The first Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Denver, Colorado has come and gone. Thanks to the generous support of our sponsor Flagship Consulting I was able to make the trip from Los Angeles to the Mile High City where I did my best to log some additional miles as I crisscrossed the multiple levels of the Colorado Convention Center in search of new gear and products to highlight for readers. Trade shows like Outdoor Retailer are not open to the public. Their primary purpose it to provide a venue for companies operating in the outdoor space to showcase their products, particularly new offerings, to retailers. It is therefore incumbent on humble “working media” representatives as we are known in trade show parlance to open a window and pull back the curtain on what went down inside the hallowed convention center halls.
Outdoor Demo Day at Outdoor Retailer 2018
The Sunday – Thursday trade show week kicked off with an outdoor demo day at Confluence Park in downtown Denver. With REI’s flagship store looming large in the background the majority of participating exhibitors arrayed themselves on a flat precipice overlooking the South Platte River. Down a short path to the water, a small contingent of paddle sports companies took up position on a beachhead at the base of a series of small rapids. Compared to my last visit to Outdoor Retailer in 2015, the representation of paddle sports companies at the outdoor demo day was anemic at best, but I was pleased to see Hala Gear, a proud Colorado company specializing in inflatable standup paddleboards (SUPs) anchoring the event. Hala is incidentally the presenting sponsor of our Pumped Up Paddler column focusing on inflatable paddle craft.
The Rogue Lite packraft from Kokopelli.
The waters of the South Platte were low. So much so it was difficult to take a true paddle stroke in most sections. As a result, paddlers were limited to either splashing around in the shallows on a selection of SUPs or running the rapids in a packraft. Difficult decision? Not really! I bombed through the rapids testing out a pair of packrafts from Kokopelli and shot some Instagram worthy video of others doing the same.
Packrafting was both new and entirely familiar. You may be wondering what the heck is a packraft? Great question! A packraft is a lightweight inflatable paddle craft that is essentially a cross between a raft and a kayak. Most are designed for a single person, but Kokopelli does have at least one two person model. You paddle a packraft with a kayak paddle and as the name suggests, they are lightweight craft (some are under five pounds) designed to be packed and used when hiking or base camping in remote locations. Based on my experience, packrafts are ridiculously fun to paddle on fast-moving water and will work well on lakes and rivers of all types. Christmas list item? Heck yeah!
The limitations of the South Platte River flowing past Confluence Park did not do the rest of the paddle sports companies justice. As I mentioned earlier, Hala Gear was out in force and continues to maintain a strong position when it comes to inflatable SUPs, particularly in the whitewater market. Hala is continuing with their successful integration of Carbon Hybrid Technology into their inflatable range and have some exciting colorways and models on tap for 2019. The highlight is a revamped Playita, a shortboard style surf SUP which will likely be a focus in Pumped Up Paddler next year. (Spoiler Alert!)
Body Glove, a longtime innovator in the watersports space, has an attractive fleet of inflatable standup paddleboards targeted towards recreational paddlers. Unique to Body Glove’s inflatable SUP range is their patented neoprene handle which folds open to double as an attachment point for water bottles, paddles, or pieces of gear.
SIC, is showing new innovation as well in the form of a their first purpose-built touring board, the Okeanos. Solidly built and equipped with abundant tie down points and the ability to be run as a single, double or tri-fin configuration, the Okeanos resonates with classic SIC heritage in a practical, user-friendly touring board package.
Beyond the water
Paddle craft were not the only exhibitors at the Outdoor Retailer demo day. As with the main trade show hall itself, paddle craft were vastly outnumbered by the wealth of diverse vendors from across the outdoor recreation space.
One of the highlights which caught my eye was the electric all-terrain bikes from Rambo. Yes, there is really an electric all-terrain bike company called Rambo!
The Rambo electric all-terrain bike.
I took a bit of an extended demo ride on one of their models and may have left a track or two on the surrounding landscape! Fun, fun, fun. A new model runs roughly the same price as an OC-1. For those unfamiliar with outrigger paddling, that’s in the neighborhood of 4k and up depending on the model. Imagine silently motoring into the wilderness to paddle a remote lake or river. The opportunities with one of these electric all-terrain bikes are endless.
Camping food and food preparation in the outdoors was also a prominent feature at the demo day. There were some great freeze-dried salsas from Mountain Standard (better than any off the shelf supermarket brand salsa in a jar) and a really cool portable outdoor pizza oven. Imagine relaxing on the shore after a day paddling and enjoying a freshly prepared waterside pizza from your own little oven.
There were also enough bars and backpacking food available for sampling that I didn’t need to stop for lunch, not to forget the outdoor day’s host, Sierra Nevada Brewing, who was on hand with a healthy selection of brews.