Epic Retailer Conference – Rubbing Elbows with Gold Medalists and World Champions
This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel out to Charleston, SC for a retailer conference being hosted by Epic. This was the first year Epic has offered this in the US so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I knew it would be a great time with some warm water paddling.
A History Lesson and Product Overviews
My wife Kim traveled with me and we flew into Charleston on Thursday. On Friday Epic hosted all the retailers at their warehouse location in Charleston. We started the day with a few hours of presentations led by Greg and Oscar along with a few videos.
It was really interesting to learn about how and where it all started with Epic. Oscar first started building his own surfskis as a teenager. Greg started with designing and manufacturing his own wing paddles. They met at Molokai where Greg was fresh off of winning Gold Medals at the Olympics and ready to dominate open water racing. Oscar made it pretty clear in their first race together that it would take a lot more than the fastest flat water speed in the world to win in the big stuff.
Where it all began – The Wing Paddle
Oscar quickly took note of this new two piece adjustable wing paddle that Greg was using. He immediately realized that this was a game changer that would revolutionize paddles and demanded that Greg give him one. Greg held firm and eventually SOLD Oscar a paddle . As we would learn throughout the weekend, Oscar views the paddle as a mechanical device, very similar to gears in a bike. He is a major proponent of using the paddle as if it were a sprocket, and changing length (gears) constantly to match the conditions and your current level of strength. The big joke through the weekend was that Oscar has a formula, starting with a length of 220 then subtracting a centimeter for each beer drank the night before. I think he was starting most days at 205 over this past weekend
Through the presentations it became extremely obvious that these guys are both equally passionate and fanatical in their own very unique ways, about building the absolute best surfskis and paddles in the world. They live and breathe paddling 24/7. Both have put in overwhelming amounts of sweat equity pulling all-nighters in the plants building molds, tweaking molds, and experimenting with different materials and designs. From the beginning Epic has been a true innovator and has led the market in building the modern surfski that we all enjoy today. They both continue to log several hours a week in their boats in all type of conditions and are continuously looking for tweaks that can be made to maximize the paddler experience.
Growing Surfski Paddling Around the World
Beyond building boats and paddles we learned about all the efforts Epic is driving to spread the surfski gospel around the world. Oscar keeps an absolute break neck pace traveling the globe hosting paddle clinics and getting new paddlers excited about paddling a surfski the proper way. In addition to Oscar’s efforts and all the race sponsorship, etc.. Epic is now starting Surfski Schools around the globe. They have their pilot program in Tarifa, Spain and are planning to expand to other locations in the coming months. Along with the school they are designing five day courses for beginners, intermediate paddlers, and future surfski instructors.
Time to Hit the Water
Following the presentations we all went down to the water for lunch and to demo the boats on some flat water close to the warehouse. I tried the new V10 Sport which I had not yet paddled. It felt amazingly stable to me and actually similar to the V8. I know it is not as stable as the V8, but it felt pretty close to me on flat water. We had a great group dinner Friday night to cap off the day. It was really fun to talk with the other retailers and share ideas and experiences.
Time for “Bums in the Seats”
Saturday was all about “bums in the seats”. Epic had a fleet of boats staged on the beach in front of our hotel and there was a nice little wind blowing creating some small bumps to play in. We split up into two groups with one group doing an Oscar clinic and the other group doing out and backs in the small waves. I started in the new V10 and never made it into any of the other boats as I just couldn’t get enough of paddling that boat. After paddling a V12 all summer (with a slightly high knee position due to my height), the V10 felt unbelievably stable. No doubt the extra leg length helped, but even without that the V10 is a whole class more stable. It was a pure joy heading both into the wind/waves and then turning around and catching the small runs. I felt like I never once missed a run due to being off balance. I had full confidence to paddle all out at all times.
Oscar’s Clinic – Truly Transformational
Finally we were all hailed into the beach to trade-out with the other group and let them paddle while we attended Oscar’s clinic number two. Over the last 10 years I’ve read everything I can possibly get my hands on about forward stroke technique, I’ve also watched countless videos. Oscar’s clinic changed everything for me and I feel a tremendous weight lifted off as I now know and fully believe in the technique I need to strive for and master. I also have the drills to get me there. Oscar is quick to tell the class in no uncertain terms that his approach is completely different than anyone else. But he is living proof that it works and you quickly get the sense that he has spent years working to think outside the box, challenge the conventional wisdom, and develop the most natural and efficient technique for paddling a surfski. The intent of this blog is not to try and explain the class, I may attempt in another blog sometime, but for now, if you ever get a chance to attend one of Oscar’s clinics, it is absolutely worth whatever you have to pay. I’ll start working on getting him and/or Greg into Northern Michigan in the coming years. I think TC Waterman weekend would be a great time to do a Midwest Clinic.
Paddling the Tandems – A Mind Blowing Experience
Following the clinic we had a break for lunch and then back out to play in the small waves and paddle the tandems with Oscar and Greg. I took my first tandem ride with Oscar. As we were preparing to launch I heard Pat Dolan lean over and say something to the effect that Oscar was losing four to nothing in the little downwind dashes they were doing. I know Oscar doesn’t like to lose so I was determined to give it everything I had when we turned around for the downwind run. This was my first time in the back of a tandem surfski. It is definitely a different experience. It was a very wet ride as we headed out into the waves. Once we turned around it was game on and we cranked up the pace. It was amazing to feel the power and speed of that tandem cranking. We didn’t have a lot of wave to work with so there was only one brief paddles down moment, but we still managed to hold 20 kph and I think quite possibly logged the fastest kilometer of the day.
When we hit the beach I was pretty wiped out, but there was another group heading out and Greg didn’t have a co-pilot, so it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. We went out easy and then when we turned around for the downwind run it was once again game on. While I was able to match Oscar’s cadence, I just couldn’t do it with Greg. I was also pretty wiped out by this point after paddling all day. The power Greg put into the boat when chasing a wave was absolutely mind boggling. Here we were on a 50 lb / 24 foot boat with my 200 lbs in the back hardly able to hold on, and it felt like Greg was literally pulling the boat out of the water. It was an incredible testament to the power you can achieve when you use your entire body.
Wrapping Up the Weekend
We wrapped up the full day of paddling with another great group dinner hosted by Epic. I got to spend some time talking with more retailers as well as the Epic team. Kim and I flew home early Sunday morning, but several retailers stayed for another full day of paddling.
All said and done, it was an amazing weekend of learning and getting to know some very inspirational people. When I started out last year as a no name paddler just trying to start a surfski business, it was very intimidating when I first approached Epic. But I loved their boats and everything they did for the surfski world and knew I had to represent them. After spending three days out in Charleston I now feel part of a very special family. One where everyone is equally aligned on a mission to use their unique talents to spread the love of surfski paddling to the world.. Committed to making sure we introduce newcomers to the absolute best boats, paddles, and gear along with providing the expertise to ensure they get the absolute most out of their experience and stay safe throughout it all!