First Impression – How Entry Level and PFDS Can Impact A First-Time Participant.

This year at PADDLEexpo, many companies unveiled re-modeled Recreational PFDs, taking something that has long been one of Paddlesports’ most basic pieces of gear and making it more comfortable and better designed. It is a small indication of a larger trend- making sure that individuals can see themselves and feel good in Paddle Sports from their first strokes on the water, which will hopefully contribute to developing life-long enthusiasts.

Starting any new sport can be daunting, especially gear-intensive Paddlesports. The first timer must learn a new language, try new concepts and techniques, and wear gear that can feel awkward and unfamiliar. When embracing the failure inherent in trying something new, it reasons that while people are willing to look a little silly, they still want to feel good.

“It is at the recreational level that most people experience Paddlesports for the first time,” opines Yak Adventure Equipment in their description for their new Kallista PFD. “So why not make their experience a better one,” they ask, “and ensure their comfort and security without breaking the bank…and hopefully help secure their future participation in the process!”

Sporting entry-level gear has long been the sign of a newcomer or causal aficionado. While admittedly designed for a lower price point, if we are honest and little self-critical, we can admit that few entry-level or recreational items are sexy, especially the PFD.

Can an Entry Level or Recreational PFD change or influence a first-time paddle-sports participants experience?” “Yes it can,” argues Palm Equipment’s Paul Robertson. He goes on to assert that two of Palm’s best-selling pieces are directly aimed at first-timers. “Not in that they are overly influenced by budget,” Robertson clarifies, but by “being attractive, comfortable garments that have a clear outdoor influenced look that anyone can see and feel assured by.”

Kokatat Sales Manager Jeff Turner believes that a PFD, required by every genre of paddle sports, is the most important piece of safety gear for a first-time paddler. Tellingly, Kokatat recently significantly re-vamped their recreational PFDs, from touring to kayak fishing.

Can an Entry Level or Recreational PFD change or influence a first-time paddle-sports participants experience?” “Yes it can,” argues Palm Equipment’s Paul Robertson

“Our goal ultimately became, can we develop a soft-shell PFD that looks good and ‘feels’ great, without sacrificing safety and protection?” explains Turner. “We also wanted the new series to be visually attractive in store.”

 A marked increase in outdoor centers and livery operations over the last few years makes a well-designed Entry Level PFD even more important. “Along with clubs, Outdoor Centers have always been important gateways for people taking up the activity, and now the good ones are brands in their own right, requiring equipment that helps assure customers their experience will be one of quality as well as safety,” maintains Robertson.

Peak UK designer Paul Ramsdale believes the success of the Peak UK Kidz Zip PFD is another good indication that there is a market for well-designed EL equipment, and a reminder that Entry Level doesn’t have to mean poor quality. “As with all the things we design, we want to make stuff that we are proud of and want to see people enjoying it out on the water,” he states.

The goals of any PFD are the same: the right flotation, in the right place with an unrestricted fit and features that bring useful function or help safety. Factors to consider at the Entry Level are the ease of putting the PFD on/ease of adjustment and the level of comfort enjoyed while out on the water. “If all of these factors are addressed, and the PFD looks appealing to boot, you’ve got a winner,” Ramsdale contends.

A good entry level PDF should feel familiar from the get-go. “Putting it on should be just like putting on a jacket,” Robertson volunteers. There should be no instructions needed. Instead, you want a design that comfortable straight away. “But it is still a lifesaver,” he reminds, “So it needs to quietly back this ease up by being well made, secure and at or above safety standards.”

There are limitations in this market, price point being the obvious. But, as a rule, keeping it simple, safe and stylish without breaking the bank is what works. Paddlesports is then perceived as being accessible, comfortable to do, and as something you want to be seen doing.

“As a company, we desire to grow Paddlesports participation,” states NRS Product Manager Mike Barker. “One way to assist that growth is to offer quality, high-performance products at the entry-level. This is our chance to provide a good experience for the new consumer, and hopefully, create a paddler in the long-term.”

We want to welcome newcomers and make sure they stick around. One way to do this is to make them comfortable, but also let them look good and feel sexy, right from the get go. The PFD is just a start. The trend is on, now let’s see what is next.