It could be the perfect sport for our times: socially distanced, stress-free and for those lucky enough to live by the bay, very close to home.
So, it’s perhaps no surprise that the stand-up paddleboard craze sweeping post-lockdown Melbourne has made the outsized boards yet another hard-to-come-by item as demand outstrips supply.
Sharon Bourke (left) teaching Amber Sarda how to paddleboard at Brighton.Credit:Joe Armao
Instructor and competitive stand-up paddleboard racer Sharon Bourke has been teaching beginners to master their boards and the bay’s fickle winds since 2015 and says demand for her coaching sessions has surged since the city emerged from its COVID-19 lockdowns.
“It’s getting super popular,” Ms Bourke said.
“The attraction I think is, No.1, that people want to do something by themselves, they want to be independent. Once they get on the board, they’ve got freedom.”
Sharon Bourke (red top) teaching Amber Sarda how to paddleboard at Brighton beach.Credit:Joe Armao
Up the road in St Kilda, Stand Up Paddle Board HQ also reports a big uptick in interest in the sport, with demand for lessons from locals partially offsetting the absence of the overseas backpackers who were the main source of custom before COVID-19.
Instructor Kyle Smith said paddleboarding was accessible to all abilities and fitness levels and the relatively sheltered waters of Port Phillip Bay provided excellent conditions for riders.
“There’s a low barrier to entry, anybody can do it and it’s quite a relaxing activity, so it’s something that appeals to everybody, all ages, all shapes and sizes,” Mr Smith said.
“[The bay] does provide good conditions, especially in St Kilda, we’ve got the marina and the protection of the rock wall. It is Melbourne, so we do get a lot of variable weather, so it’s not always suitable, but it definitely helps.”
But if you’re after a decent hardboard or a good quality inflatable, conditions are less favourable.
Further down the bay, at Sunny King paddleboards, the state’s largest supplier of hardboards, owner Nick King said he could tell that stand-up paddleboards were going to get big in September 2020, in the depths of the city’s long second lockdown.
Sunny King’s sales soared by 280 per cent that month, as residents of bayside suburbs flocked to the water for their permitted exercise within their five-kilometre travel limit. Mr King said he was still selling about twice the number of boards he was before the pandemic.
But that booming demand combined with the global supply chain crisis means newcomers to the sport might have to wait to get their hands on a good board.
Sunny King’s boards are made in Thailand from Australia foam, American resin, Kevlar and fibreglass and Canadian hand-pressed bamboo. With shipping costs doubled amid the supply crunch, getting boards to customers this summer was a logistical nightmare, Mr King said.
But the customers are keen.
“I had two shipments of boards come in just before Christmas, probably about 400 boards in there, and I reckon over 300 were pre-sold,” Mr King said.
You could always pick up a cheap inflatable board, but Mr King does not recommend taking to the water on a low-quality board.
“We get calls from people daily who have got these cheaper inflatables, and they’re absolute garbage that is just going to landfill,” he said.
“People say they just want to get into the sport, but they’re on this bouncy thing that’s falling apart, and you don’t want to be putting your kid out on the water on a board that’s falling apart.”
Even the secondhand market was very tight, Ms Bourke said.
“The secondhand [stand-up paddleboard] market is like the secondhand car market; people hanging on to them or if they’re selling, they’re selling them for a good price,” she said. “There’s very few secondhand boards for sale.”
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