Catching Up With Former Pro Boater Luke Hopkins on BG’s New Tandem SUP, Built for the Pandemic

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For Body Glove, Nautica and Spyder licensee Surf 9—whose 45 employees are based in Benita Springs, FL, including 10 added in just the past month—business is booming. Especially for its rec- and family-friendly SUP line, headed by watersports division president Luke Hopkins who developed Body Glove and Nautica’s SUP lines. For Hopkins, the COVID-19 pandemic presented both problems and an opportunity: more people would likely be heading to various waterways, he reasoned, but many wouldn’t have the resources or skill to do so. So he developed the Body Glove Tandem specifically to combat the COVID-19 growth. The bet paid off, with sales growing alongside participation levels. PL catches up with Hopkins on his brainstorm.

On the brainstorm: “I was in Asia right when the pandemic started a year ago January. So I did the opposite of what most people did; I ramped up production in a big way. I thought that everyone would still need to be working and would need product to get outside. So we haven’t had too many inventory issues. The best marketing is delivering.”

On the sport’s growth: “Around mid-May last year, something happened in our industry that will never happen again. Everyone went from being depressed and isolating at home almost instantly to saying, ‘We want to go outside.’ I did a lot of research on it and found that Google searches for worlds like kayak, paddleboard and outside went up 400 percent. From a consumer level, that represented a huge growth curve. If there were maybe 9 million paddlers before, that means that it instantly jumped to 36 million or so. All these people who were used to going to baseball games and things were now thinking of going outside instead. And they’re all novices who are just getting started. Everyone in paddlesports should be living in a heyday right now.”

On the product: “The new Body Glove Tandem SUP is a full result of the pandemic. I didn’t even think of its design until I began studying the statistics. I bet on the fact that more people wanted to get outdoors, and that’s exactly what happened. It’s helping that new customer that has family and friends stuck at home. And I have three kids as well, so I’m in that same boat. If it doesn’t work for families, I won’t touch it.

These new consumers don’t know what they want; they just want to go outside. I wanted to develop product that delivered the best experience and inspired people to go outside with friends and, more importantly, family. We wanted to develop a product that offered easier and more access, delivering quality at an affordable price. We wanted to help mainstream America get outside. I lived through some of the industry’s biggest challenges, so I’m a good candidate to deliver that kind of business model.

On the design: “The product—the Body Glove Tandem, and Nautica Double—is a tandem paddleboard that also turns into a tandem kayak. It can also be used as either a single or double, giving it even more versatility. A lot of these customers don’t have roof racks, so an inflatable was the best solution. Families want to bring their cell phones and take pictures of their kids and stay connected, so it has storage options for that; every one comes with a cell phone drybag that goes in the center handle. They also need things like water bottle holders, which it has. If you want to go paddling with your kids, you need these things. We’re just trying to make paddlesports more accessible and design product to be more usable.

On its sales: “It’s been hugely successful. We’ve sold about 500% more this year than last year when it first came out. It went from zero to hero very quickly. It’s one of those things that we developed and brought to market quicker than any product we’ve ever launched, and then prayed we were right. We had the first prototype in June of last year and then started delivering in fall. Out of our 45 SKUs or so—about 60% of which are SUPs, 20% kayaks and 20% hybrids like the BG tandem—our overall SUP sales are up about 300% this year.”

On what’s next: “For 2022, we’re looking at options to include an electric pump with each purchase to make inflating easier. It’s all about accessibility and helping out new customers post-pandemic. I’m a product designer at heart and love innovating in a way that helps normal people get outside and have fun.”

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