Pics: Charlie Cripwell, Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co, SUPM
Although Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Company are just a few short months old the brand has already caused a few heads to turn. SUPM recently reviewed two of FBPC’s stand up paddle boards – the brand’s iSUP is featured in the latest issue – but we thought we should get the inside story from the company itself. Here we catch up with Charlie Cripwell to discuss all things FBPC.
Tell us about your watery history – how did you get into sports of a moist nature?
Growing up in London, I was a relative latecomer to watersports. I only really got into it at 18 (I’m now the grand old age of 36!). I’d saved all my money from years of part time jobs and went off travelling. I was in Thailand where I met a guy that owned a surf shop in Scarborough and he took me to see Rick Reynolds at Cobra International to get my first board (which I still have – an 8’6 Watercooled). Thailand may not sound like a surf destination but you’d be surprised, it has some pretty decent reef and point breaks.
Later on studying oceanography, I lived with a house full of surf science students so there was always an eclectic mix of boards and people to surf with. My career as an oceanographer and offshore surveyor then took me all over the world, living and working at sea. Exploring the different countries that I worked in, from Panama to South Africa to Australia (and pretty much everywhere in between!) gave me some great opportunities to hit the water for both surf and SUP.
When did you first come across stand up paddle boarding? Did you think it looked cool
I think SUP just gradually entered my consciousness over a period of time. I’d seen people flat water SUPing and it looked pretty serene. I got into it primarily because I’d lose my fitness during long periods at sea. Sitting in front of a bank of computers every day for weeks, sometimes months, really takes its toll. I wanted a way to get on the water as soon as I got home where I could build up my fitness while doing something I enjoyed. SUP was the answer for me!
Where did you first learn to SUP?
I first learnt on the Isle of Wight, where I now live. We’re blessed with some stunning scenery and coastline to explore.
Got any fond memories of your time stand up paddling so far – can you share?
I’ve got few for different reasons. Firstly, in South Africa I was on a SUP tour with a 70 year old woman that had never done it before. Her determination was fantastic, and after falling off a few times she had it nailed. That’s when I realised the true accessibility of SUP. Not everyone is going to surf, or race, and they don’t have to. Anything that gets people of all abilities and generations on the water can only be a good thing. I think SUP is fairly unique in that.
SUPers have had a bit of a bashing on the Island, so any paddle where I can convince other water users we aren’t the devil hold fond memories for me. Most notably local surfer and photographer Jason Swain that runs the Soul-Surfing.co.uk website. He’s been quite vocal on his dislike of SUPs, so when I told him I’d started Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Company he was suitably unimpressed! Over time I convinced him to try it – first on flat water, on the premise of being able to explore the coastline to take photos, then slowly into the waves. He’s since bought one of my boards and now texts me before 6am if there’s any hint of a wave. So those first paddles together hold fond memories for me.
Who are your SUP heroes?
I’m not really a hero-worshipper, but there’s no doubting Kai or Laird’s achievement in pushing the sport forward. I think the real SUP ‘heroes’ are the people at grass-roots level, voluntarily passing their skills on to the people that paddle with them. I’ve found SUP a very giving sport where SUPers want to encourage and help others to develop their skills and get more out of it.
What about land based activities – anything that gets you frothing like a silky offshore wave?
Living on the Island, surrounded by water, it’s difficult to not be totally absorbed in it!
Where did the idea for a SUP brand come from?
For me it came from necessity. Over the years I’d had SUPs from many manufacturers, which didn’t really do it for me. Either the shape, or the design just weren’t quite right. I was about to spend £1300 on a board that still wasn’t quite what I wanted, which seemed ridiculous. Sometimes if what you want isn’t available you just have to do it yourself! Happily, quite a few people agreed with me and FWB Paddleboard Company was born!
When it came to branding it was an easy decision. Freshwater Bay is a stunning place, with a timeless natural beauty, and rugged coastline. Just the name is very evocative. I like to think our range of boards reflects that. It’s great to represent the area that I live and do something to promote Freshwater Bay. That does however come with a responsibility as people are very protective of it. It’s a special place and I’m always aware that the brand needs to do it justice.
What appealed about the concept?
Well, it’s always nice to be able to design exactly what you want and make it a reality.
As a home grown UK company was it difficult getting things off the ground?
It certainly hasn’t been easy for a number of reasons, but I didn’t expect it to be! I firmly believe that if you’re going to sell a product then it needs to be right and that takes time and effort.
Our boards are designed and tested on the Island but we use an established factory to manufacture. We spent a year working on prototypes for our initial range testing production quality and ability to make the boards to our exacting requirements. We had to jump through a few hoops to get our chosen factory to make boards for us, but it was all part of the process. I flew out and met with the factory owner to go through my plans for the business. They work with some very reputable brands, and wanted to be sure of my intentions before giving us a production slot. I’m in constant contact with them and fly over to work on prototypes and quality check the boards. Our Australian production manager is also a great source of knowledge, especially when it comes to performance surf SUPs. I’ve been very fortunate in the people I’ve managed to involve that believe in what I’m doing.
Aaran Williams, who runs Earth Wind & Water, the Island’s main watersports shop that stocks our boards, has been a great source of knowledge and advice. As a former European Windsurfing Champion there isn’t much he doesn’t know about boards or the retailing of boards. We share the same philosophy of getting the right products and people riding equipment that’s suitable for them.
Our development rider, Scott Gardner, has been a product tester and team rider for some of the industry’s biggest companies. And there are very few people that can touch him out on the water. As well as being a British Windsurf Champion, big wave surfer and all-round waterman, he was one of the original UK SUPers that brought some of the first boards over from Hawaii. When Scott says we’ve got a good board then I know we’ve done OK.
Owen Burson, from UK Adventure Activities and a Coach at the Waters Skills Academy, was also involved in our prototype testing. Amongst other things he writes the SUP modules for the British Canoeing courses and we were able to use his feedback from training sessions to make improvements from a novice SUPers point of view.
The guys at Tackt-Isle Adventures have also been really supportive, testing our boards on both students and instructors, being a demo centre for us and upgrading their stock to FWB boards.
It all takes time, but it’s worth it to get the best boards possible.
Feedback from retailers has also been good. They like the boards but for the most part think it will be difficult to go up against the bigger brands. From their point of view it’s easy if someone walks in and asks for a Red Paddle or a Starboard, and I can understand that. I’m not deterred though, we’re slowly building brand awareness and hopefully in time it will be a Freshwater Bay product people are asking for.
Talk us through your day to day responsibilities – is it all paddling, testing, paddling or do you have to do some work occasionally?
Well, no two days are exactly alike. If you asked my neighbours they’d tell you I spend all day out paddling and should probably get a real job! But the reality unfortunately isn’t so glamorous. Usually I’m dealing with manufacturing, shipping, demos, talking to retailers and centres, designing and refining new products. Sometimes I even get time to walk the dog.
What’s been key to Freshwater’s success so far do you think?
I think the fact we haven’t rushed things to get products to market, and the high quality of people I’ve managed to involve that believe in what I’m doing. The great thing about being on the Island is that people want to see you succeed and are very encouraging.
In terms of change, how’s the sport moved on in the UK the last few years? Is it easier to sell SUP gear nowadays?
People are a lot more aware of SUP now which is great. There’s more variety on the market and more brands. 2016 especially has seen an influx of new brands as well as more established international brands coming to the UK. Whether the market can support it only time will tell.
There also seems to be a proliferation of internet brands, especially in the iSUP market – people spending £300 on a single layered, low pressure, board that’s totally unsuitable. People need educating about products so they can make an informed decision.
Why do you think inflatables are more popular than hard boards in the UK?
Storage is the obvious answer – not everyone has a garage for storing a 10ft board, or a roofrack. With double layer technology and high-density Dropstitch, they can also be comparable to hard boards without the hassle factor. For recreational paddling, or for centres where learning on an iSUP is more forgiving they are a great option.
Any plans to introduce more iSUPs to your range?
Our 10’6 iSUP has been very popular with both centres and individuals and will remain at the core of our iSUP range. We also have a number of 12’6 Tourers that are out for testing and plans are afoot for shorter iSUPs.
Tell us about how you plan on developing the Freshwater brand. What about further plans to evolve, technologically or otherwise.
We plan to grow organically. We’ve slowly started spreading off the Island and will continue to do so. We have more people using our boards and spreading the word. We’ve just signed former British Longboard Champion Al Reed as a team rider, and he’s keen to get out there on our 9’11 which he loves. So much so that as soon as he tried it, he put his other SUPs up for sale!
We’re currently developing our touring SUPs and also performance surf SUPs. I don’t want to expand the range too quickly, but keep a highly tuned core of products that we’ll add to gradually.
What’s your most popular piece of equipment? Why do you think that is?
Overall it’s the 10’6 iSUP as that has been most popular with both centres and individuals. People love the retro orange and white styling of our Classic. Our 10’6 was always expected to do well, and it has, but the 9’11 has been more popular than I expected. So much so, that we’re sold out until the end of August.
Give us your thoughts on SUP kit in general.
There’s a whole variety out there of varying style and quality – I think some companies are trying to do too much to cover all bases, rather than focussing on their strengths.
Talk to us about your personal quiver – what are you using and why?
Well I’m lucky in that I get to use all our boards. For the most part I use our 10’6 and 9’11 hard boards. Primarily because they suit my riding style – I love to cruise and get up on the nose, and at 6’4 I like a bit of volume. I always keep an iSUP in the van though, because you never know when you’ll find a random place to paddle!
Where’s your local spot? What does it offer stand up paddle boarders?
The Island has so many places to explore and SUP, whether you’re into flat water touring or surfing. Freshwater Bay and Compton are the two local spots to me but there are plenty of others along the coast. Depending on the conditions and location you can have a world class point break (for advanced surfers only) to a gentle beach break.
Any plans to hit up locations further afield for personal SUP time – if so where you headed?
Hopefully in September when things quieten down a bit I’ll get over to France for some Atlantic surf and a trip to the Alps – nothing too fancy, just take the camper and some boards.
Describe your dream destination – why does it tick the boxes?
I’m lucky in that during my career I’ve visited some great places – whether it was remote Indonesian islands, or slightly dodgy parts of Africa or Mexico. One of my favourite places is Bocas Del Toro in Panama – it has a really chilled out vibe, and is great for surf, SUP and scuba. As long as you don’t mind massive spiders (I hate them!) it’s a winner.
Is it just waves or are you happy paddling all waters?
The beauty of SUP is you don’t need waves. OK, I tell my self that but nothing brings a smile like a clean wave. I’m also a sucker for some coastal paddling though and love nothing more than a sunrise SUP along the cliffs.
Got any burning SUP ambitions outside of your normal routine?
My ambition at the moment is to master doing helicopters on a wave. Once I’ve nailed that I’ll be happy. Until there’s something else. I’m also inspired by the people doing endurance paddles – whether it’s the Yukon paddle, or the UK long distance paddles by Charlie Head and Lizzie Outside. Whether I’ll ever get round to doing it remains to be seen.
Any final thoughts on SUP or Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co?
We’re a small company trying to make our way in the industry. I think that with great products and the people we’ve managed to get involved, we’ll get there. We’ll never be the biggest SUP company and that’s not the intention. If we can make great boards that people love riding then that’s my definition of success.
Shouts and thanks?
Aside from all the people mentioned above, who’s knowledge and water skills have been invaluable, I’d like to thank my partner Zoe that puts up with me working at 3am and dropping plans when someone wants a board demo!