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Business Spotlight

Sun n’ Sup Staying Upbeat, Active Amid Pandemic

Melissa Hayden, left, enjoys stand-up paddleboarding while social distancing with Sun n’ Sup instructor Paul Mend, right, and Denise Mend.
June 01, 2020 - 8:00 AM

Eileen Meehan didn’t know what to expect this spring when she embarked on her tenth year as owner and operator of the Sun n’ Sup stand-up paddleboard shop in Naramata.

Nearly two months later, she has been pleasantly surprised by a new wave of business with plenty of locals taking up the sport. Some have been longing to try it as a hobby, while others are just trying to stay active in the present.

“We were sweating bullets at first, with all this COVID stuff, then all of a sudden the sun came out, it got warmer and people were at home and they didn’t know what to do, so they started buying paddleboards,” Meehan said. “A lot of the people that have been coming in looking for paddleboards are brand new to the sport. They’ve just said ‘we’ve got more time on our hands and this is something you can do and you can social distance easily.’”

Indeed, while other sports have been forced to the sidelines and fitness gyms have been shuttered since March, the paddleboard industry is staying afloat.

“You can do it with your friends and you can still be safe,” Meehan said. “We’ve always promoted staying a full board length away from each other — even before the COVID. That makes for safe paddling, let alone in the middle of a pandemic.

“It’s a great sport to do with your friends and you can stay six feet apart — or you can go out by yourself.”

It hasn’t been business as usual at Sun n’ Sup — they have reduced their hours and staffing slightly, while also adjusting their rental arrangements in bracing for the tourism impact this summer — but Meehan is remaining upbeat and maintaining the laidback vibe of her open-air shop.

“We’ve gone through floods, fires, fear of fires and now a pandemic,” she said with a slight chuckle. “We are selling more boards than I was anticipating — considering what we were going into (with COVID-19). I think people are itching to spend — the girls, in particular. They haven’t been out and into a store, so it’s been a good collection of locals coming in to purchase, which is nice.”

Much of Sun n’ Sup’s revenue comes from rentals — with their fleet featuring 20 paddleboards, four kayaks and 10 comfort-style bikes — but there is uncertainty on that front, which has Meehan contemplating some changes for this unique season.

Owner Eileen Meehan & husband Peter Gibbenhuck
Owner Eileen Meehan & husband Peter Gibbenhuck

“That part of it is still going to be interesting,” she admitted. “We are probably going to do less of them. I’m just going to cut down my fleet to maybe 10 to 12 boards instead of 15 or 20 and make the minimum two hours instead of an hour and a half. And everybody by reservations whereas before we would do a lot of walk-ins.”

Most of Sun n’ Sup’s business is being conducted by appointment and reservations for the time being. That includes the paddleboard sales, which have averaged between 60 and 120 over the years. Sun n’ Sup only sells high quality products, with their inflatable and hard boards ranging from $1,299 to $2,300 for the current models in stock.

“With some of the iSUP packages, that includes some of the accessories — you get a $300 three-piece carbon adjustable paddle and a $50 leash and the wheelie travel bag,” Meehan explained. “We’re a full paddleboard shop, so we sell boards and all the accessories, we’ve got PFDs (personal flotation devices) and tie-down straps and carts to carry your board around. But it’s also a beach store, so we sell lots of summer clothing, dresses, tons of really nice straw hats, and a bunch of souvenir merchandise — Naramata hats and sweatshirts and T-shirts, all sorts of logo stuff.”

As for the rental rates, paddleboards will vary from $30 for two hours to $55 for a full day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (currently 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) or $60 for 24 hours as an overnight to $225 for a weekly rental. The kayaks are $25 for two hours, while the bikes are $55 for the full day to tour nearby wineries or ride the Kettle Valley Rail Trail.

The paddleboard rentals include the paddle and leash as well as a safety briefing and the cart for transporting to an ideal launch spot — be it Manitou or Wharf Park, with Sun n’ Sup conveniently located at 176 Robinson Avenue in the Village across from the General Store.

“Naramata sits on a bit of a point, like a little peninsula, so if it’s a north wind, it is a seven-minute walk down to Manitou. And if there is a south wind, they can go down to Wharf Park, which is like five minutes — I can see the water from here (in the shop),” Meehan said. “And if there is no wind, if the water is like glass, you can go anywhere.”

Sun n’ Sup is very accommodating when it comes to rentals, allowing for overnight and multi-day, while also providing free delivery within Penticton city limits and Naramata as part of the package for weekly rentals.

“We’ve got inflatables that can be rented as well as hard boards,” Meehan said. “Plus we’ve got soft racks that we can put on their car if they don’t have them, then they can take the boards with them and go wherever they desire.”

For first-timers or those wanting to improve their paddleboarding skills, Sun n’ Sup offers beginner and advanced lessons. They can set up a private or small group lesson, with prices ranging from $55 to $80.

Business typically booms towards the end of June and into July once children are out of school and families are on holidays. The hope is that trend will continue despite the pandemic.

“As soon as it gets sunny, I’ll get calls and people want to come out. Mother’s Day weekend we rented boards and kayaks,” Meehan said. “People just want to get out and do stuff. But it kind of varies and weather plays a huge part in it too.”

Devin Selwood and her rescue dog Ruka enjoy a relaxing day on the water with their stand-up paddleboard from Sun n’ Sup in Naramata
Devin Selwood and her rescue dog Ruka enjoy a relaxing day on the water with their stand-up paddleboard from Sun n’ Sup in Naramata


The tourism aspect will take a blow this year with international travel bans and border closures, though Meehan is optimistic that there will be more local visitors throughout the summer months.

“We always get a lot of day-trippers from up and down the Okanagan Valley and I know they will be back to visit,” Meehan said confidently. “Vancouver and the Lower Mainland is another huge part of our customer base and I think they will be back up as it opens up a bit more.

“We do get a lot of Albertans, for sure. As things open up, hopefully we see them again too,” she added. “But we’ve had a lot of other tourists that come to Naramata. Last year we had so many people from England and tons of people from France and Germany too. We also saw a real big influx of Americans last year with their dollar so strong. They were coming up from Colorado, Washington, Portland — mostly mid to west states. So, definitely my rentals are going to be down as a result.”

Sun n’ Sup is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through the end of June, with July and August expected to be seven days a week. Be sure to check out their website, sunnsup.com, for updated summer hours, for additional information on rentals, and to shop their online store.

To book appointments for paddleboard purchases or to make rental reservations, call 778-514-5594.

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News from © InfoTel Multimedia, 2020
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