Soft tops are having a moment. In the last few years we’ve seen various surf companies and manufacturers pay special attention to this growing category, and 2017 looks to continue that trend.
One brand that stands out in a sea of soft tops is Surftech. With their massive line of soft tops already available to the market, the brand was inspired last year by an instructor that was, of all things, drawing on the top of their boards.
Ryan Guay, VP of Sales, says of the inspiration, “Last year we changed some of our graphics on these boards and some of the surf schools complained that we took the Stringer line off the board, so it was harder for them to get their students centered. We then saw an instructor drawing circles on the board with wax, and using that on the beach to teach the students. The light bulb went off pretty quick after that.”
Surftech took real world examples of how instructors and students used their boards, and implemented them into what they call their Learn2Surf technology.
The Learn2Surf line comes in a variety of sizes, with a starting price point of $655.
So what exactly is Learn2Surf? TransWorld Business talked to Guay, who walked us through where the idea came from, and where Surftech is taking it.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How long did you spend gathering feedback when researching what people wanted in a soft top board?
We started late last summer, took some of our boards and used markers to draw the visuals on the board. Then we surfed it ourselves to see if it was lined up right. When we first put it in a lesson, one of our local instructors said it would be great if you could just feel it with your feet, so that’s when we added texture so you didn't have to look down.
What opportunities lie within the youth market for soft tops?
Nowadays almost everyone starts on a soft board, so we made this down to a 5'6" in length for really young kids, although most kids still should start on something in the 7-8 foot range. It makes it super easy to show them on the beach where to lay on the board, kids learn way faster visually. My daughters have been using them the past few months.
We will have an online YouTube series to help people as well. For the DIY crowd, So the retailers can tell that person in their shop that this is the best board to learn on.
What does the competition in the market look like?
There is certainly a lot of competition in the soft board market: the biggest surf retailer is Costco with the Wave storm line. We can't compete on price, so we wanted to make something better – something our core surf shops could use to keep families coming back in as they progress. Some people think this is only about selling to schools, but we think it’s a huge opportunity at retail as well.
What percentage of your business is the soft top market? Do you expect with the introduction of this technology of that percentage to increase?
Soft tops were about 20% of our total surfboard business last year, but it’s the hardest business to forecast. We expect a nice increase with the new Learn2Surf line.
Which retailers are most excited about this? What would you say the overall response has been?
We have some big schools wanting to switch out their entire fleet immediately, and the shops wanting to update their rental fleets. The bigger shops that incorporate rentals and lessons have been the first to jump on board, and shops that don't, should be reacting quickly, because we think it can turn into a very profitable part of their business.
As core surfers we all hate the idea of crowded lineups, but we are in the business of selling surfboards to surf retailers. It’s important to encourage new participation. New surfers are the ones that come in and buy everything head to toe.