The stand-up business

Posted: 9th July 2019

Most people think of comedy when you say stand-up. But to WeSUP the enjoyment of their guests is no laughing matter.

Sean White is a driven man. He’s gone from managing music acts to opening his third stand-up paddleboarding centre at our Torquay Marina in the space of a few years. And each centre he works on is getting bigger and better.

“Our new joint venture at Torquay Marina’s opened this year,” Sean says. “It’s brilliant. It’s going to be a destination in its own right. It’s got an artisan café partnered with Cornish master coffee makers Origin, a fantastic retail space stuffed full of high-end water sports gear and clothing and, of course, our offering of Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) hire and lessons, and other watersports too.”

The offering at Torquay will follow through on WeSUP’s community club thematic, which Sean says is borne from his music industry experience. It’s all about lifestyle opportunities – fitness, connecting people, and seeing the coast from a new perspective. This fits perfectly with Torquay Marina’s community – where MDL’s manager, Mike Smith, has opened the gates of his stunning waterside location to act as a leisure hub. Companies onsite already offer RIB and jet-ski rides plus Torquay Marina is the start-point for lots of hires such as fishing trips.

“Ours is a beautiful marina,” says Mike. “We’re always looking for ways to open the water up to the community and water sports enthusiasts. We’re delighted to have Sean onboard. SUP will complement the other watersport providers we have here, including jet skis, kayaking and more. We’ve created a leisure hub for everyone to enjoy – Torquay offers so much more than an amazing place to berth a boat.”

Sean is convinced that once people try stand-up paddleboarding, they’ll be hooked for life, as he was. He began aged 23. Before that he was terrified of open water – he’d grown up in Cornwall so he was supposed to love surfing – but he didn’t take very well to getting beaten up and drowned by massive waves. He wasn’t a natural. But SUP changed everything, after one trip out on flat water.

Now twelve years on he laughs about the serendipitous manner in which he came across the sport. As a music manager, he’d been living in London and employed by ID Records.

“I’d gone to a beach to shoot a video for a band called Yellow Wire,” he explains. “It was for Phoenix Mercury Trust. Once a year people dress as Freddie to raise money.  The band were dressed up and the idea was to put them on paddleboards. The boards were beasts. Heavy and unwieldy.”

As they were getting started with filming a man (Ant Baker) appeared and offered them the use of his new boards instead – and according to Sean they were a revelation.

“Ant’s boards had handles,” he explains. “We had to carry the other ones on our head, so of course we said ‘yes’. And after a few minutes on the water, we could all tell the difference. They were Fanatic boards, and I’ve never looked back. We were lucky he was there looking for business.”

Sean kept hold of Ant’s card and a year later, when he was looking for a change of career and a life back in Cornwall, he followed the address in the card to arrive at Nik Baker’s (Fanatic’s UK agent) house to pitch the WeSUP dream and that was the start of the WeSUP journey.

Nik helped to start the journey by supporting Sean’s fledgling business.  As one of the most famous big wave windsurfers in the world, he wasn’t afraid of a challenge and gave Sean a leg-up from the outset.

Even so, initially Sean had to beg friends and family to come and have a go at his first centre on Gylly Beach. Back then, he says, he was the only SUP in sight as nobody was doing it, and nobody had even seen it. But it wasn’t long before the notion of standing up on the water began to spread, especially helped by the adventurous journeys he was making.

Like paddling the length of Scotland along the Caledonian Canal. “We surfed Loch Ness for 30 miles on a crazy wind swell,” Sean says. “It was all about adventure and the experience of the wild. That opened a new realm for me, thinking about transformational experiences. That’s what SUP offers.

“After our Scottish adventure we did 252 miles round the coast of Cornwall – Duckpool (Bude) to Saltash (on the Tamar). We were the first to do that and we were also the first to SUP the entire region of Sognefjord in Norway which happens to be the world’s longest, narrowest and deepest navigable fjord. SUP is so different from being on a boat, or in a canoe.  You get a unique perspective – in a kayak you can’t see into marshes, you can’t look over the boat. When you’re standing-up you get a 360-degree perspective into the water and around you.”

Seeing things in a unique way is a common theme with Sean. Like working with MDL and its network of 18 UK marinas.

“Companies like us offer forward thinking marinas a way to change how their economies work,” Sean says.  “To open the access to the river for locals and other people. We’ll bring a whole new group of people onsite, and their spending power. Plus, I’m now thinking about buying a boat after spending time in marinas – and I expect a lot more people will too. We’re helping the whole of the industry.”

And the industry is helping him straight back. Working with MDL has, he says, inspired his, and his recent business partner Harry James-Mills (a former builder borne on a boat on the Helford River, Gweek), levels of professionalism to reach even higher. 

“The attention to detail, operational procedures, and safety policies involved with setting up our centre with MDL in Torquay Harbour have made us acutely aware of what we need to be thinking about across all our sites. It’s a brilliant journey with MDL and one we’re looking to spread out across many of their sites.”