Interview with Red Paddle Co. Co-Founder, John Hibbard

Last year, we had the good fortune to stumble across the Red Air line of inflatable SUPS from Red Paddle Co. – a company focused exclusively on inflatable SUPs, with a high-tech, cult-like image.

While extremely popular in New Zealand, Australia and Europe, only recently have the boards made their way into the US. This past year, Red Paddle Co. launched four new models – the 9’2″ Surf Star, the 10’0″ Surfer, the 12’6″ Explorer and 12’6″ Race – to their classic standards line-up – the 9’6″ AllWater, the 10’6″ Ride and the 10’8″ Mega.

Red Paddle Company 2013 Inflatable SUP Line-up

This spring, Red Paddle Co. ramped up their line of accessories to now include the Red Cargo Net, paddle leashes, ISUP backpack, paddles, phone case, EZ Pump and now the popular HP (High Pressure) EZ Pump, allowing one to attain the higher pressures without getting a hernia.

We tracked down John Hibbard, co-founder of Red Paddle Co. to find out more about this fascinating business.

John Hibbard, co-founder of Red Paddle Co., out on a weekend jaunt with his son and friend on a Red Air Explorer 12-6.
John Hibbard, co-founder of Red Paddle Co., out on a weekend jaunt with his son and friend on a Red Air Explorer 12-6.

AirKayaks: Who/what is Red Paddle Company? How did you get started?

Red Paddle Co was formed by three guys who had a passion for SUP. We also happened to already be in the water sports equipment business, but to be 100% honest, SUP was a private passion (!) way before it was a business. We were paddling back in 2006 before most people had even thought about the sport as a serious business – at least not in Europe.

AirKayaks: Is there a story behind the name Red Paddle Company or Red Air?

Choosing names is very hard.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the name of your cat or dog, house or child, choosing the name is sometimes impossible. We had so many names lined up but none that we were truly happy with. They all ended in Paddle Co but it was the first word(s) that we could not nail down.

In the end we were sitting drinking a beer in the cabin of our graphic design friend, trying to put the “name debate” to bed. His cabin looks out over the ocean and faces west. The sun was setting and it had turned the sky red. It was the end of a long day working on designs and we all just wanted to nail the name once and for all. The Red sunset was it.  “Let’s call it Red Paddle Co” I said, and the name just sounded right. We love it.

AirKayaks: What are some of the progressions you went through to get the Red Air where it is today?

Mostly it was trial and error at the start. Trying to get material companies and pump companies to make things the way we wanted was tough at first because they did not see the potential that we could see.  The pumps that you see on the market now have come from our development work with an Italian company.  We like to think that has been our input into making the inflatable board concept more accessible. Many brands use them now, but it was Red Paddle Co that got the ball rolling and developed the pumps.

We basically made lots of boards until we worked out how to make them the way we wanted. Our core belief is that owning an inflatable board should not be a compromise. We want people who paddle a Red Paddle Co inflatable board to have an authentic paddling experience. That’s easy for any brand to write down and print in a brochure or on a website. It’s another thing entirely to actually produce a product that lives up to the mission.

AirKayaks: Just a few years ago, there were only a handful of companies making inflatable SUPS. Now there dozens. What makes the Red Air ISUP stand out?

I think it is our belief in creating an authentic paddling experience. For instance, with an inflatable SUP, the key areas of construction are inside the board, thus our attention to details on the inside ensure a perfect product on the outside.

We use high density drop stitch – not the cheap linear style of stitching you see on most boards. Drop Stitch is the name given to the process of running a thread from the top of the board to the base of board. The threads become tight once you pump air into the board, creating rigidity. Red Paddle Co boards pack as many threads as possible into each board.

Our rails (sides of the board) have a real structure to them and are not just single layer sheets connecting the top of the board to the bottom. The rail can be the weakest point on an inflatable board – it’s where all layers meet and it’s where air pressure loading is the highest. Our rails are 3 or 4 times thick. This means you can put more pressure in and get a stiffer ride.

We also make material to exact widths to allow us to make boards that look and feel like their hard board cousins. This also helps stiffen the board. For example our 10’6″ and 10’8″ are 4.7″ thick. This is the same thickness as a hard board of the same size so you get an authentic ride. It is also 30% stiffer (depending on the pressure) than inflatable boards that are 4″ thick.

We also know how the curves of a board effect the flex. We design a board with just the right amount of curve in the plan shape (the shape you see when looking directly down on the board).

Our patented RSS system makes the boards so stiff and this is an exciting development. (AirKayaks note; RSS refers to the Rocker Stiffening System, a revolutionary design featuring a coated fiberglass batten that slips into a pocket on the side rail of some models, creating a more rigid profile that allows heavier riders to use the boards.)

But most of all, at Red Paddle Co we do things a little different. We only make inflatables. We have been an inflatable brand from the beginning – since the summer of 2007 – and we’ve never wanted to be anything else.

AirKayaks: What do you see as the future of paddle boarding? Is this a fad or something that will become as entrenched as kayaking and canoeing?

It’s here for a long time.

AirKayaks: Where do you want to go from here, what are your plans for the upcoming years?

Onwards and upwards. We will keep making the boards better and we have quite a few special projects in the works. I can’t tell you about those though 😉

AirKayaks: We’ve been selling Red Airs for over a year, and certainly the 10-6 Ride is one of the most popular due to it’s universal appeal and size. While I love all I’ve taken out, the 9-6 All Water was an instant hit with me. Which is personally your favorite board?

I love the 12’6″ Race. It’s such a nice board. We tried to make a race board 5 years ago but it didn’t work because we didn’t have the right pumps or the right material. Now we can make a board that is fast and one that you can check in on a plane and take anywhere. Our tagline says it all – you are now free to paddle anywhere.

AirKayaks: Thanks John! For more info on each of the Red Paddle Co. inflatable paddle boards, see our Guide to Choosing your Red Air Inflatable SUP

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