Paddle Board Price
How Much Are Paddle Boards
A great example of how misleading paddle board pricing can be is how our Tower Chris Craft edition iSUP was named the #1 SUP board worldwide by the prestigious Robb Report in 2017 over competitive SUP brand boards that were priced as high as $3399. In the article, our board was listed as priced at $1785, which was in the middle of the range of the 5 boards featured from pre-eminent retail brands including Naish and Starboard, among others. We still beat them all. And we were the only inflatable SUP in this top five ranking. The ironic thing is that we actually sell our Tower Chris Craft edition for $649 in our direct to consumer business model. The $1785 prices was just our comparative price of what it "would go for" in a retail store. The funny thing is our board was the best on that list, and one of the best in the world... at one fifth the cost of the most expensive board in that group. So there you have why it's complicated to answer the question of, "How much are paddle boards?" and more importantly the question of "Do you get what you pay for with paddle boards?"
The reason that Tower Paddle Boards was founded was because I went shopping for a stand up paddle board in 2010 and quickly learned that it didn't make sense how much paddle boards cost. At the time, I was looking for an all around paddle board and the prices in retail stores were $1200 to $1600 for basic beginner boards, what was basically an over-sized surfboard. Living at the beach in San Diego, I knew you could buy a basic surfboard for about $400, so it made no sense how much paddle boards we selling for. I figured we could produce SUP boards at the same factories as the best retail brands, at the time, and then sold the same hard board SUPs direct to consumer for less than 1/2 the price. Tower was born, and our direct to consumer business model took over the stand up paddle board market. A year later, in 2011, Tower was a pioneer in innovating the inflatable paddle board by making them 6" thick, which changed the market again as inflatable SUPs went from less than 1% of the market to over 70% in about 5 years. Selling both traditional hard board SUPs and iSUPs direct to consumer at half the price of comparable retail boards, we quickly became an industry leader. After being named the #1 fastest growing private company in San Diego (not fastest SUP company, but any company even VC backed tech companies) in 2014 and #239 on the INC 500 list of America's fastest growing companies in 2015, we were named a top 5 brand worldwide in the SUP market in 2016.
Paddle Board Cost Myth-Busting
Because we successfully took on the SUP market from a paddle board price prospective, we know a bit about paddle board costs and what drives them in the market. In 2013, I even authored an article in Fast Company about price fixing in the paddle board industry.
Even today, if I search up "how much are paddle boards", I get a bunch of bogus information. Pretty much all of it, to be honest. Yes there is uninformed information on paddle board prices by shady affiliate marketers, of course, but there are also people and SUP brands that knew the truth that are intentionally giving online readers misinformation. The crux of the misinformation is that in paddle board pricing, as in most products, the notion everyone touts is "you get what you pay for". While that used to be true, in the modern world of retail and online direct to consumer shopping and Amazon, it's not always true that you "get what you pay for". And it's certainly not true in today's stand up paddle board market.
In Paddle Board Pricing, the Sales Channel you Buy Thru Matters Most
Every article out there seems to tell you some version of the line that paddle boards cost between $200 and $3000, and if you buy a cheap one you are probably getting crap, and the expensive ones are only for special case uses, so buy a paddle board priced right in the middle. Sounds good, but it's baloney. Yes, paddle boards are priced from about $200 to about $3000 and that's a crazy wide price range for a class of products. But the paddle board price difference has less to do with the production quality of the product you are getting and more to do with the sales channel you are buying it thru and the intentional price positioning of the brand you are buying.
Here is a more detailed examination of how the channels affect SUP pricing:
Retail store SUP pricing
If you buy thru a traditional retail store, which is where probably 80-90% of paddleboards are purchased thru, you are likely paying 3-5 times the cost of production. This is the multiple of cost. So if a SUP board cost $350 to produce in a factory, you would pay from $1050 to $1750 in a retail store. You'll also know that the brand you are buying has been vetted by the retailer buyer, so you won't get crap. If you do, you take it back and the retailer has to deal with the return and thus that brand won't last very long. That's just how retail works. You get curated brand selection and convenience, but you're paying for it. There are a lot of middlemen in there too - the factory, the brand, distributors, sales people, freight to move stuff around, the retailer themselves, and of course advertising and marketing. They all take a cut, and that's why a $350 factory cost turns into say $1400 in a store.
Within retail, however, there are different retailers that operate on different margins. A massive discounter like Walmart or Costco has economies of scale so they can offer product in retail at far more competitive pricing than a specialty SUP shop, or even a smaller mass retailers like Dick's Sporting Goods. If you insist on buying in retail, getting a Costco paddle board is probably your best bet... but just be aware that the SUP brands sold at Costco tend to flourish and then die as Costco chews them up and spits them out, so you may likely be buying a board from a brand that no longer exists in a few years. Also, I've heard the return rates on iSUPs sold at Costco so there's a fair chance that you may be buying a board and returning it. Nice that you can, but kind of dumb that you have to. I've seen the history of SUP in Coscto over the past decade an we've even been in discussions with their corporate buyers about selling Tower Paddle Boards there, but it just didn't fit the long term focus of our business model.
Paddle Board Prices on Amazon
Amazon is an online marketplace that's become so dominant that it is, in part, responsible for disrupting the entire retail ecosystem of how and where people buy products. Physical stores are reeling as more shoppers buy online, and more of that online shopping is going thru Amazon. Something like over 60% of online purchases in the US go thru Amazon today, which is up dramatically from less than 10% when we started Tower in 2010. We have sold millions thru Amazon when it made sense for our business and our customers, and in fact we were kind of the poster child of selling on Amazon for a while... not just for selling paddle boards, but for selling anything on Amazon.
Tower has been featured in Amazon's promotional videos. I've been a special invite to their leadership conference where 20 top Amazon executives fly out to the desert and sit in a room and pick the brains of 3-4 sellers like myself for a few days. Jeff Bezo's name dropped Tower Paddle Boards in his 2016 annual letter to shareholders. Harvard has even written an HBR case study on "Selling on Amazon at Tower Paddle Boards," and I've spoke at Harvard Graduate School a half dozen times on the topic. I know Amazon pretty well, and I've seen the evolution.
We didn't sell on Amazon in our first few years, then did start selling in 2013 once we were finally able to keep up with our direct to consumer demand. In 2016, we sold almost $400K in paddle boards in one day thru Amazon. Amazon was good for while, but in 2017-2018, we largely retreated from selling paddle boards on Amazon because the revenue share they were taking of each sale became too much like traditional retail mark-ups - with advertising to get found it was approaching 50%+. In the early days, we paid about a 20% revenue share to Amazon, then that crept up to about 26%, and then pretty soon you have to advertise on top of that another 15%-30%. So very suddenly, you're at 40% to 55% and the advertising cost is getting more expensive as the marketplace gets more crowded.
The golden years of Amazon was good for consumers and us as a brand while it lasted, and consumers could find some of the best prices on quality goods on Amazon at the time, but today because of the monopoly position of Amazon and its decision to take the lion's share of revenues of all sales thru its platform in the form of fees and now advertising, it has devolved into a convenience store. It's a great convenience and I still shop there for a lot of stuff, but I'm not that price sensitive and I just love the convenience. I also occasionally buy beer or ice cream around the corner at a mini-mart for twice what it costs a mile away in the grocery store. But just like that corner mini-mart, today Amazon is not where the best deals can be found, and certainly not on the best quality brands because most all of those have left the platform because it's basically back to retail now.
Today on Amazon, you have two groups of paddle boards for sale and they are at different price points.
- Ad-Heavy Brands - On one hand you have a number of brands that I refer to as "ad-heavy brands" that copied our early success at Tower in selling iSUPs on Amazon, but don't have our brand recognition so they just spend heaps on advertising to drive sales. They price from $600 to maybe $1000, and they've just become content with Amazon taking a 40-60% margin of all their sales when you factor in the revenue share, shipping and storage costs, and the heavy Amazon advertising required to be found in an increasingly crowded marketplace. So if you buy a $700 paddle board, Amazon takes maybe $350 off the top and the brand you bought from gets maybe $350. Either the brand is making no money (and they're not long for this world), or they are selling you a low quality inflatable paddle board, which are now widely available from fly-by-night factories using questionable materials and construction methods... but for cheaper... and you're paying $700 for it. It's basically like buying in retail, and only junk if you are getting any kind of a decent price.
- Chinese Non-Brands - On the other hand, you have a number of brands that I refer to as "Chinese non-brands". In 2015 Amazon started directly recruiting Chinese manufacturers to sell directly thru their marketplace. This was in every product category, SUP among them. The top factories in paddle boards didn't really start doing this as they have thriving production operations, but many smaller factories did. Every week at Tower for going on a decade now, we get a new random Chinese factory offering to make paddle boards or something else for us at "great price" and we just ignore this, as when you've dealt in China long enough you know that it's the wild west on quality. So what happened is a bunch of random paddle board designs from a rotating shift of random company names started popping up on Amazon in the price range from $200-$500. They'd appear one day and then have hundreds of fake reviews in a few months. Then brands would disappear and another would take its place. It's Amazon, so you can always return stuff, but it's really becoming difficult to understand if what you are getting is a quality product or not, and all you have to go off of is the price and the reviews (more and more of which are manufactured fake reviews today). So, the Chinese wild, wild west is now available to consumers thru Amazon. It's difficult enough navigating this as a seasoned brand that's dealt with China for 15 years, but I feel for consumers. It's buyer beware. Keep in mind here that Amazon is still taking their 40-60% cut of all sales as you factor in their revenue share, shipping and warehousing fees, and advertising costs to be found in an increasingly crowded marketplace. So if you're buying a $200 paddle board on Amazon from a Chinese non-brand, that brand is only getting maybe $100. You're not getting much of a paddle board for that, trust me, and you're getting even less customer support when things go wrong.
The Chinese non-brand product problem on Amazon is getting worse fast. US consumers are just becoming aware of this, but full awareness is probably five years away. The graph below shows the change in percent of Amazon sales that are of a product from US-owned brands between 2016 and 2019. It dropped by 85% to 45% in 3 years! Amazon recruiting Chinese manufacturers to sell directly thru Amazon is what's going on here. The net effect is Amazon takes their convenience store retail cut from a rotating army of here today, gone tomorrow Chinese non-brands that get the sale of "who really knows what quality" of product and increasingly no US-owned brand takes any part in the sales for a rapidly increasing percent of sales to the US consumer driven economy.
Direct to consumer SUP pricing - Another major factor that is disrupting the entire retail ecosystem is direct to consumer only brands, also called "dtc brands". They are disrupting every industry. High profile brands like Warby Parker (in fashionable prescription glasses), Allbirds (shoes), and Tesla (electric cars) are offering better quality products AND better prices by only selling direct to consumer. No middlemen are involved in direct to consumer commerce. Tower was a pioneer in selling paddle boards direct to consumer for half the cost of a comparable SUP board in retail. It's why we've had so much success, and why you will find our paddle boards all over the world.
When buying direct to consumer, if a paddle board costs $350 to produce, we only have to mark it up once. While a retail store paddle board's price may be 3-5 times the production cost, and Amazon takes 50% of anything sold thru its marketplace, a direct to consumer brand only has to mark up a product once to maintain healthy profitability and be a sustainable brand long term that can offer great customer service.
iSUP Pricing Versus Hard Board Pricing
Hard boards (epoxy) SUPs are more expensive than inflatable paddle boards.
Hard board paddle boards cost more to produce even at the basic level. The foam, fiberglass, resin, traction pad, fins, and inserts like handles, fin boxes, and leash plugs are expensive and there's a considerable amount of labor involved to put it all together. It's just more expensive to make a quality hard boards than it is to make a quality inflatable paddleboard, and that's on a basic hard board level. When you start doing exotic hard board construction with carbon fiber materials, and high-density foam sandwich construction and wood laminates on the exterior shell, the costs rise quickly.
More importantly, a hard board paddle board when boxed is like 10' long and 3' wide, so it's expensive to ship even a bunch at a time. A shipping container can fit a little over 100 hard boards, which it could fit almost 600 inflatable paddle boards deflated and boxed up. Want to send a 5 or 10 pack to a distribution warehouse or specific retail store via a LCL shipment ("less than container load shipment"), that's not cheap either. And if you're going to send a single hard board SUP to a customer, that can cost from $100 to almost $200, even if you ship them all the time. It could be $300+ if you ship one one-off. And if you want to ship a single hard SUP internationally, it will cost you over $1000. On top of this, as hard boards are somewhat brittle, they are also far more likely get damaged in shipment so maybe 5% (of 15% if they're not boxed very well) get damaged in freight transit.
Inflatable paddle boards involve a lot of labor during production and you have to use high-quality materials if you want it to last, but at the end of the day they are still less expensive to produce than hard boards. If you want to make a very high-quality one with double layer hand glued seams, the production costs get closer to hard board SUPs, but it's still less on average. Fortunately, for iSUPs, when you need to transport them, an iSUP rolls up about the size of the sleeping bag and can be shipped in a box about 3'x1'x1' and weigh in the mid-30 lb range. This means they are fairly cost effective to ship via UPS or Fedex locally, and even reasonably cost effective to ship internationally.
Paddle Board Cost Components of Production Quality on iSUPs
The quality of an inflatable paddle board is quite difficult to ascertain from just looking at it. You can see if it's got great design by looking at it, but that's about it. Without inspecting it closely, you can't even see and feel the quality of the materials, or if there are bubbles or irregularities in the surface. Even if you can inspect it up close, you have no idea of the quality and configuration of the drop stitch fabric used... which is the heart of the strength and rigidity of an inflatable paddle board. The most critical element of the durability an inflatable SUP is the adhesion of the seams. It's basically a series of malleable PVC strips that are glued together around this core double-side piece of drop-stitch fabric. If those seams fail, your inflatable paddle board goes to the landfill.
There are also a couple different methods of construction involved with inflatable paddle boards, some better and some worse. Some proven with decades of reliable performance, and some new and never tested. Then you have the fact that the majority of inflatable paddle boards are made in China and previously in South Korea, with drop stitch materials production in those places as well. As the iSUP industry exploded, numerous factories popped up to make inflatable paddle boards and used different methods to try to cut their costs. In typical Chinese factory style, a lot of these were unwise cost cutting measures. Then you have a lot of new brands getting into inflatable paddle boards because they saw others doing well there (a lot of them saw and tried to copy our very public success at Tower Paddle Boards), but they don't know what they're doing and they're relying on factories that don't know what they're doing and aren't honest with them. Thus, you have 100 inflatable paddle board brands and Chinese non-brands available to consumers and quality is all over the map.
Because of this you kind of have to know and trust the brand you go with. Research what their track record is. If you can't find a track record or a history on a brand, it's buyer beware. At Tower Paddle Boards, we've been making inflatable paddle boards since 2011. We were a pioneer in creating 6" thick iSUPs, which changed the entire paddle board industry. Inflatable paddle boards went from less than 1% of the market to over 70% in less than 5 years. As a leading brand of inflatable paddle boards today, Tower has acquired many accolades along the way:
2015 - Tower iSUPs were named "one of the 10 most impressive products in the US on the INC 500"
2016 - Tower was named one of the top 5 SUP brands in the world in 2016
2017 - Robb Report named Tower's Chris Craft iSUP the #1 SUP worldwide over $2400 & $3400 competitor SUPs
What's more, as a direct to consumer stand up paddle board brand, we offer unparalleled value.
Paddle Board Cost Components of Production Quality on Hard Board SUPs
There are a number of factors that go into the production cost of hard board (epoxy) stand up paddle boards. The main thing to look at is there are two primary forms of hard board SUP construction: traditional layup, and molded construction.
Traditional layup - The first hard board construction method I refer to as traditional layup, where an EPS blank is shaped and then covered with fiberglass cloth and resin in a series of laying, drying, and sanding layers. While it's not horrible, this is the lower quality and durability construction of these two methods.
Molded construction - The second hard board construction method I refer to as molded construction, where a mold is created and then the exterior of a hard board SUP is individually pressed into this mold and the inner foam is blown in. With this type of construction, you can do what's called sandwich construction on the outer shell where you sandwich different materials together to created a more impervious shell. For example, you could have an inner fiberglass layer, then a thin high density foam layer, then and other fiberglass layer. Often times wood laminates will be one of the layers. Our wood stand up paddle boards are made with this construction and it's a significantly more expensive method of paddle board construction. Still, as we sell direct to consumer only, we offer these boards at incredible prices. They're not the cheapest SUP boards on the market, but they are among the best value high-quality hard boards on the market.
Another variable you will find in a lot of racing boards, because of the weight to strength ratio, is the addition of exotic materials to the shell like carbon fiber. This can add considerable amounts to the production cost, but it's not responsible for one board costing $1000 and another costing $2000. That has more to do with brands just setting prices at whatever they want because they understand consumer's #1 association with quality is price, so they jack the price up. It's just premium pricing because they know the higher price will make you covet it more.
How Much Are You Paying to Get Advertised To?
In today's online space, it's getting to be more of a pay to play environment. With close to 60% of online sales in the US going thru Amazon, that means Amazon is taking a cut of each sale. With their marketplace getting crowded, they're now more of an advertising channel than a store, so anyone on their platform has to pay them not only a revenue share on all sales, but an increasingly large advertising bounty to get found. For the rest of the web, the non-Amazon piece which is slowly shrinking, Google has a dominant position in original product search. As Amazon has eaten into Google's share of original product search and displaced them as the market share leader in product search, Google has had to try to maintain revenue with an increasingly smaller slice of the pie. That means that organic (unpaid) search results are being relegated down the page to make room for more money earning paid advertising spots, and related Google owned content. The net of all this is that it's more pay to play. Either a brand sells and advertises thru Amazon so they can be found and gives them 40-50% of each sale, or they advertise on Google to be found and give Google a 40-50% of each sale in ad fees. As efficient marketplaces, both of them gravitate towards a world where brands fight it out to get found while the monopoly controlling the marketplace takes all the profit. Sounds a little dismal, but this is where eCommerce has gone aside from independent direct to consumer brands that hack growth and largely refuse to advertise.
At Tower Paddle Boards, we flat refused to advertise the first four years of our existence. Partially because we couldn't keep up with demand as is, but partially because we felt it was a better idea to pass value onto consumers. Thereafter, we kept a pretty healthy disdain for spending on advertising. In the history of the company, we've spent under 3% of our sales on advertising costs. If you're buying a $600 iSUP from us, that means we (well you, really) spent less than $20 on advertising to find us. We're a pretty rare brand in the paddle board industry, and many brands that have copied our success in inflatable paddle boards are what we call "Ad-Heavy Brands". It's not uncommon for them (well you, really) to spend $200-$300 on advertising to find you on every sale. That's more then they're spending on producing the product you bought in a lot of cases. Consider that next time you click and "ad" before you buy during your paddle board purchase research.
Do you "Get What You Pay For" in SUP?
All this above is to say that when you are looking at the cost of a paddle board, the actually board is only a small piece of the puzzle here. It's the ads to sell to you. It's the distribution channel. And then, in distant third place is the actually quality of the production cost. That's today's world... and it's not like the old "you get what you pay for". It's more like you get what it costs to advertise to you. Or you get the distribution channel you select to pay for to buy thru. Unless, you buy direct to consumer from a brand like Tower Paddle Boards. In that case, you are largely just paying for the quality of product you are buying.
Best in class brands like Tesla can offer amazing products AND amazing value and get consumers to spread the word to each other. This is what we try to do at Tower Paddle Boards. It's getting tougher for new brands to do this these days, but we're here for you.