Other than Kelly Slater, no other surfer has as much mass-market recognition as pioneer Laird Hamilton. Hamilton and his crew are not only responsible for shaping the face of big wave surfing; from tow-in, to kiting, to foilboarding, and more; but also for revolutionizing Stand Up Paddling. Before it swept the lakes and rivers of the world, Hamitlon was testing SUP shapes for training purposes, eventually getting addicted to the discipline and becoming one of its largest ambassadors.
These days he’s taking on a new role in the SUP community as business owner with his new brand Laird StandUp. Hamilton, who officially launched the brand late last month, has teamed up with legendary shaper Bob Pearson and snowboard manufacturer Nidecker to bring the brand to market with a unique business model.
We caught up with Hamilton and Laird StandUp Brand Manager Byron Seegers to learn more about their direction and for some insight on where they see the SUP market heading.
Congratulations on launching Laird StandUp. What was the inspiration for this and why did you decide to build your own boards?
Hamilton: I've been involved with stand up since its conception. I've been building boards but involved on a little bit more of a superficial level. Now I have this opportunity to really have a full spectrum of equipment and focus on my brand and just be more myself and more involved in the whole process.
I've been working on my Laird brand for twenty-five years and now that this standup division is just one of the facets and builds equipment that is reflective of what I know and the relationships I have with board builders, from Bob Pearson to Dave Brewer to all the other guys that I worked with over the years.All the knowledge that I gained through the process of building boards and paddling and all the time that I spent, you start to learn what works and what doesn't.
I see so many people building boards and so much equipment out there. Standup is obviously growing and getting more popular—it’s kind of like a gold rush. With the amount of time and effort that I've spent—blood, you know literally—I owe it to myself and I owe it to other people that are paddling to create equipment that is state of the art.
Here’s a look at some of Laird StandUp’s upcoming new models:
It definitely seems like a bubble. Going to Surf Expo and OR, it’s exploding. You’ve obviously got the name recognition and the legacy of helping develop this category. How are you going to use that to differentiate Laird StandUup and what holes did you see in the market?
Hamilton: It's a little bit like snowboarding or windsurfing or kiting. When its hot,everybody jumps in and then eventually there's a shake down and then there's only gonna be a few brands that survive, they end up being the core brands—the industry itself can only support so many.
Not in an egotistical way, but there is no one that's out standup paddling that didn't arrive to it in some way from us. I paddled for almost eight years with no one around. I was paddling boards, building boards, riding boards, for almost eight years before anybody else even started to paddle and from that I think you gain sensitivity and an understanding that is hard to replace without having that kind of time.Experience is something you can't buy, you have to go through the process. The reward for that is a certain understanding of equipment. A lot of people, whether its manufacturers or retailers or people in general, want our product, our legacy, or whatever you want to call it.
I think one of the things that differentiates my equipment from other peoples’ is that, we aren't looking at anybody else's we are just trying to make better stuff ourselves for us to use and better stuff for us to teach people.
My initial intention to build a board, any board, was to try and create equipment people could learn on. That is half the battle. The experience that you have initially is all created by the conditions and equipment that you are exposed to. If we were building the boards that I learned on then, there would only be like five people doing it. All of my equipment has really been based around trying to create equipment that is user friendly.
Seegers: I don’t think it’s as much a matter of filling holes in the market as it is putting together a full product offering that reflects the years of experience and product knowledge that Laird and Bob [Pearson] share. These guys have a ton of knowledge and are constantly coming up with really smart, innovative ideas. Ultimately Laird StandUp is the vehicle that will allow them to deliver their unique approach to stand up paddle equipment to the greater public.
Our goal is pretty straight forward: we aim to offer the best performance and value at any given price point. In doing so, we will make sure we are able to offer something unique and of value at every level, and that will come down to the right combination of shape, construction and aesthetics. Once again it really comes back to Laird and Bob’s combined experience. These guys know what works. They have an incredible ability to relate to what everyday paddlers are looking for and then develop the right product for a specific user. As to shaping and design, there’s a bit of magic in that really and again it’s the combined experience and knowledge that will keep Laird StandUp out front.
How did you decide to partner up with Bob Pearson on this and what's he bringing to the table?
I’ve always said that really it's a collaboration between the surfer and the shaper—it's like a car designer and a driver—in the end the collaboration is where the best equipment comes out of. I just love Bob's refinement in his shaping and his execution. When we communicate, we are able to create these boards out of having an understanding of one another's knowledge. I can come to Bob and say “this board's doing this and that,” and then he'll implement that and then together we have twice the amount of experience that any single designer has. That's really where the creative stuff comes from.
When you get down to looking at this equipment and really getting on it and riding it—head-to-head I'd go up against anybody, there's nobody out there that I feel like can combat the combination of the things that we can and our collaboration can produce. It's now just a matter of organizing the business, the distribution, and getting these boards into the right places.
Nidecker is incredibly well known in the snowboard industry but is just growing its reputation in water sports. Why did you decide to partner wit them and what do they bring to the table that you couldn’t find with other manufacturing partners?
First, I really admire the way that they handle the Jeremy Jones bran. Jeremy is a friend of mine who I respect a lot. Also, at the end of the day, they’re Swiss—it's all about precision, and these guys are precision organizers. I think their approach is they realize their value is not in building their brand, but continuing to develop the product and other brands. I like that philosophy, they're not even worried about promoting Nidecker, they are more concerned with promoting Laird StandUp because they know it’s in their best interest. If you look at the way they promote the Jones brand, it's pretty clean and classy.
The bottom line is I like these guys and we have fun—it’s supposed to be fun right? Let’s not forget that part of it. With that combination, in the end we’re gonna build a bad-ass team of incredible riders, and amazing boards.
How did the launch at Surf Expo go?
Seegers: Surf Expo really was a “soft” launch for us. We put some of our upcoming touring shapes on the water at the demo and then showed a relatively small collection of very surf-centric designs at the show. We got some great feedback on the touring boards and we’re already taking orders on the EPS surf models. More than anything, we wanted people to know that this project is happening and to give them an idea of what they can expect from Laird StandUp in the future. So in that respect it was a success for sure! We had a lot of fun, connected with people, and got the word out.
What retailers are you planning to launch with and what’s the goal as far as distribution?
Seegers:One of the many cool things about stand up paddling is how diverse the sport has become, and how diverse the paddling community is. So we’re working to build a balanced distribution structure to service the different needs of this eclectic community. We aim to strike a healthy balance between specialty retail, e-commerce, and some larger high end, service oriented distribution. Sorry but no names until the deals are done!
Laird, I think your experience, your story, your name recognition—it creates a great story for retailers to tell, its definitely going to help them push the category.
I think it's good for the whole industry and I'm not speaking like it's an ego thing. It tells the authentic story which helps sell boards and get people on them. I think that's the biggest part of it. It changes people’s lives sometimes—just the simple act of standing on a board paddling. In our world, it’s part of who we are so we don't even think about it, but for some people when they get that relationship it’s life changing. If I can change somebody's life just by figuring out how to make them have fun, that's pretty cool stuff. That's worthy of a life's work—if you can start changing hundreds, or even thousands of lives, imagine what we can do.