Even non-boat shows prove beneficial for making contacts, learning stuff

Oct 3, 2016 by Peter Herm

As readers may recall, I am a big believer that captains and crew should attend all of the major boat shows. I believe we learn things and meet people we will not find anywhere else. I cannot imagine missing the Ft. Lauderdale, Miami or Palm Beach shows. And for those in Europe, why would anyone not want to go to Monaco, Boot Dusseldorf or METS in Amsterdam? I have not visited the Asian events, but hear that Australia shows are growing, too.

Last month, I went to a new sort of show for me: Surf Expo in Orlando. While not yacht focused, any captain with toys onboard should put this one on the calendar. Exhibitors were targeting resorts, beach retailers and rental operators with everything from the latest bikini fashions and skateboards to $75,000 ski boats, which are now wake-surf boats, too. Flip flops, hats and even customized shot glasses to put in the Yeti ice chest were also on display.

But the dominant exhibitors were from the fastest growing category in watersports: stand-up paddleboards or SUP.

There were literally dozens of SUP manufacturers at the Surf Expo showing an amazing array of low maintenance, low injury-risk SUPs that are quieter than a JetSki and with lower maintenance. These ranged from inflatable, foam core, polyethylene, fiberglass and even bamboo.

Several manufacturers displayed 16-foot-long, four-plus-foot-wide SUPs for groups of six or more paddlers. And for those who don’t like to paddle, or don’t need the core-building exercise, several offered battery-powered integrated jet propulsion units. (See one at www.SupJet.com.)

Another interesting category were the LayBags (www.laybag.com) and various knock offs. I guess these are the GenX version of the bean bag chair, but without the beans. The rip-stop nylon “bags” capture air to become a chair or couch on the beach or in the water. They are cheap (under $50), comfortable and easy to store.

For those guests who demand on-the-beach picnics they see on TV, a new product might make these slightly more pleasant for guests and crew. The WindWarrior (www.windwarrior.com) is a portable, collapsible windscreen with posts that screw into the sand or ground. It is purportedly good for winds up to 50mph, but it seems like it might reduce the sandblasted guests’ problem. The sales guy said their biggest market so far though is police forces who use them to shield views of gruesome accidents. Really.

One exhibitor from Zurich pitched a jellyfish sting kit. I don’t know about the jellyfish problem in Switzerland, but this solution seemed pretty logical. Essentially it is a package of concentrated vinegar with a credit card-shaped piece of plastic to scrape off the sting. Odd, but it sells for $30.

One toy that might make it to our fleet if I can convince the boss (my wife) and captain is the iFloats (www.ifloats.com). Despite the rip-off name, this looked pretty cool for the little kids. Like the foam float mat many may already have, these have an integrated towing system and can be bought in lengths up to 150 feet.

Not sure how you will store one of these, but the 15-foot version rolls up into an unwieldy cylinder about 2 feet in diameter and 6 feet tall. They had a video in their booth showing about 20 people being towed down the lake having fun on one about 50 feet long.

For land-based toys, the magic of lithium ion batteries continues in the numerous electric skateboards. And don’t forget electric bicycles. One that avoids the nerd effect is the RayVolt (www.rayvolt.com), which looks suspiciously like an old Harley Davidson of the 1940s. The sales guy said it goes 40 miles at 30mph on a single charge, but also has pedals for when it runs out of juice. I will wait until they come out with a sidecar for my cooler.

And finally, crew gripped with fear that the owner will want the inflatable slides and rock walls now seen on the high-dollar charter boats will want to take a look at the Wibit (www.wibitsports.com). This is an entire inflatable and somewhat portable water park. I am sure we will see one on a yacht at FLIBS this year. And I will be there to look for the exasperated crew that had to assemble this thing for guests who will use it once before asking to move anchorages for that lunch on the beach.

High tide and bow west only.

Peter Herm is the pen name for a veteran yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S. Comments are welcome at editor@the-triton.com.