Most great outdoor brands are connected to the personal experience of their founders, because behind them are stories that gave lives to ideas and innovation. One such is the CEO of SipaBoards and founder Sebatjan Sitar, who had the unusual idea of putting an electric motor on a SUP.
Sebastjan Sitar: An interview with the founder of SipaBoards
Turning tides bring in new ideas
Now in the early 2010s inflatable SUPs were new to the market and easy storage and use quickly grew in popularity. Because, what’s not to love right? Great exercise, serenity in nature, a new way to explore and overall – a lot of fun. Being quick to try new things and new sports Sebastjan and their family were vacationing in Croatia, when an easy paddle almost turned into a rescue mission.
His wife and daughter were paddling over a bay, when a falling tide grabbed them. Battling the water stream they eventually got on the other side of the bay.
Sebastjan understood then that the SUP industry has a flaw and that many users might find themselves in a situation where a “helping pair of hands” could make a difference in terms of paddler safety. When a user is pulled out by a tide or current, or blown out by an offshore wind, no leash or PFD will help them get back.
Sitting down now, 6 years later we take a look back on how SipaBoards came to be, what’s new and how the future of SUP could look like.
Inventor by nature
Q: Some people have their eureka moments, but SipaBoards wasn’t your first invention. What brought together sports and innovation for you to create the first motorised SUP?
S: Well, I was always keen on engineering, I must have gotten it from my father. He once built a car home (laughs), we made some snowboards in the late 1980s, we built a lot of unusual things. And for me it was always interesting looking at how things work, how they could work better.
When I was actively invested in sports I innovated on sports gear. Later when I was helping my wife with her café, I came up with the idea of a spring wallet that is today known and patented as the Eurowallet and still sells all over the Eurozone. And then came SipaBoards.
Q: Right, the “World’s first SUP with an electric jet motor”. An invention still raising eyebrows to those wondering what good is a motor on a board that should be paddled. How do you tackle that question?
S: Haha, it’s a common question. Even most people who are buying their second or third SipaBoard had them at first. Because when people think about sports, they think about fun. No one thinks about helmets when they go skiing or cycling. But both sports have been around for a while now and we’ve seen what good a helmet does and it’s a commonality now. The first great confirmation that an electric SUP board is indeed an invention with added value for the paddler was the Red Dot Award.
When you go out with a SUP, you don’t think about winds or currents too much, or at least most people don’t. And that thinking can get you in trouble. Also, people have different physical capabilities and paddling can be a different experience for a child, an adult or an elderly.
The motor is there to help you. It’s on and off and it will not take anything away from your paddling. But, it will be easier for families to go paddling with their kids. Or grandkids. And whenever you’re surprised by a tide, a current or wind, the motor is there to help you back. So, it’s easier but still as much an exercise as any other board. It’s safer. It’s more fun because you can go faster, further and discover more. And when you need peace and quietness, you just turn it off and enjoy.
eSUP could well be the next eBike
Q: So kind of like an e-bike on the sea?
S: That’s a common analogy and with electric mobility being one of the global megatrends, we see more and more similarities between eSUP and eBikes. Battery autonomy has become a regular question. We are improving the riding experience, adding reach to our boards and like so many other electric motor gadgets, eSUP is growing in popularity.
Q: Do you see the electric SUP segment growing?
S: Yes, no doubt. On one hand, the iSUP segment rapidly over the last years and is slowly coming into a mature market phase. There will be growing numbers of new paddlers opting for better boards, looking to more expensive brands and innovative solutions to upgrade their experience.
We see more and more interest from different media, reviewers are lining up and the demand for the boards is in a steady growth. As a company we’re also looking for ways to electrify the market and offer our systems to other top shelf brands. We’re proud to be going into the second year of cooperation with Jobe, who are already pushing out their first generation of electric SUPs. Also, there’s a growing number of innovative products following our win in the outdoor segment at ISPO.
Q: Do you spend a lot of time on the water?
S: I try to go out as much as possible – whatever time of year. One thing is that you have to test what you make, but also, standup paddling has become a part of my life and lifestyle. So having a self inflatable electric SUP in the van at all times, can help (laughs). But also, sport has always been big for me. From skiing, to hiking and running, to running a sports store and now a sports goods and equipment company. I like to keep my head as fresh as possible.
Electrifying the future of SUP
Q: Great to hear you walk the talk. Have you ever had a special endeavour on a SUP? Did you do it with a motor or without?
S: Well, having these SUPs always pushes us to go out for more. I paddle with my family a lot and after 6 years we’re paddling, there were many situations where we couldn’t have done a tour without a motor. People just go all in on these boards. We have users reporting 30 – 40 km rides on a single tour, which is a lot.
Q: Do SipaBoards hold a competitive edge? There are some mount-on alternatives available on the market.
S: We keep a close eye on the incoming innovations, and the ones that exist are – as said – mount ons. Having propellers instead of jets creates drag and tangles all sorts of debris into the rotor. Also there’s battery life. Mount-ons usually pack smaller batteries and offer less autonomy, range or speed. Plus, none of them will inflate the board for you.
Q: What does the future hold for SipaBoards? More motors, more boards, more compressors?
S: A bit of all I think. But at our core we are a maritime propulsion company and will continue developing high end electric jet motors with different functions. We are already driving down the noise, adding speed and range and there’s still so much we can do with the original SipaDrive before adding new features. We plan to launch the Dual+ Battery SipaDrive Concept in the 2023 season and that will already be a huge improvement over the first generation.