Starboard are probably the biggest name brand on the New Zealand SUP scene (as they are in many other countries). So what is it that makes Starboard the force that they are?
Here in NZ this undoubtedly has a lot to do with the dynamism and drive of their main man Jeremy Stevenson, who has done a great job in getting the board out there. But it takes more than just legwork to make a brand big.
I must declare a personal angle here – I’ve had a very long and at times fraught relationship with Starboard, having produced countless magazine tests on their windsurfing boards over the past two decades. The thing about Starboard is that they varely rarely follow trends – they have 100% confidence in their own designs, and they do what feels right to them. They don’t play safe. And the end result is that they have produced way more genuinely innovative boards than any other brand, but also more than their fair share of turkeys. And having such a strong belief in their products they don’t take criticism lightly. So there have been a fair few occasions when we have been banned from reviewing their products! Fortunately, those days are gone, and my little blog here isn’t likely to be upsetting anybody. But I do think the Starboard approach and story is worth writing about, as they really aren’t like any other brand I’ve ever come across.
For starters, they stand apart from the other paddleboarding brands in that they don’t come at things from a surfing perspective. They never have, and probably never will. They have a huge understanding of big boards, having been at the forefront of the whole ‘widestyle revolution’ in windsurfing, and that is very clearly in their minds as they develop their SUP ranges. Indeed, right from the start, their approach to stand up paddleboards was clearly going to be very similar to their approach to windsurfing boards. A huge range, with each shape in a number of different construction variants, to increase the number of options even more. It can be bewildering for the buyer, frustrating for the retailer (which ones to stock??), but that’s the way Starboard have always been.
This disregard for the traditional way of approaching shapes has already resulted in some really exciting and innovative shapes, that tend to be controversial. There are plenty of people – competent waveriders – who will tell you that Starboards don’t surf, based on their own experience. But obviously they do – their R&D team absolutely rip on the boards. It’s just that they don’t necessarily surf like surfboards. However, for the newcomer to SUP waveriding this often means a much easier platform – different strengths and weaknesses to other boards. Likewise, their competition raceboards; some people hate them, others love them – but they definitely win a lot. There is always the risk though, when buying a starboard race board, that it will be superceded by something completely different the following year, and there’s nothing quite so valueless as last year’s race board, especially if it was slightly off at a tangent to conventional design. However, their allround and more wave-orientated recreational boards, such as the Blend, the Element, the Whopper etc, all seem to be holding their value and appeal extremely well.
Starboard have a very close connection to the Cobra factory, where so many of the world’s performance boards (from many sports) are now made. They’ve explored a wide range of construction technologies over the years, and as a result their construction and fittings are generally very good. I’m a particular fan of their Camo models, with an all-over deck pad, and a very very strong outer skin layer. I had one of these boards go on the rocks at Shipwreck Bay when my leash snapped on a very big day, and I didn;t even find the board for almost half an hour – it was in a gully, being slammed against the sheer sides, over and over and over again. If it had been pretty much any of the other boards in our quiver, I would have been bringing it home in a dustbin sack. As it was, a few days with the local repair man and it was back on the water again – it was extraordinary how tough the board was.
These are just a few thoughts on the brand, to serve as background to the actual board reports. I’ll write more as/when I think of it…