Danny Ching’s announcement last week that 404 was divesting itself of its unlimited SUPs in order to focus on the 14’ market prompted a curious flurry of speculation surrounding the future of unlimited boards in stand up paddling. 404’s decision to concentrate on building 14’ boards makes sound business sense. They are a small company with a racing pedigree which needs to align its production budget with a profitable product line. The initial dialogue speculated unlimited SUPs would be relegated to the Hawaiian market as the conditions in the Columbia River Gorge are not suitable for unlimiteds, however, this assumption hinges on the premise the only utility of an unlimited board is downwind racing, while at the same time speculating the only places one can downwind paddle are in Hawaii and the Columbia River Gorge. This narrow view falls short of illuminating the full utility of unlimited boards on both accounts.
Who Produces Unlimited SUPs
A review of the websites of major SUP companies indicates five are currently producing unlimited SUPs: Starboard, SIC Maui, NSP, Infinity and Riviera. Of these five, three companies manufacture production models of unlimited boards: Starboard, SIC Maui and NSP. Infinity and Riviera produce solely custom unlimiteds, while custom unlimited SIC boards are also available from SIC Maui Custom – a separate business entity based on Maui where the brand was founded. Notably, 2016 is the first year NSP is introducing their production model unlimited boards to the market – an indication they see the unlimited board market as an area for growth or at the very least an opportunity to challenge the existing status quo.
Production unlimited boards from the afore mentioned companies’ 2016 lineups include:
Ace GT 17’4″ x 27″ at 313 L; designed for open water
Sprint 17’6″ x 23″ at 217 L; designed for flat water
F-16 16’ x 27.3” at 323 L; designed for open water
Bullet 17.4 x 26.6 at 370 L; designed for open water
DC Unlimited Team
17.10 x 24.5” at 382.6 L; designed for open water
17.10 x 26” at 406.3 L; designed for open water
How They are Used and Where
Unlimited boards may have made their name bombing along the famed tradewinds off the Hawaiian Islands, but this is where their utility begins, not ends. Australia is also home to numerous treasured downwind runs, as is New Zealand and any number of Pacific Island nations, e.g. Georges Cronsteadt regularly paddles a Bullet 17.4 at home in Tahiti.
Rob Rojas’ infamous Gnarwahl. Photo: Rob Rojas
Here in Southern California, Rob Rojas, Scott Shoemaker and Thomas “Maximus” Shahinian, not to mention the colorful personality of John Clark all paddle unlimited SUPs and are fixtures in the SUP community. They are joined on the water by any number of other unlimited paddlers, many of whom have sourced their boards from the region’s rich shaping community from which legendary names such as Steve Boehne, Joe Bark and Dave Daum call home.
Across the pond in Europe where flat water paddling reigns supreme, paddlers have also indicated an interest in unlimited boards. Why? They are a more efficient means of moving across the surface of the water and if transporting a board to another continent is not an issue, then it makes sense.
Unlimited SUPs are also the board of choice for expedition paddlers. Will Schmidt famously paddled an SIC F-16 the entire length of the West Coast in 2014. Countless others have and will turn to unlimited for their excursions, such as Rony Jabbour’s planned journey from Lebanon to Cyprus this coming summer. Unlimiteds can carry more gear and have a more efficient glide than their shorter length counterparts. Imagine paddling through the boundary waters in along the Minnesota/Canadian border on an unlimited SUP.
As popular board classes continue to shake out, I predict there will be a resurgence in unlimited class boards. Will they ever be as commonplace as a 12’6” or 14’? Probably not. Proper storage is an issue as is the cost of the boards (both in their production and retail price). Do they have a utility beyond downwinding? Most certainly. Even so, just as effectively tapping into the inland waterways market likely holds the key to the longevity of stand up paddling (or at the least, the tenure of many current manufacturers), so to may the future of unlimited SUPs lie. I’m sure Danny never intended to spark a conversation on the future of unlimited boards when he posted his for sale announcement. Nevertheless, it is a conversation worth having. Is anyone up for the Lake Ontario Crossing?