Steamboat’s Peter Hall designs new stand-up paddleboarding gear
May 19, 2012
Steamboat Springs — He was a little scared. He was a lot nervous. But when it came time to decide and commit, he didn't hesitate.
"I've always wanted to really just do my own thing," Steamboat Springs' Peter Hall said. "I didn't know what it was going to be, but I knew if I found something I could really go at 100 percent, that would be something I'd do."
So it was that Hall quit his full-time job and committed himself fully to designing and building stand-up paddleboarding gear. Hala Gear isn't even a year old and most of its first run of products still is being manufactured.
So far, so good.
"I have no idea what's going to happen," he said. "It's exciting, really."
Designing a dream
"It's very cool to be able to steer your own ship," Hall said Wednesday afternoon.
He still was talking about that decision to quit his job and set out on his own. The journey to that decision began about a year ago, in the spring. That's when he first got the inkling that he may know a better way.
Hall grew up in Denver and attended high school and college on the East Coast before moving to Steamboat Springs. Since he arrived seven winters ago — that's still how he measures time, even though his attention has been riveted on the river — he has worked a slew of jobs. He was a ski instructor on Mount Werner, taught Spanish for The Lowell Whiteman School and most recently was selling advertising for a local radio station when he decided to "control his own ship."
The key to that plan? Controlling the ship, or the paddleboard as the case may be.
Hall started with the stand-up paddleboard (SUP) several years ago on the Yampa River. He was quickly hooked, finding it a natural extension of surfing, which he'd grown to love during a college semester in Australia.
He'd always had an inventor's spirit. He once engineered his bedroom light to turn on and off with a string accessible from his bed. Another time he found a way to fix a stereo constantly in need of a solid thwack with a series of pulleys and a hovering dumbbell.
So when he found himself wanting a more versatile paddle for his board, he set out to invent one, determined to combine the resourcefulness of a double-bladed kayak paddle with the reach of a traditional SUP paddle, which typically has a blade on only one end.
"I started taking parts from other paddles, sawing them down and forming what I wanted from broken paddles," he said. "I was trying to come up with a concept that made sense and didn't have compromises.
"I worked with a whole bunch of ideas and I came up with the design I have now."
Hall doesn't have any of the paddles. The samples he's had built are being demoed in shops across Steamboat Springs, and on Thursday, he could only offer a prototype to show off.
What he may have, however, is a future.
"It takes drive," said Matt Burditt, of Steamboat's Boomerang Sports, a self-described serial entrepreneur.
Burditt is an avid paddleboarder, and his shop — along with Backdoor Sports and Ski Haus — is to be among the first to stock Hall's gear. He was a major inspiration early in the process.
"It's definitely not an easy road to go down," Burditt said about entrepreneurship, "but from what I've seen from Peter, he'll be successful. That's about the person, not just the gear."
The paddle was the seed and as spring 2011 turned into summer, Hall began to share his idea, consulting with friends and anyone who'd stop to listen.
Eventually, Hala Gear was born. He plowed ahead with the process on the paddle, coming up with sketches and eventually enlisting a designer in California to digitalize a prototype.
He also decided to add a paddleboard to the lineup. There again he focused on functionality, designing it to be thicker and thus more stable on the water than more traditional boards. It has a double wrap of PVC, so it's sturdier and more rigid than most inflatable boards, and it offers a pop-up seat and a foot bar to add to its versatility.
"It's big and super buoyant," Hall said.
The projects gained traction fast.
Hall quit his radio job in November and threw himself into Hala. He applied for a patent and researched the various advantages and disadvantages of fiberglass compared to carbon fiber. He paused to get married in September, then took over his living room with competitors' boards, carefully measuring them every way imaginable. He even traveled to China to see where much of the equipment is made, wandering factories there and swinging paddles against the cement walls to see who made quality gear and who didn't.
Eager to push forward, he tried out prototypes as soon as they arrived. That meant one afternoon splashing around the Old Town Hot Springs lap pool and even a chilly date with a trickling Yampa River in January.
"There were a couple parts that were only as wide as my paddleboard, but I had to get out and test it," he said.
His confidence only grew when, while honeymooning in Hawaii, he paddled out with longtime veterans of the sport. He had hoped the dual-blade paddle would make negotiating river rapids on the knees much easier and paddling out to catch a wave on the ocean more efficient.
He was right.
"The paddleboarders out in Hawaii are a lot better than I am, but with my double blade I was beating them to the lineup every time," he said. "They were catching better waves, looking better doing it, but I had a technical advantage when it came to efficiency.
"That felt good."
Leap of faith
For now, Hala Gear is waiting.
Several of the boards already have arrived and are for sale at Backdoor Sports for $1,250, but the manufacturers never had seen anything like the paddle before and it took an extra month to perfect the mold. Hall said they'll start arriving in small batches within the next two weeks and will be available from local shops for $289.
If the early speculation means anything, he could be sitting on a hit, especially with the paddle.
"His design is unlike anything anyone else has," Burditt said. "I haven't even heard of anyone talking about anything like what he has."
Hall may be waiting for those shipments, but Hala is anything but idle. He's already got ideas for new versions of his SUP products, and it was no accident it's "Hala Gear," not "Hala Paddleboarding."
"If I see an approach I want to take with other kinds of gear, I want to leave that open," he said.
Nothing so far has left Hall scared or nervous, and he doesn't expect that to change.
Hala Gear isn't a year old, and Hall hasn't had a full-time job for six months.
So far, so good.
"It's satisfying," Hall said. "You work really hard and suddenly you're on the river with a piece of your own equipment you spent months and months designing and working toward.
"That is beautiful."
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com