Wednesday , August 06, 2014 - 5:15 PM
HUNTSVILLE — The best thing about the Outdoor Retailer Show Open Air Demo 2014 is bypassing the $12-plus-$5 fees on the way into Cemetery Point.
The runner-up is being able to enjoy a beer near the beach without penalty.
That, of course, is a participant perspective. While most locals in the Huntsville area went about their day on Aug. 5, Cemetery Point transformed into something between beach resort and SUP convention, despite the occasional torrential downpour. Watersports dominated, but Pineview Reservoir served as both stage and star.
“The location now is absolutely gorgeous,” said Tom Kalange with Wai Sup paddleboards. “The water is smooth, there’s no rocky drop-off.”
The Open Air Demo is typically held at Jordanelle State Park. Low water levels drove it to Pineview for a second year, where the beaches are friendlier to bare feet. At least a few exhibitors would like the move to be permanent.
“The beach is concave, so you can see everyone,” said Pete Newport, a rep with Sawyer Paddles and Oars.
“Jordanelle was a lot muddier, but this is a nice, sandy beach,” said his colleague Aaron Stone.
The supporting star at the summer OR (Outdoor Recreation) demo was undeniably all the SUPs, or stand-up paddleboards, for those who haven’t been near open water in a few years.
SUPs have shined at summer OR for a while. The boards mix surfing, kayaking with a hint of cross-country skiing. They’re a “jack-of-all-trades” in the paddling world.
“What’s cool is it’s the only sport that unites the mountain and river communities, and the ocean,” Newport said. His company has built paddles for all watersports for decades. They even made some for SUP’s granddaddy, stand-up canoeing.
By most accounts, the SUP explosion ignited about a decade ago and flared in 2010. At Open Air Demo 2014, it was hard not to trip over one of the hundreds of SUP spread across the beach. Still, with a little digging, a few other summer outdoor oddities surfaced.
There are collapsible, packable, origami-kayaks. As you may or may not be aware, we have entered the era of GoPros for dogs. Apparently log rolling is making a comeback. There are also Big-Wheels for adults who think of themselves as big kids.
The log rolling products come from Minnesota-based Key Log Rolling. The product fills with water and has a foam core to keep it buoyant and at the same mass as red cedar. They’ve apparently taken off with college intramural programs.
“This would be a great program for parks and rec,” said Key Log Rolling owner Judy Hoeschler. “It’d be great for YMCAs, indoor pools and, obviously, private sport locations that want teaching programs.”
She’s a past log-rolling champion from the old-school sport, which requires real wood and spiked shoes. Hoeschler wanted to carry her passion to the mainstream. Her kids have helped her, both by becoming competitive log rollers themselves and helping her run the artificial log business.
“It’s a 125-year-old sport, but no one knows about it because the log made it so inaccessible to people,” Hoeschler said. Her engineered logs start at just over $2,000.
Bikes might be a popular warm-weather sport, but the only bikes at the Open Air Demo 2014 served up a bit of deja-vu. A few years ago, Matt Armbruster had a vision — make an iconic toddler toy accessible to adults.
“Did you ever have a Big Wheel as a kid?” he asked. “This will snap you back to being 6 years old.”
Armbruster said he literally measured a Big Wheel tricycle, measured a 6-year-old, then measured himself and scaled everything up. He must be on to something, because the bikes were a hit at the demo and at $650 a pop, he said they keep selling out.
It’s apparent non-SUP exhibitors have to be a little unusual to stand out among the shoals of hard bodies sculling upright. Still, old paddle sports now pushed to the fringes retain a market share. Case in point, it’s pretty hard to fish on a SUP. You also can’t haul a dead moose on a SUP without a serious struggle.
The staff with Old Town offered some perspective. They still manufacture those dinosaurs of water transport — the canoe and flatwater kayak.
“Fishing really kind of revived the kayak industry, it gave all these companies a reason to redesign boats,” said Jonathan Small, a rep with Old Town.
They’ve introduced a whole family of boats, the Predator, geared toward fishing- and hunting-types. Still, it seems SUPs will remain a pervasive sight along beaches and reservoirs across the nation.
“On a paddleboard, you can really tell, you’re working everything, so from a fitness standpoint it’s great,” Small said. “Some people say it’s a fad, but I think it’s here to stay.”
The Open Air Demo is part of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show, which will continue at the Salt Palace Convention Center through Friday.
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