The French connection – Behind the brand with Redwoodpaddle’s Chris Defrance

Interview: SUPM

Pics: Redwoodpaddle

Redwoodpaddle have been around for a while and steadily building their UK reputation. Here at SUPM we’ve been fortunate enough to try and use a variety of the brand’s gear. With French and British connections RW are very much a trans-European company so we decided to tap the guys up for this issue’s Behind the Brand feature. Head honch Chris Defrance takes over…

  1. When did you first come across stand up paddle boarding? Did you think it looked cool?

Honestly, I don’t remember the first time I saw stand up paddle boarding, but it was 11 years ago that I made my first SUP board and paddle.

  1. Where did you first learn to SUP?

Besides me there was no one else in my area practicing SUP so I learnt on my own with a home made 12’ board and wooden paddle, as soon as the board and paddle were finished I was in the water.

  1. Got any fond memories of your time stand up paddling so far?

I only have good memories of paddling. It’s my life, it’s what I love to do. If I don’t get out on the water regularly I start to crack up, so for me every session is special, although I do have a preference for SUP surf and river descents, that’s where I’ve had my best experiences.

  1. Who are your SUP heroes?

Perhaps the sea. I don’t really have any SUP heroes, I watch a lot of SUP and surf videos, I read the magazines and I believe there are people who really help the sport evolve, but they’re not necessarily the ones in the limelight.

  1. What about land based activities – anything that gets you frothing like a silky offshore wave or flat water glass?

When I’m not in the water I really enjoy art, design, beautiful things and any adrenaline sports that get the heart pumping.

  1. Tell us about Redwoodpaddle’s history – how did the company come about?

It all started in my garage. I had some surf shops in the South of France, back then it was complicated and expensive to get hold of SUP gear, so I started making my own boards and paddles, then my friends got interested and placed some orders. The timing was good, because I’d just sold a chain of boardsports shops, which freed me up to work on a new project. I made everything by hand just like my windsurf boards back in the late 80s / early 90s. Basically, I start off by making things for me and then Redwoodpaddle. It keeps life flexible and interesting, no two days are the same.

  1. Where did the idea for a SUP range of products come from?

Again it all started with making boards and paddles in my garage for my friends, and then seeing people’s interest when I came out of the sea with my 12’ SUP I said to myself why not create a French SUP brand.

  1. Why Redwood Paddle? Where did the name come from?

The brand name comes from the Redwood Cedar I used in my first batch of home-made paddles, and I’ve also been a big fan of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers since they first appeared on the music scene.

  1. What appealed about the concept?

Right from the start I decided to sell RWP products direct, which keeps the end price to the customer as low as possible. The regular contact we have with our customers is really important as well. I believe they’re reassured by the fact the boards are designed in-house… and the logo, the designs, the shapes, the construction – that’s all part of the RWP concept.

  1. Was it tricky getting a SUP company off the ground in the early days?

Going back 10 years the answer is yes and no. Yes it was tricky because no one understood what I wanted to do, the sport was entirely new, I had to to explain to potential customers what a SUP board was, whereas now more or less everyone knows. Eventually the brand started to find its feet and grow. The first year we sold around 100 boards, now we’re selling several thousand boards each year, but of course it’s no longer just me working on my own in my garage.

  1. Talk us through your day to day responsibilities – is it all paddling, testing, shaping, paddling or do you have to do some work occasionally?

The simple answer is I love what I do. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about what I’m going to make next; a new shape, a design, a fin, a wetsuit, a foil… I start off by making “toys” for myself, testing them and then putting them into production. It’s all about the pleasure I get from doing this, and of course sharing that pleasure with others.

  1. What’s been key to Redwoodpaddle’s success within SUP?

I think it’s the sincerity we bring to what we do. We genuinely enjoy making and selling quality SUP equipment. A simple recipe for success, but it works!

  1. In terms of change, how’s the sport moved on? Is it easier to sell SUP gear nowadays?

I wouldn’t say it’s easier to sell our products now compared to the past, but we are growing all the time and the market continues to change and evolve. For me, the most important thing is to stay engaged with everything that’s going on in the world of SUP and not just stand still. The day that I do stand still it will definitely be time to move onto the next project!

  1. Why do you think inflatables are more popular than hard boards in the UK?

It’s exactly the same in France. People prefer inflatables simply because they’re easier to store and transport. However, if 20% of those customers really like the sport, from our experience, they will buy a hard board further down the line, so there’s still plenty of time for the market to evolve and for the sales of inflatables and hard boards to even out.

  1. Is the air board fixation a good thing? How do we steer paddlers towards hard boards and, in

fact, should we?

If someone comes into our showroom in Perpignan and their main aim is to SUP surf, then of course we’re going to explain that choosing an inflatable isn’t really right. In order to progress, to really learn to surf, a hard board is a much better option. We’re there to educate people based on our own experience of this relatively new sport, so yes if an inflatable is going to limit their enjoyment of this sport we will encourage them to go for a hard board.

  1. What’s the plan for 2018? Which areas will RWP focus on the most?

At Redwoodpaddle we’re bringing out new products all the time. At the moment the foil is something I’m really enjoying, but personally my greatest passion is continuing to design, shape and build better and better SUP surf longboards. At RWP we’re all inspired by and passionate about surf culture so that feeds into everything we do.

  1. Tell us about how you’re developing the RWP brand moving forwards. What about further plans to evolve, technologically or otherwise.

I draw inspiration from everything that I see around me and that gives me a continual source of new ideas and energy to do what I do. I also get a lot of inspiration from other sports like mountain biking, snowboarding, and of course surfing, so my ideas pretty much evolve on their own.

  1. What’s your most popular piece of equipment?

In the summer it’s the Funbox 10’ air SUP and in the winter my board of choice is the 8’6 Source Pro.

  1. Give us your thoughts on SUP kit in general.

Right now there is a bit of race to the bottom in terms of price, but watch out for the quality of the materials used! There are simply too many low quality products on the market right now, and more and more SUP brands are being created by people who have no interest in the sport, which is never a good mix.

  1. What about the SUP industry at large – what could be done better/differently or changed in some way?

I don’t think so, in my opinion the SUP industry is what it is and it’s up to us to adapt and educate people.

  1. Where are we as ‘sport’ do you think? Many (in the UK at least) wouldn’t label SUP as such. Do you think this is a good thing or not?

All the sports I’ve enjoyed over the years have fallen into this category; windsurfing, surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding… When I was at school my sports teacher thought I was a loser because I didn’t like running behind a ball, then a few years later he came to see me to ask if I would make him a windsurf board!

  1. How do you think SUP should be marketed to the masses?

I think it’s already the case in France as well as many other countries, SUP boards being sold to the masses in supermarkets and such. Actually don’t have a problem with this, that’s just the way it is. A certain number will stick with the sport and eventually look for better quality equipment.

  1. What area do you think has the biggest growth moving forwards, and why?

I’d have to say inflatable boards, simply because they make the sport accessible to everyone. They’re easy, fun and not too expensive.

  1. Any comment on SUP and the Olympics?

I don’t watch any sport on the TV, nor the Olympics. I prefer to be out on the water.

  1. Give us your thoughts on the whole SUP foiling thing – good or bad idea?

If you try foiling, you will know the answer straight away. The sensation of foiling changes all the time depending on the conditions around you. I love that, but for me it remains an add-on to SUP, it doesn’t replace it. When we get small wave conditions, I really enjoy foil boarding on the Minimal, but when the waves are bigger and better, then out comes my 10’ Spoon SUP longboard every time.

  1. Do you see foil riders increasing in numbers?

Yes, I think that people who already have a good SUP level will try it and like it.

  1. Got any burning SUP ambitions outside of your normal routine?

In my world everything is burning and I don’t have any routine.

  1. Any final thoughts on SUP or Redwoodpaddle?

Enjoy every moment when you’re in the water and you will have plenty of good vibes to share when you come back onto dry land.

  1. Shouts and thanks?

Thank you to everyone who has supported RWP over the years and made this a most excellent adventure, and of course the best is yet to come.

Huge thanks to our advertisers

Leave a Reply