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The Bluefin SUP Founders, William Vaughn and Charlotte Smith, join us to talk about the challenges and rewards of navigating these unusual times while growing their business, their SUP lineup, and their relationship. We also talk about the importance of community on and off the water.
Let’s start with the background of how Bluefin SUP came to be and what your motivation was to get involved with paddle boards?
Will: We started Bluefin in 2013 as Bluefin Kayaks. I have always loved the sea, watersports and the outdoors. I spent a lot of time on the west coast of Scotland as a child/ teen and spent all my time in the water. I started Bluefin straight out of university with my girlfriend (now fiancee) Charlotte.
Charlotte: Sit-on-top kayaks made so much sense to us. We loved kayaking and we had access to the industry because we were a part of it. The kayaks and the Bluefin Kayak brand was going really well. But it had its limitations.
Will: The kayaks were hard, so storing was a nightmare. Shipping was so hard and we could only retail to UK customers. We had a ton of demand in Europe and USA and we just couldn’t get them to people.
We wanted to create boards that were high quality but still priced accessibly – we saw a gap in the market for this. There were great boards, but they just weren’t affordable. There were super cheap boards, but they were rubbish to paddle. That is where Bluefin SUP comes in!
Will: We have made a lot of changes and adaptations to our boards and range over the years. We are SO happy with our current range of boards and we have been receiving great feedback from industry professionals and our paddlers. But, this is just the beginning.
Charlotte: Yes, we have some exciting things to come!
What’s the origin of your company’s name… how did you pick it?
Will: It was actually my dad that came up with the name. We wanted something water themed for the kayaks – it was always going to be “Blue…” something. He said “Bluefin” and it stuck!
Charlotte: We already had Fin the dog, and our second obviously had to be called “Blue”. But the company came first! Haha.
What sets your company and brand apart from others? What are you particularly proud of?
Charlotte: Community is a big thing that I think sets us apart. We have such an amazing group of paddlers that are so engaged with us, each other and Bluefin. We are constantly creating guides, blogs, resources for them to use. We keep our SUP Community up to date with all Bluefin news and it is amazing to see people grow in the sport.
Will: Community, definitely. Connected with this, I would say our attitude towards our boards, brand and design. We keep as connected as possible to our customers and community members. We are constantly updating, upgrading and changing our boards and accessories and online resources. We will never be “finished” with our boards. I think that is unique in the industry.
Charlotte: I would also say our boards and the pricing. We have the same quality and performance boards that high-end brands do. We just make sure that our prices are kept lower. We want to get as many people out on boards and into this sport as possible.
Will: Yes, that is definitely the priority. Quality and affordability.
Since our last interview, a lot has happened. How has Bluefin changed and how have your boards evolved?
Will: Well, we’re engaged! Haha. The team has doubled and become more international. It’s not just me and Charlotte and three others sitting in a container (that we made into an office) anymore.
Charlotte: Haha. Yeah, the team has grown, which means the work we have been able to put into the brand, the boards, and the customer experience has grown.
Will: The boards are better, faster, a little bit heavier (!) but more stable. We have been testing and improving the boards and we have had record drop tests for the industry. We have also been expanding the range – adding to our All-Rounders and creating some niche boards. We feel equipped to do that now we have had more time in the industry.
Charlotte: Yes, we had such great success with our All-Rounder range “Cruise” that we have pushed out into performance boards as well as looking at Touring and Yoga boards. We also have some very exciting editions coming late season which we can’t wait to share with you guys.
Will: Yes, some really cool things on the horizon.
What’s your most popular product and why do you think that is?
Will: The Cruise – 10’8. It’s just a great board. It takes a ton of weight, so it’s great for a solo paddler but then we have seen families using it as a family SUP too. It’s stable, comes with all the accessories you need and is just such a solid board for people to really get into the sport on.
Charlotte: This board, back in 2017 when we started out, was great for entry-level paddlers, but included the changes of our advances in tech and SUP knowledge. The Cruise is an all-rounder for any level of paddler. And with a 5-year warranty, it’s such a hard-wearing SUP. We don’t see people needing to upgrade their board.
What are your plans for the 2020 season? Any refreshes or new launches? Are your new models out or when do you expect them to launch?
Will: We have refreshed our Cruise and Carbon Ranges and you are starting to see this on our website. The launches haven’t gone as smoothly as they could have. (Thanks Corona Virus!) But we are really happy with the new look for the Cruise and Cruise Carbon.
Charlotte: We also have some new boards launching. The Aura Fit – Yoga board and the Sprint Carbon. These SUPs are for two totally different paddlers and they are both awesome. We are so proud of these boards and the work that we as a team have put into them.
Will: They are available to Pre-Order now!
How has COVID-19 affected your plans for the year? Any impact on shipping or availability of your gear? Have you seen any changes in who is buying paddleboards or what they’re buying?
Will & Charlotte: Yes. Haha.
Charlotte: Yeah, big time. Which is to be expected. I mean, it’s a global pandemic. Launches were delayed, stock has been delayed. Thankfully our factory has been fine and safe. Everything has just been turned on its head with new c19 safe processes put in place. Staff are working from home. It’s been a strange one, but like most businesses we have adapted. We are fortunate that we are an online retailer and are able to make quick changes. SUP gives people a chance to get that holiday feeling. It’s such a fun activity and I am so glad that people are now able to get outside and use them.
Will: The major thing has been that launches haven’t gone as we would have liked, or planned. But, it’s gone pretty well all things considering. We have seen a huge demand for SUPs. People are staying in their home towns and not moving around and it is the perfect thing to explore your local area on.
Because of COVID-19, are you doing anything extra or different this year?
Will: We have been looking at putting out more local guides to countries and towns to encourage people to get out on their boards. We have also been creating Yoga tutorials and workouts you can do from home – when people were quarantined. In terms of business, things are relatively the same – except for launches being pushed back.
Charlotte: We will also be looking at raising the awareness of plastic in local waterways. If you are stuck in your country, why not clean it up?
One of the great things about the stand-up paddle boarding world is how community-oriented it is. What do you do to help contribute to or support this community?
Charlotte: We encourage people to be active in the SUP community, whether locally or online. We let our community lead us. We look to our paddlers as to what they expect from us and what they want to see. We have regular paddler blogs and paddler tips in our Newsletter.
Will: We will also be participating in more events this year if they are still going to be on! Also, we supply boards to charity events, plastic clean-ups and athletes attempting records. We have a couple of guys crossing the Channel this year. We are as active as we can be within the SUP community. It’s a great place to be.
Where do you see the paddleboarding world in 5 years? In 10 years?
Charlotte: I definitely see the industry becoming more eco-conscious. It’s just what should be happening. We are constantly working on our in-house and external processes, trying to be as low-waste as possible. I think because paddleboarders are so close to the water, it’s very obvious how polluted some areas are becoming.
Will: I think the paddleboarding world is just going to grow and grow. I hope that it becomes are more widely participated in Sport. Maybe it will be in the Olympics.
I think the design of SUPs are going to get lighter and smaller without compromising stability. And we will be at the forefront of those tech developments for sure. It’s really exciting.
Finally, what advice do you usually give to someone who’s just starting out? Any tricks for learning? What advice for selecting a board?
Charlotte: My advice would be that you need patience. I think a lot of people just think they will pop up on the board and paddle. But, it takes some time to get used to that balance. To make sure your core is working and keeping you standing up, I would advise making sure you look forward and not down when paddling and don’t be afraid to get wet! Oh! And ALWAYS wear your leash. That is such a huge point. It’s so unsafe to go out without your board leash on. For learning there are SO many tutorials on YouTube. I would watch a ton for technique and then give it a go. You’ll get better in time and work out which techniques work for you. We have an awesome “Which Board?” page on our website. I am biased, but it’s a great intro to choosing a board!
Will: Getting used to using your paddle on your knees can be good and getting used to the motion. Then when you come up on to your feet you will be more stable. It’s such an accessible sport. Anyone can do it. So, just give it a go. Like Charlotte, said, you’ll only get wet! As for choosing a board. Have a look at your weight and height and see what works. Also think if you would like to take a child on the front, a ton of cargo or another person. If you are a solo paddler that wants to cover bigger distances look at our Sprint. It’s a great board for touring.