Managing Partner Ken Driscoll has shifted to a hybrid model that leverages overseas manufacturing and domestic finishing.
Billed as some of the toughest on the market, Glide SUPs are favored by rental fleets. “Our niche is ultra-durable boards,” says Driscoll. “Most paddleboards are just standard epoxy. . . . We developed a coating that makes them very strong and very durable. We started out being a whitewater company and then, over time, we really kind of morphed into the rental board market.”
Initially manufacturing stand-up paddleboards in Utah, Glide has transitioned to a model where most of its products are manufactured in China, with finishing of its hard SUPs taking place at its Salt Lake City headquarters. “It starts with a blank,” says Driscoll. “The blank is shaped and then you laminate the blank. In traditional construction, you would hot-coat paint and do the finish work.”
Not Glide: “At that point where you would traditionally hot-coat, we then apply our polymer and then do the finish work. We apply the finish and all the final tidbits. There’s the leash, the mash, and the final kind of aesthetics.”
Driscoll explains that Glide’s finish includes a patent-pending process. “There is nothing else like it on the market,” he says. “Many people think that the finish is very hard and that’s what protects the board. But actually, it’s very elastic. It can expand up to 600 percent.”
“So the board can take a massive impact and the underlying epoxy board can break, which traditionally happens with epoxy boards, but this shell remains intact. So you can have multiple impacts . . . but it holds it together, and that’s what gives the durability.”
Glide’s inflatable boards are also more durable than the competition’s. Rather than use a single or double-layer PVC inflatable with a drop-stitch core, the company uses a fusion technology where the layers of material are ultrasonically welded together. “Woven has very minimal stretch, and so we use a woven, drop-stage core and fusion construction,” Driscoll says. “There are very few companies that use woven and fusion. That allows our boards to be inflated to a maximum PSI of 25.”
While the hard SUPs are mainly used in rental fleets, the inflatables are sold in about 250 specialty retail stores and direct-to-consumer online. “We want to work with specialty retailers,” says Driscoll. “That’s kind of the bread and butter of the industry. Unfortunately that’s changing quickly, but that’s who we’ve tried to maintain relationships with.”
When Glide launched in 2010, there was almost no large-scale production of SUPs in the U.S. “When we started, we were 100 percent USA-built,” says Driscoll. “We had the full supply chain, we cut the blocks of foam, turned the blanks, built the boards. We did everything in our factory here in Salt Lake until about five years ago.”
At that point the company had about 40 employees. Now it has nine. “We just can’t compete with the offshoring, so what we’ve been doing since then is we bring in roughly half-finished boards, and then we finish it with our patent-pending finish here in our factory,” Driscoll says.
Finding the right partners was a hurdle, he adds. “We tried to source the boards out of Mexico and there’s just not a manufacturer on the scale that can handle it. Then we looked at Vietnam and Thailand. There is infrastructure in both those places and they do have very well-known factories. But the main issue is they’re still importing a lot of raw material from China, so it just made more sense just to go directly to mainland China, where I would say they control 90 percent of the surf industry.”
Glide now works with a single-source factory in China. “We’re the only product produced in that factory,” says Driscoll. “That way we can really control our supply chain and make the quality that we need. Because right now, the boards have become almost a commodity.”
Challenges: “The main challenge is the supply chain has been a mess for the last few years,” says Driscoll. “The next biggest hurdle that we’re facing is the death of brick-and-mortar and the rise of direct-to-consumer.”
Cheap imports present another challenge, especially with the watersports tariff at 7.5 percent, as compared to 30 percent tariffs on bicycles. “There are no tariffs affecting our industry right now besides the generic China tariffs,” Driscoll says.
Opportunities: “The biggest opportunity that we see right now is that switch over to direct-to-consumer,” says Driscoll. “It’s something we’ve never really done, but that market is huge and currently there are no other companies in the direct-to-consumer space who build boards like we do.”
Needs: “Cash flow’s always an issue,” says Driscoll. “We’re a seasonal business and so we’re always looking at creative funding options.”