The business of SUP

Words: Nick Robinson
Pics: Laura Dee

While in Portugal, Tim Hadler hooked up Nick Robinson of Algarve SUP fame. We tapped up Nick to hear about the trials and tribulations of setting up a SUP business in a foreign country. Over to Nick for the tale (More info about Algarve SUP can be found by heading over to

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Setting up any kind of business in a foreign country with a foreign language and a foreign culture is going to be challenging. I built my own web design business when I first arrived in Portugal 15 years ago, but that was a breeze compared to setting up a stand up paddle school. Let me throw some more light on why I did what I wanted to do.

It wasn’t one of those moments when you’re grovelling on a rainy pavement at 4am in the morning, you look up, see a bright shining light and WHAM your life has changed forever. It wasn’t an epiphany. It was more like a gradual realisation that I had spent a large portion of my youth outdoors.

Growing up in South Africa I had learned to surf in the chilly waters of Cape Town. The highlight of my surfing experience was without doubt two weeks in the famed surf mecca of Jeffreys Bay. One dawn wave is still imprinted on my mind as I took off, streaked down the face and leaned back into a lazy bottom turn and noticed the sun, daubing streaks of yellow light across the dark face of my wave. Yes it was my wave and it was my moment that I have cherished for years.

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Hiking the trails of the Cape Fold Mountains solidified my love of nature. I organized groups of friends to share Suicide Gorge and other aptly named ravines with me. I windsurfed, chattering across the lakes and waves at the beck and call of our powerful South Easters and black Nor’ Westerlies. I worked as a river guide on weekends and holidays and I ended up spending two years as a game ranger in South Africa’s top game reserve.

So how did I come to be sitting in front of a computer for the past ten years? I couldn’t answer that question. The only thing I knew was that I had to get outdoors again. I had to get back on track.

Inline with my web building and internet marketing career I started a blog about getting outdoors in Portugal. Enduring one little adventure a week, I managed to experience a wonderful side of Portugal that I had longed to see. Now I was living it part time, but I was drawn back to the ocean and spent a large majority of my time seeking out stand up paddle board companies.

The only reason was to pursue this new sport that I had become addicted to. It was February the 17th 2014 when I took to the calm waters of the Algarve’s Ria Formosa for my second outing on a paddle board and I was hooked. I saw the advantages of the full body workout and I saw the pleasure of being close to nature once again. Close isn’t the correct word, full immersion in nature could describe it better.

There was WAY more to paddle boarding than I first realised: downwinders, races, exploration of coastlines, rivers and lakes previously unavailable to me without an expensive boat or other water craft. A paddle board just cracked open a whole array of new opportunities.

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One summer’s morning in the provincial town of Loulé an old friend met up with me to ask if he knew where I could buy a paddle board from. He had seen my blog posts about stand up paddling and was keen to get involved in the sport. I sipped my espresso, looked him in the eye and asked: “Would you be interested in starting an outdoor company?” I surprised myself with that question, but I thought that selling paddle boards would be a nice little sideline. The least it could do would be to pay for the both of us to purchase new paddle-boards. We signed up to become agents of RED paddle boards and voila, we were in business!

It wasn’t that easy and it never will be. If you’re looking to set up business in a foreign country expect to spend way more than you would back home. One of the most important aspects is getting to know the local processes. In Portugal even some of the authorities don’t know the exact way to do things and could send you down expensive rabbit holes. So the first tip is to seek professional help from a well known company, reputable local accountant or relocation professional.

The trick is to choose the right one as some locals could take advantage of the fact that you’re an alien and not familiar with the way things work. Read local newspapers, join local expat business groups and online forums and create a network of good connections. A great network is vital to your business success anywhere.

Portugal is still laced with bureaucracy and threading your way through the system can be a daunting task. However, waking up in the morning in the Algarve with the rich aroma of fresh orange blossoms, a deep blue sky and warm evenings just blows any other way of life out of the water. Clearly the Algarve is not London, it’s a rural settlement of dozens of towns along a 200km coastal strip. So be prepared to not have all the pleasures of city life, but also be aware that you won’t have many of the major hassles like traffic, crime and pollution.

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Pedro and I started Algarve SUP in late 2014 and we managed to get all our red tape done over the winter before the season starts. We also managed to paddle the entire region and capture some excellent footage for use in our marketing which has been a god send. Now we’re looking forward to a profitable summer full of long hot days and really hard work.

What excites us a lot is promoting the sport and we are working with a local group of paddlers called the “Algarve Paddle Boarders” to build a strong club of like minded sports people. It has been said many times that clubs are the backbone of the UK SUP industry and we’re hoping to do the same here in Portugal. For the sport to grow it is vital to introduce younger kids to the sport.

Another initiative we are excited about is our very own ‘Guadiana Challenge’ where 15 committed Portuguese paddlers will descend the River Guadiana. Its a 32km paddle and may well turn into a yearly event. It is a tremendously exciting adventure.

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A to do list
Consult a professional before doing anything, but the gist of it is that you’ll need to get a list of things done just like you probably would in your country of origin:

  • Obtain a fiscal number.
  • Register a company (this is much easier these days than it used to be).
  • Become a certified SUP instructor either with ASI, IOSUP or WSA.
  • Become a dealer for a brand of boards.
  • Do your marketing logos, cards, merchandise, social media, press etc.
  • Obtain the necessary insurance.
  • Register with the Portuguese Tourism Board as a tour operator.
  • Obtain local licenses from each “Capitania” or local maritime authority that you’ll be working in.
  • Buy a commercial vehicle and respect the laws related to that: yearly inspections, insurances, drivers licences, taxes, registration etc.

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