Kalamalka Lake) and made regular donations to the society from our race events.