InflatableBoarder.com had an opportunity to catch up with Aegir SUP founders Ivan Gloeden and Benji Straker in this edition of SUP Company Spotlight. Aegir SUP is a new Canadian-based SUP company that has a growing line of inflatable paddle boards and paddles.
How were you initially introduced to the sport of stand up paddleboarding?
Benji: I started stand up paddling in 2011. My family has always been involved in water-sports (wakeboarding / wake surf mainly) and my wife asked for a SUP board for her birthday that year. I didn’t know a lot about SUP when I purchased that first board for her, but I ended up using it more than her, and purchased one for myself a week later!
Ivan: Growing up I played hockey in the winter and my summers were filled with waiting for it to start again. Eventually I realized we’re lucky enough to live in a place where we are surrounded by literally hundreds of lakes within an hour drive, so a water sport made sense. I took a Kayaking course, but didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. SUP was starting to get some attention and being a huge surf poser for a number of years, I was intrigued by it. Also my good friend/teammate/landlord Benji, had picked one up and seemed to be enjoying it. I walked into our local sporting goods store determined to leave with either a Kayak or a SUP (which I had never tried). After figuring out I wouldn’t need as much gear for a SUP and transporting one would be easier, my decision was made and I’ve been hooked ever since.
What ignited the spark in you to get involved in the industry?
In 2012 when both Ivan and I were paddling regularly (on a daily basis), SUP was still a new thing in our area. Not a lot of people knew what it was but most were really interested in trying. We were so stoked on the sport that we wanted to try to get as many people in our community involved as possible. So at the end of the 2012 season, we decided to start our own SUP company in Yellowknife, NT called ‘Old Town Paddle & Co., specializing in SUP clinics, expeditions, tours and some rentals/retail.
As the sport picked up over the next few years, inflatable SUP technology improved and popularity of inflatables grew immensely in our home market. The durability, portability and weight savings really appealed to the people we were catering to. While a lot of the brands we were dealing with were great, we felt that since we had a few years under our belt, we could design boards that were functional, paddled great, had all of the features we wanted in a board, and were the best looking inflatables on the water. So in fall 2015, Ægir SUP was born and we started to design a few models to release in Spring 2016. The intent at the start was just to develop some awesome boards for our hometown clients and through word of mouth. We are still a small SUP company but our brand has growing popularity and our second full season was a success. We have an awesome sales rep here in Western Canada and we have been working with some great shops that have been supporting us.
How important have good employees been to your success?
Because we are relatively new, Ægir is still just the two of us! We added a sales rep for Western Canada for the 2017 season and she has been amazing. Taking the leap from creating a house branded board company to a full retail program was a bit of a risk, but we’re glad we did. Its been a lot of fun seeing our boards all over the place now.
We also have some great core athlete supporters and our official Athlete Ambassador, Chad Guenter who have helped grow the company a lot.
If you had a chance to start your company over again, what would you do differently?
We’ve been fortunate so far and I think any mistakes we have made have turned out to be really good lessons learned, so I wouldn’t change anything.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
I’m not sure if I would consider this a failure, but board design specs can be tricky when you are trying to offer multiple models and not duplicate a target paddler for more than one board. I think as designers we are learning that you can’t have a board that does everything really well (our sport is so diverse with many streams of SUP disciplines)….you can have your jack of all trade boards, but you can’t have a board that a flatwater paddler will enjoy immensely that will cross over to whitewater paddling for instance. Going into our 3rd design season, we didn’t want to duplicate boards too closely. We added to our line to make boards that work well in certain conditions, or for certain types of paddling and paddlers. Learning from our previous two model years, we were able to make spec adjustments on certain boards that just make sense going forward. We’re super stoked on next years lineup!
How many hours a day do you work on average, and what does your typical day look like?
We both have fulltime jobs away from our paddle businesses, so for Ægir and Old Town Paddle, there are a lot of early mornings and late nights. Luckily it can be tough at times to differentiate what’s work and what’s play. From May to September, it’s pretty much go, go, go for us, but we’re having a blast doing it and we’re fortunate to have supportive families that allow us to.
What motivates you, and who has been your greatest inspiration?
So many awesome people in this industry, but there are a few people who have used SUP as a platform to spread a bigger message that are particularly inspiring. Our Athlete Ambassador, Chad Guenter comes to mind. Chad started Keep Calm Paddle On (KCPO) by himself in 2012, and it has since turned into a growing community of rad folks who are shedding some light on Mental Illness and trying to remove the stigma that often goes along with talking about it.
Norm Hann who created Stand Up for Great Bear (SU4GB) is another. The focus of the society was to raise awareness and protection for the Great Bear Rainforest and Great Bear Sea. The fight hasn’t stopped there though as Norm and SU4GB, have been Eco Warriors for a number of other conservation efforts that affect the people and environment along the West Coast. Check out the movie Stand to learn more.
Troy Nebeker is another rad person in the industry. Troy started a sweet apparel company Monster & Sea, which donates 10% of its revenue directly to families who are fighting cancer. To further raise money for the cause, a few years ago Troy started a 24 hour fundraiser paddle in Seattle and raised an amazing $7000. Just this last year, the event grew to 24 teams across Canada, the U.S and Cayman Islands and raised an incredible figure of $140K!
How do you define success?
For us, success is putting out high quality, good-looking products that we can be proud of. Knowing that we’re getting more people stoked on an activity/sport we love is hugely rewarding.
What do you enjoy most about being involved in the SUP industry?
Anyone reading this is most likely a paddler and knows not only the physical benefits paddling can create, but also the positive effects it can have on someone mentally. For us at Ægir, to know we’re helping get new people involved in that or getting seasoned paddlers on a high quality product, we definitely enjoy that.
As avid paddlers ourselves, we enjoy taking clinics and heading out to events when we can. While at these, we are consistently blown away by the people who make up the SUP community. For some reason, Standup Paddling seems to attract legitimately, really good people and we feel fortunate to be a part of that.
Where do you see the paddleboarding industry in 10 years? 20 years?
There are some concerns within the industry as sales aren’t booming like they were a couple years ago and a number of events have been cancelled, but it’s tough to imagine the industry not continuing to grow. Over the years of doing demos, leading tours and running lessons, its rare people don’t come back fired up on the sport. As opposed to other activities that have been popular, but quickly faded away, SUP is an activity that people can pick up the basics quite quickly (we do recommend taking a lesson before heading out on your own). However, it’s challenging enough that you can be fine tuning your skills or pushing your limits for the rest of your life. Also with all the variety within SUP (racing, whitewater, touring, surfing, fishing) there is something for everyone.
It’s easy to see SUP in one or several of its disciplines becoming an Olympic sport in the near future which will obviously bring more attention to it. Also as more and more people push the limits of the sport and show what can be done on a SUP, we think you’ll get a lot of people converting over from other water activities.