Shop Talk: Walk on Water Fitness

Walk on Water Fitness, in Hollywood, Fla., specializes in inflatable standup paddleboards (ISUPs). Owners, and husband and wife duo, Jim and Paula Hennessey have worked on the water for over 22 years; Jim as a captain on motor yachts all over the world and Paula as a dive master, guide and yacht crew from the Galapagos Islands and the Caribbean to Papua New Guinea. Paula provided us with some ISUP insights. —Tom Fucigna

SUP mag: How did you first get into standup paddling?
Paula: We first tried paddleboarding in Jupiter, Fla. in 2008. We rented a couple of boards and, after a very brief lesson, we were hooked. It was a life-changing experience for us. We worked on boats and lived in a condo, so 10-to 12-foot rigid boards were impossible to store or travel with. Unable to find any inflatables at local shops, we ordered two Advanced Elements Hula 11′ boards online.

SUP mag: Why did you decide to get into the SUP market?
Paula: After spending over 20 years living on boats, we were both ready to settle down in Florida. We wanted to do something new, but still related to water. Paddleboarding and inflatable boards had become our biggest passion, so we decided to combine the two and open a shop dedicated exclusively to inflatable standups and kayaks.

We quickly found that our true passion is in teaching people how to paddle for fun and fitness. We still had a lot to learn, so we became PaddleFit– and WPA-certified instructors. We’re very thankful to Brody Welte, Dave Kalama, John Denney and Brent Aukland for teaching us how to be good coaches and paddlers. As this sport grows, it’s important that people are taught proper safety and paddling techniques.

SUP mag: What features of your location make it appealing for standup paddling?
Paula: Hollywood is located between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. We have beautiful Atlantic Ocean beaches, and miles of inland waterways and lakes with everything from canals lined with multi-million dollar homes to 174-acre West Lake Park, which has eight miles of quiet mangrove-lined canals where no powerboats are allowed.

SUP mag: What services do you provide and what activities do your customers like?
Paula: We offer everything from basic SUP lessons, rentals and sales to PaddleFit classes, plus eco tours in local state parks. Most of our clients are beginners, some as young as eight years old, but we’re getting a lot of people in their 40s and 50s looking for a fun way to get some exercise.

We teach our Introduction to SUP lessons and our fitness classes at a large freshwater lake in Topeekeegee Yugnee Park, which is a very beautiful classroom. Our students enjoy learning turns and balancing tricks on their boards, and the ladies like the fitness and yoga part of the sport.

We also do repairs and customize boards by adding accessories for diving and fishing, like Scotty fishing rod holders and GoPro camera mounts. Our most requested additions are D-rings to tie down extra gear. Believe it or not, it is very difficult to puncture these boards, and if you do, they are relatively easy to fix. We’ve had inflatable boards in our rental fleet for almost two years, and the only repairs that we’ve had to do is gluing on a couple of D-rings and carry straps.

SUP mag: Have you been involved with any events?
Paula: We sponsored a waterway cleanup when Justin Riney stopped here. We’re really proud of his Florida 500 Expedition. Justin has done great things to help bring awareness to our state’s beautiful ecosystem and the dangers it faces.

Now, we’re training to do our first race, the Orange Bowl Paddle Championships in January. We’re very excited, as we should have some 2014 inflatable race boards for that event.

SUP mag: What brands of gear do you carry, and what’s been popular?
Paula: We sell C4 Waterman, Starboard, JP Australia and Advanced Elements products, and will add Imagine in 2014. We also sell Indo Board products, dry bags by Seattle Sports, and accessories from our board brands. Ten-foot to 12’6” all-around boards are our most popular. Travel paddles, especially the C4 Waterman three-piece, plus dry bags are our best selling accessories.

SUP mag: Do you think ISUPs are becoming more mainstream?
Paula: Yes. They are a fast growing part of the SUP industry. Every manufacturer now has an inflatable board, and companies like C4 Waterman and Starboard have really pushed the range from all-around boards to race boards.

SUP mag: Who do you find that inflatables appeal to?
Paula: Most of our clients are people who either live in condos or on boats, or simply like to keep their board in the trunk of their car. Inflatables are also great for exercise and yoga as they are softer, so you are less likely to hurt yourself if you fall on the board.

SUP mag: What kinds of inquiries do you get from potential customers?
Paula: The most asked question is, “What’s the difference between a rigid and an inflatable board?” We feel the main difference is performance. With a rigid board you’ll always get a little better performance when carving waves or racing. However, what little performance you lose with the inflatable you make up with portability and durability.

SUP mag: What changes in materials and design have you seen?
Paula: The technology has improved significantly from just a few years ago. The first inflatables were pretty much flat planks that could only be inflated to 12psi and were four inches thick, so the boards tended to flex quite a bit for anyone over 200 pounds. Construction has improved, and, with the addition of 30% more drop stitching (heavy-duty, military-grade, double-wall PVC material, with thousands of high-tech fiber ‘cilia’ anchoring the deck to bottom, allowing for superior rigidity) you are now able to achieve 18psi. This provides a more rigid board for paddlers up to 250 pounds. They’ve also come out with six-inch thick boards, which can accommodate paddlers up to 300 pounds. The other big change is the rocker. The earlier boards had very little, if any, but manufacturers are now able to add a nice nose/bow rocker so the boards handle better in rough conditions. Some companies are even including a negative rocker in the center of the board so the board flexes to the correct profile when you stand on it.

Fin systems have improved a lot as well. The first boards only had fixed fins, which bent when the board was rolled up, and the early removable fins were very bulky without great performance. Many manufacturers have developed streamlined removable fin box systems with traditional-looking fins. C4 Waterman was the first to make an inflatable board with a fin box that would fit a production fin. The “Cuttlefish” fin box system allows you to use any FCS style fin. In 2014, all Imagine ISUPS will have a fin box that can fit a traditional fin system.

Even the hand pumps have gotten much better— they inflate the boards easily to 18psi in 10 to 15 minutes, and there are 12-volt pumps that can inflate a board to 15psi in about five minutes. If needed, you can top it off with the hand pump.

SUP mag: What’s the typical range of weight and packed size, and are the packs easy to transport?
Paula: Weight varies with board size. The lightest we carry is 8’1” and weighs 17.2 pounds, and the heaviest is a 14-foot touring model that weighs 30 pounds. Packed, the rolled board is as tall as the board is wide and ten to 14 inches wide.

Most of the bags for these boards are heavy-duty backpack designs that allow you enough room to store all your gear and a two- or three-piece paddle. While inflated, the boards can be carried by the center-carrying strap, or with a standard board shoulder-carry strap. We strap them to cars all the time with no rack, as you don’t have to worry about hurting the board or car.

SUP mag: What kind of care and maintenance is needed?
Paula: You need to rinse and dry inflatables before prolonged storage. If you have the space, you should rinse and dry before deflating. If you need to deflate it while it’s still wet and salty, you can roll it up loosely and, when you get home and while it’s still rolled up, put it in the shower on its end and rinse it. Leave it loosely rolled until dry, then roll tightly and store. There’s no need to unroll and inflate to wash it.

SUP mag: What else would you like our readers to know?
Paula: We believe that fitness can be fun and we’re out to prove that the combination is achievable. We’re stoked and so grateful to be able to share this awesome sport, and these amazing products, with our students and clients.

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The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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